Pretty much any way you look at it, 2016 was a rough year. As a country, we are dealing with the repercussions of an election cycle that stoked fears, fanned the flames of mistrust, and reinforced a sense of division. We are struggling with our national identity and trying to determine how to move forward. To make an already difficult year even more painful, we lost several extraordinary artists and public figures. Some of these people were visionaries who defied convention and encouraged us to embrace that which is eccentric and “other.” Many were trailblazers in their respective fields. They shaped our childhoods, our dreams, our love of art and literature, and our perceptions of our own capabilities. They were so utterly original that there is now an irreparable void where once they stood. We will miss them dearly.
As we make our way through December, we heave a collective sigh of exhaustion and begin to look toward 2017. But before we square our shoulders, take a deep breath and begin the healing process, let’s pay a literary tribute to the remarkable people who left us this year.
David Bowie: January 8, 1947 – January 20, 2016
Iconic and innovative singer, songwriter, and actor whose forward-thinking music, theatrical flair, and penchant for reinvention inspired generations of musicians and legions of fans.
Alan Rickman: 21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016
Actor and director best known for his roles as Severus Snape in Harry Potter, Hans Gruber in the Die Hard series, and Harry in Love, Actually.
Recommended Listening: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (audiobook narrated by Alan Rickman)
Maurice White: December 19, 1941 – February 3, 2016
Singer, songwriter, musician, and founder of the band Earth, Wind & Fire who won 7 Grammys and was nominated for a total of 20 Grammys.
Recommended Reading: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire by Maurice White
Harper Lee: April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the American Classic To Kill a Mockingbird.
Recommended Reading: The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
Patty Duke: December 14, 1946 – March 29, 2016
Academy Award-winning actor whose experience with bipolar disorder inspired her to dedicate much of her life to mental health advocacy.
Recommended Reading: Call Me Anna by Patty Duke
Prince: June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016
Singer-songwriter, producer, and style icon, known for his eclectic work, his status as a sex symbol, and his influence on popular music.
Recommended Reading: Prince: Purple Reign by Mick Wall
Mohammad Ali: January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016
Heavyweight boxing champion, activist, and philanthropist also known for his strongly held religious, political, and social convictions.
Recommended Reading: The Greatest: My Own Story by Mohammad Ali
Elie Wiesel: September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016
Writer, Nobel Laureate, political activist, and Holocaust survivor who spent decades championing human rights.
Recommended Reading: Night by Elie Wiesel
Gene Wilder: June 11, 1933 – August 29, 2016
Comedic actor, screenwriter, and director whose performances in films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Blazing Saddles earned him a cult following.
Recommended Reading: Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art by Gene Wilder
Anna Dewdney: December 25, 1965 – September 3, 2016
Author & illustrator of beloved children’s books
Recommended Reading: Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Charmian Carr: December 27, 1942 – September 17, 2016
Actor and singer, best known for her role as Liesl in the Sound of Music.
Recommended Reading: Forever Liesl: A Memoir of the Sound of Music by Charmian Carr
Leonard Cohen: September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016
Singer, songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist who influenced generations of fellow poets and songwriters
Recommended Reading: Stranger Music: Selected Poems & Songs by Leonard Cohen
Gloria Naylor: January 25, 1950 – September 28, 2016
An award-winning author whose debut novel was adapted into a miniseries produced by Oprah Winfrey.
Recommended Reading: The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
Natalie Babbitt: July 28, 1932 – October 31, 2016
Writer and illustrator of children’s books, whose classic novel Tuck Everlasting was developed into two films and a musical.
Recommended Reading: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Gwen Ifill: September 29, 1955 – November 14, 2016
American Peabody award-winning journalist, television newscaster, and author who became the first African American to host a U.S. public affairs television program.
Recommended Reading: The Breakthrough: Politics & Race in the Age of America by Gwen Ifill
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