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20 Biggest, Boldest Comebacks of 2014

From Aphex Twin to ‘The Walking Dead,’ these were the artists, athletes, TV shows and political players who rose from the ashes over the last year

Beck, Weird Al, Dave Chappelle

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Looking back on the year gone by, it's tempting to celebrate the emerging trends, fresh faces and new ideas that shaped the past 12 months. But for a moment, let's also tip our cap to the old — the wily veterans who had been gone too long or seemingly lost their way, only to resurface triumphantly. As 2014 began, many of the actors, directors, musicians, comedians, athletes and TV shows on this list had been counted out. By year's end, their comebacks had helped to define a memorable year.

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Slipknot

"It was always in my head that this was going to be the story of the last four years," singer Corey Taylor told Rolling Stone about .5: The Gray Chapter, Slipknot's angry, grieving album that focuses on the 2010 accidental overdose death of bandmate Paul Gray. Their first record in six years, .5 sounds like it took every moment of that time off to make, presenting a forceful, impassioned study on loss that went straight to the top of the Billboard charts.

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The Soundtrack Album

As album sales continue to disappoint, soundtracks remain a bright spot. Boosted by the unstoppable "Let It Go" juggernaut — and the accompanying movie, which made $1.3 billion worldwide — the Frozen soundtrack spent 13 weeks at No. 1 over the course of four months. (More than a year after its release, it's still in the Top 10.) Then this summer, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 topped the charts for a couple weeks, introducing old hits from the likes of 10cc and Elvin Bishop to a new generation of Marvel and sci-fi kids. 

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‘Veronica Mars’

The TV show ended in 2007, leaving viewers with fond memories of its spunky detective heroine in their hearts and the Dandy Warhols' theme song ("We Used to Be Friends") lodged in their heads. Seven years later, and aided by a Kickstarter campaign, Veronica Mars returned — this time on the big screen. Though hardly a runaway commercial success, the film gave fans one last chance to see Veronica grapple with her complicated feelings about her Neptune hometown. And it served as a testament to the wit and feeling Kristen Bell brought to an iconic role.

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‘The Walking Dead’

What's more disappointing: When a favorite TV show goes bad, or when a favorite show you stopped watching finally starts getting good again? Ever since the end of The Walking Dead's acclaimed first season, the show's characters have had to face off with zombie attacks; meanwhile, the show's writers have had to contend with complaints that they're spinning their wheels creatively, losing the spark of what once made the program so gripping. And then came this season's plot twist: renewed inspiration. In the age of Ebola, The Walking Dead's paranoia suddenly felt relevant again. AMC's show has always been popular — who would have guessed it would be great again?

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Reese Witherspoon

Her performance in the sensitive, deeply felt Wild is getting all the Oscar attention, but 2014 was a year where Reese Witherspoon showed her range in not one memorable role but three. Yes, her performance as the former addict Cheryl Strayed is one of her finest and grittiest, but she's also just right in a small part in the little seen The Good Lie, about Sudanese immigrants looking for a better life in the U.S. And then there's her very funny turn as Joaquin Phoenix's occasional girlfriend in the druggy Inherent Vice. She's already proven herself as America's Sweetheart. Now she's reminding us what a fine actress she's always been.

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‘Weird Al’ Yankovic

Alfred Matthew Yankovic had accomplished plenty in a three-decade career: platinum-selling albums, Grammy wins, a cult film in UHF. But 2014 was a banner year for "Weird Al," as the parodist earned his first No. 1 album. Bolstered by undeniably sharable videos, Mandatory Fun was chock-full of unpretentious, deeply silly, incredibly affectionate knockoffs of ubiquitous radio staples like "Blurred Lines" and "Happy." Yankovic is that rare nice guy who's ended up on top. "I didn't set out to be a family-friendly recording artist but that's sort of the way it happened," the 55-year-old musician told NPR this summer, "and it's a wonderful thing."

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