Celebrities we lost in 2021
I don’t get too worked up about celebrities passing, which is a bit surprising perhaps given how much I love TV and movies. I generally only care about their work. But I think I’ve made it to the age where I am starting to know more and more of the actors who are passing, so the end of year tributes for 2021 seemed to have a lot of familiar names. Many of them passed early in the year and I never saw any mention, which isn’t surprising as they weren’t all big stars. Others were, and the splash was noticeable, but I didn’t pay much attention at the time.
Fans of the Mary Tyler Moore Show had a devastating year. Gavin Macleod passed, although I probably think of him as Murray Slaughter as much as Captain Stubing (The Love Boat). Ed Asner passed too, and I liked him on MTM as well as on his own show, Lou Grant. We also lost Cloris Leachman who played Phyllis (and later Mrs. Krebbs on the Facts of Life) and just recently Betty White who played Sue Ann, although more people likely know her as Rose Nylund (Golden Girls). Of the original eight cast members who did the most episodes, White was the last to turn out the lights following the loss of Ted Knight (1986), MTM (2017), Georgia Engel (2017), Valerie Harper (2019), Macleod (2021), Leachman (2021), and Asner (2021).
Fans of comedies took a lot of hits this year and the world is a less funny place with their departure:
- Night Court lost both Markie Post as Christine (although I knew her more as Terri from The Fall Guy) and Charlie Robinson as Mac;
- Police Academy lost two as well, with Marion Ramsey who she nailed the driving test scene as Sgt Hooks and Art Metrano as Mauser;
- Just Shoot Me’s George Segal passed back in March, although I’d prefer him in The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox or in Murphy’s Law (based on the Trace books by my favourite author);
- Happy Days / Laverne and Shirley lost Eddie Mekka who played Carmine Ragusa and Gavin O’Herlihy who played Richie’s disappearing brother Chuck in S1;
- Gregory Sierra was one of those cameo stars who was probably in 30 different shows that I watched over the years, but I’m torn between seeing him as Carlos (Soap) or Chano (Barney Miller);
- MASH lost Mike Henry who played Donald Penobscott, although movie-goers might remember him more as Junior, the jilted bridegroom who Sally Field left at the altar and son to Jackie Gleason’s Buford T Justice from Smokey and the Bandit;
- Peter Scolari was the prep dreamboat Michael on Newhart that had his girl all aflutter when he wasn’t totally whipped;
- I don’t know if I should include William Smith here, not all of his roles were comedic, but he was quite amusing fighting Clint Eastwood as Jack Wilson in Any Which Way You Can; and,
- Finally there is Charles Grodin. I know, I know, I should note him from Midnight Run or Heaven Can Wait, he was great in both. But I’ll likely always remember him as the fake President’s accountant friend Murray Blum in Dave.
For me though, almost all of the big memories are like the ones above…people I’m disappointed they have passed because I liked them in a very specific role, despite long careers:
- Christopher Plummer’s career ranged from Star Trek VI (Chang) to the Thorn Birds and Murder by Decree, but like most people, I’ll only think of him as Captain Georg von Trapp in the Sound of Music. A classic performance, one for the ages;
- I noted when Willie Garson passed, and he’ll always be Mozzie to me (White Collar);
- Dean Stockwell will always be Al from Quantum Leap, although I liked him being slimy in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise;
- For me, I enjoyed Norman Lloyd as almost two different actors. He was fabulous as the very wise and proper Dr. Daniel Auschlander on St. Elsewhere, but I also really liked him as the tech genius Dr. Isaac on Seven Days;
- Ned Beatty passed in June, and lots of people will remember him from Deliverance or Homicide: Life on the Street. Good performances, no doubt, but for me, he will always be Otis to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, forever trying to establish Otisville in Superman 1;
- James Hampton had a long career, numerous cameos, and some campy stuff like Teen Wolf. But he will always be Caretaker to me (The Longest Yard);
- I loved seeing Art Lafleur in shows like Cold Case, The Mentalist, Angel or JAG, but he totally nailed first baseman Chick Gandil in Field of Dreams;
- Tanya Roberts’ big movie role was A View To A Kill with Roger Moore, and she was good, but I will always see her as Julie Rogers from Charlie’s Angels;
- Yaphet Kotto had lots of roles too, but I can see him most as William Laughlin in The Running Man after the ice hockey battle, slapping five with Arnold Schwarzenegger saying that Sub-Zero is now just plain zero; and,
- Of course, regardless of a long career, Hal Holbrook was picture-perfect as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men.
I have some simple ones that popped up — William Lucking who played the original Colonel Lynch chasing the A-Team; Tim Donnelly who played Chet on Emergency!; and Olympia Dukakis who is celebrated for Moonstruck but I liked her better as the principal in Mr. Holland’s Opus.
There are even two actors who were iconic in roles in sci-fi shows. Mira Furlan played Ambassador Delenn on Babylon 5 through some interesting metamorphoses and always came up with new ways to present the character. And Peter Mark Richman was only in a single episode of ST: The Next Generation, playing a businessman that was cryogenically frozen and revived in the 24th Century (sure, a bit of a rip-off of the Khan plot). Yet he had amazing presence in the episode, including being able to command the bridge scene while meeting Romulans near the Neutral Zone. He’s been in a lot of other shows, but he nailed that scene and episode perfectly.
And oddly enough, I think it is the bit actors that affect me more. Jessica Walter passed away in March, and while lots pointed to her big roles, I loved seeing her pop up in other series for a few weeks at a time…The Big Bang Theory, Saving Grace, Coach, Magnum P.I., the Love Boat, or even McMillan & Wife or Columbo. Michael Constantine was very similar in impact. He was probably best known for his Windex scenes in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I loved when he showed up on shows like Cosby, Law & Order, Midnight Caller, Hunter, Simon & Simon, or Remington Steele, although Room 222 was just before my time. The two were always a treat.
Thanks to all for the memories…I appreciated your art.