Legendary loss: Artists and entertainers who died in 2016

The arts and entertainment world lost some bar-raising legends in 2016.

From music to literature to fashion, this year marked the passing of monumental figures in the arts

Arts figures we lost in 2016 included, from left, poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, singer-songwriter Prince, model China Machado and singer-songwriter David Bowie. (Associated Press)

Each year, there are times when the focus falls squarely on individuals who pushed boundaries and left indelible marks in their fields of work.

Case in point: the Oscars' In Memoriam tribute, which honours legends who have passed away. Despite its swift pace, the music-swelling montage seems to be getting longer (sparking outcry when people like Joan Rivers don't make the list). It's also a stark reminder that the baby boomer generation was indeed a boom and we are increasingly faced with the natural passing of greater numbers of celebrities.

With that in mind, here are several key artists and entertainers from various disciplines who passed away in 2016. Some are more recognizable than others, but all of them raised the bar and gave us much to enjoy and celebrate.

Music masters

It was a tough year for popular music in 2016, with Prince, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, left to right among the influential artists who passed away. (Getty Images)

It's difficult to sum up the impact of music legends Prince, David Bowie, George Michael and Leonard Cohen. Each artist was a genius in his own right, leaving us all better off for their unique contributions. 

Beyond the originality of their music, both Prince and David Bowie bent society's rigid notions of gender in the '70s and '80s with their visual deluge of purple rain and lightning bolts. Michael's impact went beyond catchy pop tunes by pushing sexual boundaries in his music videos and becoming a gay icon.  

It's quite a contrast to the whispered growls of Canadian legend Leonard Cohen, who started out as a poet and novelist. When he ventured into music in his 30s, his bold lyrics cracked open conversations about sexuality, depravity and the loneliness of existence.

Check out CBC Music for a deeper look at those who left a powerful mark in the world of music, including Céline Dion's powerhouse producer husband René Angélil, Dap-Kings singer phenom Sharon Jones and A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg.

Nostalgic days on TV and film

Debbie Reynolds her daughter actress Carrie Fisher, both Hollywood actresses, died one day apart in December. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Garry Marshall was the man who launched what we now call the dramedy genre — heartfelt stories infused with comedy. That's mostly thanks to the blockbuster movie Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts. He went on to create, produce and/or direct films such as Runaway Bride, Valentine's Day, New Year's EveThe Princess Diaries and Mother's Day.

Marshall's early work helped form the backbone of American television comedy and included standard-bearers Happy Days, The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi and Mork & Mindy. All of these shows reflected a gentle, feel-good vibe that comforted America in the mid-70s to mid-80s. 

Marshall died in July at the age of 81. His creations serve as a reminder of how important love and friendships are in life. 

Other screen stars we lost in 2016 include Canadian Alan Thicke, who played the father on TV's Growing PainsFlorence Henderson from The Brady Bunch; Alan Rickman of Harry Potter fame; and Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Hungarian-American actress and socialite who died recently at the age of 99.

Then, four days before the end of the year came the news that actor and bestselling writer Carrie Fisher died. Fisher was perhaps best known worldwide for her role as the fearless Princess Leia in the original trilogy of Star Wars movies and a 2015 sequel, but she was also an accomplished novelist and sought-after Hollywood script editor. 

The very next day, Fisher's mother Debbie Reynolds — a Hollywood actress who starred inSingin' in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown — was rushed to hospital and died

Garry Marshall, whose hits included TV's Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and box-office successes such as Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, died in July at the age of 81. (Rich Fury/ Associated Press)

Rare bird of literature 

Book lovers around the world faced an interesting dilemma this year. Should they welcome the surprise release of Harper Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman, or refuse it out of respect for lingering questions surrounding the infirm author's genuine intentions.

In 1960, the reclusive American writer famously penned To Kill A Mockingbird, which was subsequently turned into a film starring Gregory Peck. The narrative about an African-American man falsely accused of sexual assault ignited widespread discussions about race relations in America that continue to this day. 

Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill A Mockingbird, died just months after the controversial release of her second novel, Go Set a Watchman. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Harper Lee died in an Alabama nursing home in February at age 89, just months after the release of Go Set a Watchman.

Check out CBC Books for more on other inspiring writers who passed away in 2016, including The Name of The Rose author Umberto Eco.

Drawing attention to visual art 

Inuk visual artist Annie Pootoogook, shown in Ottawa in July 2013 alongside her drawing depicting her 2009 meeting with former governor general Michaëlle Jean, was found dead in Ottawa's Rideau River in September. (Alexei Kintero/Annie Pootoogook/National Gallery of Canada/Dorset Fine Arts)

Annie Pootoogook, an artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, was primarily known for her ink and crayon drawings of day-to-day Inuit life. Tragically, she was found dead in Ottawa's Rideau River in September. She was 47 years old and her death is being treated as suspicious.

Like so many artists throughout history, Pootoogook's life was filled with extreme challenges and strife. Her striking drawings sometimes seem to belie that pain, featuring brightly coloured scenes of community and familial gatherings. But in the last decade of her life, she increasingly created depictions with darker themes, including spousal abuse, depression and isolation.

Pootoogook's honest expressions on paper serve as a unique exploration of all facets of contemporary Inuit life. 

A fresh face for fashion

Barrier-breaking model China Machado, seen at the 2012 Sundace Film Festival, passed away this year at the age of 86. (Victoria Will, Associated Press)

Tributes continue to pour in after the recent passing of China Machado, the first non-white model to appear in the pages of a mainstream American fashion magazine. She debuted on the runway in the 1950s and continued to model up until her death at the age of 86. 

Her roots were a mix of Portuguese, Chinese and Indian, but her look didn't conform to the standard notions of beauty held by magazine editors in the late '50s.

According to Machado, Harper's Bazaar didn't want to publish pictures of her, but the magazine's star photographer, Richard Avedon, who considered Machado a muse, threatened to not renew his contract unless the magazine changed its mind.

Machado's image would break open doors for other non-white models in an industry that still has immense strides to make in terms of diverse representation


Jelena Adzic


Jelena Adzic is a reporter, writer and radio columnist with the CBC Arts Unit. Her eyes light up at the mention of design, visual art and architecture.