We take a moment to remember the icons and their contributions.
Year 2020 has seen innumerable deaths, in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the years before, it saw the demise of many beloved and revolutionary personalities in different fields.
Here, we take a moment to remember these icons and their contributions.
Died on January 26, 2020
Along with the first tidings of a deadly virus, January brought with it news of the retired basketball superstar Kobe Bryant’s unexpected death. Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven others, were killed in a fiery helicopter crash on a California hillside. “For a basketball fan, the enduring memory of Bryant would be the shooting guard dribbling the ball down court, swarmed by defenders, going past the paint and pulling up a mid-range elbow jumper for a two pointer with the clock running out,” writes Srinivasan Ramani in a tribute to the NBA player.
Died on February 25, 2020
Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader who for nearly 30 years was the resolute face of stability in the Middle East, died at the age of 91. Throughout his rule, he was a stalwart U.S. ally, a bullwark against Islamic militancy and guardian of Egypt’s peace with Israel, until he tumbled from power in the Arab world’s pro-democracy upheaval.
Died on March 1, 2020
Jack Welch, who grew General Electric Co during the 1980s and 1990s into the most valuable public company in the United States, died at the age of 84 following kidney failure. Known as “Neutron Jack” for cutting thousands of jobs, Welch was a hardcore Republican who bought and sold scores of businesses, expanding GE into financial services and consulting.
Died on March 20, 2020
Actor-singer Kenny Rogers, who died at the age of 81, was a Grammy-winning balladeer who spanned jazz, folk, country and pop musician with such hits as “Lucille,” “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream”. The Houston-born performer with the husky voice and silver beard sold tens of millions of records, won three Grammys and was the star of TV movies based on “The Gambler” and other songs, making him a superstar in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Died on March 30, 2020
Songwriter-musician Bill Withers, who recorded major hits such as ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, ‘Lean On Me’ (which has found new meaning in the pandemic era) and ‘Lovely Day’ died from heart issues at the age of 81. “While many of Withers’ biggest songs were recorded in the Seventies, they have proven to be timeless hits,” writes Rolling Stone in an obituary.
Died on April 29, 2020
Versatile, trailblazing, a truly international actor – these were some of the adjectives that were universally applied to Irrfan Khan, the Bollywood actor who died two years after he was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour. “Irrfan’s appeal lay in precisely what he could not be: a textbook Hindi film idol. One wondered if Bollywood would be able to accommodate the Jaipur boy’s unusual persona,” writes Namrata Joshi in her tribute to the actor.
Died on April 30, 2020
A day after Irrfan Khan’s death, the film fraternity woke up to news of demise of another legend – Rishi Kapoor. The veteran actor, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 (the same year as Khan), died in Mumbai. “If one were to describe Rishi Kapoor in a single phrase, it would be the embodiment of youth and romance. He defined love and all its protocols for the Gen X in India,” writes Namrata Joshi about the 67-year-old’s career.
Sushant Singh Rajput
Died on June 14, 2020
The 34-year-old Bollywood actor’s death proved to be one of the most high profile moments of 2020, setting off debates about mental health, media ethics, drug use and political posturing. In his obituary, Namrata Joshi describes Singh as an “outsider superstar”, quite like a Shah Rukh Khan, with a similar boyish charm about him.
Died on July 3, 2020
“In her more than four-decade-long career, Saroj Khan not only broke the glass ceiling in an area dominated by men in Hindi cinema, but also propelled generations of female actors into the spotlight through her catchy dance moves, with actors Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi being the two best examples.” Thus begins Kennith Rosario’s tribute to the 71-year-old choreographer, who was widely known for elevating the meaning of the lyrics through her dance. Khan died in Mumbai following a cardiac arrest.
Died on July 11, 2020
“With the passing of Jyotsna Bhatt, India has lost a doyen of ceramic arts, with the spontaneity of clay and the marvels of expression speaking through her owls and smiling cats,” writes senior art critic Uma Nair. Jyotsna behen, as she was popularly called, died following a stroke in Gujarat.
Died on August 1, 2020
In the era of coalition politics, Mandal, Mandir and a liberalising economy, Amar Singh’s talents to help finance political ambitions and forge friendships across the political spectrum found full play, writes Nistula Hebbar, following the 64year-old’s demise. The Rajya Sabha MP was undergoing treatment in Singapore following a kidney failure.
Died on August 5, 2020
A devout Sufi, and a guide to the uncharted spots in Delhi where ‘the heart of Islam’ blossomed – this is how Anuj Kumar describes writer and activist Sadia Dehlvi in her obituary. Dehlvi, who authored The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi, passed away at the national capital after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Died on August 11, 2020
Eminent Urdu poet Rahat Indori, an unwavering light that kept the ‘mushaira’ poetry alive for generations, succumbed to COVID-19 related complications in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. “A people’s poet, he was not meant to be read in literary journals; he was made to be experienced in poetic ‘soirees’ where his unique style of delivery kept the audience hooked for hours,” writes Anuj Kumar in his tribute.
Died on August 17, 2020
Pandit Jasraj, a doyen of Hindustani classical music who was awarded Padma Vibhushan, among other awards, died in the U.S. after a cardiac arrest. The 90-year-old will be remembered for taking the art beyond the rarefied confines of a select set by imbuing khayal with an unmistakable element of bhakti rasa, writes Anuj Kumar in a tribute.
Died on August 28, 2020
Actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Black icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before finding fame as the regal Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, died at his home in Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, though he had never spoken about it publicly. “A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” his family said in the statement.
Died on August 31, 2020
The former President of India died after a long illness on August 31, 2020. The 84-year-old was undergoing treatment since he had an emergency surgery for a brain clot, and had tested positive for COVID-19. His ability to keep secrets was one reason that endeared him to Indira Gandhi, who nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in 1969, when he was only 34, writes Varghese K. George in his obituary.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Died on September 18, 2020
More than just a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or Notorious RBG, as she was popularly known) was a liberal and legal icon whose “relentless fight for gender parity led to the redressal of gender biases that appeared to be built into the system.”
“She leaves behind a legacy of courageous litigation campaigns and far-reaching jurisprudence that altered prejudices embedded deep within U.S. law, which would otherwise have denied women their rightful place as the equals of men in the sphere of civil liberties and economic rights,” writes Narayan Lakshman of the judge who died at the age of 87.
Died on September 25, 2020
S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. File
For every emotion in life, there is a fitting SPB number, writes B. Kolappan following the death of the legendary playback singer Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam, popularly known by his initials. He died after a weeks-long hospitalisation in Chennai.
Died on September 27, 2020
The former Union Minister passed away after a long illness. A former Army man, he had dabbled in politics in his native Rajasthan in the 1960s after leaving the Army, but came into the limelight in 1980, being elected to the Rajya Sabha by the newly formed BJP, which had shed its old Jan Sangh avatar. “Suave and well versed in language and diplomatese, he soon found a place as the BJP’s go-to man for strategic affairs as well as finance,” writes Nistula Hebbar in Singh’s obituary.
Eddie Van Halen
Died on October 6, 2020
Eddie Van Halen, the guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock’s biggest groups, died of cancer at the age of 65. Van Halen is among the top 20 best-selling artists of all time, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
Ram Vilas Paswan
Died on October 8, 2020
Union Minister for Food and Consumer Affairs Ram Vilas Paswan, who died due to prolonged heart ailment, was a stalwart of the socialist movement, who later emerged as Bihar’s foremost Dalit leader with a following across the country. “In the half century that he spent in the profession, he came to be known as the weather vane of Indian politics, serving in the Cabinets of six Prime Ministers of all hues, from the United Front government of H.D. Deve Gowda to the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” writes Sobhana K. Nair.
Died on October 25, 2020
South Korean businessman Lee Kun-Hee, who transformed Samsung Electronics from a the small television maker into a global giant of consumer electronics, died following prolonged illness. During his nearly 30 years of leadership, Samsung Electronics Co. became a global brand and the world’s largest maker of smartphones, televisions and memory chips.
Died on October 31, 2020
Scottish movie legend Sean Connery shot to international stardom as British agent James Bond, but his repertoire of roles stretched beyond that. Fans of alternative cinema may remember him starring as the “Brutal Exterminator” Zed in John Boorman’s mind-bending fantasy epic Zardoz. Connery stamped a variety of roles with “his particular brand of masculinity and menace,” writes Mini Anthikad Chhibber, following his death at the age of 90.
Died on November 15, 2020
“Soumitra Chatterjee was one of those very few Indian actors who, even while playing the lead in commercial movies, was acknowledged more as an actor than a ‘hero’,” Biswanath Gosh writes of one of India’s tallest actors, in his tribute. The Bengali superstar, who was widely admired for his roles as Apu and Feluda, died at the age of 85 in Kolkata.
Died on November 23, 2020
The former Chief Minister of Assam, who died due to multiple organ failure at the age of 84, had often been referred to as “Assam’s turnaround man.” His abiding political legacy was not just winning three successive Assembly elections (2001, 2006, 2011) for his party; it was also about bringing the State back from the spiral of violence to a path of development, writes Sandeep Phukan in Gogoi’s obituary.
Died on November 25, 2020
Senior Congress leader and party treasurer Ahmed Patel, who for long been the power centre in the party, died in Delhi a month after he tested COVID-19 positive. “Popularly known as ‘Ahmed Bhai’ or ‘AP’ in political circles, Mr. Patel, who served as the powerful political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was the quintessential backroom strategist during the 10 year rule of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). He was never a part of Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet yet enjoyed more power than any Cabinet minister,” writes Sandeep Phukan about Patel.
Died on November 25, 2020
“Football – the calisthenics between fast legs and a ball, the art that fuses the dodge and the sprint while a sphere beats the goalkeeper – lost its heartbeat when news broke that Diego Maradona passed away at 60, back home in Argentina,” writes Sports Editor K.C. Vijayakumar in a tribute to the football legend. The World Cup-winner died at his home in Argentina after suffering a heart attack.
Died on December 10, 2020
“When Astad Deboo took the stage, it was difficult to fathom when Kathak merged into Kathakali and when Martha Graham dance technique made its presence felt,” writes Anuj Kumar in his tribute to the contemporary Indian dancer. Deboo, whose dance career spanned half a century, died in Mumbai at the age of 73.