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In Memoriam 2017: People We Lost This Year

We bid farewell to visionaries, iconoclasts and trailblazers – including Tom Petty, Chuck Berry and Chris Cornell – in music, film, TV and beyond

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.

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Jay Thomas

Character actor Jay Thomas, who had memorable roles on Cheers and Murphy Brown, died following a battle with cancer on August 24th. He was 69.

“Jay Thomas was one of the funniest and kindest men I have had the honor to call both client and friend for 25 years-plus,” his publicist Thomas Estey told Variety at the time. “He will be dearly missed by so many.” Added his friend and agent Don Buchwald, “Jay was one of a kind, never at a loss for words and filled with so much fun and wonderfully wacky thoughts and behavior.” 

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Robert Guillaume

Robert Guillaume, who played the quick-witted and sarcastic Benson DuBois on Soap and the spinoff Benson, died at his Los Angeles home on October 24th after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 89.

“St. Louis’ finest. He may not have called himself the HNIC (see ‘Lean on Me’), so I’ll have to do it for him. RIP, sir,” actor Sterling K. Brown wrote. “Thank you for paving the way.” Added Sports Night costar Josh Malina, “R.I.P. Robert Guillaume. Saw him play Nathan Detroit on Broadway in 1976. Made me want to be an actor. It was a thrill to work w him on SN.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Troy Gentry

Troy Gentry, one half of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry, was killed in a helicopter crash in Medford, New Jersey, on September 8th. He was 50.

“Our world was turned upside down in an instant and nothing could have prepared us for this,” his longtime singing partner Eddie Montgomery said in a statement a few days later. “Over the past few months T-Roy and I have been working on what I think is the best record of our career. In the last few weeks we had been talking about what our first single would be. Then on September 8th, none of that mattered.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Gord Downie

Gord Downie, the lead singer of beloved Canadian alt-rock band Tragically Hip, died on October 17th following a battle with terminal brain cancer. He was 53.

“Gord Downie is definitely in the tradition of great Canadian poets,” former MCA president Bruce Dickinson told the National Post in 2016. “There can be a certain darkness in the lyrics, in some ways that reminded me of reading and listening to Leonard Cohen or Robertson Davies. I think that’s all part of what appeals to Canadian fans. They’re five Canadian guys who go up on stage and they look like their audience. I think that everyman quality matters.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Ralphie May

Ralphie May, who parlayed a second-place finish on 2003’s Last Comic Standing into a successful comedy career – with several Comedy Central and Netflix specials – died October 6th in Las Vegas from hypertensive cardiovascular disease. He was 45.

Marc Maron called him a “comic warrior,” while Chris Rock recalled, “such a funny guy. My fellow comics, the road is rough. Don’t let it get the best of you.” Added Larry the Cable Guy: “You my friend were one of the nicest and kindest out there. Ralphie was one of the first people to congratulate me when I started filming blue collar tv. I’ll miss knowing he’s not out there anymore. Thanks for your kindness Ralphie.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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John Heard

John Heard, the actor perhaps best known for portraying Kevin McCallister’s dad in the Home Alone series, died of a heart attack in his Palo Alto, California, hotel room on July 21st. He was 72.

“John Heard was the coolest cat in New York City for about 10 straight years, 1974-1984. Ask anybody who was there then,” his longtime friend Daniel Stern wrote in remembrance of the late actor. “Every actor wanted to be as intense as him, every woman wanted to sleep with him. He lived life at 110 mph — Plato’s Retreat, Cafe Central, crazy, crazy drink and drug stamina. He was defiant, he was poetic, he was ridiculously generous and he was charismatic as hell.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

Chuck Mosley performs at Boston Music Room on October 10, 2016 in London, England.

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Chuck Mosely

Chuck Mosley, vocalist for 80s alt-metal band Faith No More, died following a long struggle with substance abuse on November 9th. He was 57.

“He was a reckless and caterwauling force of energy who delivered with conviction and helped set us on a track of uniqueness and originality that would not have developed the way it had had he not been a part,” the band said in a statement. “How fortunate we are to have been able to perform with him last year in a reunion style when we re-released our very first record. His enthusiasm, his sense of humor, his style and his bravado will be missed by so many. We were a family, an odd and dysfunctional family, and we’ll be forever grateful for the time we shared with Chuck.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Daisy Berkowitz

Daisy Berkowitz, nee Scott Putesky, the founding guitarist of Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, died following a years-long battle with stage four colon cancer on October 22nd. He was 49.

“Scott Putesky and I made great music together,” Manson wrote on Instagram following Putesky’s death. “We had our differences over the years, but I will always remember the good times more. Everyone should listen to ‘Man That You Fear’ in his honor. That was our favorite.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Glenne Headly

Glenne Headly, star of films like Dick Tracy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Mr. Holland’s Opus, died June 9th at the age of 62 from complications of a pulmonary embolism.

Her Mr. Holland’s Opus costar Richard Dreyfuss told The Hollywood Reporter she was “this fantastically talented actress, who buried her personality beneath the character she was playing. And it is very rare that you run into that. And at the same time, she was sweet and funny and happy on the set… She was a person who did not insist that her personality take over the character.”

He added: “Glenne let it all out, and it was so emotionally enormous and truthful. It was so loaded with love and loss and anguish. It was incredible to see her do that.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone Anita Pallenberg

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Anita Pallenberg

Anita Pallenberg, the actress, model and former partner of Rolling Stones guitarists Brian Jones and Keith Richards, died at age 75 on June 13th after a long illness at St. Richard’s Hospital, Chicheste.

“She was a rock & roll legend in herself, a style icon, a crucial part of the Stones’ mystique,” Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield wrote. “She taught Keith her sinister glare, taught Mick Jagger her wiggle, taught Brian Jones how to wear floppy hats.

“A most remarkable woman. Always in my heart,” Richards said in a statement. 

Nelsan Ellis In Memoriam 2017

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Nelsan Ellis

Following complications from heart failure and alcohol addiction, Nelsan Ellis, the actor who portrayed Lafayette on all seven seasons of the HBO horror-drama series True Blood – with film roles in Lee Daniels’ The Butler (as Martin Luther King, Jr.), Secretariat, The Help, The Stanford Prison Experiment and James Brown biopic Get On Up, died at the age of 39 in July.

“Nelsan was a singular talent whose creativity never ceased to amaze me,” True Blood series creator Alan Ball said.

Added costar Anna Paquin: “It was an utter privilege to work with the phenomenally talented and deeply kind soul. I’m devastated by his untimely death.”

In Memoriam 2017 Rolling Stone

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Jessi Zazu

Jessi Zazu, the co-founder of Those Darlins and innovative singer who bridged country and indie rock sounds, died following a very public battle with cervical cancer in Nashville on September 12th. She was 28.

“Yesterday I said goodbye to my best friend, longtime partner in crime and hero, Jessi Zazu Wariner,” Those Darlins drummer Linwood Regensburg said in a statement. “She maintained a sense of humor and a commanding presence up until and through her final moments. She was in the company of those who cared deeply about her and who she cared deeply about.”

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