Books

Tribute: remembering the entertainers who have left us this year

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It’s been an awful start to the year in terms of so many deaths of people in the entertainment industries. Just nine weeks into 2016 and we have already experienced a handful of tragedies, from world-renowned icons to young and aspiring artists.

Just yesterday, the death of American novelist Pat Conroy at the age of 70 due to pancreatic cancer was confirmed. His emotional fictions include the The Great Santini or The Prince of Tides, which were influenced by the author’s troubled childhood and youth. The latter was on the best-seller lists for nearly a year and was translated to the screen in the 90s adaptation starring Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte.

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On February 29, the sad news came of the death of Louise Rennison, the author of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snugging who died aged 64. Her series Confessions of Georgia Nicholson, which is written in a diary style and often based on her own teenage memories in Leeds, made many laugh and feel with the teenager and her issues with her first romance and being a young adult.

The award winning author and comedian published the first novel in 1999, and it went on to become a worldwide bestseller with 2.6 million physical book copies sold in the UK alone. But not only was she a talented, funny writer; Rennison brought feminist ideals into her writing – she wanted young girls to decide for themselves what they wanted to do and who they wanted to be in life.

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Just like Rennison, Harper Lee was an outstanding female figure in literature and sadly died ten days before the British author. Until 2015, she had solely written one book – a text that not only earned her a Pulitzer Prize, but remains a defining text on the racial issues of southern states of the USA to this day. In 1961, when To Kill a Mockingbird was released, the story of a small-town lawyer defending a black citizen who has been charged with raping a white woman and saving him from being lynched by furious whites was more topical than ever.

Lee’s book was sold over 40 million times and the film adaption had won three Academy Awards. She was the only author to ever win the Pulitzer Prize with a debut novel. But despite the fame and adoration Lee had received, the rather shy, private person tried to avoid the public attention most of her life. Her second published novel, Go Set a Watchman, had been a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird but was rejected by the publisher. It portrays the later lives of the characters from her first book. Her achievement with To Kill a Mockingbird, though, was so influential that it had brought her a lifetime of recognition. 55 years on from its release, the so-called one-book literary wonder died at the age of 89 in Alabama after living in a nursing home with a declining health for about nine years. Nonetheless, her achievements will not be forgotten.

Growing up in an era in which racial segregation was a part of daily life in Alabama, Lee’s personal experiences – her father was the acting template for Atticus Finch – and the way she translated them into the book had a major impact on white citizens. The reflection of racial prejudices in the South demonstrated that these issues affected everyone in the community; Lee made white citizens aware of the fact that the people being mobbed and lynched were neighbours, friends, people they knew – humans. To award her “outstanding contribution to America’s literary tradition,” Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by president George W. Bush in 2007.

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But it’s not just the literary world that’s been hit by sad news lately. On January 14, four days after the shocking death of David Bowie, another distinctive voice of the entertainment industry passed away – Alan Rickman. The British actor from a working class background, who gained his career by hard work and talent, not only captured many as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series, Hans Gruber in Die Hard or as a villain actor in Robin Hood: The Prince of thieves, but also stood out in romantic comedies, such as Love Actually. His portrayal of the brilliant wizard and potions master Snape gained him international recognition and fame. He definitely had the charisma to portray this complex character to perfection.

After a secret battle with cancer, he died at the age of 69 in London. Rickman will be missed by generations of admirers as an outstanding figure in film. “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death. He was a magnificent actor and a wonderful man,” were the words of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, shared by thousands on social media shortly after the announcement of his death. Several other public figures paid tribute to the achievements of the British actor, including friends and former co-stars Juliet Stevenson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and Daniel Radcliffe. This was a heavy loss for the film industry.

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With regard to David Bowie, the question really is how to ever get over the death of this British Rock’n’Roll legend. After an 18-month battle with cancer, Bowie passed away on January 10, just two days after releasing his 25th studio album Blackstar on his 69th birthday. His loss was felt across the world and countless fans and celebrities took their mourning to social media and celebrated his artistic contributions, including huis music, film performances and numerous appearances as a face of British pop culture.

Reinventing his career over and over again in the past five decades, Bowie never lost his individuality or the power to transcend conventional boundaries of music, art and fashion, and starred in countless thought-provoking performances on screen. This expressive character will be remembered for his musical and artistic innovations and experimentations, creativity, individuality and so much more.

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Shortly after Bowie’s death, the music industry lost another influential character on January 18. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Glenn Frey was best known as a founding member of the Eagles and passed away at the age of 67. His bang was on of the most successful in the industry with more than 150 million record sales, including unforgettable songs such as Hotel California.

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Another sudden, and very unexpected tragedy was the fatal car accident that claimed the lives of all four members of the British indie band Viola Beach on February 13. Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin, aged 19-27, and their manager Craig Tarry, 35, were killed when their car plunged off a bridge near Stockholm, Sweden. The cause of the accident remains uncertain, but it has been confirmed that no trace of alcohol or drugs has been found in the blood of the driver.

The band from Warrington, Cheshire, had just played their first gig outside the UK and had a bright musical future ahead. The musicians were excited to play many more gigs in Europe and the USA. Viola Beach had formed in May 2015 and had played several sessions for the BBC Introducing showcase before their debut single Swings and Waterslides. They had just released their second single on January 22. The week following their deaths, Swings and Waterslides peaked at No.11 in the UK chart, with Boys that Sing reaching No. 27. Their heart-breaking story has left fans old and new devastated. They no doubt had the brightest of futures ahead of them.

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As tragic as the first two months of 2016 have been for the entertainment industry, we must remember and celebrate these outstanding personalities who each achieved great things in their careers, whether long or short. RIP all.

Words by Ann-Christin Schubert

Pictures from Here and Now, EW, and The Guardian

Jess is your Deputy Editor

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