We’ve lost so many beloved celebrities in the last month. From the First Lady of Television to America’s Dad, here are a few of the ones we’ll miss.
- Betty White
Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park, Illinois on January 17, 1922. Her family moved to the Los Angeles area when Betty was just a year old. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School, where she discovered a love of performing. She served in World War II in the American Women’s Voluntary Services. After the war, she began working in radio and then television, hosting talk/variety shows as well as starring in sitcoms such as Life with Elizabeth (which she also co-created, at a time when very few women found work behind the camera). In the early 60s, White began making appearances on game shows like Password (which is how she met the love of her life, Allen Ludden), To Tell the Truth, and Match Game; during this time she also had a long-running gig as co-host of the Rose Parade broadcast on NBC. In 1973, she began co-starring on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as the cynical, man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens; for her efforts, she won two Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. In 1985, she was cast as Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls. Yes, you read that right; originally, White was to play Blanche and Rue McClanahan was cast as Rose Nylund. Director Jay Sandrich, feeling that Blanche was too similar to Sue Ann Nivens, suggested the two swap roles, and the rest is history. For her portrayal of the sweet, naive Rose, White was nominated for seven Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – one for every season of the show – and won once. In 2009, White had a career resurgence with the one-two punch of her hysterical supporting performance in The Proposal and a Super Bowl Snickers commercial. On May 8, 2010, White became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live, at the age of eighty-eight; she won her fifth and final Emmy for her efforts. White’s final series, Hot in Cleveland, aired on TV Land from 2010-2015 and garnered White another Supporting Actress Emmy nomination. White was an advocate for animal rights, racial justice and LGBT equality. She was the First Lady of Television, a comedy legend, and a god damn national treasure. On New Year’s Eve, Betty White passed away in her sleep seventeen days shy of her 100th birthday. We love you, Betty; thank you for being our friend.
- Peter Bogdanovich
Peter Bogdanovich was born July 30, 1939, in Kingston, New York. He studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory, but initially found work as a film critic and programmer. In 1966, inspired by French New Wave directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Bogdanovich moved to Hollywood with his wife Polly Platt. He struck gold with his third feature, 1971’s The Last Picture Show. Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same, The Last Picture Show is a gorgeous black & white coming-of-age film that starred heavyweights like Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson, Ellen Burstyn and Eileen Brennan. The film was a critical and commercial success and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Bridges and Johnson, and Best Supporting Actress for Burstyn and Leachman (Johnson and Leachman won in their categories). The Last Picture Show also introduced Bogdanovich to Cybill Shepherd, with whom he began an affair that would end his marriage to Platt. His next two features, 1972’s What’s Up, Doc? and 1973’s Paper Moon, were also highly regarded, with Paper Moon earning ten-year-old Tatum O’Neal an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (O’Neal still holds the record for youngest competitive Oscar winner ever). Though the quality of Bogdanovich’s films dropped off after Paper Moon, he had a bit of a comeback with 1985’s Mask, which competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival and won an Oscar for Best Makeup. Cher won Best Actress at Cannes, and she and Eric Stolz both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances in the film. In the 2000s, Bogdanovich did more acting than directing, often appearing as himself; his credits include Kill Bill, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and a personal favorite of mine, How I Met Your Mother (if you’ve seen the episode, you’ll never hear the name “Willem Dafoe” the same way again). On January 6, Bogdanovich died from complications of Parkinson’s disease at the age of eighty-two.
- Sidney Poitier
Bahamanian Sidney Poitier was born in Miami on February 20, 1927 (his parents were farmers who traveled to Miami frequently to sell their produce, and Sidney was three months premature). At age fifteen, Poitier went back to Miami to live with his brother’s family; unable to tolerate Jim Crow-era Florida, he made his way to New York City the following year. He lied about his age to enlist in the Army and was trained to work with psychiatric patients at a Veteran’s Administration hospital. Once out of the Army, Poitier returned to New York City and auditioned successfully for the American Negro Theater. He landed his first film role in 1950’s No Way Out. His big break occurred in 1957 with a role in Martin Ritt’s Edge of the City. The following year, Poitier co-starred with Tony Curtis in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, for which he became the first black man to be nominated for an Oscar (Curtis was also nominated for Best Actor; they both lost to David Niven). Poitier received a Tony nomination in 1959 for A Raisin in the Sun, and in 1961 he starred in the film adaptation. In 1963, Poitier appeared in the film that would finally win a black man an Oscar, Lilies of the Field. In 1967, he had his most successful year yet, starring in three highly acclaimed hits: To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Poitier was actually the top box office draw that year, with his three films earning more than $100 million (as well as seventeen Oscar nominations). In 1972, he made his directorial debut with Buck and the Preacher. He would go to direct several financially successful films, including 1980’s Stir Crazy, which – adjusted for inflation – is the most successful movie by a black director ever. He continued to act and direct in the 80s and 90s; his final film role was in 1997’s The Jackal. That same year, Poitier began a ten-year stint as the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan. Aside from the many rewards he received for his acting – including the Oscar, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe – Poitier’s honors include the AFI Life Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was bestowed on him by President Obama in 2009. Sidney Poitier passed away at his home in Beverly Hills at the age of ninety-four. His cause of death was heart failure, with Alzheimer’s and prostate cancer listed as contributing factors.
- Bob Saget
Robert Lane Saget was born May 17, 1956, in Philadelphia. After graduating from Temple University’s film school, he made his way to Los Angeles. Early success in stand-up comedy led to his big break as widower Danny Tanner on ABC’s Full House. Despite mostly negative reviews from critics, who found the series saccharine and trite, Full House found massive success as part of ABC’s TGIF programming block. In 1989, Saget landed a second gig with ABC, as host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Inspired by a Japanese variety show called Fun TV, AFHV showcased home videos sent in by viewers; the clips were introduced by Saget, who also interacted with audience members and the occasional guest star. Between the two series, Saget earned the moniker “America’s Dad”. The dad image, though, was in stark contrast to his raunchy stand-up routines and Saget eventually grew restless. In 1997, after eight seasons on AFHV, Saget left the show to pursue other projects. First up was directing his feature film, 1998’s Dirty Work; though the movie was a critical and box office disappointment, it has attained a cult following. Next, an extremely NSFW cameo in Half Baked. After starring in Raising Dad, which only lasted for one season on The WB, Saget landed another long-running sitcom gig, as the voice of future Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. He made an appearance in the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, where he told one of the filthiest renditions of the legendary titular joke. Saget appeared in fifteen episodes of Netflix’s Full House reboot, Fuller House. All the while, he continued to perform stand-up; he was in the midst of a tour at the time of his death. On January 9, Saget was found dead in his room at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando; he was just sixty-five years old. His cause of death is not known at this time; an autopsy was performed but it will likely be several more weeks before the results are in.
- Meat Loaf
Marvin Lee Aday was born in Dallas, Texas, on September 27, 1947. He was given the nickname Meat Loaf as a kid (he apparently weighed 240 pounds by the time he was in the seventh grade). After Aday’s mom died of cancer in 1967, he moved to Los Angeles. He found early success in music with his band Meat Loaf Soul and he joined the LA production of Hair a short time later. Eventually, he made his way to New York City and reprised his Hair role at a Broadway theater. He hired an agent and auditioned for the show that would change his life, the Public Theater’s production of a musical called More Than You Deserve. The composer of the show was Jim Steinman, who would go on to collaborate with Meat Loaf on several projects, including the Bat Out of Hell trilogy (more on that in a minute). In late 1973, Meat Loaf joined the original Los Angeles cast of The Rocky Horror Show; shortly thereafter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show began production, and Meat Loaf was asked to reprise his role as Eddie in the film. During this time, Meat Loaf and Steinman were working on the album that would become Bat Out of Hell. Released in October of 1977, Bat Out of Hell would go on to sell more than 43 million copies worldwide (in the US alone, it is certified 14X platinum by the RIAA). Meat Loaf continued to record and tour throughout the 1980s without much success, but he reteamed with Steinman for 1993’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell and its monster single “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”. The song was Meat Loaf’s only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its over-the-top, Michael Bay-directed video made him a mainstay on MTV. Although Bat Out of Hell II didn’t achieve the success of the first album, it was still a huge hit, selling more than 14 million albums worldwide, and it put Meat Loaf back in the public eye. His acting career saw a resurgence in the 90s as well, with parts in films like Wayne’s World, Spice World, Black Dog, and most notably, Fight Club. Meat Loaf continued recording and touring; in 2006, he released the final album in the Bat trilogy, Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. The album included his version of Steinman’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”, which was made famous in 1996 by Celine Dion. Meat Loaf had not recorded or toured since 2016; this past November, he announced plans to record a new album but never made it into the studio. In early January, Meat Loaf’s daughter posted to Instagram that some of her family had tested positive for COVID-19. It is unknown whether or not he was vaccinated, but he publicly opposed mask and vaccine mandates. Back in November, Meat Loaf told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.” On the evening of January 20, Meat Loaf was rushed to a Nashville hospital; he died later that evening at the age of seventy-four. Although no official cause of death was announced, it is presumed that he died of COVID complications.
- Louie Anderson
Louis Perry Anderson was born on March 23, 1953, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the second-youngest of eleven children. Early success in stand-up led to a 1984 appearance on The Tonight Show. The following year, he was cast as Lou Appleton on Perfect Strangers, opposite Bronson Pinchot. After the pilot was filmed, the producers decided that the chemistry between the two actors wasn’t right, and Anderson was replaced by Mark-Linn Baker (and the character’s name changed from Lou to Larry). In 1988, Anderson had a memorable role in Coming to America (fun fact: the studio told the producers they needed at least one white person in the cast, and Anderson was the funniest white person they could think of). In 1995, Anderson created and produced Fox’s Life with Louie, a Saturday morning animated series based on his childhood. Anderson won two Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for Life with Louie. Anderson was then hired to host the syndicated reboot of Family Feud, a job he held for three years. In 2003, he began a nine-year residency in Las Vegas with a stand-up show called Louie: Larger Than Life. Throughout the 2000s, he appeared in scripted series such as Ally McBeal and Scrubs, and on game shows like Hollywood Squares and To Tell the Truth. For four seasons beginning in 2016, Anderson played Christine Baskets on FX’s Baskets; this time, he won a Primetime Emmy for his performance. On January 21, 2022, Anderson passed away of complications from large B-cell lymphoma at the age of sixty-eight.
- Howard Hesseman
Howard Hesseman was born in Lebanon, Oregon, on February 27, 1940. He attended the University of Oregon and eventually made his way to San Francisco, where he performed with The Committee, an improv troupe whose members included Larry Hankin, Rob Reiner and David Ogden Stiers. In the late 60s, Hesseman found work as a radio DJ, experience that would serve him well several years later when he joined the cast of CBS’s WKRP in Cincinnati as DJ Dr. Johnny Fever. After WKRP ended, Hesseman landed at One Day at a Time as a love interest for Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano. In 1986, he was cast as out-of-work actor turned substitute teacher Charlie Moore in ABC’s Head of the Class. After he left Head of the Class in 1990, he reprised his role as Johnny Fever on The New WKRP in Cincinnati. Hesseman worked throughout the 1990s and 2000s, finding roles in movies like Gridlock’d and About Schmidt and television series such as That ’70s Show, House, ER and CSI. Hesseman died on January 29 in Los Angeles from complications of colon surgery; he was eighty-one years old.