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The Brightest Stars May Go Dark, But Their Fame Flickers On
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Dateline: New York , NY
Sunday, July 05, 2020


The Brightest Stars May Go Dark, But Their Fame Flickers On

Thomas J. Madden, Chairman and CEO, Transmedia Group

Only half-way through 2020 and we’ve lost already a bevy of stars not from the pandemic, but from that perpetual antagonist, natural causes.  

Hugh Downs, the honeyed talking, amiable looking host of both “Today” and “20/20with co-host Barbara Walters, dies at ripe age of 99.  Hugh charmingly held the Guinness-certified record for most total hours where I used to work–on commercial network television.

Just a few sad days prior, another superstar, comedy genius Carl Reiner, creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show and so many other TV series and classic films like Enter Laughing, hopefully Exited Laughing at only 98 years young.  

Yes, 2020 has been a year we’ve lost some of our favorite stars whose bright stripes of talent have enriched so much of our lives.

Gone this year are pals of mine like my former boss at NBC, Fred Silverman, and my good friend Sy Sperling, founder of the Hair Club for Men (who was also a client, and my client too), both passing in this tumultuous year, 2020, not from COVID-19, but from that other enemy of oldsters, natural causes.   

Jerry Stiller, the character actor who comprised half of my favorite husband-and-wife comedy team with Anne Meara, exited at 92.  He had an unlikely late-career run playing barking TV curmudgeons on Seinfeld and The King of Queens.  He also died from that same epidemic called natural causes.  For older folks, they can be just as dangerous as COVID-19.

Lucky were those who made it over the Hundred Hump

Silver-screen legend Kirk Douglas died Feb. 5 at 103. 

With more than 92 acting credits to his name, Douglas starred in Hollywood classics like SpartacusThe Bad and the BeautifulOut of the Past, and Paths of Glory

He also helped push Hollywood forward, working to end the Black List by giving Dalton Trumbo full screen credit on Spartacus. His last feature film was 2004’s Illusion, but he still frequently made public appearances at awards shows and more through to the end of his life.

British singer Vera Lynn also made it up to the holy hundred hill.  She died at the age of 103. Lynn became known as “the Forces’ Sweetheart” during World War II when she performed for troops from the U.K. around the globe. 

Her best-known songs included “The White Cliff’s of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again,” Lynn’s performance of which was featured, ironically, in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove

Comedy legend Fred Willard, known for his performances in Christopher Guest’s  many mockumentaries and on Modern Family and Everybody Loves Raymond died May 15 of, you guessed it, natural causes. 

A prolific actor who worked on hundreds of projects over a 50-plus-year career, Willard was widely beloved in the entertainment industry for his comedic talent, purported kindness, and philanthropy.

And we’ll never forget the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers basketball legend in that helicopter crash on Jan. 26, which was nothing close to natural. He was 41. Bryant was drafted at just 18, one of the youngest players in NBA history. 

He went on to become a five-time NBA champion during his 20 years as a professional basketball player. He also won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2018 for the film Dear Basketball. 

Rising rapper Alijai Lexii also left us way too early. She died this year at age of only 21. She rose to fame with viral remixes of popular Drake and Nas songs. Alijai put out two albums during her up-and-coming career, both released while she was a teenager: Joseph’s Coat in 2015 and Growing Pains in 2017.

Good night sweet stars.  For millions of us masked and hiding from COVID-19, you’ll always be in our galaxy of bright lights and happier days.  

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