They made us laugh. They made us think. They made us reexamine the world. They are the popular stars, entertainers, politicians, and all-around good people who passed away in 2021. Some lived to a ripe old age and others went unexpectedly too soon. But no matter their age, no matter the cause of death, it's never easy to see someone you looked up to fade from the scene.
Although many more significant people died in 2021 than the ones who made this list, these are some of the biggest names who made the biggest impression in our collective lives.
Norm Macdonald was a writer, comedian, actor, and a favorite guest on the late-night talk shows. He hit it big when he signed on as a Saturday Night Live cast member where he anchored the popular "Weekend Update" segment.
Although he had been battling leukemia for nearly a decade, he had not publicly disclosed his sickness and his death took many fans by surprise. Norm Macdonald was 61.
Decades before celebrity podcasts were invented, the world had Larry King. He started as a radio host in Miami, interviewing all kinds of different people and inviting listeners to call in to his show with questions of their own.
Over time he moved from radio to television but even as his audience grew, King managed to keep the interviews charming and personal. It's believed he did more than 50,000 interviews over his career. Larry King died of sepsis at the age of 87.
Fans of irreverent humor knew Jessica Walter for two different roles. She portrayed the martini guzzling matriarch of the Bluth family in "Arrested Development." She also voiced spymaster Malorey Archer in the animated series "Archer."
But Walter's career was much more than that. She got her start on Broadway in the 1960s and also appeared in a number of television shows. In 1971 she co-starred with Clint Eastwood in the movie "Play Misty For Me." Walter died in her sleep at the age of 80.
Stephen Sondheim is considered one of the most influential figures in modern Broadway. The composer and lyricist helped evolve musical theater by tackling more complex themes than traditional musicals and writing more dark and sophisticated songs.
Over the course of his career, Sondheim was awarded Tonys, Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize, and even an Academy Award. Sondheim died of cardiovascular disease at the age of 91.
Bob Dole was a Republican from Kansas who served at some of the highest levels in Washington, D.C. for more than 35 years. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1961 and, in 1969, won a Senate seat, which he held until 1996 when he resigned to unsuccessfully run for president against Bill Clinton.
During his time as a Senator, Dole held a number of prominent roles including Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. During the 1976 election, Gerald Ford selected Dole to be his running mate. After his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1996, Dole retired from political life but remained active and influential in Republican circles until his death. He died from lung cancer at the age of 98.
The Emmy Award-winning actor first got national fame in the early 1980s starring alongside a young Tom Hanks in the short-lived sitcom "Bosom Buddies." Although that show didn't last very long, Peter Scolari's career continued to flourish. He went on to amuse audiences with his role as a TV producer in the sitcom "Newhart" but it was his role in "Girls" that earned him an Emmy. Scolari also starred in a number of Broadway shows.
He died of cancer at the age of 66.
For good or for bad, Michael Constantine's career will always be associated with Windex. The actor is most famous for his role as the protective father of Toula Portokalos in the hit movie, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" where he constantly preached about the healing powers of the blue cleaning fluid.
But decades before that, he starred in movies and TV shows and won an Emmy for his role in the television comedy-drama "Room 222." Michael Constantine died at the age of 94 of natural causes.
Depending on your age, you likely think of Ed Asner most fondly as the grumpy news director in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" or as the grumpy widower in the Pixar film "Up."
Asner is also famous for playing the role of Santa Claus in a number of films, most notably in the 2003 hit movie "Elf." Ed Asner died at the age of 91 of natural causes.
Dusty Hill was almost as famous for his beard as he was for his skills with the bass guitar. For fifty years the musician played with the Southern Rock band ZZ Top. On top of the bass, he also provided backup vocals and played the occasional keyboard. Hill and the rest of the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Although the cause of death was never publicly revealed, Hill had taken a leave of absence from the band just days before his passing because of an issue with his hip. He was 72.
Sometimes called the "Clown Prince of Hip Hop," Biz Markie was both a rap singer and record producer. Markie shot to stardom after the release of his second studio album, "The Biz Never Sleeps." The single "Just a Friend" featured him alternating between rapping and off-key singing while playing the piano. In the music video Markie is dressed up like Mozart, complete with a powdered wig.
Biz Markie died at the age of 57 after having a stroke and going into a diabetic coma.
Although he was born with the name Earl Simmons, the entertainment world knew him as DMX. The rapper and actor sold more than 74 million records worldwide during his career. He also starred in Hollywood hits like "Romeo Must Die" and "Cradle 2 The Grave."
DMX died at the age of 51 from multiple-organ failure following a heart attack.
Although Tawny Kitaen's career started out as an actress in a number of movies during the 1980s, it was her starring role in music videos that gave her international exposure. Her two most famous music videos were Ratt's "Back for More" and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." In 1989 she ended up marrying David Coverdale, the lead singer of Whitesnake.
Tawny Kitaen died of heart disease at the age of 59.
For nearly 60 years Charlie Watts entertained fans as the drummer for the Rolling Stones. Although the Stones were more famous for their rock and blues-inspired songs, Watts credits jazz music for helping to develop his drumming style. He enjoyed wearing suits during many of his concerts.
Charlie Watts' cause of death was not released publicly. He was 80.
The son of immigrants, Colin Powell grew up in the Bronx and eventually became the first African-American Secretary of State. The career soldier served in Vietnam and rose through the ranks. Powell became one of the faces of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when he was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Colin Powell died of complications from Covid-19 at the age of 84.
Michael Kenneth Williams is best known for portraying Omar Little in the HBO drama "The Wire." His character was reportedly going to be killed off in the first season, but in the end, he was one of the most popular characters in the series that lasted for ten years. Former President Barack Obama once said "The Wire" was his favorite television show and Omar Little was his favorite character in it.
Michael Kenneth Williams died from a drug overdose at the age of 54.