2017 was a painful year for many reasons, for many people: Trump, politics and almost everything happening in Washington, D.C. Natural disasters. Acts of terrorism. Gun violence. An unearthed pandemic of sexual misconduct. Amid all of this cacophony were sobering, destabilizing losses – the deaths of artists, creators and heroes in music and beyond. The passing of greats like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Glen Campbell and Gregg Allman marked the sad but inevitable fading of older, culture-defining generations. Others felt like a gut-punch: especially the sudden, shocking departures of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Tom Petty, masters who performed days before they left us. Regardless of the circumstances, the names here leave behind legacies and bodies of work to pore over and examine over the years to come – here’s how they’ll be remembered.
The dynamic and iconoclastic frontman for his band The Heartbreakers died October 2nd in Los Angeles following cardiac arrest; he was 66.
“To me, Tom Petty represented a kind of songwriting I idolized: complex simplicity,” Taylor Swift said to Rolling Stone. “It said so much in the lyrics, the concepts, the stories, the message, the nuances … but always brought you back to a hook that got stuck in everyone’s head. He motivated thousands of guitarists to learn to play just because they wanted to be able to play ‘Free Fallin.’ Count me as one of them.”
Chuck Berry, whose rollicking songs, springy guitar riffs and onstage duck walk defined rock & roll during its early years and for decades to come, died of cardiac arrest on March 18th. He was 90.
“It started with Chuck Berry,” Rod Stewart, one of many musicians to pay tribute, said in a statement. “The first album I ever bought was Chuck’s ‘Live at the Tivoli’ and I was never the same. He was more than a legend; he was a founding father. You can hear his influence in every rock & roll band from my generation on. I’ve been performing his ‘Sweet Little Rock & Roller’ since 1974 and tonight, when my band and I perform it at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum, it’ll be for Chuck Berry – your sound lives on.”
Chris Cornell, the dynamic vocalist, guitarist and songwriter whose versatile showmanship as Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog’s frontman helped define the grunge era, hung himself in his hotel room at the MGM Grand Detroit on May 17th. He was 52.
“People say, ‘What was it about Chris Cornell’s voice that was so amazing?’ And it was that it didn’t have any element of trying to show off or trying to impress or trying to keep up with any particular trends,” his friend and fellow Seattle-born artist Ann Wilson told Rolling Stone. “He was a brilliant storyteller. And he played it real all the time.”
Gregg Allman, the singer, musician and songwriter who played an essential role in the invention of Southern rock, died at the age of 69 of complications from liver cancer in his Savannah, Georgia home May 26th.
“Gregg’s voice definitely influenced the way I sing,” the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach told Rolling Stone. “When you think about it, he was as great with his vocals as his brother was on the guitar. ‘Midnight Rider,’ in particular, had this mystical quality, that type of rolling rhythm with Gregg’s voice on top. Everything I’ve ever done is based on that – a funky groove with soulful singing. It’s the foundation of what I do … Gregg was an old soul from the git-go. I don’t know how he did it.”
“Your absence leaves a void that can never be filled – a boisterous, funny, ambitious, creative, kind, generous voice in the room is missing,” Linkin Park’s surviving members said in a statement. “We’re trying to remind ourselves that the demons who took you away from us were always part of the deal. After all, it was the way you sang about those demons that made everyone fall in love with you in the first place. You fearlessly put them on display, and in doing so, brought us together and taught us to be more human. You had the biggest heart, and managed to wear it on your sleeve.”
Glen Campbell, the legendary singer who defied genre by fusing country and pop sounds on hits such as “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” in the Sixties, died following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease on August 8th. He was 81.
“He had a beautiful singing voice,” Bruce Springsteen said in 2014. “Pure tone. And it was never fancy. Wasn’t singing all over the place. It was simple on the surface but there was a world of emotion underneath.”
“David had a wonderful sense of humor,” his longtime friend, singer Kim Carnes, wrote in a Rolling Stone piece after his death. “He had the best laugh, the best smile and the biggest heart. His best friends were his friends he went to school with, and he always stayed close to the people that had been friends with him for years and years.”
“He had a lot of really, really difficult times in his life, tragedies to deal with. Not just in being David Cassidy, teen star, and trying to make people believe he’s more than that, but on a human level, on a family level. I think he was always searching for love.”
“Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967,” Donald Fagen wrote in a tribute to Becker. “He was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny.”
Fats Domino, the genial, good-natured symbol of the dawn of rock and roll and the voice and piano behind enduring hits like “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame,” died October 25th at the age of 89 in Louisiana.
A contemporary of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Domino was among the first acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Rest in peace Fats Domino, the great rock ‘n’ roll pianist and singer who thrilled us in our early days in Liverpool,” Paul McCartney wrote on his website. “His hit records like ‘Ain’t That a Shame,’ ‘Blueberry Hill,’ ‘I’m in Love Again’ and many others introduced us to the sounds of New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll.
“His voice, piano playing and musical style was a huge influence on us,” McCartney added, “and his appearance in the film The Girl Can’t Help It was truly magnificent.”
“As one of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll singers, I will remember him fondly and always think of him with that twinkle in his eye.”
Comedy legend Jerry Lewis, celebrated for his perfect comedic timing in decades of film and TV – and a long-running charitable telethon – died of a heart condition in his Las Vegas home on August 20th. He was 91.
“Jerry Lewis was a master. He was a great entertainer. He was a great artist. And he was a remarkable man,” director Martin Scorsese said in a statement. “I had the honor of working with him, and it was an experience I’ll always treasure. He was, truly, one of our greats.”
Don Williams, nicknamed the “Gentle Giant” for his tall stature and reassuring voice, died following a short illness of emphysema on September 8th. He was 78.
“In giving voice to songs like ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me,’ ‘Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good’ and ‘Amanda,’ Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days,” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young said in a statement. “His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times. Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”
Prodigy, one half of the seminal hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, died following complications caused by sickle cell anemia on June 20th. He was 42.
Prodigy’s old label boss, Steve Rifkind, who co-founded Loud Records, remembered the rapper with a pair of posts on Instagram. “When I say Loud was a family, Loud was a family,” he wrote. “We might have yelled and screamed at each other, but we always wanted what was best for the act … Mobb Deep was the second group to go platinum right after Wu. We not only talked music we talked about everything but all I can say right now is RIP.”
Malcolm Young, guitarist and co-founder of AC/DC, died November 18th at age 64 from complications of dementia.
“Malcolm gave rock and roll a fist. He’d give it a kick in the ass,” AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson told Rolling Stone. “People always used to ask Mal, ‘How do you get that sound, man?’ Malcolm either wouldn’t tell them or just really couldn’t explain it. He would just go, ‘We just play.’ I used to stand next to him at the end of ‘Let There Be Rock,’ where there is a big huge build at the end and it builds and builds. Malcolm would go through two guitar picks during that one song. He would wear them down. He was the most precise guitarist.”
Adam West, known as TV’s Batman for his portrayal of DC Comics’ masked superhero in the Sixties, died June 9th following a short battle with leukemia. He was 88.
“People always asked Adam if he felt like he’d been typecast, if Batman had hurt his career. But I know he loved it. He loved being a star,” West’s costar Burt Ward wrote in a remembrance piece for Variety. “After the show became such a hit, he got offered everything. They offered him Bond but he turned it down. He thought Bond should be played by a Brit. I got offered a little movie called The Graduate – 20th Century Fox wouldn’t let me do it – but that’s another story. We both looked at it this way: You take a glass and you fill it to the top. You can either fill it with a bunch of different movies or fill it with one huge success that makes people around the world love you and want to shake your hand. Adam filled his glass with the adoration of the world.”
Lil Peep (real name Gustav Åhr), the New York rapper who mixed guitar-driven emo and rap production on mixtapes that gained millions of plays on SoundCloud, died November 15th following an overdose of fentanyl and generic Xanax. He was 21.
“Gus understood that many good people suffered injustice because of what they looked like or how much money they had,” his mother, Liza Womack, said at his memorial service. “He saw how the cool kids who lived in the fancy neighborhoods looked down on his friends who lived in the projects – and looked down on his own family who lived in an apartment and drove an old Nissan. Gus got fed up with that world. He rejected it.”
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who helped to usher in the post-war sexual revolution via the racy publication, died of natural causes on September 27th. He was 91.
“My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom,” Cooper Hefner, Playboy Enterprises’ chief creative officer and Hugh’s son, said in the statement. “He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”
Jonathan Demme, best known as the Oscar-winning director of Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, died of esophageal cancer at his Manhattan apartment on April 26th. He was 73.
“I am heartbroken to lose a friend, a mentor, a guy so singular and dynamic you’d have to design a hurricane to contain him,” Silence of the Lambs star Jodie Foster said in a statement. “Jonathan was as quirky as his comedies and as deep as his dramas. He was pure energy; the unstoppable cheerleader for anyone creative. Just as passionate about music as he was about art, he was and will always be a champion of the soul. JD, most beloved, something wild, brother of love, director of the lambs. Love that guy. Love him so much.”
Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died following complications from ALS at his home in Kentucky on July 30th. He was 73.
“I wouldn’t call Sammy easygoing and funny, but everybody has their dark side, and he always does it with a sense of humor,” Jessica Lange, Shepard’s partner for nearly 30 years, told AARP earlier that month. Lange and Shepard had two children together.
Mel Tillis, the Country Music Hall of Famer who was as famous for his songwriting as he was for his lifelong stutter, died at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, on November 19th, following a lengthy illness. He was 85.
“He once spent an entire day at his place in Tennessee showing me all the memorabilia he’d gathered over the years where he gave me a pair of his stage boots,” Blake Shelton tweeted after his death. “He even took time to talk me through some hard times in my life on a couple phone calls.”
Harry Dean Stanton, the beloved character actor who starred in over 200 films such as Repo Man, Paris, Texas, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Big Love and Pretty in Pink, died of natural causes in Los Angeles on September 15th. He was 91.
“The great Harry Dean Stanton has left us,” Twin Peaks director David Lynch said in a statement. “There went a great one. There’s nobody like Harry Dean. Everyone loved him. And with good reason. He was a great actor (actually beyond great) – and a great human being – so great to be around him!!! You are really going to be missed Harry Dean!!! Loads of love to where you are now!!”
“His drumming alone is enough to secure Grant Hart a place in the alt-rock history books, but that’s only part of his story,” Bob Mould Band drummer Jon Wurster wrote. “Grant was a top-shelf songwriter, penning and handling lead vocals on Hüsker Dü classics like ‘Terms of Psychic Warfare,’ ‘Diane,’ ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill.'”
And what a voice. His was arguably the best to come out of the post-punk/hardcore/alternative scene: sweet and angelic one minute, menacing the next.
Oscar-winning Ed Wood actor Martin Landau, who appeared in films by Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock, died following an unexpected complication during a brief hospitalization on July 15th. He was 89.
“I had the honor & joy of working/playing with Marty Landau. What a wonderful actor, what a wonderful soul,” Jeff Bridges wrote on Twitter. “He loved acting so much, and that love, that excitement was contagious. Thank you, Marty, for all you gave us.”
John Warren Geils Jr., better known as guitarist J. Geils of the J. Geils Band, was found unresponsive at his Groton, Massachusetts, home on April 11th; police later determined that he had died of natural causes. He was 71.
“Thinking of all the times we kicked it high and rocked down the house! R.I.P. Jay Geils,” vocalist Peter Wolf wrote in a post to Facebook shortly afterward.
George A. Romero, the director who helped put zombies on the pop culture map with 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead, died following a brief battle with lung cancer on July 16th. He was 77.
“We always sort of refer to Night of the Living Dead as the Holy Grail of zombie movies,” The Walking Dead executive producer Greg Nicotero told Rolling Stone in 2013. “All of the rules – you’ve gotta shoot it in the head to kill it – before 1969, that little piece of folklore didn’t exist. Now it’s part of popular culture. So we owe a lot to George’s vision and the world he set up.”
Charles Bradley, an acclaimed soul singer and former James Brown impersonator, died following a bout of stomach and liver cancer on September 23rd. He was 68.
“The world lost a ton of heart today,” Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Bradley’s label Daptone Records, said in a statement. “Charles was somehow one of the meekest and strongest people I’ve ever known. His pain was a cry for universal love and humanity. His soulful moans and screams will echo forever on records and in the ears and hearts of those who were fortunate enough to share time with him. I find some solace knowing that he will continue to inspire love and music in this world for generations to come. I told him as much a few days ago. He smiled and told me, ‘I tried.’ It was probably the simplest and most inspiring thing he ever told me. I think he wanted to hug each person on this planet individually. I mean that literally, and anyone that ever saw him knows that he honestly tried.”
Trucks, one of the founding drummers of the Allman Brothers Band, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 24th. He was 69.
“He put 110 percent of himself into every song he played. He was the Lou Gehrig of rock drummers. …He would play with the utmost intensity till he was about to fall over with no regrets,” Allman Brother Band guitarist Warren Haynes said. “His mission in life was to serve the music. And serve the music he did.”
Charlie Murphy, Eddie Murphy’s older brother and an accomplished comedian in his own right, died of leukemia in New York City on April 12th. He was 57.
“He was the best storyteller I ever heard,” fellow comic D.L. Hughley said, reflecting on the many comedy gigs he did with Murphy on his radio program. “I’m sad that he’s gone, but I’m also happy that I got to know him. He rushed home to be with his family after every gig, he did comedy his way and he died with gigs on the books.”
Veteran Hollywood villain Powers Boothe, who had memorable roles in films like Sin City and TV shows like Deadwood, died of natural causes in his sleep on May 14th. He was 68.
“Powers Boothe was an unbelievably talented actor and sweet sweet man,” tweeted Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, who directed Booth as Colonel Faith in the comedy MacGruber. “He will be sorely missed. There will never be another Colonel Faith.”