Celebrities Who Died in 2012

The Eternal “Soul Train” Rolls On

The death of WHITNEY HOUSTON in a Beverly Hills hotel may have been the biggest shock. Here’s a look at the singer and other famous people who have died in 2012.

ETTA JAMES, Singer of Blues and Soul

“Her approach to both singing and life was throughout one of wild, often desperate engagement that included violence, drug addiction, armed robbery and highly capricious behaviour. James sang with unmatched emotional hunger and a pain that can chill the listener.”

The Guardian

Singer Etta James was born in 1938 and was 73 years old when she died of complications from leukemia on January 20th, 2012.

JOE PATERNO, Football Coach

“Longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation as the winningest coach in collee football history, died Sunday.”


Joe Paterno was born in 1926, and was 85 years old when he died of lung cancer on January 22, 2012. He had coached football at Penn State for 61 years, 45 of them as head coach.

DON CORNELIUS, Creator of ‘Soul Train’

Don Cornelius, the smooth-voiced television host who brought black music and culture into America’s living rooms when he created the dance show “Soul Train,” was found dead at his home in Los Angeles early Wednesday in what appeared to be a suicide, the authorities said.”

The New York Times

Don Cornelius was born in 1936, and was 75 when he died on February 1, 2012.

BEN GAZZARA, “Strongly Masculine” Actor

“A New York native of Sicilian heritage, Ben Gazzara was a strongly masculine, subtly menacing screen presence with a gravelly voice that one writer described as “saloon-cured” and another said could strip paint at 50 paces.”

The Los Angeles Times

Ben Gazzara was born in New York City in 1930, and acted on stage and in the movies for over six decades. He was 81 when he died of pancreatic cancer on February 3, 2012.


Whitney Houston, a willowy church singer with a towering voice who became a titan of the pop charts in the 1980s and 1990s but then saw much of her success crumble away amid the fumes of addiction and reckless ego, has died.”

The Los Angeles Times

Whitney Houston died in the Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11th, 2012. She was due to sing at a pre-Grammy party later that night. Born in 1963, she was 48 when she died.

DAVY JONES, Pop Music Star

“Before there was MTV, before “American Idol” made overnight stars of people you never heard of, there was “The Monkees,” a band fronted by a diminutive singer named Davy Jones who was so boyishly good looking that teenage girls swooned the first time they ever saw him.”

– The Associated Press

Pop singer Davy Jones was born in 1945, and was 66 years old when he died of a heart attack in Florida on February 29, 2012.

ANDREW BREITBART, Publisher and Agitator

“Mr. Breitbart was as polarizing a figure as he was popular. Hailed by the political right as a truth-teller who exposed bias and corruption, he was derided by many on the left as a provocateur who played fast and loose with the facts to further his agenda.”

The New York Times

Andrew Breitbart was born in 1969. He was 43 when he died of an apparent heart attack while walking near his home in Brentwood, California on March 1, 2012.

(Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

MIKE WALLACE, Pugnacious Journalist

“Mike Wallace didn’t interview people. He interrogated them. He cross-examined them. Sometimes he eviscerated them.”

The Associated Press

Journalist Mike Wallace was born in 1918 and was just a month shy of his 94th birthday when he died of natural causes on April 7th, 2012.

THOMAS KINKADE, ‘Painter of Light’

The self-described “Painter of Light,” who died Friday at age 54, produced sentimental scenes of country gardens and pastoral landscapes in dewy morning light that were beloved by many but criticized by the art establishment.

The Associated Press

Artist Thomas Kinkade was born in 1958 and died suddenly at his home in Los Gatos on April 6th, 2012.

DICK CLARK, ‘America’s Oldest Teenager’

American Bandstand’s formula was simple. Clean-cut boys and girls danced to the hottest hits and the newest singles. In between, Clark chatted with the teens, who helped ‘rate-a-record,’ turning songs into sensations.”-ABC News

TV host Dick Clark was born in 1929 and was 82 years old when he died of a massive heart attack on April 18th, 2012.

CHUCK COLSON, Political Dirty Trickster

“Colson once famously said he’d walk over his grandmother to get the president elected to a second term. In 1972 The Washington Post called him ‘one of the most powerful presidential aides, variously described as a troubleshooter and as a ‘master of dirty tricks.'”-The Associated Press

Charles “Chuck” Colson was born in 1931, and was 80 years old when he died of complications from brain surgery on April 21, 2012.

ADAM YAUCH, Beastie Boys Rapper

“He met his wife, fellow activist Dechen Wangdu, at a talk given by the Dalai Lama at Harvard University. They married in 1998, in a traditional Tibetan ceremony, but with Yauch’s favourite hardcore punk band, Rancid, playing at the reception.”

-The Guardian

Adam Yauch was born in New York in 1964, and was 47 years old when he died on May 4, 2012.

MAURICE SENDAK, Author and Artist for Children

“In plain terms, a child is a complicated creature who can drive you crazy” Sendak told the AP in 2009. “There’s a cruelty to childhood, there’s an anger. And I did not want to reduce Max [in Where The Wild Things Are] to the trite image of the good little boy that you find in too many books.”

-The Associated Press

Maurice Sendak was born in 1928, and was 83 years old when he had a stroke and then died on May 8, 2012.


“Today’s dance producers and pop singers readily admit that Summer’s work, once the victim of the late-’70s disco backlash, set the tone for what is now the most dominant aesthetic in pop — dance music.”

-The Los Angeles Times

Pop singer Donna Summer was born in 1948 and was 63 years old when she died of cancer on May 17th, 2012.

ROBIN GIBB, Prince of Disco

“The Bee Gees’ signature tune [was] a silky urban strut compressing the pressurised buzz of city life into an urgent desire for release, building to glorious defiance with a falsetto that paradoxically merges feminine sensitivity and macho bluster: ‘Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking, we’re staying alive, staying alive!’ …Disco was the gaudy silk scarf around the neck of the dreary Seventies.””

The Telegraph

Robin Gibb, one of the three brothers who made up the Bee Gees, was born in 1949. He was 62 years old when he died of cancer on May 20th, 2012.

DOC WATSON, Finger-Picking Guitarist

“In a career that spanned seven decades, Mr. Watson influenced such diverse musicians as Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Clarence White of the Byrds, the innovative acoustic picker Leo Kottke and bluegrass multi­instrumentalist Ricky Skaggs. ‘He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and finger-picking guitar performance,’ the late Ralph Rinzler, an influential folklorist who first recorded Mr. Watson in the early 1960s, once wrote.”
-The Washington Post
Guitarist Doc Watson was born in 1923 and was 89 years old when he died from complications after a fall and surgery on May 29th, 2012.
RICHARD DAWSON, Smoochin’ Game Show Host

“He was known for kissing each woman contestant, and at the time [Family Feud] bowed out in 1985, executive producer Howard Felsher estimated that Dawson had kissed ‘somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000.'”

Actor and game show host Richard Dawson was born in 1932, and so was 79 years old when he died of complications from esophageal cancer in 2012.

RAY BRADBURY, Author of ‘Fahrenheit 451’

“Bradbury wrote his classic “Fahrenheit 451″ at a pay-as-you-go typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s library. In the book’s futuristic world, reading is banned and books are burned. First published in 1953, it has sold more than 10 million copies, been published in 33 languages in 38 countries, and has never gone out of print.”

The Chicago Tribune

Ray Bradbury wrote 27 novels and over 600 short stories during his career. He was born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920 and was 91 when he died on June 5, 2012.

RODNEY KING, Beating Victim

“Rodney King, the black motorist whose violent encounter with white Los Angeles police officers after a car chase in 1991 was captured on home video and helped prompt one of the worst race riots in U.S. history, and an abiding controversy about American justice, died June 17… Mr. King has become known for the words he spoke in an appeal he made during the riots that followed his arrest. ‘Can we all get along?’ he urged. ‘Can we get along?'”

The Washington Post

Rodney King was born in 1965 and was 47 years old when he died in his backyard swimming pool on June 17th, 2012.

NORA EPHRON, Director of Romantic Comedies

“Even though she wrote strong female characters and said male filmmakers had little interest in women besides ‘girlfriends or wives,’ Ephron’s brand of feminism was winking rather than strident. At a Hollywood awards event several years ago, she looked about the room and said, ‘When they write the history of the feminist struggle in America, I always wonder how this lunch will exactly fit in. We are definitely the best-dressed oppressed group.'”

The Los Angeles Times

Nora Ephron directed Sleepless in Seattle and other warm-hearted films. She was born in 1941 and so was 71 years old when she died of leukemia on June 26, 2012.

YITZHAK SHAMIR, Prime Minister of Israel

“Yitzhak Shamir was a short, barrel-chested man, direct and intense, but also humorous and kindly. He could speak several languages but was not regarded as a very good communicator. He was first and foremost a patriot, unyielding in his determination to do what he saw as the right thing for Israel.”


Politician Yitzhak Shamir was born in 1915 and was 96 years old when he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on June 30th, 2012.


“As Sheriff Andy Taylor, Griffith perfectly embodied one of America’s favorite archetypes: the seeming country bumpkin who’s actually smarter than anyone around. The writers often played up that contrast between Andy’s soft speech and sharp mind, but never in a mean way — “mean” was not a part of the show’s vocabulary… For that, you can thank Griffith, who set the show’s gentle, understanding tone.”

USA Today

Actor Andy Griffith was born in 1926 and was 86 years old when he died in North Carolina on July 3rd, 2012.


“He was a tubby tough guy with a pug of a mug, as unlikely a big-screen star or a romantic lead as could be imagined. Yet Ernest Borgnine won a woman’s love and an Academy Award in one of the great lonelyhearts roles in ‘Marty,’ a highlight in a workhorse career that spanned nearly seven decades and more than 200 film and television parts.”
Actor Ernest Borgnine was born in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I. He was 95 when he died of kidney failure on July 8, 2012.
SALLY RIDE, First American Woman in Space

At Cape Canaveral, many in the crowd of 250,000 that watched the launching wore T-shirts that said, “Ride, Sally Ride” — from the lyrics of the song “Mustang Sally.”
The next day, Gloria Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine at the time, said, “Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists.”
Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. was born in 1951. She was 61 years old when she died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012.
CHAD EVERETT, Handsome TV Doctor

Everett’s interest in acting began in high school, when he took theater classes in Dearborn, Michigan. Everett then attended Wayne State University before moving to Los Angeles and signing a Warner Bros. contract. According to his agent, Everett — born Raymon Lee Cramton on June 11, 1937 — changed his name because he was tired of explaining “Raymon, no ‘D’, Cramton, no ‘P.'”

Actor Chad Everett was born in 1937 and was 75 years old when he died of lung cancer on July 24, 2012.

NEIL ARMSTRONG, First Man on the Moon

“As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.

NASA’s Charles Bowden

Astronaut Neil Armstrong was born in 1930, and was 82 years old when he died of complications from heart bypass surgery on August 25th, 2012.

ARLEN SPECTER, Senate Moderate

“Intellectual and stubborn, Specter played squash nearly every day into his mid-70s and liked to unwind with a martini or two at night. He took the lead on a wide spectrum of issues and was no stranger to controversy.””
Former senator Arlen Specter was born in Kansas in 1930, and was 82 years old when he died of complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma on October 14th, 2012.

“His tunes were played on jukeboxes around the country; “Take Five” was the first jazz single to sell a million copies. Brubeck believed in jazz that worked on a variety of levels. Musicians could argue about poly this and poly that; listeners — and Brubeck himself — would be busy tapping their feet to the rhythm of his hit tunes. In an age of experimentation, he did something rare: ‘He made the avant-garde into something fun and lighthearted,’ wrote jazz historian and former Stanford University lecturer Ted Gioia.

The San Jose Mercury News

Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck was born in 1920 and was one day short of his 92nd birthday when he died of heart failure on December 5th, 2012.

RAVI SHANKAR, Sitar Virtuoso

Ravi Shankar, the sitar virtuoso who became a hippie musical icon of the 1960s after hobnobbing with the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over an eight-decade career, has died.”


Ravi Shankar was born in 1920 in Varanasi, India, and he was 92 years old when he died a few days after heart surgery in San Diego on December 11th, 2012.

JACK KLUGMAN, Lovable Slob from ‘The Odd Couple’

“Jack Klugman, the prolific, craggy-faced character actor and regular guy who was loved by millions as the messy one in TV’s The Odd Couple and the crime-fighting coroner in Quincy, M.E., died on Christmas Eve.”

USA Today

Actor Jack Klugman was born in 1922 in Philadelphia, and he was 90 years old when he died in Los Angeles on December 24, 2012.

NEXT: Celebrities Who Died in 2011

Whitney Houston‘s death was a shock, but not as shocking as that of 27-year-old Amy Winehouse just a few months earlier.

Read about Winehouse, Steve Jobs, and other CELEBRITIES WHO DIED IN 2011 »

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