Everyone’s time comes up sooner or later, and a personality’s passing prompts respect be paid to his or her legacy. Departures that shock the Web world—like that of wildlife expert and TV personality Steve Irwin in 2006—are those who had much more to give to the world.
- Heath Ledger
- Bernie Mac
- Paul Newman
- Randy Pausch
- George Carlin
- Estelle Getty
- Tim Russert
- Brad Renfro
- Isaac Hayes
- Boyd Coddington
The 2008 farewells opened up with two such deaths: On January 22, Heath Ledger‘s accidental overdose—a mix of prescription drugs—launched the world into a stunned Search frenzy over the actor who showed promise of being a Hollywood great. Blonde and handsome, he had left the path of cinematic teen idol to take on more unusual, dramatic roles. Not all were successes, but the Australian actor amassed a string of highly acclaimed performances in “Monster’s Ball,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and the posthumously released “The Dark Knight.” His passing also renewed searches for 25-year-old Brad Renfro, a child actor whose personal downward spiral ended in an accidental heroin overdose exactly a week earlier.
Several Hollywood icons died this year, among them Charlton Heston (April 5), Cyd Charisse (June 7), Mel Ferrer (June 2), and director Sydney Pollack (May 26). Oscar-winning actor Paul Newman‘s weight loss spurred concerned searches over his condition, weeks before the endearing philanthropist died on Sept. 26 after a long battle with cancer.
An election year put a hyperfocus on politicians, but the sudden loss of award-winning journalist Tim Russert (June 13) underscored the role of the press in the political process. The well-respected Russert had been in the public eye beyond his “Meet the Press” hosting role, such as his time with the Valerie Plame case and his performances in the presidential debates. Other notable journalists to pass away in 2008 included conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. (Feb. 27) and oral historian Louis “Studs” Terkel (Oct. 31).
Although many people hadn’t actually heard “The Last Lecture,” they understood the inspirational message that terminally ill Carnegie-Mellon University professor Randy Pausch was trying to convey. The lecture, which had circulated on the Web at the end of 2007, became the subject of an ABC news special and a New York Times bestseller. His death due to pancreatic cancer on July 25 renewed lookups into his final words.
Funnymen and Women
Dick Martin (May 24), Harvey Korman (May 29), Paul Sills (June 2), “Golden Girl” Estelle Getty (July 22), and Bernie Mac (Aug. 9) were among the comedians who died this year. Mac’s death fueled searches into his autoimmune condition, sarcoidosis, as well as his funeral (which 7,000 people attended). Heralded as one of “the Original Kings of Comedy,” Mac conquered the stage, the sitcom world with “The Bernie Mac Show,” and left his imprint in movies, including the posthumous release, “Soul Men.”
Stand-up comedian George Carlin (June 22) took his humor seriously and to dark places, be it religion, politics, or human nature. A wordsmith who probed the English language’s comic elasticity, he created the now classic routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” which led to his arrest for violating obscenity laws. He died of heart failure at the age of 71, more than three months after his live HBO special, “It’s Bad for Ya.”
Some of the musicians we lost this year included Sean Levert (March 30), Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops (Oct. 17), Bo Diddley (June 2), and Isaac Hayes (Aug. 10). Hayes’ smooth vocals gave the 1971 film “Shaft” its distinctive sound, and the singer-songwriter made Oscar history as the first black composer to win Best Score. His bass-baritone later voiced the character of Chef on the animated series “South Park.” Hayes had worked with Mac on the movie “Soul Men,” released in November 2008, and died of stroke one day after his co-star’s passing.
His reality TV program probably had much to do with the Search surge for the so-called Hot-Rod King, Boyd Coddington (Feb. 27). The cable network TLC ran “American Hot Rod” for four years, focusing on the dramas in crafting custom art that ran on four wheels. Coddington died of diabetes-related complications.