The Creative and Inspiring People We Lost in 2021

The Creative and Inspiring People We Lost in 2021

2021, like 2020 before it, has been a bit of a rough year for us all, one in many ways defined by a continued sense of loss. As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on a few of the notable actors, directors, artists, writers, and sci-fi icons we lost this year, in tribute to their influence on some of our most beloved stories.

Notable Deaths in January 2021

Screenshot: Warner Bros.
Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Mira Furlan

Although known more recently for her four-season role as Danielle Rousseau in Lost, Mira Furlan will forever be remembered as the kindhearted Minbari ambassador Delenn in the beloved Babylon 5. Her breakout role after emigrating to the U.S. in 1991, Furlan embodied Delenn across all five seasons of the cult show.

Barbara Shelley

British actress Barbara Shelley’s filmography was filled with genre titles, including 1960’s Village of the Damned and Hammer Horror hits like 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness (opposite Christopher Lee), 1966’s Rasputin the Mad Monk (also starring Lee), and 1967’s Quatermass and the Pit. Alongside and following her Hammer heyday, Shelley had a lengthy career in television, notably appearing in the 1984 Doctor Who serial Planet of Fire as well as shows like Blake’s 7 and The Avengers.

Tanya Roberts

She was one of Charlie’s Angels (playing Julie in the series’ fifth and final season), and a Bond girl (opposite Roger Moore in A View to a Kill), but cult movie fans will always remember Roberts best for her roles in beloved cult movies like slasher flick Tourist Trap and fantasy epics The Beastmaster and Sheena: Queen of the Jungle. In recent years, she enjoyed a career revival with a co-starring role on That ‘70s Show, playing the mother of Laura Prepon’s character.

Dave Creek

The adorkable characters from Bob’s Burgers are largely thanks to animator Dave Creek, who worked as the lead character designer on the beloved family animated show. He’d been with the show since the very beginning, starting as a character designer and eventually working his way up to lead character designer. He also worked on other shows and films like Central Park, Brickleberry, and Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown.

Notable Deaths in February 2021

Photo: Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Photo: Jason Merritt, Getty Images

Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer was an incredibly prolific actor whose career spanned 70 years. Although he’ll primarily be remembered for his many drama roles, including several Shakespeare productions and his Academy Award-winning performance in Beginners, he also starred in the original 12 Monkeys movie and Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country,

Joan Weldon

Best known as the star of 1954 sci-fi creature feature Them!, in which she played a scientist facing down gigantic mutant ants spawned by radioactivity and Cold War terrors, Weldon was also a trained opera singer and a frequent TV guest star on 1950s series like Perry Mason and Maverick. Though her last screen credit came in 1958, her cult-classic cred lasted a lifetime.

Notable Deaths in March 2021

Photo: Rich Fury, Getty Images
Photo: Rich Fury, Getty Images

Jessica Walter

The acerbic, hilarious star of Arrested Development and Archer passed away at the age of 80. She had a lengthy career on stage, TV, and in movies, including playing the villainous sorceress Morgan le Fey in a 78 TV pilot for a 1978 Doctor Strange TV series that didn’t get picked up. Nobody played overbearing, withering, and neurotic matriarchs better than Walter — nobody.

Yaphet Kotto

Yaphet Kotto told the world he turned down the roles of Lando Calrissian in Star Wars and Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. But his stardom is cemented by his role in Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie, and as the scene-stealing villain of the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. He died at 81, with no cause of death given.

Notable Deaths in April 2021

Photo: Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Photo: Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Helen McCrory

Helen McCrory had a remarkable career on stage and screen before passing away at age 52 of cancer. After making her cinematic debut in Interview With the Vampire, she eventually played a host of wonderful villains on Doctor Who, Penny Dreadful, and most notable as Draco’s mother Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, a role she took after having to bow out as Belletrix Lestrange. One of her most recent roles was the voice of Stelmaria, Lord Asrial’s snow leopard daemon. McCrory racked up many award nominations for her work, but Harry Potter has immortalised her.

Cleve Hall

The veteran makeup effects artist was known for his memorable work on cult classics like Ghoulies, Re-Animator, and Troll. A huge Godzilla fan, he also had a cameo as the King of the Monsters in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, wearing a suit he made himself. Hall also worked with musical acts designing props (notably Kiss and Alice Cooper), and earned an Emmy nomination for his contributions to Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba!

Joye Hummel

The first woman to ever write a Wonder Woman comic, Joye Hummel was hired by the hero’s creator William Moulton Marston to help shape the world’s greatest and best-known female superhero. She wrote 70 issues of the comic that increasingly emphasised Wonder Womans’ role as a feminist, completely uncredited until she won the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing at Comic-Con’s Eisner Awards in 2018. She died, aged 97.

Giannetto de Rossi

Special effects make-up artist beloved by horror fans for his memorably vivid work on Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, and especially the eyeball-piercing, shark-brawling cult classic Zombie, also known as Zombi 2. De Rossi’s other credits included High Tension, David Lynch’s Dune, Kull the Conqueror, Rambo III, Conan the Destroyer, and DragonHeart, to name just a few.

Robert Fletcher

The costume designer for the Star Trek movies from The Motion Picture to The Voyage Home, Fletcher is responsible for some of the franchise’s most enduring looks, from the aesthetic of Khan Noonien Singh and his fellow genetically enhanced superhumans in Wrath of Khan, to the iconic warrior armour of the Klingons, which would go on to appear throughout the likes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

Notable Deaths in May 2021

Photo: Craig Barritt, Getty Images
Photo: Craig Barritt, Getty Images

John Paul Leon

An iconic comics artist whose masterful illustrations covered the Marvel and DC comics universes and beyond in iconic works like Earth X, Static, and The Winter Men, John Paul Leon passed away at the age of 49 after a decade-and-a-half battle with cancer. Beloved across the comics industry as an artist and as a person, Leon’s legacy included works on major comics figures such as Batman, Superman, Galactus, and many, many more.

Billie Hayes

Live-action kids’ series H.R. Pufnstuf only ran from 1969-1970, but it’s become a cult classic thanks to its surreal, undeniably psychedelic costumes, puppets, and set design. A big part of the show was Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo, the campy, cackling, ever-bumbling villain who spent every episode trying (and inevitably failing) to get her mitts on a very special magic flute. In addition to being one of TV’s most memorable witches, Hayes–who lived to be 96–was also a Broadway star and a voice-over veteran, contributing her distinctive pipes to The Real Ghostbusters, Rugrats, and many more.

Paul Soles

Canadian Radio and TV legend Paul Soles, who passed away at the age of 90, is best known for his work as a voice actor, first starring as both Rick Jones and Bruce Banner in The Marvel Super Heroes, the first animated adaptation of the comics publisher’s iconic characters. But he is remembered for his iconic role as Peter Parker and Spider-Man in the webslinger’s 1967 animated series. Soles defined Spider-Man beyond the pages of the comics for generations, both contemporary and in our modern age as his take on the friendly neighbourhood hero became reborn as a pop cultural meme.

Notable Deaths in June 2021

Photo: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Photo: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Ned Beatty

Sci-fi fans probably know Ned Beatty best for three syllables: “Mr. Lou-Thor.” His performance as Otis in the original Superman films instantly endeared him to fans of all ages but, beyond that, Beatty’s varied career is one filled with classics: Deliverance, Network, All the President’s Men, and Nashville, just to name a few. We knew him best as an Every Man and as a result, he became an actor whose talent instantly designated a project as one of quality. Beatty passed of natural causes this year at the age of 83.

Joanne Linville

Although she appeared on many, many TV series throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Star Trek fans will remember Linville as the Romulan commander who gets romanced by Spock as part of a spy mission in the third season episode “The Enterprise Incident.” Liville died at 93.

Notable Deaths in July 2021

Photo: Valerie Macon, Getty Images
Photo: Valerie Macon, Getty Images

Richard Donner

Very few filmmakers come close to Richard Donner’s work in terms of prolific, influential filmmaking spanning multiple decades. He defined what a superhero movie could be with Superman. He redefined the buddy cop film with Lethal Weapon. He set the bar for creepy kid movies with The Omen, upped the ante for holiday classics with Scrooged, and that’s not even mentioning The Goonies, Radio Flyer and others. A legend in every sense of the word, Donner passed this year at 91.

Robson Rocha

A young artist whose stellar career as an DC Comics exclusive saw him work across the publisher during the New 52 and Rebirth eras on titles such as Birds of Prey, Green Lanterns, Superboy, Teen Titans, Batman/Superman, Justice League, Lobo, and more, Rocha passed away from complications caused by covid-19.

William F Nolan

While the 1976 sci-fi movie Logan’s Run is considered a classic, few people realise that it was based on a book co-written by the author William F. Nolan. His work includes hundreds or short stories, novels, and more in both science fiction and horror genres, including two sequels to Logan’s Run. He died at 93.

Notable Deaths in August 2021

Image: J.W. Rinzler
Image: J.W. Rinzler

J.W. Rinzler

Many of the truths that fans know about the history of Star Wars come from the work of one man: J.W. Rinzler. Rinzler penned multiple, essential, books on the making of the original Star Wars trilogy that are staggering in their honesty and comprehensiveness. He extended that talent to other titles too and basically became one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of popular cinema. Rinzler passed this year at the age of 58.

Marilyn Eastman

As part of the ensemble behind George A. Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead, Marilyn Eastman’s place in horror history is forever assured; though she’s best recognised as Helen Cooper, part of the doomed family hiding in the farmhouse basement, she also assisted with the film’s gruesome make-up effects.

Sonny Chiba

Beloved for his role as anti-hero force of nature Takuma Tsurugi in the Street Fighter movies, martial arts icon Sonny Chiba–born Sadaho Maeda and also known in the west for roles in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and The Fast and Furious franchise–had a career that spanned decades of screen and stage work, playing comics icons like Golgo 13 and Storm Rider’s Lord Conqueror. He died this year at 82.

Notable September 2021 Deaths

Photo: Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Photo: Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Norm Macdonald

Bone dry, razor sharp and staggeringly smart. That was the comedy of Norm Macdonald. Macdonald was a stand up comedian who rose to fame as the Weekend Update anchor on Saturday Night Live through some of its most popular years. He went on to star in movies such as Billy Madison and Dirty Work while always being one of the most vicious, funny, voices on late night TV — and even lent his voice to Seth McFarlane’s sci-fi series The Orville, playing the gelatinous crew member Yaphit, as well as his human avatar. He died of leukaemia this year at age 61.

Notable October 2021 Deaths

Image: HBO
Image: HBO

Michael K. Williams

Few deaths in 2021 were as shocking as that of the incredible Michael K. Williams. Williams was fresh in our minds after another incredible performance on Lovecraft Country, which just extended his stream of unforgettable characters on excellent HBO dramas: Omar Little on The Wire, Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, and many more. His talent and charisma was taking over Hollywood too before being taken away way too soon at the age of 54.

Ruthie Tompson

Passing away this year at 111, Ruthie Tompson is one of the earliest and most iconic animators at Walt Disney Animation, having joined the studio to help put finishing painter touches on its first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, before building a legacy as an artist and eventual scene planner and animator on Disney icons such as Fantastia, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and many more, on a career at the company that spanned nearly four decades.

Chris Ayres

Voice actor Chris Ayres passed away at the age of 56. He’ll be best remembered as the voice of the iconic Dragon Ball Z villain Frieza for more than a decade, but was a stage actor, director, and fight choreographer as well.

Joanna Cameron

Known to DC Comics fans as the star of The Secrets of Isis–a TV adaptation of the titular Fawcett Comics superhero, and the first live-action superhero TV series to be fronted by a female star. Cameron’s legacy of playing the Shazam! counterpart would survive both the then-Captain Marvel and Isis’ procurement by DC Comics, where Cameron’s likeness as Isis was enshrined into DC continuity. She passed away at the age of 70.

Camille Saviola

Saviola, who passed away at the age of 71, only had a brief role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, appearing in four episodes, but became iconic among Trek fans for her performance as the inspirational Bajoran spiritual leader, Kai Opaka–a major figure in the lives of Kira Nerys and Benjamin Sisko, and a catalyst that set in motion their arcs across the entire series.

Notable Deaths in November 2021

Screenshot: BBC
Screenshot: BBC

Bob Baker

A legend in British pop culture for both his work on Doctor Who–where he co-created the Doctor’s beloved robotic canine companion K-9–and as the co-writer on Aardman’s iconic Wallace & Gromit shorts, Baker died at the age of 82. His legacy with his late writing partner, Dave Martin, included work on Z Cars and several serials of Doctor Who across the 1970s, including “The Hand of Fear”, Elisabeth Sladen’s final regular appearance as Sarah Jane Smith, and “The Three Doctors”, the series’ first anniversary special.

Stephen Sondheim

This titan of American musical theatre revitalised Broadway and redefined the art form through works like West Side Story and Gypsy, as well as the fairy classic Into the Woods and dark comedy Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, both of which were made into excellent films. He also wrote several songs for Warren Beatty’s 1990 Dick Tracy film, but his most important work is the tremendous influence he’s had on composers around the world. He passed away of cardiovascular disease at 91.

Notable Deaths in December 2021

Photo: Joe Scarnici, Getty Images
Photo: Joe Scarnici, Getty Images

Anne Rice

Anne Rice changed vampires forever. The author of Interview With the Vampire and the creator of her iconic character Lestat, Rice transformed the bloodsucking fiends into a tragic, gothic, and even romantic society that has influenced almost every vampire story since. During her prolific 45-year career, she also wrote tales of horror, history, religion, and erotica, selling over 100 million copies around the world. She died at the age of 80.

Ryan Bodenheim

Best known for his work as a comics artist at Valiant, where he did work on the likes of Eternal Warrior, 4001AD, Bloodshot, and Ninjak, Ryan “Bode” Bodenheim passed away at the age of 44. The artist had also worked at Marvel on characters like Black Panther and The Hulk, and was due to join Eternals writer Kieron Gillen on an upcoming one-shot featuring the characters.

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