RANKED! 20 Icons We Lost Over the Last 20 Years
Death is a subject best discussed amongst the living. But then again, so is life. And while we understand so little about death itself, we’ve figured out that a life well-lived can echo on through the canyons of time, gaining vigor with each new generation. Today we look at 20 such lives and celebrate the indelible mark these icons left behind. Since you can’t measure the value of a life well spent, we’ve ranked these legends in no particular order. So sit back, relax, (get the handkerchief ready) and prepare to be defibrillated by 20 gigawatts of inspiration.
Photo: Phil Ramey/RameyPix/Corbis (Getty Images)
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20. Prince 1958-2016
Prince is possibly the most prolific musical force of the 20th century. Beyond his mega-selling hit records, there is an untold store of recordings locked away in his personal vault. A dynamite musician and performer, it was recently revealed that Prince singlehandedly created the Minneapolis music scene by inventing a posse of "rival" acts. These seemingly feuding bands were all dreamed up by Prince, who would write their material, produce their music, and groom each performer until the Paisley Park sound became a global music phenomenon.
Related: New Book Revisits Prince in the '90s
19. Evel Knievel 1938-2007
Nothing crystallizes the great American spirit of courage and insanity like daredevil extraordinaire, Evel Knievel. Pioneering the art of high-octane spectacle, Knievel inspired the world to have fun, take risks, and be bombastically resilient.
18. Jonathan Gold 1960-2018
L.A. was once considered a sprawling wasteland of diners, drive-ins, and dives, until Jonathan Gold poked holes in the black tarp of that theory to reveal a foodie Mecca teeming with culinary delights. The joy and enthusiasm the man approached every table with was not only infectious, it was a thing of beauty.
17. Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018
What Jonathan Gold did for L.A., Anthony Bourdain did for the entire world. Traveling across the globe to sample cuisine and showcase cultures from Montevideo to Berlin, Bourdain spread passion and joy wherever he went. An example of a poetic spirit possessed of a pragmatic artistry, Bourdain's death was a shock and loss felt deeply by foodies, wanderlusts, and humanists everywhere.
16. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 1922-2007
Storytellers and humorists remain in awe of this gentle spirit who made writing great American novels look easy. Blending sci-fi themes, absurdist wit, and a deep historical and literary comprehension, Vonnegut shed the darkness of humanity in a new light, one that made our flaws visible enough to soften the ice around our hearts and contemplate a better way forward.
15. Leonard Cohen 1934-2016
Canada's spiritual pop poet was as prolific and lyrically layered as Dylan at his best. Maintaining his buoyancy (and his voice) until the very end, Cohen's legacy is as fresh and immediate today as it was at the height of his fame. Songs like "So Long, Marianne" and "Chelsea Hotel" will knot up your soul with a bewildering subtlety that leave you feeling renewed.
14. George Carlin 1937-2008
Speaking truth to the king and his subjects has been the job of court jesters since the invention of kingdoms. And at a time when lies became exponentially more profitable than truth, George Carlin approached his craft with abandon, never ceasing or diluting his onslaught of honesty. Also, the man was truly funny. And the absence of laughter will always make the heart grow fonder.
13. Nora Ephron 1941-2012
Nora Ephron viewed the world through whimsical eyes. Her stories of love and relationships regarded the world as a bright, fun place to be in, filled with wonder, charm, and laughter. Stories like When Harry Met Sally celebrated love and placed the graceful inner-workings of modern women in the limelight for once. The example she set has certainly made the world a kinder place, letting us know that fairy tales are not just things found in dusty old books, but real-life magic that is found in each and every one of us.
12. Mitzi Shore 1930-2018
Mitzi Shore may not be a household name, unless you happen to live behind the Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. Not only did Shore own and operate the infamous club, she fostered the talent of nearly every major stand-up comic that went on to conquer the world. Her impact on the pop culture landscape is immeasurable, and a testament to how important a talent-centric venue can be.
11. Muhammad Ali 1942-2016
He's nicknamed "The Greatest" for a reason. Often considered the best heavyweight champ of all time, Ali had steel gloves, a silver tongue, and a heart of gold. Refusing to fight in the Vietnam War on sheer principal, Ali was jailed by the U.S. government and banned from boxing for three years at the height of his career. He took the conviction as an opportunity to fight for civil rights, challenge the Supreme Court, and transform the status quo of American society. And if all that wasn't enough, when the dust settled, he returned to the ring and regained his title.
10. Maya Angelou 1928-2014
In a harsh and violent world, sometimes the butterfly wings of compassion can move mountains. A poet, writer, and prolific creator, Maya Angelou's unending belief in love and equality transformed hearts and minds around the world, disarming bigotry with pure wisdom and intellect. Her influence has done enormous good and will live on in the millions of people she inspired.
9. George Harrison 1943-2001
The man was a Beatle. Need we say more? His cheeky humor, lyrical guitar playing, and lifestyle of enlightenment made deep impressions on all who bore witness. His songwriting became magnificent during his tenure with the Fab Four, culminating in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," a song that lays bare the melancholy outlook of an artist hoping to mend a woeful world.
8. David Bowie 1947-2016
David Bowie built the mold for the modern pop artist. He was relentless, inventive, multi-talented, and larger than life. His music has woven a dynamic tapestry over the doldrums of existence and set a trillion molecules dancing into the ether. When the radiant light of a true genius is extinguished, the world darkens irrevocably, just a little.
7. Nina Simone 1933-2003
Nina Simone was angry. She was angry about the institution of racism in America and the quiet subjugation of women. So she sang about it with a depth and glory that got her pushed out of the country. Her talent as a classical pianist enabled her to flourish her songs and renditions with unusual dexterity, and stride across genres from gospel to jazz. Her influence guided a generation of movers and shakers, including the Godmother of Soul, Aretha Franklin. And her tragic life as an outcast from society and iconoclast of the American music industry painfully underscores her commitment to her message, and the cross she bore to let that message ring out. She was a songbird unlike any other.
6. Robin Williams 1951-2014
Losing Robin Williams was like losing a best friend, the friend who made you life, taught you things, and would always be there when you needed him. Williams was way more than an actor and comedian, he was a central figure in our life story and a trusted captain on the stormy seas of the heart.
5. Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
A bunch of people remember Nelson Mandela's funeral taking place in in the early 1980s and were shocked when it happened again in 2013. Whether you believe in the "Mandela Effect" or not, there's no question that Nelson Mandela was one of modern history's greatest champions of freedom, equality, and human rights. Helping to usher out apartheid in South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years of his life in prison for promoting his philosophy. In this age of constant social manipulation, having the courage of your convictions is a priceless commodity.
4. Stephen Hawking 1942-2018
There are a handful of names that spring to mind when thinking about the most important figures in science. Names who radicalized our thinking and understanding of the world around us. Hawking's theories have opened the door to a complex universe of ideas that continue to push the needle of understanding forward with astounding results. From Hawking's Radiation theory to concepts involving quantum physics, the man was a titan of thought, and his absence will surely leave a void.
3. Stan Lee 1922-2018
He may not be as wordy as Shakespeare, but the godfather of comic books created more characters than just about anyone in history. It's hard to believe Stan Lee ever struggled to get a book published, because his legacy has ballooned to superhuman proportions, and billions of fans around the world marvel at it everyday.
2. Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005
Hunter S. Thompson was many things: a drug-addled maniac, a leader of the freak movement, the inventor of gonzo journalism, a football fan. But more than anything, he was the guardian and pallbearer of the American dream, chronicling its cruel demise, and the torturous loss of a good thing ravaged. His writing is wild, sharp, and uncannily alive. And when he died, we buried with him the last remnants of the dream.
1. Steve Jobs 1955-2011
The story of the man who changed the world by leading it into the 21st century will surely grow to mythical proportions before too long. A designer, innovator, and true visionary, Jobs' hand is the one that shot Cupid's arrow through the heart of machine and man. The gravity of the match made is one we have only begun to realize, and will undoubtedly lead us deep into the next millennium.