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Stars Who Died in 2011: Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Jobs, Heavy D, More

The show business personalities who died in 2011 included Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Jobs, James Arness and Clarence Clemons.

Among the show business luminaries who died in 2011 were Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Jobs, Andy Rooney, Clarence Clemons, Sue Mengers, Heavy D, and James Arness.

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Harry Morgan (1915-2011)

The list of characters Harry Morgan portrayed over the course of his career is dizzyingly long. The prolific actor, best known as Col. Potter in the television series M*A*S*H, starred in more than 100 movies as well as a number of television shows and Broadway productions. Among the most famous of his characters are Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet 1967 and the lead role of Joe Bonaparte in the original 1937 production of Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy. Though he possessed the chameleon-like ability to assume the personality of any character, however, the role Morgan held closest to his heart was that of Col. Potter. “He was firm,” Morgan said in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I’ve ever had.”

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Patrice O’Neal (1969-2011)

“I don’t litter,” Stand-up comic Patrice O’Neal once informed his audience. “I don’t throw garbage in the street. Not because I care about the Earth. But I’m afraid I’m going to be walking through the park drinking a soda and when I’m done, I just throw it over my shoulder, it’ll fly over a bush and land on some dead white woman’s head with my fingerprints on the can. Now I’m the Pepsi-Cola Rapist because I’m lazy.” Jokes like this (and often much raunchier ones) were typical of the brand of humor that brought Patrice O’Neal to prominence in the world of stand-up. Featured on Conan O’Brien’s and David Letterman’s late night TV shows, as well as in several Comedy Central specials, including Elephant in the Room and the roast of Charlie Sheen, O’Neal also held guest spots on TV shows like The Office and Arrested Development. The Boston native was a regular on the Opie & Anthony radio show, which performed a weekend-long tribute to O’Neal after he passed away. On, Twitter, host Opie called O’Neal “the funniest and best thinker I’ve ever known. PERIOD.”

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Heavy D (1967-2011)

“BE INSPIRED!” were the last words that rapper Heavy D, née Dwight Arrington Myers, tweeted to his fans, mere hours before he passed away. The former leader of Heavy D and the Boyz became a hip-hop icon in the late 80s and early 90s with such hits as “We Got Our Own Thang” and “Gyrlz, They Love Me.” Remembered for his lyrics of love, playfulness, and party vibes, the self-labeled “Overweight Lover” often spit rhymes like, “A-yo, here’s the situation: idi-o-dicy/Nonsense, violence, not a good policy/Therefore, we must ignore, fightin’ and fussin’/Heavy’s at the door so there’ll be no bum-rushing.” Heavy D’s passing prompted a renewed outpouring of admiration from his many fans, even pushing his classic single, “Now That We Found Love” back onto the Billboard charts.

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Ryan Dunn (1977-2011)

Ryan Dunn will forever be remembered as the guy who shoved a toy car into his rectum. Or perhaps he’ll go down in history as the man who once donned a duck suit and catapulted himself 30 feet into the air while his friends “shot” at him. Or maybe the time he branded the shape of a penis onto Bam Margera’s butt will immortalize the name of Ryan Dunn. The list of cringeworthy and hilarious stunts Dunn pulled during his time as a member of the Jackass and Viva la Bam crews is preserved both on film and in the hearts of his legions of fans, making the 34 years he spent on Earth extremely memorable ones.

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Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Actress, humanitarian, and one of the most enduring icons of the silver screen, Elizabeth Taylor first caught America’s attention with her dark hair and startling, violet eyes in 1944’s National Velvet. The legendary career that followed spanned six decades and more than 50 films, including now-classics such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra, and BUtterfield 8—but it was her feistiness as well as her beauty that made Taylor a legend. The star was a Twitter aficionado right up until the month before her death, at one point even using the site to dispel rumors that she was the subject of a new biopic. “No one is going to play Elizabeth Taylor but Elizabeth Taylor herself,” she adamantly tweeted in July 2010. Taylor was also the picture of grace: in an interview with reality star Kim Kardashian, which appeared in Harper’s Bazaar the month before her death, Taylor advised both Kardashian and readers alike, “Follow your passion, follow your heart, and the things you need will come.”

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Clarence Clemons (1942-2011)

There is a legend surrounding the moment when Clarence Clemons, the talented saxophonist, met Bruce Springsteen. As he once told it, “A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing blew away down the street. The band were onstage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, ‘I want to play with your band,’ and he said, ‘Sure, you do anything you want.’ The first song we did was an early version of ‘Spirit in the Night.’ Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives … So from then on I was part of history.” From that moment in 1975 until the day he died, Clemons (a.k.a. The Big Man) was an indispensible part of Springsteen’s E Street Band, as well as a successful solo artist in his own right. As an actor, he appeared in several well-known films, including Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and made cameos in TV series such as The Simpsons and The Wire. As Springsteen plans his 2012 tour, the show will have to go on without Clemons, but he certainly will never be forgotten.  

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Andy Rooney (1919-2011)

In his 92 years, television and radio writer Andy Rooney was credited with a great many things. He is generally accepted as the inventor of the televised essay, a genre he perfected on CBS’s 60 Minutes where he became famous for his cranky, wry analyses of topics ranging from vegetarianism (“Vegetarian—that’s an old Indian word for ‘lousy hunter’”) to major news events. He was the winner of four Emmy awards, one of which he won for proposing a compromise to the grain embargo against the Soviet Union (he would give them cereal, he said, because otherwise, they would not “take us seriously as an enemy if they think we eat Cap'n Crunch for breakfast”). He is even credited with building the very desk he sat behind every Sunday to deliver his televised essays. He never signed autographs (“What kind of a simpleton wants my name upon a square of paper?” he once asked) and he never bowed to the opposition.

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Jane Russell (1921-2011)

Jane Russell is perhaps best remembered as the saucy and sarcastic brunette who starred opposite Marilyn Monroe’s ditzy, bubbly blonde in the 1953 musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The curvy, dark-haired knockout almost never made it to the big screen, however. Her debut film, Howard Hughes’s 1943 Western The Outlaw, was at the center of one of the biggest censorship debates in Hollywood history precisely because of Russell’s 38D-24-36 body and the racy promotional posters and photographs it was featured in. Although the film ultimately got only limited screen time in theaters, it helped launch Russell’s career and her status as a sex symbol throughout the 40s and 50s. The actress’s film career tapered off after 1964’s Fate is the Hunter, but when asked why she quit movies, she is reported to have said, “Because I was getting too old! You couldn’t go on acting in those years if you were an actress over 30.”

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Sue Mengers (1932-2011)

Sue Mengers was a woman who broke the glass ceiling and made it look easy, too.  The veteran talent agent represented some of the biggest stars to ever grace the silver screen—including Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Nick Nolte, and Burt Reynolds—and threw some of the swankiest, most exclusive star-studded parties in Hollywood. “I never invited anyone who wasn't successful," Mengers once said to The New Yorker. "I was ruthless about it. It was all stars. I would look around my living room at all of them and even I'd be impressed with myself." Apart from her talent for bringing people together, Mengers is also remembered as a loyal-until-death friend to her clients and a pioneer of the road in Hollywood for women. She worked her way up from the position of receptionist at MCA Inc. talent agency to partner at an agency that her colleague Tom Korman formed in 1963—a time when not many women were making partner anywhere. “She gave meaning to the word woman power,” said Hollywood agent and manager Joan Hyler to the Los Angeles Times. “She was arguably the most famous agent of her time. And the fact that she was a woman and fearless was quite extraordinary.”

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Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)

Amy Winehouse was the immensely talented, neo-soul ingénue whose petite body could unleash a voice so immense and emotive that it earned her five Grammy Awards and comparisons to the likes of Aretha Franklin and Ruth Brown. She was also a tragic figure whose highly publicized struggle with drugs and alcohol brought her life to a close at the same age that it did for Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix. But the legacy of the “Rehab” singer lives on in the current trend of British so-called soul revivalists like Adele and the posthumous release of Lioness: Hidden Treasures, which has now reached the No. 1 spot on the U.K.’s Billboard charts.

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Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

“Visionary,” “genius,” and the definitive symbol of “geek chic” are all terms that have been applied to Apple and Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs. With the iPod, he changed the way we listen to music; with Pixar, he changed the field of animation; with his work at Apple he changed phones and computers forever and ushered in the current craze over personal tablets. Although his battle with pancreatic cancer took him away from the work he loved earlier than anyone had hoped, he seemed to welcome the challenge of death. In a 2005 commencement speech delivered at Stanford, Jobs said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life because almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

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Dolores Hope (1909-2011)

In a time when it seems like every other day another celebrity couple files for divorce, the 69-year-long marriage of Bob and Dolores Hope stood like a monument of proof that some Hollywood marriages do last. The former singer, who gave up her career to raise her four children while her comedian husband traveled the world, was born Dolores DeFina but was performing under the name Dolores Reade in 1933 when Bob Hope walked into a Manhattan nightclub and saw her sing for the first time. Upon hearing her sing “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Bob allegedly said to his companion, the dancer George Murphy, “I’m going to marry her.” And a year later, he did. The marriage was a fruitful one; even Lucille Ball once said, “The smartest thing Bob Hope ever did was marry Dolores.”

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Andy Whitfield (1972-2011)

Welsh-born actor and model Andy Whitfield’s career was just beginning to take off when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year, forcing him to bow out of filming the second season of his successful Starz series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Despite the fact that before Spartacus Whitfield was a relatively unknown actor, his lead performance in the Starz show was so impressive and “iconic” that producers pushed back filming of the second season to try and accommodate time for Whitfield to recover. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. The first season of the series remains a testament to Whitfield’s talent. This video, based on the popular arcade game Time Crisis, preserves for his fans the actor’s silly side.

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Nick Ashford (1941-2011)

Nick Ashford, along with his songwriting partner and wife Valerie Simpson, penned some of Motown’s most enduring hits. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and even Ray Charles’s hit “Let’s Go Get Stoned” were all the lyrical creations of Ashford & Simpson. But when the founder of Motown Records discouraged them from performing their own songs, the duo left the label and released now-classics such as “Don’t Cost You Nothing,” “Found a Cure” and “Solid.” They sang of eternal, monogamous love and embodied it on the album covers they posed for together. “They had magic, and that’s what creates those wonderful hits, that magic,” said Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire after Ashford’s death. “Without those songs, those artists wouldn’t have been able to go to the next level.”

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Russell Armstrong (1964-2011)

Life both on and off the set of Bravo’s reality TV series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills proved to be too much for Russell Armstrong. His estranged wife Taylor, one of the stars of the series, filed for divorce a month before Armstrong apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in his apartment, amid reports of massive financial debt and physical abuse toward his wife. Taylor has now come forward with a book telling her story, Hiding From Reality. “I wish I would have been able to tell my story before now,” Armstrong told “But, until my husband Russell’s suicide, I didn’t feel safe to tell anyone for fear of my own safety and the safety of my daughter.  With Russell’s passing, I now feel safe to bring my story into the light, to help all battered and abused women, and men, and aid them in their struggle.”

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James Arness (1923-2011)

In one of the longest-lasting TV roles in history, James Arness indelibly imprinted his image onto the tradition of the Old West by portraying the towering, taciturn Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. Originally offered the part only after John Wayne rejected it and recommended him instead, Arness proved perfect for the character because of his naturally stoic demeanor and gigantic, 6-foot-7 stature. His portrayal of the law-abiding and laconic Marshal Dillon helped earn Gunsmoke its place as the top-rated show on television from 1957 to 1961, when it raked in a whopping 40 million views every week. “Matt Dillon is still the all-time, all-star marshal, pure, square-shouldered square-shooter, yet he never hogs the screen,” New York Daily News culture critic Gerald Nachman wrote in 1973. “Half the time you hardly know he’s in town, but he casts a tall shadow.”

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Jeff Conaway (1950-2011)

Jeff Conaway was the guy with the “wicked sense of humor” who played the original Danny Zuko, the leather-jacket-clad, smooth-talking lead character of the Broadway musical Grease. In the film version, Conaway swapped one leather jacket for another and played the part of Kenickie Murdock, one of the T-Birds, before he moved on to the part of Bobby Wheeler in the TV series Taxi. But Conaway’s life and career began to suffer because of a very public battle with substance abuse and he faded from the public eye until he appeared again on Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers where he tried, but ultimately failed to stay sober. His Taxi and Grease (the original production) co-star Marilu Henner said of Conaway to People, “He was such a sweetheart. You know, a character—he had this wicked sense of humor but he was so sweet, so sweet, in a way I think a lot of people don’t realize.”

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M-Bone (1988-2011)

M-Bone, born Montae Talbert, was one quarter of the hip hop outfit Cali Swag District, which rose to fame in 2010 for their platinum-selling single, “Teach Me How to Dougie.” The song, written in homage to the same dance that rapper Doug E. Fresh popularized,  swept the country’s radio waves, even getting Michelle Obama to join in—not to mention Justin Bieber, who taught the dance to Regis Philbin on-air. He passed away after being shot twice in a drive-by while in his hometown of Inglewood, Calif.

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Yvette Vickers (1928-2010)

Yvette Vickers’s knockout good looks earned her a starring role in the cult classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, a 1958 B-movie where an alien encounter enables an abused housewife to grow to oversized proportions and set out for revenge against her cheating husband. The blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty was also a pinup model, chosen as Playboy playmate of the month in July 1959. 52 years later however, like something out of one of the B-movies she once starred in, Vickers’s body was found mummified in her home, spider webs six to eight feet long hanging from the ceilings and a space heater and computer mysteriously powered on. Officials said she could have been dead “anywhere from a few months to a year ago.”

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Elisabeth Sladen (1946-2011)

Without a doubt, the definitive role of Elisabeth Sladen’s career was that of Sarah Jane Smith, investigative reporter and best friend to the title character in the British sci-fi TV phenomenon Doctor Who. Sladen’s portrayal of the spunky Sarah Jane proved so popular among fans that she even earned her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures 30 years after first leaving the show in 1976. Sladen left such an impression on her coworkers that former producer Russell T. Davies said to The Guardian, “She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful. The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith and the world was lucky to have Lis.”

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Michael Gough (1916-2011)

Michael Gough, despite roles in more than 150 films over his 65-year career, will always be most affectionately remembered by modern audiences as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s wise and loyal butler and confidante in Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Gough’s recurring role in the schlocky 1960s Hammer horror films made Tim Burton one of his biggest fans, prompting the filmmaker to also cast him in starring roles in Sleepy Hollow and voiceover roles in Corpse Bride and Alice in Wonderland. Gough once recalled the moment he and Burton met, saying that upon seeing him, the filmmaker burst out, “I know that man, he’s in terrible films!” Since Burton proceeded to cast him in so many films, Gough’s memorably bad horror films seem to have worked in his favor.

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Nate Dogg (1969-2011)

Long Beach, Calif. native and four-time Grammy nominee Nate Dogg (nee Nathaniel Hale) was instrumental in the rise of Def Jam Records’ West Coast G-funk sound in the early 1990s. He provided the low, smooth and melodic hooks in songs such as Warren G’s “Regulate” and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “The Next Episode.” His solo efforts included 1998’s G-Funk Classics Vol. 1 &2 which featured guest spots from the likes of Tupac Shakur, Warren G and Snoop Dogg, among others. After his passing (he had suffered from deteriorating health for years), the hip hop community sent outpourings of condolences and laments. “We lost a true legend n hip hop n rnb,” Snoop Dogg tweeted at the time. “One of my best friends n a brother to me since 1986 when I was a sophomore at poly high where we met. I love u buddy luv.”

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Gary Winick (1961-2011)

Director Gary Winick first came to Hollywood’s attention when he won the Sundance Film Festival’s directing award in 2002 for his film Tadpole, a comedy he finished in two weeks with only digital cameras and a budget of $150,000. When Hollywood came knocking for the distribution rights to the film, it brought a present of $5 million with it and Winick’s career was set. He went on to direct such mainstream hits as 13 Going on 30, Charlotte’s Web and Letters to Juliet. “I cannot tell you how many young filmmakers looked to Gary for guidance,” said a producer of Letters to Juliet, Caroline Kaplan, to the Los Angeles Times. “He joyfully pushed everyone around him to be their best.”


Len Lesser (1922-2011)

A loud and enthusiastic “Hellooo!” usually heralded just one thing on the hit ‘90s TV show Seinfeld: the return of Jerry’s hilarious Uncle Leo, played by Len Lesser. With palms up and a wide smile, Uncle Leo usually then launched into maddeningly irrelevant rants that nearly drove Jerry insane but permanently endeared him to the show’s audience. Besides his role on Seinfeld however, Lesser had credits in hundreds of movies and TV shows, playing everything from prison guards to soldiers alongside the likes of Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, Doris Day, and Steve McQueen. But no role ever stuck with Lesser the way that Uncle Leo did. “Uncle Leo became a whole new thing for me,” he told the Canadian newspaper The National Post in 2010. “After sweating out every job, my God. Now it’s everywhere I go. I was at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, watching people put notes in the wall, it’s an esoteric day, very silent, very nice. All of a sudden: ‘Uncle Leo, where’s the watch?’ ”

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Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011)

Oscar-nominated actor Pete Postlethwaite was once described by director Steven Spielberg as “the best actor in the world.” He had an unforgettable face, with high cheekbones and intense eyes that lent themselves easily to the dramatic roles Postlethwaite often played. He was Daniel Day-Lewis’ father in In the Name of the Father (the role which earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), was most recently seen in Inception and worked with Spielberg in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Amistad.  “Anyone who worked with him felt great affection for him,” actor David Schneider told BBC News. “He was very un-actory. Sort of like a national treasure. There is so much affection for him, a wonderful actor and a wonderful bloke.”

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Anne Francis (1930-2011)

In the 1956 film Forbidden Planet, Anne Francis played a girl who, together with her scientist father and a robot named Robby, lived in an extraterrestrial settlement in a science-fiction retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The role made her blond-haired good looks (adorned with a distinctive beauty mark in one corner of her mouth) instantly recognizable and helped her earn her next most famous role: Honey West’s feisty, ocelot-owning detective who could put up one hell of a fight.  “A lot of people speak to me about Honey West,” Francis once recalled. “The character made young women think there was more they could reach for. It encouraged a lot of people.” She went on to appear in several films, including Blackboard Jungle, Bad Day at Black Rock and Hook, Line and Sinker with Jerry Lewis.

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Kenneth Mars (1935-2011)

What do The Little Mermaid’s King Triton, fictional Germany and Young Frankenstein all have in common? They all featured the talents of Hollywood veteran Kenneth Mars. Best known for his collaborations with Mel Brooks in Young Frankenstein and 1968’s The Producers, Mars played comedic German characters to a tee. In The Producers, Mars was a nutty, tormented former Nazi whose most memorable line was, “Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer!” In Young Frankenstein, Mars again put on a German accent to bring to life Inspector Kemp, the police chief with an eye patch and a malfunctioning prosthetic arm. Apart from adult comedies, Mars also lent his voice talent to the character of King Triton in The Little Mermaid and Grandpa Longneck in The Land Before Time.

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John Barry (1933-2011)

John Barry was the man behind some of the most iconic, instantly recognizable film music around. The music of some of the best-known James Bond films, the Grammy-winning soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy and the Academy Award-winning score to Out of Africa and many, many others were all the work of John Barry. He could capture the essence of adventure, mystique, romance, and intrigue in a single song, a talent which prompted lyricist Tim Rice to say of Barry, “Film seemed to bring out the very best in him” since he "was able to catch the mood of a scene or a whole film by the genius of orchestration with fairly conventional instruments."