With 2021 coming to and end, many of us are looking forward to a new year where we can hopefully say goodbye to some of the problems of this one. Before we bring the year to a close, however, it is worth saying one final goodbye to some of the great actors who we lost in the last 12 months.
Among them were some names that appeared in some of the most famous films and TV shows of all time. Among those we said goodbye to was The Sound of Music‘s Christopher Plummer, The Wire star Michael K. Williams, plus Arrested Development‘s inimitable Jessica Walter.
No 2021 acting in memoriam would be complete with Oscar winners Cloris Leachman and Olympia Dukakis, TV legends like Ed Asner, titans of world cinema like Dilip Kumar and Jean-Paul Belmondo, as well as foundational Black cinema figures like Melvin Van Peebles and Cicely Tyson.
Actors who died in 2021
Ed Asner (November 15, 1929 to August 29, 2021)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant star whose awards cabinet held five Golden Globes and seven Emmys. The actor worked right up to his death aged 91, with recent performances including the voice of Carl in Up and a role on Netflix show Cobra Kai.
Ned Beatty (July 6, 1937 – June 13, 2021)
After making his film debut in the 1970s classic Deliverance, Beatty became an in-demand character actor following roles in masterpieces like Nashville, All the President’s Men and Network (which bagged him an Oscar nomination). More recently, he provided the voice for Lotso in Toy Story 3 before his retirement from screen acting in 2013.
Jean-Paul Belmondo (9 April, 1933 – 6 September, 2021)
Belmondo’s cigarette-smoking cool in Godard’s Breathless made him iconic, with his face often representing the French New Wave as a whole. Godard also used him in A Woman is a Woman and Pierrot le Fou, and he also worked with great European directors like Jean-Pierre Melville, François Truffaut, Agnes Varda and Vittorio De Sica among many others.
Sonny Chiba (22 January, 1939 – 19 August 2021)
A legend of martial arts cinema, the actor appeared in over 125 projects for Japan’s legendary Toei studio. These credits led Hollywood directors to pay tribute to him with roles in Kill Bill and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Olympia Dukakis (June 20, 1931 – May 1, 2021)
An Oscar winner for Moonstruck, Dukakis starred in over 130 plays across her decades-long stage career. Her film roles included Steel Magnolias, Working Girl and Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, while her 2019 reprise of the role of Anna Madrigal in Netflix’s Tales of the City found her a new audience.
Charles Grodin (21 April 1935 to 18 May 2021)
No one played the role of the deadpan straight man better in the 1970s than Charles Grodin, as seen in roles in The Heartbreak Kid and Heaven can Wait. After retiring in the 1990s to become a writer and host, he made a return to acting in the 2000s in shows like Louis and movies like While We’re Young.
Hal Holbrook (February 17, 1925 to January 23, 2021)
Few actor can claim to have played a single character as many times as Hal Halbrook played Mark Twain, a role he played first played on stage in 1954 and continued doing so until 2017. He won a Tony for Mark Twain Tonight in 1966, won five Emmys, and received an Oscar nomination in 2008 for Into the Wild.
Yaphet Kotto (November 15, 1939 – March 15, 2021)
Across a storied career, Kotto appeared in Alien, as a James Bond villain in Live and Let Die, and proved his comedy chops in Midnight Run. These roles led to him being considered for the lead of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and while Patrick Stewart eventually got the role, Kotto had a TV success of his own with Homicide: Life on the Streets.
Dilip Kumar (11 December, 1922 – 7 July 2021)
A Bollywood legend, Kumar was the biggest Indian movie star of the 1950s and 1960s, whose Mughal-e-Azam is the highest-grossing film in India of all time (adjusted for inflation). His five-decade career saw him named the « Tragedy King, » who brought Method acting to screens before American stars like Marlon Brando.
Cloris Leachman (30 April, 1926 – 27January, 2021)
In a career that spanned seven and a half decades, Leachman won eight Emmy awards and was nominated 22 times, making her the most-awarded and most-nominated performer in the show’s history. These nominations came from performances in shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Malcolm in the Middle, and she won an Oscar for 1971’s The Last Picture Show.
Helen McCrory (17 August 1968 – 16 April 2021)
Best known internationally as Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies (she was initially cast as Bellatrix Lestrange but had to pull out due to pregnancy). In her native United Kingdom , McCrory was a much-loved star of stage and screen, with her credits including Skyfall, Peaky Blinders, The Queen and Hugo.
Christopher Plummer (13 December, 1929 – 5 February, 2021)
Plummer’s seven-decade career began in 1948, and saw him take home two Tonys, two Emmys and an Oscar. Though perhaps forever best known as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, recent films like All the Money in the World, Beginners and Knives Out gave his career a late resurgence. His Academy Award nomination for the first of those at 88 makes him the oldest ever acting nominee in Oscars history.
George Segal (13 February 1934 – 23 March, 2021)
In a milestone for Jewish actors in Hollywood, Segal was one of the first to become a star without changing his name. Among his defining roles were Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (which netted him an Oscar nomination) and A Touch of Class (which won him a Golden Globe). Later in life, he became a sitcom star thanks to Just Shoot Me! and The Goldbergs.
Dean Stockwell (5 March, 1936 – 7 November, 2021)
A child star in the 1940s (he starred in the Oscar-winning Gentleman’s Agreement and was the eponymous Boy with the Green Hair), Stockwell would get some of his finest roles decades later thanks to 1980s auteurs like Wim Wenders (in Paris, Texas), David Lynch (Blue Velvet) and Jonathan Demme (Married to the Mob, which got Stockwell an Oscar nomination). His TV highlights included Jag, Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica.
Cicely Tyson (19 December,1924 – 28 January, 2021)
Tyson died at the start of this year just days after the release of her autobiography, leaving behind a career that had won her three Emmys, a Tony, an honorary Academy Award, a Peabody and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her defining roles included Sounder, How to Get Away with Murder and Roots.
Jessica Walter (31 January, 1941 – 24 March, 2021)
Though her career began in the 1960s (and she won an Emmy for Amy Prentiss in 1975), Walter will forever be associated with two fantastically acerbic mothers: Mallory Archer in Archer, and Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development.
Michael K. Williams (22 November, 1966 – 6 September, 2021)
Williams distinguished himself by playing two characters considered by many to be the best part of two defining HBO shows – Omar Little in The Wire and « Chalky » White on Boardwalk Empire. More recently, the actor received plaudits for his work on Lovecraft Country and When They See Us.
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