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Celebrity deaths 2021: The famous faces and notable figures we said goodbye to this year

As the year comes to an end, it is time to commemorate the stars and notable figures we have said goodbye to over the last 12 months.

Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding, comedian Sean Lock, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, musical great Stephen Sondheim and of course Prince Philip are among those who sadly died in 2021.

Here’s a look back at the careers, the legacies and the tributes following the deaths of famous faces from the worlds of music, film, TV, fashion, sport, politics and royalty.

January

US talk show host Larry King had a career spanning more than six decades and thousands of interviews, quizzing world leaders and entertainers from Bill Clinton to Tom Cruise.

His broadcasting fame began in the 1970s with his radio programme The Larry King Show and he went on to have his own television show, Larry King Live on CNN, between 1985 and 2010. More recently, he had hosted Larry King Now on US streaming platform Hulu.

He died in hospital in Los Angeles, aged 87, a few weeks after contracting coronavirus. Later US media reports said his immediate cause of death was sepsis and not the virus.

Barack Obama led the tributes following the death of pioneering black actress Cicely Tyson at the age of 96.

The film, television and stage actress had a 60-year career which earned her three Emmys and a Tony Award. She used her career to take on issues important to her, such as race and gender, and her most-lauded performances came in historical works such as the 1972 movie Sounder, in which she played a Louisiana sharecropper’s wife.

“She had a heart unlike any other – and for 96 years, she left a mark on the world that few will ever match,” Mr Obama said in a statement.

Gerry Marsden, of Gerry And The Pacemakers, was perhaps best known for covering the Rogers And Hammerstein song You’ll Never Walk Alone with his band – leading Liverpool Football Club to adopt it as their official motto and anthem.

Born in the Toxteth area of Liverpool in 1942, Marsden also penned the ’60s hits Ferry Cross the Mersey and Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying.

He died in hospital at the age of 78, with his agent paying tribute to a musical “legend”.

Other stars and notable figures who died in January 2021 included:

February

After inspiring the nation during lockdown by raising tens of millions of pounds for the NHS in 2020, Captain Sir Tom Moore died at the age of 100 after contracting COVID-19.

He had become a national treasure and a household name after raising more than £32m for the health service by walking 100 laps of his garden with his Zimmer frame – and was knighted for his efforts by the Queen at Windsor Castle.

“The last year of our father’s life was nothing short of remarkable,” his daughters Hannah and Lucy said in their tribute. “He was rejuvenated and experienced things he’d only ever dreamed of.”

Actor Christopher Plummer was best known for playing Captain von Trapp in The Sound Of Music, but had more recently starred in Knives Out, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and A Beautiful Mind.

Amongst the most decorated in his field, he won an Oscar, two Primetime Emmys, two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a BAFTA during his career.

He died at home in the US, aged 91, with Dame Julie Andrews leading the tributes to a “consummate actor” and “cherished friend”.

Soap star Johnny Briggs played Coronation Street’s Mike Baldwin for 30 years, an often unscrupulous character known for his affair with Deirdre Barlow and his long-running feud with her husband, Ken.

A Cockney chancer, Baldwin had begun life as a market stall owner in 1976, but once Briggs established the role he quickly took ownership of the street’s factory in a role that earned him both an MBE and a lifetime achievement award at the 2006 British Soap Awards.

Corrie stars including William Roache, who played Ken, Sue Nicholls (Audrey Roberts) and Helen Worth (Gail Platt) were among those paying tribute to “one of the Street’s most memorable characters”.

We also lost:

March

Legendary Formula One commentator Murray Walker‘s voice provided the backing track to some of the sport’s most iconic moments, from James Hunt’s 1976 championship win over Niki Lauda, to Nigel Mansell’s 1992 title triumph.

His career in broadcasting spanned more than 50 years, for the BBC and ITV, before he retired from commentating in 2001.

“His passion and love of the sport inspired millions of fans around the world,” F1 said in tribute following his death at 97.

Actor Yaphet Kotto, best known for his turn as a James Bond villain in Live And Let Die, died at the age of 81.

He was the franchise’s first black antagonist, playing Dr Kananga and his alter-ego Mr Big in the 1973 film opposite the late Sir Roger Moore as 007.

He also starred as technician Dennis Parker in Alien in 1979, alongside Sigourney Weaver, and as William Laughlin opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987 action film The Running Man.

Reggae legend and three-time Grammy winner Bunny Wailer, the last surviving member of The Wailers, died in Jamaica at the age of 73.

The baritone singer, whose birth name was Neville Livingston, formed The Wailers in 1963 with late superstars Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

His death brought to a close “the most vibrant period of Jamaica’s musical experience”, wrote Jamaica politician Peter Phillips in a tribute post on Facebook.

Other notable figures who died in March 2021 included:

April

Prince Philip died at the age of 99, just two months before his 100th birthday.

He had been married to Queen Elizabeth II for more than 70 years and was the longest-serving consort in British history, carrying out more than 22,000 solo engagements by the time he stepped back from public life in 2017.

Known for his mischievous sense of humour – as well as the occasional gaffe – he once jokingly referred to himself as “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler”.

Here is a look at his life in pictures.

Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter actress Helen McCrory died at the age of 52 after being diagnosed with cancer.

A versatile actress with a career on stage and screen spanning almost 30 years, she portrayed Cherie Blair, wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, in both The Queen and The Special Relationship. However, she was best known as crime family matriarch Polly from Peaky Blinders, appearing in the show from 2013 to 2019.

Her actor husband Damian Lewis, star of Homeland and Billions, paid tribute to “a beautiful and mighty woman” who “blazed so brightly”.

Nikki Grahame shot to fame in Big Brother in 2006, entering the famous house dressed as a Playboy bunny and going on to become one of the series’ most memorable contestants.

While in the house, she became well known for her tantrums, including the infamous “who is she?!” rant in the diary room chair. After Big Brother, she went on to appear in other versions of the show both in the UK and abroad, as well as having her own reality series, Princess Nikki.

She died after a long-running battle against eating disorders, aged 38.

We also lost:

May

Actor Charles Grodin was best known for his roles in The Heartbreak Kid, Midnight Run and two Beethoven movies.

Steve Martin was among those paying tribute following his death, describing Grodin as “one of the funniest people I ever met”.

He died at the age of 86.

Eric Carle was the man behind children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, published in 1969, which told the story of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly.

The story sold more than 40 million copies around the world, was translated into 60 languages and was turned into everything from cuddly toys to stage shows.

Michelle Obama was among those paying tribute following Carle’s death at the age of 91, saying he had filled millions of lives “with wonder and joy”.

We also said goodbye to:

June

Ned Beatty was an Oscar-nominated character actor who appeared in dozens of films and TV shows throughout his career.

Rising to fame with a role in Deliverance in 1972 – which was controversial due to his character’s rape scene – he went on to appear in films including Superman and Superman 2 alongside Christopher Reeve, Network, All The President’s Men, and Charlie Wilson’s War.

He died at his home in Los Angeles, aged 83.

In June, we also said goodbye to:

July

One of Hindi cinema’s greatest actors, Dilip Kumar was a national treasure in India.

Known as the “tragedy king” and hailed as the first superstar of Bollywood, he made over 65 films in a career spanning five decades – and was said to have turned down the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean’s iconic Lawrence Of Arabia, which was then played by Omar Sharif.

He died at the age of 98 following a long-term illness, with India’s prime minister Narendra Modi paying tribute to “a cinematic legend”.

Dusty Hill was the bassist and vocalist with US rock band ZZ Top.

Born Joe Michael Hill in Dallas, he formed the group in Houston in 1969 with bandmates Frank Beard and guitarist Billy Gibbons, and soon after they recorded their debut album, ZZ Top’s First Album, in 1970.

The band had still been performing up until not long before Hill’s death at the age of 72. “We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’,” his bandmates said in tribute.

We also lost:

August

Drummer Charlie Watts joined The Rolling Stones in 1963, playing on legendary rock hits including I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Paint It Black and Brown Sugar.

He had grown up in Wembley, north London, and met fellow Stone Mick Jagger as a teenager.

Some of the biggest names in music, including Elton John, Paul McCartney and Liam Gallagher, were among those paying tribute following his death at the age of 80, alongside his bandmates Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.

Here is a look at his life in pictures.

The death of comedian Sean Lockbest known for panel shows 8 Out Of 10 Cats and 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown – came as a huge shock in August. Aged 58, the star had been suffering from cancer but kept his diagnosis private.

Lock’s early professional TV appearances were in 1993, starring alongside Rob Newman and David Baddiel in Newman And Baddiel In Pieces. In 1998, he script-edited Is It Bill Bailey? on BBC Two and had his own show called 15 Minutes Of Misery on BBC Radio 4, which later expanded into TV series 15 Storeys High.

He also appeared on panel shows including Have I Got News for You, QI, and They Think It’s All Over.

Jimmy Carr and Ricky Gervais were among the many paying tribute to “one of the funniest, most influential comedians of a generation”.

Una Stubbs enjoyed a stellar television career which included appearances in EastEnders, The Catherine Tate Show, Fawlty Towers, Heartbeat, Benidorm, We’d Quite Like To Apologise, and Agatha Christie’s Marple.

But she was best known for her roles in Till Death Us Do Part, Summer Holiday, Sherlock and Worzel Gummidge.

She died at the age of 84, with her family around her.

Other stars who died in August included:

September

Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding rose to fame with the girl group on Popstars: The Rivals in 2002, alongside Cheryl, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh.

The band got to Christmas number one that year with their debut single, Sound Of The Underground, and went on to become one of the most successful pop groups in British music history.

Harding died aged 39 after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. “I know she won’t want to be remembered for her fight against this terrible disease – she was a bright shining star and I hope that’s how she can be remembered instead,” her mother Marie wrote in tribute following her death.

Here is a look at her life in pictures.

Actor Michael K Williams was a multiple Emmy nominee who earned nods for his roles in Bessie, The Night Of, When They See Us and, earlier this year, Lovecraft Country.

The Brooklyn-born star also won fans for his role as Chalky White in the period gangster series Boardwalk Empire, but was best known for playing Omar Little in hit crime drama The Wire.

He died at the age of 54 from an accidental drug overdose, a post-mortem found.

We also said goodbye to:

October

The death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins shocked the world. On set in New Mexico working on the Western film Rust, the 42-year-old died after a gun held by star and producer Alec Baldwin went off during a rehearsal.

Ms Hutchins had been working as the director of photography on the film, a role she had previously held on the 2020 action film Archenemy. She had also worked on a number of other movies, including The Mad Hatter and Blindfire.

Many of her colleagues and friends paid tribute to a “brilliant talent” following her death.

Actor James Michael Tyler was undoubtedly best known for playing Gunther in Friends throughout all 10 series of the hit comedy, famously having a crush on Jennifer Aniston’s character, Rachel Green.

Aniston led the tributes to the star, thanking him for the laughter he “brought to the show and to all of our lives” and saying Friends “would not have been the same” without him.

Tyler died aged 59 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018.

British politics also lost two Conservative MPs this month: James Brokenshire, who died of cancer aged 53, and Sir David Amess, who died after being stabbed at a constituency surgery.

Southend West MP Sir David, 69, had been an MP for 38 years, having first been elected to parliament in 1983. He never held a ministerial role during his long parliamentary career, although he was a parliamentary private secretary to former ministers Edwina Currie and Michael Portillo in the late 1980s.

He instead focused his efforts from the backbenches of the House of Commons, sitting on a number of Commons committees during his time in Westminster and also sponsoring many parliamentary bills – many of which were focused on his keen interest in animal welfare and his ambition to eliminate fuel poverty.

Mr Brokenshire, the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, was first elected to parliament in 2005 and has served as both housing secretary and Northern Ireland secretary. He had stepped down as security minister in July after being treated for lung cancer.

We also lost:

November

Lionel Blair‘s entertainment career spanned seven decades, including appearances as an actor, tap dancer, presenter, and choreographer.

He was best known as a team captain on the TV game show Give Us A Clue, appeared in the West End as the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, and more recently appeared on reality TV shows such as Celebrity Big Brother and The Real Marigold Hotel.

He died at the age of 92, with stars including Danny Baker, Julian Clary and Piers Morgan paying tribute to “an immeasurable talent”.

Stephen Sondheim was the composer and lyricist behind some of the world’s best-known musicals, including the lyrics for West Side Story and Sweeney Todd, during a 60-year career.

Awarding him with the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, Barack Obama said Sondheim “reinvented the American musical”. In December 2019, a theatre on London’s West End, currently home to Les Miserables, was named after Sondheim in honour of his 90th birthday.

His death at the age of 91 was reported to have been sudden, just hours after celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

US fashion designer Virgil Abloh first came to prominence as rapper Kanye West’s creative director but later made history as the first African-American to lead French luxury brand Louis Vuitton. He also founded the Off-White label.

Often hailed as one of the most influential designers in the fashion industry, he was also a DJ, an artist and had degrees in civil engineering and architecture.

He died at the age of 41 after a private battle with cancer.

Other stars who died in November included:

December

Real name Geoffrey Rowe, comedian Jethro rose to fame in the 1980s and was best known for his unique style and observational comedy, including pieces about living in Cornwall.

A regular on TV shows hosted by Des O’Connor, his other TV credits included the 2001 Royal Variety Performance and Jim Davidson’s Generation Game.

He died aged 72 after contracting COVID-19.

With 1960s pop group The Monkees, Michael Nesmith found fame with hits including I’m A Believer, Daydream Believer and Last Train To Clarksville.

The group also appeared in a self-titled television series, which first aired between 1966 and 1968.

Nesmith died aged 78, just a few weeks after finishing a Monkees farewell tour with drummer Micky Dolenz, now the last surviving member of the group, who said: “I’m so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best – singing, laughing, and doing shtick. I’ll miss it all so much. Especially the shtick.”

Il Divo are a classcial crossover group conceived by Simon Cowell in 2003. Signed to his label Syco, they went on to release 10 studio albums and sell some 30 million records.

Away from Il Divo, singer Carlos Marin, 53, performed in a number of musicals, including Les Miserables, Grease, and Beauty And The Beast.

The group announced his death following reports that he had been taken to hospital in Manchester. “There wiIl never be another voice or spirit like Carlos,” they said in tribute.

Anti-apartheid veteran Desmond Mpilo Tutu was an outspoken critic of the country’s previous brutal system of oppression against the country’s Black majority.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his campaign of non-violent opposition to South Africa’s white minority rule.

Other stars and notable figures we lost included:

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