Decade in Review: Celebrity Curtain Calls

From Marlon Brando to Paul Newman to Michael Jackson, a look back at top entertainment figures who died in the past 10 years.

Most famous for his role in "Dirty Dancing," Patrick Swayze also starred in "Ghost," "Red Dawn," and the miniseries "North and South." He died of pancreatic cancer at age 57 on Sept. 14, 2009.

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Legendary singer, dancer, and showman Michael Jackson was in show business since he was a child, leading his family group, the Jackson 5. His solo career was enormously successful, with 1982's "Thriller" becoming the best-selling album of all time. But his life offstage was troubled, and he was acquitted of charges of child sexual abuse in 2005. He died at age 50 on June 25, 2009 after suffering cardiac arrest, although the circumstances of his death are still being investigated.

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Farrah Fawcett's feathered hairstyle from "Charlie's Angels" was widely copied, but no one wore it like the original. The actress went on to earn praise for roles in "The Burning Bed" and "Extremities." Her battle with anal cancer was shown in a TV special, "Farrah's Story," which showed her seeking treatment in Germany. She was 62 when she died on June 25, 2009, the same day as singer Michael Jackson.

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Heath Ledger's death on Jan. 22, 2008, when he was just 28, shocked many. The actor was just settling into a promising career, with highly praised roles in "Brokeback Mountain" and as the Batman foe The Joker in "The Dark Knight." His death was ruled an accidental toxic combination of prescription drugs.

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Actor and comic Bernie Mac was one of the Original Kings of Comedy and starred in "The Bernie Mac Show." He died of complications of pneumonia on Aug. 9, 2008, at age 50.

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From "Cool Hand Luke" to "The Color of Money," blue-eyed actor Paul Newman won the hearts of fans, not just for his acting, but for his quiet, scandal-free private life, love of race car driving, and his dedication to charity. His Newman's Own food company donates all post-tax profits and royalties to charity. Newman was a former chain smoker, and lung cancer may have been what took his life on Sept. 25, 2008, at age 83.

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Comedian George Carlin's most famous routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television," led to a key Supreme Court ruling on obscenity. He won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin died of heart failure on June 22, 2008 at age 71.

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Charlton Heston took on numerous heroic roles, playing Moses in "The Ten Commandments," Judah Ben-Hur in "Ben-Hur," and, of course, the lead astronaut in "Planet of the Apes." In his later life, he became well-known as president of the National Rifle Association. He died at age 84 on April 5, 2008, of pneumonia.

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Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti's vibrant high C's and ebullient showmanship made him one of the most beloved opera singers of all time. He died at age 71 on Sept. 6, 2007, from pancreatic cancer.

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In addition to hosting his own talk show, Merv Griffin created numerous other programs, including "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune." Griffin died of prostate cancer at age 82 on Aug. 12, 2007


Anna Nicole Smith was a high-school dropout and teenage bride who married a billionaire 63 years her senior. For the rest of her life, she would battle his family for his money. She died at just 39 on Feb. 8, 2007, after an apparent overdose of prescription drugs.

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"Crocodile Hunter" star Steve Irwin was just 44 when he died on Sept. 4, 2006, after a stingray barb fatally pierced his heart.

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James Brown's rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco and earned him the nickname "The Godfather of Soul." Brown died at age 73 on Christmas Day, 2006, of heart failure brought on by pneumonia.

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Actor Don Knotts kept generations of television audiences laughing as bumbling deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show." Knotts died at age 81 of pulmonary and respiratory complications on Feb. 25, 2006.


Comedian Richard Pryor is cited as an influence by comedians of all types. His uncompromising examinations of racial issues especially drew him fame. After a troubled childhood, he struggled with charges of spousal abuse and with drugs, and in 1980, famously set himself on fire after freebasing cocaine while drinking 151-proof rum. He died of cardiac arrest at age 65 on Dec. 10, 2005.

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Johnny Carson hosted "The Tonight Show" for 30 years, winning six Emmy Awards and numerous other honors. After a quiet 13 years in retirement, he died of respiratory arrest arising from emphysema on Jan. 23, 2005, at age 79.

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Bob Denver, seen here in his iconic role as Gilligan on "Gilligan's Island" in 1965, was also known for playing beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." He died at age 70 on Sept. 2, 2005, of pneumonia and throat cancer.


Actor Tony Randall, seen in 1965, had a long stage and film career, but is perhaps best known for his role as Felix Unger in the TV version of "The Odd Couple." He died in his sleep from pneumonia on May 17, 2004, at age 84.

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Bug-eyed comedian Rodney Dangerfield earned fame for his catchphrase, "I don't get no respect." He died at age 82 on Oct. 5, 2004 of complications from brain surgery.

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Musician Ray Charles was a pioneer in the genre of soul music and helped racially integrate country and pop music through his success. Born sighted, he went completely blind by age seven. He died of liver cancer at age 73 on June 10, 2004.

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Actress Isabel Sanford, left, with Sherman Hemsley and Zara Cully, was best known for playing Louise "Weezy" Jefferson on "The Jeffersons." The actress was 20 years older than her on-screen husband. She died of cardiac arrest and heart disease at age 86, on July 9, 2004.

Actor Marlon Brando, seen in 1951, was a sex symbol in his youth, and moved on to be known to many for his roles as Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" and Colonel Walter Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now." His offscreen life was as eventful as one of his movies. He died at age 80 on July 1, 2004, of respiratory failure.

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Singer Johnny Cash, seen on his television show in 1968, was known to many as The Man in Black. His deep voice, meaningful songs, and his own life struggles drew fans to him. Cash died at age 71 on Sept. 12, 2003 from complications of diabetes, just four months after he lost his beloved wife, June Carter Cash.

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John Ritter was born into Hollywood royalty, as his dad was singing cowboy Tex Ritter. John himself was president of the student body at Hollywood High School. He was best known for playing Jack Tripper on the 1970s sitcom "Three's Company." Ritter died suddenly at age 54 on Sept. 11, 2003, after falling ill while rehearsing scenes for "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter." He had a previously undiagnosed heart defect that led to a tear in the wall of his aorta.

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Gregory Peck, seen here in 1953, was named one of the greatest male stars of all time by the American Film Institute. One of his memorable roles was that of Atticus Finch in 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird." The actor died in his sleep from bronchopneumonia at age 87 on June 12, 2003.

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Bob Hope's career credits are many and varied, but he is perhaps best remembered for his "Road" movies with Bing Crosby and his devoted service to American military personnel. He died at age 100 on July 27, 2003, after years of steadily declining health.

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Actor Rod Steiger was one of the most imposing advocates of the Method school of acting, in which actors try to take on the thoughts and emotions of their characters. He opened his film career in 1954 as Marlon Brando's older brother in "OnThe Waterfront." Steiger died from pneumonia and complications from surgery on July 9, 2002, at age 77.

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Singer and actress Peggy Lee won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for one Academy Award over her 60-year career. She died at age 81 of complications from diabetes and a heart attack on Jan. 21, 2002. Her family was upset that Lee was not featured in the Academy Awards memoriam tribute that year, pointing out that singer Aaliyah, who was in only one minor film in her short life was included.

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Legendary comedian and actor Milton Berle was known as Uncle Miltie and Mr. Television, and is often credited as the first major U.S. television star. He died at age 93 on March 27, 2002 of colon cancer, for which he had refused surgery.

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British actor Dudley Moore is perhaps best known in America for his starring roles in "10" and "Arthur." Despite being just 5'2", Moore made a name for himself as a leading man. He died of pneumonia at age 66 on March 27, 2002.

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Actor Jack Lemmon was often paired with Walter Matthau, and Lemmon played finicky Felix Unger to Matthau's sloppy Oscar Madison in the movie version of "The Odd Couple." Lemmon died of colon and bladder cancer at age 76 on June 27, 2001, just a year after Matthau. They are buried next to each other in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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Former Beatle George Harrison, seen here in 1963, went on from the famous band's breakup to perform as a solo artist and later as part of the Traveling Wilburys. He died of lung cancer at age 58 on Nov. 29, 2001, the second of the Beatles to die.

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Best known for the iconic role of Archie Bunker in the sitcom "All in the Family," Carroll O'Connor also starred in the TV drama "In the Heat of the Night." He died of a heart attack at age 76 on June 21, 2001.

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Anthony Quinn, seen here in 1954, starred in such movies as "Zorba the Greek" and "Lawrence of Arabia." He died on June 3, 2001, at age 86 from pneumonia and respiratory failure.

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Walter Matthau, seen here in 1969, played many memorable roles. He is perhaps best known for playing Oscar Madison in the film version of "The Odd Couple" and for portraying the alcoholic coach of "The Bad News Bears." He died of cardiac arrest on July 1, 2000, at age 79. Only after his death was it discovered that colon cancer had spread throughout his body.

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Steve Allen was the first host of "The Tonight Show," but was also a prolific composer, and wrote more than 10,000 songs. He died on Oct. 30, 2000, at age 78, after what was first thought to be only a minor traffic accident but apparently caused a blood vessel in his chest to rupture.

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Cartoonist Charles Schulz, seen here in 1978, created the "Peanuts" comic strip and brought the characters of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy to life. The beloved strip ran for 50 years, and its final installment ran on Feb. 13, 2000, the very day after Schulz died of colon cancer at age 77.

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Sir Alec Guinness won an Academy Award for best actor for his role in 1957's "Bridge Over the River Kwai." A new generation would know him as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. He died of prostate cancer at age 86 in 2000, and his wife of 62 years died just two months later.

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