2020 News of the Year: Deaths
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Year 2020 included the deaths of notable politicians, academics, theologians, athletes, and artists. The pages that follow recognize those whose deaths received much media attention—along with several whose deaths didn’t. We’ve noted when those deaths came primarily because of COVID-19. You’ll notice a different format at the end of the section: COVID-19 didn’t just kill famous people, but took members of our churches and communities who won’t make the perennial lists of celebrity roll calls. So, using local newspaper accounts, we’ve compiled a small list of COVID-19 victims who will be missed by their communities. We acknowledge the list is a small representation of all those who have died of COVID-19.
1 Don Larsen, 90 / New York Yankee who in 1956 pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.
1 David Stern, 77 / A long-serving NBA commissioner, he saw the league add seven teams, inaugurate the WNBA, and begin a development league.
3 Ken Fuson, 53 / A journalist with the Des Moines Register and Baltimore Sun, he struggled with a gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him and wrote in a self-penned obituary, “Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything.”
3 Qasem Soleimani, 62 / Iranian general and head of that country’s intelligence forces who died in a U.S. drone attack.
7 Neil Peart, 67 / A lyricist and drummer for the Canadian band Rush, he earned a reputation for both his drumming and his Ayn Rand–influenced lyrics. In his later years, he called himself a “bleeding-heart libertarian.”
7 Elizabeth Wurtzel, 52 / A lawyer and writer of the memoir Prozac Nation, which chronicled her depression, she battled and wrote about her addictions to cocaine and heroin, making “a career out of my emotions.”
8 Buck Henry, 89 / Co-creator with Mel Brooks of the TV comedy spy series Get Smart, he became a screenwriter with credits on The Graduate, What’s Up, Doc?, and Catch-22.
18 Jack Van Impe, 88 / A television evangelist and end-times preacher, he interpreted current events in light of Biblical prophecy.
18 George H. Walker III, 88 / George H.W. Bush’s cousin who, when old, “did a three-minute plank exercise each morning,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “propping himself up on his elbows and toes while singing ‘Abide With Me,’ reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and praying for loved ones.”
21 Terry Jones, 77 / A member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python, he directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life.
23 Jim Lehrer, 85 / A newsman and co-host of the PBS program NewsHour for 36 years, he moderated 12 presidential debates, more than any other journalist.
24 Pete Stark, 88 / A liberal congressman and the first declared atheist in Congress, he served 20 terms before losing a reelection bid in 2012. During his 40 years in Congress he championed liberal changes to healthcare.
26 Kobe Bryant, 41 / A basketball star for 20 years with the LA Lakers, he won five NBA championships, earned two Olympic gold medals, and made the All-Star team 18 times.
26 Bob Shane, 85 / The last surviving member of the Kingston Trio, whose song “Tom Dooley” reached No. 1 on the singles chart, selling more than 3 million copies and earning a Grammy.
28 Harriet Frank Jr., 96 / An Oscar-nominated screenwriter with her husband, she co-wrote the screenplays for Hud and Norma Rae.
30 John Andretti, 56 / A nephew of auto-racing superstar Mario Andretti, he became in 1994 the first driver to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR 600-mile night race in North Carolina on the same day.
30 Fred Silverman, 82 / A television programmer for all three major networks for 30 years, he created or greenlighted shows including Scooby-Doo, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Waltons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kojak, The Love Boat, Charley’s Angels, Roots, and Happy Days.
31 Anne Cox Chambers, 100 / Heir to the Cox newspaper fortune and one of the wealthiest women in America, she was active in Democratic politics and supported Atlanta art and animal welfare charities.
31 Mary Higgins Clark, 92 / The “Queen of Suspense” who wrote more than 50 best-selling novels that shunned profanity, sex, and graphic violence, she often featured Catholic women as protagonists.
2 Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare, 100 / An anti-communist mercenary, he led his “Wild Geese” group that fought in Congo and failed to overthrow the Seychelles’ socialist government.
5 Kirk Douglas, 103 / The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he became a Hollywood superstar who received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute and an honorary Academy Award for his work in films such as Spartacus, Lust for Life, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
5 John C. Whitcomb, 95 / A theologian and Bible teacher, he became one of the early proponents of young-earth creationism and co-wrote with Henry Morris The Genesis Flood.
6 Roger Kahn, 92 / A journalist and baseball writer, his 1972 book The Boys of Summer brought “new journalism” techniques to sportswriting and showed the human side of baseball heroes.
7 Orson Bean, 91 / A comedian and frequent game show panelist, he pursued happiness through drugs and sex before coming to belief in God: “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an empty spot at the center of him, which must be filled in order to be really happy. That spot, like it or not, is reserved for God.”
7 Li Wenliang, 33 / A Chinese ophthalmologist and whistleblower from Wuhan, he warned of the novel coronavirus last December, but authorities muzzled him.
8 Robert Conrad, 84 / An actor who starred in TV’s The Wild Wild West, he performed his own stunts so well the Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame inducted him as a member.
11 Joseph Shabalala, 78 / The founder of Ladysmith Black Mombazo, he brought Zulu harmonies to a broad audience by collaborating with Paul Simon on the album Graceland. In a 1991 NPR interview, Shabalala described himself as a Christian who sings about “good and bad things, especially how to be good to God, how to praise God, how to respect, how to forgive each other.”
12 Frederick Koch, 86 / The oldest of the Koch brothers, he rejected the family businesses (Koch Industries and libertarian politics) to pursue philanthropy and collect manuscripts and manor houses.
13 Chuckie O’Brien, 86 / The foster son and confidant to Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, he became the chief suspect when Hoffa disappeared in 1975. He lived under that shadow for 45 years.
14 Clayton Williams, 88 / A Texas oilman, Aggie, and Christian, he said he ran his oil business like Christopher Columbus: “When he left, he didn’t know where he was going; when he got there, he didn’t know where he was; and when he got back, he didn’t know where he’d been. And like Christopher Columbus, he did it all on borrowed money!”
15 Donald Stratton, 97 / One of the last surviving crew members of the battleship USS Arizona, bombed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, he devoted his life to making sure Americans remembered his fellow sailors’ sacrifices.
16 Larry Tesler, 74 / A computer scientist who wanted computers to be easy for everyone to use, he developed functions such as cut-and-paste during his time at Xerox and Apple.
17 Owen Bieber, 90 / President of the United Auto Workers during the 1980s and early 1990s, he supported the anti-communist Solidarity movement in Poland and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. He and his wife were married 69 years.
17 Ja’net Dubois, 74 / An actor and singer, she had a role on Good Times and co-wrote and sang “Movin’ On Up,” the theme song for The Jeffersons television show.
17 Charles Portis, 86 / A newspaper reporter and novelist who shunned the literary world, he wrote the 1968 Western True Grit, which became a bestseller when the John Wayne movie version came out.
17 Mickey Wright, 85 / A golfer with 82 victories on the LPGA tour, she won 13 majors before retiring from full-time play at age 34. Golf great Ben Hogan said Wright “had the finest golf swing I ever saw.”
19 Sy Sperling, 78 / The founder of Hair Clubs for Men, he became famous for late night infomercials touting his hair replacement method.
21 Creighton Lee Calhoun, 86 / A retired Army lieutenant colonel, he earned the nickname “savior of the southern apple” for the 40 years he spent tracking down old apple trees, taking cuttings, and grafting them. The New York Times in 2011 compared Calhoun’s quest for heirloom apple varieties to “Ahab looking for Moby Dick.”
22 Michael “Mad Mike” Hughes, 64 / A daredevil who wanted to prove the earth is flat, he died when his homemade rocket crashed into the California desert.
22 B. Smith, 70 / A model who became a businesswoman and lifestyle brand, her restaurants and TV show appealed to affluent blacks. She once told NPR, “I think that if Martha Stewart and Oprah had a daughter, it would be B. Smith.”
23 Ahmaud Arbery, 25 / An unarmed black jogger, his killing by armed white residents led to protests and civil unrest in Georgia when authorities delayed arresting the shooters.
24 Clive Cussler, 88 / The prolific author of sea-based thrillers that sold more than 100 million copies, he also founded Numa, an organization devoted to finding and excavating shipwrecks.
24 Katherine Johnson, 101 / One of the “human computers” at NASA (made famous in the book and movie Hidden Figures), she calculated flight paths and double-checked the work of early computers, overcoming racism and sexism with her dedication and mathematical skills.
25 Roy Larson, 90 / A Methodist minister who became a religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, he trained a generation of reporters to cover religion as they would other hard news stories.
25 Hosni Mubarak, 91 / Egyptian dictator for three decades, he improved Egypt’s standard of living while oppressing dissidents and brutalizing political opponents.
28 Joseph Coulombe, 89 / The founder of Trader Joe’s, he built stores catering to his typical customer: “overeducated and underpaid ... the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists.”
29 Eva Szekely, 92 / A Hungarian Jew, she survived the Holocaust and went on to win two Olympic medals—gold in 1952 and silver in 1956—in the 200-meter breaststroke.
1 Jack Welch, 84 / The CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, he made that company profitable and earned the nickname “Neutron Jack” for his emphasis on cost cutting, terminating unprofitable businesses, and firing unproductive workers.
2 James Lipton, 93 / Host of Inside the Actors Studio for 22 years, he was famous for his well-researched interviews with A-list actors about craft. He often ended interviews by asking, “If Heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”
5 Wendell Goler, 70 / A journalist with decades of experience in Washington, he joined Fox News at its inception and became a White House correspondent before retiring.
6 McCoy Tyner, 81 / A jazz pianist and convert to Islam from Christianity, he played with John Coltrane before going out on his own. His percussive style influenced other pianists and earned him recognition as a Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts.
8 Darius L. Swann, 95 / A black minister who opposed racial segregation in North Carolina schools, he sued in a case that ended up at the Supreme Court and bears his name—Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. It ushered in an era of court-ordered busing for desegregation.
8 Max von Sydow, 90 / A Swedish actor for seven decades, he worked with Ingmar Bergman and starred in The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist.
9 Edward Bloch, 97 / An Army Air Corps veteran who survived the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, he returned in 2016 for the 75th commemoration of the attack.
13 Breonna Taylor, 26 / A black medical technician in Louisville, Ky., she was killed by police in a no-knock raid on her apartment, leading to months of protests and civil unrest.
14 Jon Buell, 80 / A longtime Campus Crusade director and co-founder of Probe Ministries and Foundation for Thought and Ethics, he brought together scientists who wrote The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984), which influenced a generation of intelligent design proponents.
17 Lyle Waggoner, 84 / Sidekick to Carol Burnett on her weekly show, he combined good looks and comic timing to become a household name in the 1970s.
18 Catherine Hamlin, 96 / A Christian OB-GYN from Australia, she and her husband, Reg, founded the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which has treated more than 60,000 women: “I believe that Reg and I were guided here by God.”
18 Al Worden, 88 / The command module pilot on Apollo 15, he also appeared on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and spoke to children about space exploration.
20 Kenny Rogers, 81 / The smooth-voiced singer crossed genres including country, folk, jazz, and pop. His most memorable hits were “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” “Lady,” and “Islands in the Stream”—a duet with friend and icon Dolly Parton.
23 Stanley Sporkin, 88 / The SEC enforcement chief in the 1970s, he led a crusade to bar U.S. corporations from paying bribes to gain international business.
24 Romi Cohn, 91 / A teenager in Czechoslovakia during WWII, he saved 56 Jewish families by providing them with false documents. He died of COVID-19.
24 Albert Uderzo, 92 / A cartoonist, he created with writer René Goscinny the French graphic novel series Asterix, which has sold more than 380 million copies in 100 languages.
25 Richard Reeves, 83 / Journalist and political commentator with a syndicated column, he wrote often-biting critiques of presidents, especially George W. Bush, whom he ranked as one of the worst.
26 Fred “Curly” Neal, 77 / A basketball player and showman, he played with the Harlem Globetrotters for 22 years, displaying his ball-handling skills in more than 6,000 games.
26 John Sears, 72 / An attorney who worked for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, he had a reputation as a political strategist rather than a committed conservative.
27 Patty Colson, 89 / The wife of Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, she worked with him in prison ministry.
27 Harriet Glickman, 93 / Concerned about racial hatred after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., she wrote to cartoonists suggesting they introduce black characters into their strips. Charles Schultz, creator of the popular Peanuts, received one of the letters and soon after introduced Franklin.
27 Joseph Lowery, 98 / A minister who co-founded with Martin Luther King Jr. the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and led the organization for two decades, he gave the benediction at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.
28 Tom Coburn, 72 / An obstetrician and U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, he earned the moniker “Dr. No” for his opposition to wasteful government spending and was a compassionate conservative: “The best way to drive out the culture of dependence and entitlement in America is through the relentless love and compassion of caring neighbors.”
28 William Helmreich, 74 / A sociology professor at City College in NYC, he walked 125,000 blocks of the city over four years, about 6,048 miles, talking to residents and learning about the city he called “the greatest outdoor museum in the world.” He died of COVID-19.
29 Joe Diffie, 61 / A 1990s country music singer-songwriter, he had 18 Top 5 singles, including “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” and “Third Rock From the Sun.” He died of COVID-19.
30 Tomie dePaola, 85 / A children’s book writer and illustrator, he authored hundreds of children’s books, including Strega Nona and The Knight and the Dragon.
30 Daniel Prude, 41 / A mentally ill black man, his death by asphyxiation while under police restraint in Rochester, N.Y., set off civil unrest when video of the encounter went public.
30 Bill Withers, 81 / A singer-songwriter, he wrote “Grandma’s Hands,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lean on Me.” He was a 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
1 Edward Feightner, 100 / A WWII naval flyer, he shot down nine Japanese planes. He became part of the Blue Angels, tested aircraft, and instructed Navy flyers before retiring as a rear admiral after a 34-year military career.
1 Jason Hargrove, 50 / A Detroit bus driver and married father of six, he blasted on YouTube the woman who got on his bus and coughed four or five times without covering her face. The profanity-laced video brought to the fore the danger transit workers faced from the coronavirus. Hargrove died 11 days later from COVID-19.
1 Ellis Marsalis, 85 / A New Orleans jazz musician and father of noted jazz artists Wynton and Brandon Marsalis, he died of COVID-19.
5 Bobby Mitchell, 84 / A Hall of Fame football player, he played for 11 years, scored 91 touchdowns, and ran for 14,078 total yards despite discrimination he experienced as the first African American player on the Washington Redskins, the last NFL team to open its roster to black players.
6 Earl G. Graves, 85 / The founder of Black Enterprise magazine, he also sat on corporate boards, owned Pepsi-Cola of Washington, and wrote the best-selling book How To Succeed in Business Without Being White.
6 Al Kaline, 85 / A Hall of Fame baseball player with the Detroit Tigers, he never played a game in the minor leagues, earned 10 Gold Gloves as an outfielder, and had 3,007 hits. Sportswriter Joe Posnanski wrote of the once hot-tempered Kaline, “He came to represent fortitude and kindness and dignity.”
7 Henry Geller, 96 / As chief counsel for the Federal Communications Commission, he persuaded commissioners to use the equal time provision to require one anti-smoking ad for every paid cigarette ad. Big Tobacco pulled its ads, which eventually led Congress to ban cigarette advertising on radio and TV.
7 John Prine, 73 / Known as the Mark Twain of American songwriting, he penned songs like “Sam Stone,” Angel From Montgomery,” and “Hello in There.” Artists such as Johnny Cash and John Denver covered his songs. He died of COVID-19.
8 Linda Tripp, 70 / The Pentagon employee who secretly recorded phone conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, she became a central figure in Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
9 Mort Drucker, 91 / A Mad Magazine cartoonist, he specialized in celebrity caricatures and movie parodies like “It’s a Blunderful Life,” picturing Richard Nixon as Bill Clinton’s guardian angel.
9 Virginia Savage McAlester, 76 / A Dallas historic preservationist, she wrote in 1984 the comprehensive book on residential architectural styles, A Field Guide to American Houses.
10 Abigail Thernstrom, 83 / A social scientist whose parents were Communist Party members, she moved to the political center and co-wrote America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible with her husband, Stephan.
11 William Voortman, 88 / A post-WWII Dutch immigrant to Canada, he co-founded with his brother Voortman Cookies and became a generous giver to Christian causes.
13 Ying Kao Lee, 87 / A DuPont chemist who died of COVID-19, he invented the lacquer that keeps cars shiny.
15 Brian Dennehy, 81 / An American actor in plays (Shakespeare and O’Neill), movies (Gorky Park), and television (Death of a Salesman), he criticized the Hollywood blockbuster mentality: “You have to hit a home run every time you come up to the plate.”
17 Bennie Adkins, 86 / A veteran who during a four-day battle killed more than 135 Vietnamese while suffering 18 wounds and saving many soldiers, he received the Medal of Honor in 2014.
19 Sy Rogers, 63 / A Christian and former homosexual who lived for 18 months as a transgender woman, he had an international teaching ministry that focused on God’s grace, sexuality, and culture.
18 Paul O’Neill, 84 / A former CEO of Alcoa, he served as Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush and spent his retirement providing clean water in Africa and reducing medical errors in the United States.
20 Thomas William Lester, 81 / The Christian actor who played handyman Eb on Green Acres, he was the last surviving cast member from the 1960s television show starring Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert as wealthy New Yorkers who take up farming in Hooterville.
21 Betsy Wyeth, 98 / Widow of the painter Andrew Wyeth. He once said of her role in his career, “She rules me with a steel arm.”
27 Troy Sneed, 52 / A gospel music writer, singer, and producer, he spent 10 years with the Georgia Mass Choir and appeared with Whitney Houston in the 1996 film The Preacher’s Wife.
4 Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, 92 / The last surviving female member of the Monuments Men and Women, who after WWII saved art and other cultural treasures in Europe and Japan. In 2015 Congress awarded the group the Congressional Gold Medal.
4 Don Shula, 90 / The head coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, he led his teams to 347 victories, including playoff games, the most ever by a coach. In 1972, his Dolphins’ team had a perfect season, the only team to achieve that record.
5 Millie Small, 73 / A Jamaican singer, she introduced audiences in the United States and Europe to ska music with her hit “My Boy Lollipop.”
8 Roy Horn, 75 / Half of the illusionist act Siegfried and Roy, he survived an almost fatal tiger mauling in 2003 that left him partially paralyzed. He died of COVID-19.
9 Richard Penniman, 87 / A singer who went by the name Little Richard, he electrified audiences in the 1950s with exuberant, sexually charged performances that influenced generations of rock musicians. He went back and forth between an “omnisexual” lifestyle and church activities, but finally made a complete break: “The Lord showed me you got to do one or the other. … In order to be my child, you got to give it all to me. I don’t want half.”
11 Jerry Stiller, 92 / The comedian who performed with his wife, Anne Meara, on The Ed Sullivan Show more than 30 times, he went on to play George Costanza’s volatile father on Seinfeld and another loud-mouthed dad on King of Queens. When Anne Meara died in 2015 after 61 years of marriage, he said, “There were no walls between us in any way. We both knew what the other was thinking even when we weren’t listening.”
12 Joyce Lin, 40 / A Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilot and IT specialist, she died when her plane carrying COVID-19 tests crashed on a flight in Papua, Indonesia. She received degrees in computer science from MIT. She then went to seminary through MAF and combined her love of computers, flying, and Jesus.
13 Francis Andersen, 94 / An Old Testament and Hebrew scholar, he partnered with a computer scientist to apply machine learning to the study of the Hebrew scriptures.
14 Phyllis George, 70 / A former Miss Texas, Miss America, and First Lady of Kentucky, she co-hosted The NFL Today, covering three Super Bowls and opening opportunities for other women in sports broadcasting. She told Texas Monthly about her first try to be Miss Texas: “I needed to lose to win. Like they say, ‘If you lose, don’t lose the lessons,’ and I learned a lot.”
15 Fred Willard, 86 / An actor who appeared in mockumentaries Best in Show and This Is Spinal Tap, he also had recurring roles on Everyone Loves Raymond and Modern Family.
16 Wilson Roosevelt Jerman, 91 / A White House butler, he served 11 presidents, starting with Eisenhower and retiring during the Obama presidency in 2012.
18 Ken Osmond, 76 / The actor who played two-faced Eddie Haskell on Leave It to Beaver for six years, he found himself typecast as Eddie and eventually joined the LAPD as a motorcycle cop. Shot while trying to apprehend a car thief, he resumed acting, playing a grown-up Eddie Haskell in Leave It to Beaver sequels.
19 Annie Glenn, 100 / Married for 73 years to astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn, she overcame a severe stutter to become an advocate for others with speech disabilities. She died of COVID-19.
19 Ravi Zacharias, 74 / A Christian apologist and global speaker, he established Ravi Zacharias Ministries to “help the thinker believe and the believer think.”
22 Jerry Sloan, 78 / A basketball player with the Chicago Bulls, he then coached the Utah Jazz for 23 years. He was second only to Greg Popovich in coaching longevity with the same NBA team.
23 Eddie Sutton, 84 / A basketball coach who took four different college teams to the NCAA tournament and won more than 800 games in his 37 years at Division I schools, he retired from Oklahoma State after causing a drunk-driving accident. He later told students, “It’s really slow suicide if you drink.”
25 George Floyd, 46 / An unarmed black man in Minneapolis, he died when a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes until Floyd was unresponsive. He was dead on arrival at the hospital. His death spurred protests and calls for police reform throughout the country.
27 Sam Johnson, 89 / A highly decorated combat pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars, he was a prisoner of war for nearly seven years in the “Hanoi Hilton” with fellow POWs John McCain, Jeremiah Denton, and James Stockdale. He survived torture and years of solitary confinement, serving later for 28 years in the U.S. Congress.
27 Larry Kramer, 84 / The writer and AIDS activist who founded Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which disrupted worship services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and forced policymakers to respond to the AIDS epidemic.
29 Lou Sheldon, 85 / Pastor and founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, he was an influential leader of the religious right in the 1980s and 1990s.
31 Christo, 84 / A Bulgarian-born conceptual artist, he collaborated with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, to wrap buildings and natural landmarks with fabric to form transient displays: “The reason we don’t like the projects to stay is no one can charge for tickets, nobody can buy this project.”
31 Irene Triplett, 90 / The last recipient of a Civil War pension, she received $73.13 a month for her father Mose’s service. Before Gettysburg he deserted from the Confederate army, joined Union forces, and fathered Irene when he was 83.
2 Wes Unseld, 74 / A 6-foot-7 professional basketball player, he was both Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first NBA season, one of only two players to accomplish that. When his basketball career ended, Unseld became a behind-the-scenes force at the Unseld School in Baltimore, a school his wife founded to provide quality education for inner city children.
6 Thomas Freeman, 100 / A notable debate coach, he trained Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan. He also served as pastor of a Houston church and preached weekly for 69 years.
8 Pierre Nkurunziza, 55 / The autocratic president of Burundi who tolerated no dissent, he rejected calls early in the coronavirus pandemic to shut down his country. Though his official cause of death was heart attack, experts believe both he and his wife died of COVID-19.
8 Bonnie Pointer, 69 / A singer and songwriter whose parents were Church of God ministers, she performed with the Pointer Sisters before going solo in the late 1970s.
12 William Sessions, 90 / A by-the-book prosecutor and federal judge before Ronald Reagan made him head of the FBI, he modernized the organization but also earned condemnation for the bureau’s failure to end peacefully the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
16 Charles Webb, 81 / Author of The Graduate, a fictionalized version of his own romance with his wife, he spent the rest of his life shunning his parents’ wealth and privilege and giving away his money.
17 Jean Kennedy Smith, 92 / The youngest sibling of President John F. Kennedy, she served as ambassador to Ireland from 1993 to 1998 and founded Very Special Arts, an arts program for children with disabilities.
18 Sergei Khrushchev, 84 / An engineer and son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, he moved to the United States in 1991 and became a naturalized citizen in 1999.
19 Ian Holm, 88 / A Shakespearean actor who played Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, he received an Oscar nomination for his role as Harold Abraham’s trainer in Chariots of Fire.
27 Beka Horton, 90 / A fundamentalist Baptist who fought the secularizing trend in American education, she founded with her husband Pensacola Christian Academy, Abeka curriculum, and Pensacola Christian College.
29 Carl Reiner, 98 / A comedian and creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, he also directed movies including Oh God and The Jerk.
30 Johnny Mandel, 94 / A music composer and arranger, he wrote “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Suicide Is Painless,” and other songs for the cinema.
1 Hugh Downs, 99 / Host of Concentration, The Today Show, and 20/20, and an early announcer on The Tonight Show With Jack Paar, he once held the record for most on-air hours (10,000) by a broadcaster.
4 Donnie and Ronnie Galyon, 68 / The longest-surviving conjoined twins, they supported their family by touring North and South America as part of various circus acts before retiring in 1991.
6 Charlie Daniels, 83 / A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, he played as a session musician in Nashville before becoming a headliner with hits like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
6 Ennio Morricone, 91 / An Italian composer, he wrote scores for movies, including The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; The Mission; and Once Upon a Time in America.
8 Naya Rivera, 33 / An actress on the TV series Glee, she drowned while on a lake with her 4-year-old son.
10 Morris Cerullo, 88 / A Pentecostal preacher and faith healer, he held crusades in more than 100 countries and conceived the Legacy International Center, a $200 million Bible-themed attraction in San Diego.
12 Joanna Cole, 75 / Author of The Magic School Bus books, she combined humorous storytelling with science in a long-running series that turned into an animated children’s program on TV and Netflix.
12 Kelly Preston, 57 / Actor and wife of John Travolta, she appeared in Jerry McGuire and Twins.
13 Grant Imahara, 49 / An electrical engineer, he co-hosted Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters show and earlier worked on animatronics for Star Wars, Matrix, and Terminator franchises while at LucasFilms.
17 John Lewis, 80 / An acolyte of Martin Luther King Jr. and proponent of nonviolence, he suffered beatings and jailings, co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington before serving in Congress for almost 34 years.
17 J.I. Packer, 93 / An influential theologian and author of Knowing God, he taught systematic theology, wrote prolifically about doctrine and Biblical inerrancy, and simply summed up the gospel message: “God saves sinners.”
17 C.T. Vivian, 95 / A pastor and civil rights leader, he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and received a nationally televised punch from sheriff Jim Clark while registering African Americans to vote. The punch drew protesters to Selma, where thousands converged on the Edmund Pettis Bridge to begin their march from Selma to Montgomery. Forty years later, Vivian recalled that moment: “I got down on my knees and said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”
22 Charles Evers, 97 / Brother of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers, he went from small-time crook to businessman, mayor, radio host, and provocative Donald Trump supporter.
22 Joan Feynman, 93 / An astrophysicist and younger sister of Nobel physicist Richard Feynman, she overcame sexism in graduate school and her mother’s pronouncement that girls can’t do science to become an authority on sunspots and the causes of auroras.
25 Olivia De HavilLand, 104 / The last surviving member of the Gone With the Wind cast, she starred with Errol Flynn in movies such as Captain Blood and Robin Hood.
25 Regis Philbin, 88 / A television talk and game show host, he overtook Hugh Downs—who also died this year—to earn the Guinness record for most hours on U.S. television. He also won six daytime Emmys and numerous other honors in a career spanning six decades.
29 Bill Montgomery, 80 / A businessman, he co-founded Turning Point USA to influence a younger generation of conservative activists. He died of COVID-19.
30 Herman Cain, 74 / An African American businessman, pastor, and politician, he competed in the Republican presidential primaries in 2012. He died of COVID-19.
4 Jean Jacob Paul, 61 / A pastor, he planted churches, established a Reformed Bible college, and set up an orphanage in Haiti.
5 Pete Hamill, 85 / A high-school dropout and “new journalist” for more than six decades, he chronicled life in New York City, wars, and politics. The son of an alcoholic father, he explained his 1972 decision to stop drinking: “I have no talent for it.”
6 Brent Scowcroft, 95 / National security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, he advocated a realist foreign policy that favored international stability. An opponent of the Iraq War, he said, “We continually step on our best aspirations. We’re humans. Given a chance to screw up, we will.”
11 Trini Lopez, 83 / Mexicano singer and guitarist, he added beats to “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree,” turning folk songs into international hits in the early 1960s. He died of COVID-19.
11 Sumner Redstone, 97 / A lawyer and media magnate, he used hardball tactics to parlay his father’s lone drive-in cinema into a corporate behemoth that included CBS, Paramount Studios, and Viacom. He told Larry King in 2009, “I have no intention of ever retiring, or of dying.”
12 Marvin Creamer, 104 / A geography professor and sailor, he is the only person to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat without instruments. He used nature—bird migration patterns, wind and ocean currents, and the position of the sun and stars—to plot his voyage, which took 17 months in a 36-foot sailboat.
14 Angela Buxton, 85 / A Jewish tennis champion, she partnered with black champion Althea Gibson to win 1956 doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon. The pair overcame barriers of race and religion to become tennis superstars in the 1950s.
14 Édouard Nelson, 45 / A French pastor, church planter, and vice president of the National Council of Evangelicals of France (CNEF), he died in a climbing accident while on vacation with his family.
14 “Big Jim” Thompson, 84 / The longest-serving governor of Illinois (1977-1991), he was a moderate Republican whose political savvy won plaudits from Democrats.
15 Robert Trump, 71 / The youngest brother of President Donald J. Trump, he worked in real estate before joining the Trump organization and supporting his brother’s presidential bid.
18 Ben Cross, 72 / A British actor, he played Oxford runner and Olympian Harold Abrahams in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.
19 Slade Gorton, 92 / A GOP senator from Washington, he supported the Equal Rights Amendment, government-funded abortions, and hometown industries like Microsoft, which earned him the nickname “the Senator from Microsoft.”
23 Edie Locke, 99 / A teenage refugee from the Nazis in 1939, she became editor in chief of Mademoiselle, a magazine that “combined fashion and beauty with feeding the mind.” Publisher Condé Nast fired her in 1980 for refusing to remake Mademoiselle in Cosmopolitan’s image, focusing on sex.
24 Gail Sheehy, 83 / A practitioner of “new journalism,” she wrote Passages, a book of pop sociology and anthropology that became a bestseller.
25 Arnold Spielberg, 103 / An electrical engineer and father of film director Steven Spielberg, he designed a mainframe computer at GE that influenced the development of personal computers.
26 Joe Ruby, 87 / A writer for the Hanna-Barbera animation studio, he and writing partner Ken Spears created in 1969 the long-running cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
28 Chadwick Boseman, 43 / An actor who turned down stereotypical roles for black males, he went on to star in 42 (about Jackie Robinson) and Black Panther. In a speech to Howard University graduates in 2018, he quoted Jeremiah and added, “Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you.”
29 Stuart King, 98 / An RAF flight lieutenant during WWII, he co-founded Mission Aviation Fellowship in 1945 to reach isolated people for missionary and humanitarian purposes.
30 John Thompson, 78 / A Hall of Fame college basketball coach, he turned the Georgetown Hoyas into a perennial powerhouse and became in 1984 the first black head coach to lead a team to the NCAA championship.
31 Tom Seaver, 75 / A Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Mets, a team that went from laughingstock to “Miracle Mets” and a championship in 1969, his third year in the league.
1 Sylvester Francis, 73 / The founder of New Orleans’ Backstreet Cultural Museum, he documented the city’s social aid and pleasure clubs and other aspects of black street life.
5 Roger Shiffman, 67 / A toy entrepreneur and president of Tiger Electronics, he had a hit in the late 1990s with Furby, a talking plush toy that spoke Furbish.
6 Lou Brock, 81 / A Hall of Fame baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, he broke Ty Cobb’s career stolen-base record (a record Ricky Henderson later broke) and sparked St. Louis to three National League pennants and two baseball championships.
9 Ronald Khalis Bell, 68 / One of two Bell brothers who formed the core of Kool & the Gang, he wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s greatest hits, including “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration,” which came to him after reading a hotel Bible about everyone praising God.
9 Shere Hite, 77 / Author of The Hite Report, she brought her feminist sensibilities to studies of female sexuality in the 1970s and earned the ire of both Playboy and social conservatives.
10 Diana Rigg, 82 / A founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, she played Emma Peel in TV’s Avengers and later had a role in Game of Thrones.
12 Terence Conran, 88 / Retailer and restaurateur, he introduced affordable modern design to American and British consumers through his Storehouse, Conran’s, and Habitat stores.
12 Bob Harris, 61 / A Republican political operative in North Carolina, he had muscular dystrophy, which robbed him of his voice and use of his limbs. One colleague called him “the Stephen Hawking of conservatives” because he conducted his prodigious research from his bed, using eyebrow sensors to communicate with his computer keyboard.
13 Lillian Brown, 106 / A makeup artist for nine presidents (Kennedy through Clinton), she got her start when the producers of Face the Nation noticed that guests on her local program looked better than their guests. She worked on John Kennedy 11 times before he became president, including before the famous Nixon-Kennedy debates.
14 Bill Gates Sr., 94 / A lawyer, civic activist, and father of Microsoft Founder Bill Gates Jr., he helped establish and run what became the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, guiding its giving toward global health and the search for an AIDS vaccine.
16 Stanley Crouch, 74 / An outspoken jazz critic, he rejected black nationalism to embrace American pluralism: “We do know there is an Afro-American culture which is impossible without American culture. And American culture, as we understand it, is impossible without the Negro-American component.”
17 Winston Grooms, 77 / A Southern writer and author of Forrest Gump, he found fame after that book became an award-winning movie starring Tom Hanks.
18 Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87 / Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, she was the second female justice on the United States Supreme Court. Prior to that she worked as a law professor, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, and an appellate court judge. After becoming the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, she developed a pop culture following as the “Notorious RBG.”
18 Sam McBratney, 77 / The author of the best-selling picture book Guess How Much I Love You, which has sold more than 50 million copies since its publication in 1994, he died two weeks before the sequel hit bookstores.
19 J. Delano Ellis II, 75 / Founder of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ, he brought high church ecclesiology to the black church: “What we’re discovering … is that order is not blasphemous. Order best represents God.”
19 Donald Kendall, 99 / A former president of PepsiCo, he oversaw expansion of the No. 2 soft drink company (behind Coca-Cola), buying Lays, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken—and selling U.S. products to the USSR and China.
20 Robert Graetz, 92 / A white Lutheran pastor of a black church in Montgomery, Ala., he became involved in the civil rights movement, participated in the Montgomery bus boycott, saw his house firebombed twice, and tried to persuade other Southern white pastors to join the civil rights cause.
23 Gale Sayers, 77 / A Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears, he wrote a memoir about his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo, which became the basis for the TV movie Brian’s Song. He scored 22 touchdowns in his rookie season, including six during a muddy game in Chicago against the 49ers, a record that still stands.
25 Virginia Mollenkott, 88 / A Milton scholar and theologian who often referred to God as “she,” Mollenkott wrote and spoke in support of radical feminism and LGBTQ rights with books like Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach.
27 Yuri Orlov, 96 / Soviet physicist and contemporary of Andrei Sakharov, he founded the Moscow Helsinki Group to monitor human rights abuses in the ’70s-era Soviet Union. The Kremlin exiled him to Siberia and later stripped him of his Soviet citizenship and deported him to the U.S., where he continued his human rights work while teaching physics at Cornell University.
29 Mac Davis, 78 / Singer, songwriter, and actor, he won fame as a singer with hits such as “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” As a songwriter he penned hits for Elvis Presley (“In the Ghetto”) and Bobby Goldsboro (“Watching Scotty Grow”).
29 Helen Reddy, 78 / An Australian pop singer and activist, she scored big hits with “Delta Dawn” and the feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” which earned her a Grammy. In her acceptance speech she thanked “God, because She makes everything possible.”
2 Bob Gibson, 84 / A Hall of Fame pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, he led his team to three World Series with his intimidating fastball and demeanor. Hank Aaron said, “He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him.”
3 Richard Schifter, 97 / A Jew whose parents died in the Holocaust, he became a State Department official during the Reagan administration and used his position to push Moscow to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate.
6 Johnny Nash, 80 / A reggae and pop singer, he was famous for the hit “I Can See Clearly Now.”
6 Eddie Van Halen, 65 / A guitar virtuoso with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Van Halen, he played on hits including “Jump” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
8 Whitey Ford, 91 / A Hall of Fame left-handed pitcher for the New York Yankees, he holds the record for victories by a Yankee, with a 236-106 career record. He won the Cy Young Award in 1961, made the All-Star team 10 times, and helped power the team to six World Series championships.
11 Joe Morgan, 77 / A Hall of Fame five-tool player with Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine,” he helped the Reds win back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. MLB’s Harold Reynolds credited Morgan with opening the second base position to a series of great black players in the ’80s and ’90s: Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, Delino DeShields, and others.
12 Bernard Cohen, 86 / A lawyer, he argued Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down laws against interracial marriage.
12 Roberta McCain, 108 / An oil heiress whose father-in-law and husband were Navy admirals, she became John McCain’s mother and a stylish straight talker who once told Vogue, “Honey, I’ve had a dream life, and it was all luck.”
13 Jay Swartzendruber, 52 / A Christian music publicist and editor of CCM Magazine, he encouraged Christian musicians to support George W. Bush’s program to distribute inexpensive AIDS drugs in Africa.
14 Rhonda Fleming, 97 / A Hollywood star in the 1950s and 1960s in films including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, she earned the nickname “Queen of Technicolor” for the way that new film technology captured her red hair and green eyes.
15 Thomas Howard, 85 / A brother of Elisabeth Elliot, he was an English professor, scholar of the Inklings, and convert to Catholicism who influenced some young evangelicals to become Anglicans and Catholics.
16 John Henderson, 107 / The oldest living former Texas Longhorn football player, he and his wife, Charlotte, held the Guinness record for oldest married couple on earth, with a combined age of 211 years in 2019. They celebrated their 80th anniversary in December 2019.
21 J. Michael Lane, 84 / An epidemiologist, he was instrumental in the fight to eradicate smallpox.
22 William Blinn, 83 / A screenwriter, he created the police drama Starsky & Hutch, was head writer on the miniseries Roots, and won an Emmy for Brian’s Song, a story about interracial friendship.
23 Jerry Jeff Walker, 78 / A country singer and songwriter, he wrote “Mr. Bojangles” and drew other musicians to Austin, where a distinctive music scene developed.
25 Lee Kun-hee, 78 / A Korean business leader, he built Samsung into an international electronics powerhouse despite convictions (and later pardons) for tax avoidance and bribery.
28 Cecilia Chiang, 100 / A restaurateur in San Francisco who hailed from Shanghai, she introduced Americans to authentic Chinese food, including potstickers, mu shu pork, and kung pao chicken.
28 Billy Joe Shaver, 81 / An outlaw-country singer and songwriter, he wrote songs for Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. Although he lived hard, songs like “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” reflected his belief in Jesus.
29 Travis Roy, 45 / The Boston University hockey player who was injured and paralyzed 11 seconds into his first college game, he lived for 25 more years, becoming a philanthropist who supported others with spinal cord injuries.
31 Rance Allen, 71 / A gospel singer who sang for President Obama at the White House in 2015, he often reworked secular songs into gospel tunes (the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” into “Just My Salvation).”
31 Sean Connery, 90 / The Scottish actor famous for playing James Bond and Indiana Jones’ father, he embraced the cause of Scottish independence.
6 Ken Spears, 82 / A sound editor and writer at the Hanna-Barbera studio, he co-created Scooby-Doo with partner Joe Ruby, who died in August.
7 Jonathan Sacks, 72 / The former chief rabbi of Britain for 22 years, he used his position as head of the Orthodox community to promote Jewish values and warn of rising anti-Semitism around the world.
8 Alex Trebek, 80 / As host of the game show Jeopardy! since 1984, he won six Emmys and a 2011 Peabody Award “for decades of consistently encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge.”
9 Harry Jackson Jr., 66 / A prominent black Pentecostal minister and adviser to President Donald Trump.
10 Lucille Bridges, 86 / The black mother who in 1960 enrolled her daughter, Ruby, in an all-white school in New Orleans despite vicious opposition from some white parents.
10 Tom Heinsohn, 86 / A Hall of Fame basketball player and coach with the Boston Celtics, he contributed to 10 NBA championships (eight as a player, two as a coach).
13 Paul Hornung, 84 / A Hall of Fame running back for the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi, he played on four championship teams but served a one-year suspension for gambling on Packers games.
16 Ben Watkins, 14 / After the murder-suicide of his parents in 2017, he was a successful contestant on MasterChef Junior in 2018 with recipes for peach cobbler and fried chicken, and was diagnosed with cancer in 2019.
22 Pat Quinn, 37 / In 2014 he and a fellow surfer with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) made the ice bucket challenge a craze, helping to raise $220 million for ALS research.
23 David Dinkins, 93 / Elected in 1989 as the first black mayor of New York City, he struggled to control the city’s soaring murder rate, rising racial tensions, and crumbling finances.
25 Diego Maradona, 60 / An Argentine soccer star who buddied with mobsters and Fidel Castro, he led his country to a World Cup but struggled with addiction.
27 Tony Hsieh, 46 / An entrepreneur and CEO of online shoe store Zappos, he sold the company to Amazon.com in 2009 for $1.2 billion.
—Please look for WORLD’s December obituaries in an upcoming issue.
COVID-19 in churches
Many churches and ministries are mourning members who died of the disease. Here are a few.
Marlon Alston, 46 / A bus driver, church musician and deacon, and entrepreneur, he also mentored boys without dads in the North Lawndale community of Chicago.
Lorna Breen, 49 / An emergency room doctor and member of the Redeemer community in NYC, she committed suicide after treating people with COVID-19, contracting the disease herself, and returning to work too soon. Her father said on CNN, “She went down in the traces like a horse that had pulled too heavy a load and couldn’t go a step further.”
Luther Coleman, 108 / A minister and farmer in Mississippi, he had moved to Chicago to be near his family.
Regina Dix-Parsons, 75 / Co-founder with her husband of Refreshing Springs Church of God in Christ in Schenectady, N.Y., she performed with the church choir and sang at gospel music festivals.
Patricia Frieson, 61 / A retired nurse, she was the first person in Illinois to die of COVID-19. While in the hospital she posted on Facebook a message that began, “Until the good Lord calls me away from this world to the next, I want to make it clear that I believe in Jesus Christ as the True Lord and Savior.”
Isaac Graham, 66 / The longtime pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Harlem, NYC, he also traveled the U.S. to mentor other pastors.
Ronnie Hampton, 64 / A well-known Shreveport, La., pastor, he recorded from his hospital bed video offering gospel encouragement.
Harrison Johnson, 65 / A pastor and funeral director, he gained national attention when he invited the public to attend the funeral for a victim of the 2019 El Paso mass shooting. The victim’s husband said he didn’t want to grieve alone. Johnson preached the service, which drew 3,000 mourners.
Lawrence Johnson, 80 / A Memphis real estate broker and the first black member of the Tennessee Real Estate Commission, he served for 59 years on the deacon board at Middle Baptist Church in Whitehaven.
Timothy Kim, 68 / A pastor and acupuncturist in Los Angeles, he unknowingly brought the coronavirus home when he moved his mother-in-law from her nursing home after an outbreak. She already had the virus, which spread to Kim, his wife, and two young-adult children. Kim and his mother-in-law died.
Herbert Nygren, 91 / An ordained Methodist minister and professor at Taylor University, he volunteered as pulpit supply for nearby churches, which sometimes paid him with eggs.
David Peña, 64 / An ex-con and ex-addict, he became a Christian in prison and later founded Texas Reach Out Ministries to serve ex-offenders.
Arlola Rawls, 81 / Neighbors and church friends called her “Mama Rawls” for the way she loved children in the neighborhood who had lost their mothers. She often fed more than 30 people at Sunday dinners in her Chicago home.
Tim Russell, 62 / An assistant pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., he became president of the Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies and headmaster of Westminster Academy in east Memphis.
José María Silvestri, 73 / Founder of Iglesia Evangélica Misionera Argentina (IEMA), he believed in small-group discipleship. His church had more than 3,000 small groups in Argentina and abroad.
Lynn Kellogg Simpers, 77 / A star in the original Broadway production of Hair, she later performed Christian music.
Elsa Stewart, 62 / Described as “a pastor’s stalwart prayer warrior and encourager,” she served Christ in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Edoardo Tamer, 83 / A Franciscan priest serving in Aleppo, Syria, he chose to stay after civil war broke out in 2011.
Patricia H. Thatcher, 79 / A retiree in Albany, N.Y., she sang in her church choir for 42 years, worked with refugees, and taught Bible studies.
Lawrence Wilks, 80 / A punning pastor, he went from selling cemetery plots at Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim, Calif., to hosting TV’s Hour of Power.
Carole Rae Woodmansee, 81 / A musician and choir director, she taught in her last Bible study about old hymns.
—WORLD has updated this article to correct the location where Joyce Lin died, the date when Tom Seaver died, and the date and manner of Daniel Prude’s death.
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