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42 People Whose 2020 Deaths You May Have Missed

Among them: Sy Sperling, Astrid Kirchherr, Rafer Johnson
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 30, 2020 1:47 PM CST
Updated Jan 3, 2021 1:05 PM CST

(Newser) – Being reminded that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rep. John Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Eddie Van Halen, Sean Connery, and Alex Trebek died in 2020 will likely come as no great shock. But the AP's roll call of some of the people who shuffled off this mortal coil in 2020 includes figures who aren't necessarily household names or names you may have thought of recently but still have a unique place in history. Here are 42 such figures, with date of death cited:

  1. Elizabeth Wurtzel, 52. Her blunt and painful confessions of her struggles with addiction and depression in the bestselling Prozac Nation made her a voice and a target for an anxious generation. Jan. 7.
  2. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, 79. He was the Mideast’s longest-ruling monarch who seized power in Oman in a 1970 palace coup and pulled his Arabian sultanate into modernity while carefully balancing diplomatic ties between adversaries Iran and the US. Jan. 11.
  3. Thomas Railsback, 87. An Illinois Republican congressman who helped draw up articles of impeachment against President Nixon in 1974. Jan. 20.
  4. Bernard Ebbers, 78. The former chief of WorldCom who was convicted in one of the largest corporate accounting scandals in U.S. history. Feb. 2.
  5. Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien, 86. A longtime associate of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa who became a leading suspect in the labor leader’s disappearance and later was portrayed in the Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman. Feb. 13.
  6. Sy Sperling, 78. The Hair Club for Men founder who was famous for the TV commercials where he proclaimed "I’m not only the Hair Club president but I’m also a client." Feb. 19.
  7. Thich Quang Do, 91. A Buddhist monk who became the public face of religious dissent in Vietnam while the Communist government kept him in prison or under house arrest for more than 20 years. Feb. 22.
  8. Max von Sydow, 90. The actor known to art house audiences through his work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and later to moviegoers everywhere when he played the priest in the horror classic The Exorcist. March 8.
  9. Rev. Darius L. Swann, 95. His challenge to the notion of segregated public schools helped spark the use of busing to integrate schools across the country. March 8.
  10. Tom Dempsey, 73. The NFL kicker born without toes on his kicking foot who made a then-record 63-yard field goal. April 4.
  11. Earl Graves Sr., 85. He championed Black businesses as the founder of the first African American-owned magazine focusing on Black entrepreneurs. April 6.
  12. Herbert Stempel, 93. A fall guy and whistleblower of early television whose confession to deliberately losing on a 1950s quiz show helped drive a national scandal and join his name in history to winning contestant Charles Van Doren. April 7.
  13. Linda Tripp, 70. Her secretly taped conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky provided evidence of an affair with President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment. April 8.
  14. Phyllis Lyon, 95. A gay rights pioneer who, with her longtime partner, was among the first same-sex couples to marry in California when it became legal to do so in 2008. April 9.
  15. Astrid Kirchherr, 81. She was the German photographer who shot some of the earliest and most striking images of the Beatles and helped shape their trend-setting visual style. May 12.

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  1. Ken Osmond, 76. On TV’s Leave It to Beaver, he played two-faced teenage scoundrel Eddie Haskell, a role so memorable it left him typecast and led to a second career as a police officer. May 18.
  2. Christo, 84. He was known for massive, ephemeral public arts projects that often involved wrapping large structures in fabric. May 31.
  3. Shigeru Yokota, 87. A Japanese campaigner for the return of his daughter and more than a dozen others who were abducted to North Korea in the 1970s. June 5.
  4. Bonnie Pointer, 69. She convinced three of her church-singing siblings to form the Pointer Sisters, which would become one of the biggest acts of the 1970s and ’80s. June 8.
  5. Charles Webb, 81. A lifelong nonconformist whose debut novel The Graduate was a deadpan satire of his college education and wealthy background adapted into the classic film of the same name. June 16.
  6. Milton Glaser, 91. The groundbreaking graphic designer who adorned Bob Dylan’s silhouette with psychedelic hair and summed up the feelings for his home state with "I (HEART) NY." June 26.
  7. Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr., 82. He was the last of three one-time Ku Klux Klansmen convicted in a 1963 Alabama church bombing that killed four Black girls and was the deadliest single attack of the civil rights movement. June 26.
  8. Rudolfo Anaya, 82. A writer who helped launch the 1970s Chicano Literature Movement with his novel Bless Me, Ultima, a book celebrated by Latinos. June 28.
  9. Mary Kay Letourneau, 58. A teacher who married her former sixth-grade student after she was convicted of raping him in a case that drew international headlines. July 6.
  10. Joanna Cole, 75. The author whose Magic School Bus books transported millions of young people on extraordinary and educational adventures. July 12.
  11. Connie Culp, 57. She was the recipient of the first partial face transplant in the US. July 29.
  12. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, 83. A prolific Jewish scholar who spent 45 years compiling a monumental and ground-breaking translation of the Talmud. Aug. 7.
  13. Gail Sheehy, 83. A journalist, commentator and pop sociologist whose best-selling Passages helped millions navigate their lives from early adulthood to middle age and beyond. Aug. 24.
  14. Lady Yvonne Sursock Cochrane, 98. One of Lebanon’s most prominent philanthropists and a pioneer defender of the country’s heritage. Aug. 31. Injuries suffered from a massive explosion in Beirut.
  15. Kaing Guek Eav, 77. Known as Duc, he was the Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer, who admitted overseeing the torture and killings of as many as 16,000 Cambodians while running the regime’s most notorious prison. Sept. 2.
  16. Winston Groom, 77. The writer whose novel Forrest Gump was made into a six-Oscar winning 1994 movie that became a soaring pop culture phenomenon. Sept. 17.
  17. Rev. Robert Graetz, 92. The only white minister to support the Montgomery bus boycott and who became the target of scorn and bombings for doing so. Sept. 20.
  18. Ang Rita, 72. A veteran Nepalese Sherpa guide who was the first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times. Sept. 21.
  19. Timothy Ray Brown, 54. He made history as “the Berlin patient,” the first person known to be cured of HIV infection. Sept. 29.
  20. Bernard S. Cohen, 86. He won a landmark case that led to the Supreme Court’s rejection of laws forbidding interracial marriage and later went on to a successful political career as a state legislator. Oct. 12.
  21. Christopher Pendergast, 71. A suburban New York teacher who turned a Lou Gehrig’s disease diagnosis into a decades-long campaign to raise awareness and fund research. Oct. 14.
  22. James Randi, 92. A magician who later challenged spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers with such voracity that he became regarded as the country’s foremost skeptic. Oct. 20.
  23. Diane di Prima, 86. A poet, activist and teacher who was one of the last surviving members of the Beats and one of the few women writers in the Beat movement. Oct. 25.
  24. David Dinkins, 93. He broke barriers as New York City’s first African American mayor but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn. Nov. 23.
  25. Dave Prowse, 85. The British weightlifter-turned-actor who was the body, though not the voice, of archvillain Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. Nov. 28.
  26. Rafer Johnson, 86. He won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin in 1968. Dec. 2.
  27. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, 97. The World War II fighter pilot ace and quintessential test pilot who in 1947 became the first person to fly faster than sound. Dec. 7.
(Read the full list here.)

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