Sometimes, it felt like 2016 was trying to kill all of our heroes. (Somebody better keep Stevie Wonder safe.)
No one was immune to this miserable year—authors, actors, athletes, or musicians.
But we don’t mourn death, we celebrate life. So here are some of the ways you can remember the work of the legends we lost this year.
Not to besmirch a galaxy far far away, but Carrie Fisher was so much more than Princess Leia. She was a talented author and brave enough to tell her own stories of substance abuse and mental illness. Her courage made us all stronger, and we miss our princess.
We could tell you that Bowie invented modern stardom, that everyone from Lady Gaga to Drake stole a piece of their persona from Bowie. Or we could say, “Let’s dance.” You can download or stream 39 of Bowie’s greatest hits for free from Freegal or listen to Blackstar, his brilliant final album. It’s tempting to call Blackstar a “fitting final chapter” for the way it revisited or revised so many of Bowie’s pet themes. But with a gem like Bowie, let’s just call it one more beautiful facet.
Prince was so much more than his hits. He was the joy of “Starfish & Coffee,” the soul of “Breakdown,” and the strut of “We Can Funk.” You can stream more than a dozen of Prince’s albums, as well as his films Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge, for free on Hoopla. (This year was particularly cruel to the Paisley-Park set. Vanity, of “Nasty Girl” fame, died also.)
Michael made music that could play anywhere—songs that defied genre and reached a joyful, yearning place in all of us. You can stream or download his music for free on Freegal.
Rickman was an irreplaceable cog in the Harry Potter films. We needed to like, mistrust, pity, and despise Severus Snape all within the same story. Rickman managed that tightrope like it was a catwalk. And he had range. He could terrorize you in Die Hard, romance you in Love, Actually, and make you laugh through your nose as Marvin the pathologically depressed robot in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
There’s a sliver more tragedy when someone who makes us laugh dies. Inevitably, some of the laughter leaves with them. We lost Garry Shandling and Garry Marshall this year, who—between the two of them—gave us The Odd Couple, Pretty Woman, Happy Days (and its many spinoffs,) It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and The Larry Sanders Show.
But Gene Wilder hurts the most. He was inextricably linked to so many of our childhoods and gave us so much joy, so much imagination while he was alive. It’s worth noting that he was also a phenomenal author.
Every year, authors win Pulitzers and Bookers and National Book Awards. But how many win the Nobel Peace Prize? Wiesel survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald (though his father and youngest sister did not.) His account of those years, Night, has never lost its power or importance. His more recent Open Heart showed that he never lost his exquisite sensitivity.
Even the publisher of Watership Down thought the idea for the book was bizarre. “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” he asked a friend.
If Watership Down was loony in conception, it’s brilliant in practice. Richard Adams’ story, in which rabbits escape their destroyed warren and search for a new home, is a classic. It takes myth, poetry and war and—without dumbing it down—weaves it into an enchanting children’s tale.
It’s fitting that Cohen would leave us on this cold and broken hallelujah of a year. Stream or download his greatest hits or enjoy his perfectly named final album, You Want It Darker, for free on Freegal.
As the coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, Summitt constructed a basketball dynasty that only John Wooden could match. She’s every bit as important to her sport as Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer or Gordie Howe—all of whom we lost in 2016—are to theirs. She wrote a pair of biographies. Both are worth reading.
The strange blessing of this year is so many singers left us with one final, magnificent album. We’ve already mentioned Bowie and Cohen. Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here… Thanks 4 Your Service is the masterpiece for which the group deserves to be remembered. Represent, Phife.
We also lost three of television’s foremost mothers in the same year. Florence Henderson, who most know first as Mrs. Brady, died in November. Meanwhile, Doris Roberts from Everybody Loves Raymond and Ann Morgan Guilbert, who played Millie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, passed in April and June, respectively.
No matter how hard we try, our elegy for 2016 will be insufficient. It takes more than a hyperlink to do justice to Gwen Ifill, Pat Conroy, Patty Duke, Joseph Medicine Crow, George Martin, Dusty Rhodes, or Glenn Frey.
We encourage you to read their books, watch their films, listen to their music, and appreciate their lives.
Here’s to a better 2017!