In the age of 24/7 news, it’s easier than ever to stay tuned to current events and the goings-on of popular celebrities. News travels like wildfire along social media platforms and television inspired by tabloids. Nevertheless, individuals still manage to slip between the cracks. With a constant stream of new celebrities being introduced, some older athletes, actors, and authors manage to escape our attention. Whether their lives have been overshadowed by breaking news or they’ve slipped into relative obscurity, here is a list of celebrities whose deaths may surprise you.
1) Zsa Zsa Gabor
For 99 years, Zsa Zsa was known as one of the most charming and compelling socialites around. Predating the Kardashians and Hiltons, she became famous for her glamour and outrageous escapades. After being crowned Miss Hungary, she emigrated to the United States in the 1940’s. There, she took on a number of acting gigs and went through nine husbands. Just short of turning 100, she suffered a heart attack in Los Angeles.
2) B.B. King
From humble beginnings working on a Mississippi cotton plantation, B.B. King rose to become one of the most influential figures in blues. An inspiration for countless of his R&B, rock, and pop contemporaries, King played a significant role in the evolution of American music. Performing well into his 70s, his passion was apparent through the sheer number of concerts across the world he performed. In addition to shaping the musical landscape, he used his wealth for philanthropic purposes and was an open advocate for reform in prisons and schools. At 89 years old, he quietly passed away in 2015.
3) Bobby Fischer
A reclusive genius, Bobby Fischer was among the greatest chess players of all time. However, after falling short at the 1972 World Chess Championship, he refrained from public competition for 20 years. Later in life, he renounced his US Citizenship and fell out of popularity after voicing anti-American rhetoric. Eventually, he was granted asylum in Iceland. In 2008, Fischer passed away and was buried south of Reykjavik.
4) Leslie Nielsen
Canadian comedian Leslie Nielsen was beloved by the American public. Though he is best known for his performances in comedies such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun, his career spanned much further than that of most actors. In fact, his filmography includes over 250 film and television roles. A dedicated funny man, he was active right up until his death in 2010. Fittingly, his epitaph simply reads “Let ‘er rip”.
5) Evel Knievel
Evel Knievel was undoubtedly the patron saint of stuntmen. Attempting jumps on motorcycles and rockets over everything from the Grand Canyon to a tank full of live sharks, he lived life without fear. However, he simultaneously acted as a huge proponent for helmet safety, potentially saving the lives of thousands. A cultural fixture, people across the country closely followed his every stunt for many years. Ironically, his daredevil antics did not lead to his demise – at the age of 69, he died after suffering from pulmonary fibrosis and diabetes.
6) Joe Cocker
Few performers have the stage presence of Joe Cocker. Well known for his animated movements, he is perhaps best remembered for his iconic cover of “With a Little Help from my Friends” at Woodstock in 1968. His career as a musician continued for years to come, with enough fans to fill venues like Madison Square Garden. When he died of lung cancer in 2014, the rock and roll community was absolutely devastated. Shortly before his demise, singer/songwriter Billy Joel endorsed his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
7) Leonard Cohen
One of the greatest poets and songwriters of the 20th century, Cohen is often overshadowed by the likes of Bob Dylan. Nevertheless, he used his music and his words to explore topics such as religion and sexuality. In time, he became well known for the political statements he conveyed through song. His most recognized single, “Hallelujah”, has been covered by over 300 artists in a number of different languages. Diagnosed with cancer, he died in 2016 at the age 82.
8) Arnold Palmer
Perhaps the greatest professional golfer of all time, Arnold Palmer’s presence did wonders to popularize the sport. Charismatic and charming, he naturally attracted audiences. His involvement in golf played a large role in getting the sport televised. He was so beloved by fans that his favorite drink, consisting of iced tea and lemonade, is successfully marketed to this day. In 2016, he passed away while wait to receive heart surgery.
9) Harper Lee
Best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee remains one of the most significant figures in modern American literature. The book, which chronicles issues revolving around class and race, is one of the most widely read in schools across the country. In addition to To Kill a Mockingbird, she contributed a great deal of research to Truman Capote’s magnum opus, In Cold Blood. At the age of 89, she died in her sleep in February 2016.
10) Dick Clark
These days, most people recognize television personality Dick Clark from his annual New Year’s Eve special broadcasted from Times Square. However, for thirty years he was the host of the wildly popular variety show American Bandstand. With nearly 900 episodes of the show produced, Dick Clark introduced the United States to some of the most prolific artists of the 20th century, including Madonna, Prince, and the Jackson 5. His contributions to the music and entertainment industry also served as the prototype for youth cultural fixtures such as MTV. Nicknamed “America’s oldest teenager”, he suffered from a fatal heart attack in 2012.
11) Terry Pratchett
English novelist Terry Pratchett sold over 85 million books over the course of his career, making him the best selling author in the UK throughout the 1990’s. With a deep interest in technology as well as nature, his imaginative works were often poignant and culturally relevant. After a prolific career, including the 41 part fantasy series Discworld, Pratchett was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before his death in 2015, he became a vocal advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness and funding.
12) Brittany Murphy
Brittany Murphy was a staple in American film throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s. After her breakthrough role in Clueless, she appeared in a steady number of films marketed toward children and teenagers alike. She also lent her voice to the popular animated sitcom King of the Hill for 12 years. Her death came very suddenly in 2009 due to a bout of pneumonia in conjunction with anemia. Six months later, her husband Simon Monjack died of the same condition, leading to suspicion and speculation among tabloids.
13) Wes Craven
The king of all things horror, any fan of slasher films is well aware of the influence that was wielded by Wes Craven. Although he occasionally dabbled in other genres, he was the mind behind classic film franchises including The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street. With a career spanning over four decades, he accrued the respect of his contemporaries through his twisted yet compelling ability to tell stories. His passing due to brain cancer in 2015 devastated horror fans near and far.
14) Harold Ramis
Though you may not recognize his name, it’s likely you’ve laughed at one Harold Ramis’ jokes. A comedian, writer, and director, he was one of the minds behind comedies such as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Animal House. Perhaps his most famous role was that of Spengler in Ghostbusters. However, after contracting an autoimmune infection in 2010, he lost his ability to walk. He continued to struggle with complications of the disease until his death four years later.
15) Gary Coleman
Coleman was well remembered as an adorable child star in the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. In the 80’s, critics claimed that he was one of the most promising up and coming stars of his time. Unfortunately, Coleman’s adult life was marred by tragedy. The victim of financial hardship and spousal abuse, his troubling personal life exasperated his existing medical problems. Following a number of kidney and heart surgeries, he eventually suffered an epidural hematoma after hitting his head. At the age of 42, he passed away tragically young.
16) Cory Monteith
Canadian heartthrob Cory Monteith was object of affection for thousands of teenagers across North America. After appearing on a number of teen dramas including Kyle XY, Smallville, and Supernatural, Monteith finally found his big break in the critically acclaimed show Glee. Although his singing voice wasn’t particularly strong, he was a natural fit for the role of high school quarterback Finn Hudson. Unfortunately, Monteith’s tenure on the hit show was cut short in 2013, when he succumbed to a fatal cocktail of opiates and alcohol .
17) Peter O’Toole
O’Toole was recognized as one of the most talented actors to ever grace the silver screen. Best known for his starring role in Lawrence of Arabia, he also enjoyed recognition as a Shakespearean actor for nearly 30 years. With an incredible seven Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, very few share the accolades accumulated by O’Toole. At the age of 81, he passed away in London.
18) Dennis Hopper
After appearing in Rebel Without a Cause alongside James Dean, Hopper became a fixture in American counter culture for nearly fifty years. With iconic appearances in films like Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet, he also garnered directorial accomplishments with films like Easy Rider. An artist at heart, he even pursued a prolific career in photography. Unfortunately, fueled by the ups and downs of his career, he struggled with drugs for decades. Eventually, he succumbed to late stage prostate cancer in 2010 after years in poor health.
19) Lauren Bacall
The sultry star and leading lady in a number of film noirs, Bacall was one of the biggest names during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Romantically involved with notables such as Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra, her acting prowess outshined her love life. In 2009, she received an Academy Honorary Award and was recognized as one of the single most significant actresses in Hollywood history. In 2014, just before her 90th birthday, Bacall passed away due to a stroke.
20) Farrah Fawcett
Although Farrah Fawcett graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in microbiology, her main aspiration had always been to become an actress. Determined to do so, she became America’s sweetheart when she was casted for a starring role in Charlie’s Angels. In 2009, she succumbed to a three year long battle with cancer. Unfortunately, much of the public overlooked her passing – only hours later, Michael Jackson’s death took over the headlines of every news outlet.