Before fully committing to 2024, we wanted to look back one more time at some of the tributes we wrote this year about the people we lost in 2023. Click here to read more and find quotes from a few of our most memorable pieces this year.
The tributes selected are by Bijan Bayne, Dan Callahan, Robert Daniels, Marya E. Gates, Nell Minow, Matt Zoller Seitz, Peter Sobczynski, Brian Tallerico, and Brandon David Wilson
There are certain performers who have a stabilizing presence the minute they appear on screen or stage. It’s a feeling in your gut: “Oh, this is gonna be interesting now.” Every project that Andre Braugher took was made better by his presence. He didn’t just elevate, he grounded. He made choices that others wouldn’t have ever considered as an actor and made them seem so obviously right, making everyone around him better, and more truthful. He imbued everything he did, from broad comedy to Shakespeare, with three-dimensionality. I never saw him phone in a performance or do something that seemed like it was just to pay the bills. Acting was art for Andre Braugher, and his death this week at the far-too-young age of 61 is a blow to everything that he should have been present for in the next few decades.
The Atlantic quotes Lear: “I have never, ever remembered thinking, ‘Oh, we’re doing something outlandish, riotously different,’” he recalled. “I wasn’t on any mission. And I don’t think I knew I was breaking such ground. I didn’t watch Petticoat Junction, for Chrissake. I didn’t watch Beverly Hillbillies. I didn’t know what I was doing.” What Lear did know was that in comedy you can have the liberty to say the un-sayable. Laughter gets audiences to question their assumptions in a way that the news and drama cannot. And what he also knew, and reminded us, is that it may be uncomfortable to talk about some issues, but it is more dangerous not to.
Matthew Perry never seemed to be comfortable being famous. You could see it early in the run of the show that would make him a household name. Some people take to the spotlight and thrive in it. The heat of that spotlight seemed to fuel the demons inside the “Friends” star, amplifying his addictions in a way that made them impossible to avoid. The same jittery energy that he poured into one of the most memorable TV comedy characters of all time—and then a successful run of comedy films—just looked like it would be hard to live with every day, and Perry was open about how he battled with pills and alcohol for the last 36 years of his life. In Vanity Fair last year, he said that he had spent around $9 million on his addiction, including 14 stomach surgeries. Of course, that’s not what people should remember about him. They should focus on the joy he brought so many people. One just wishes he could have found comfort in that joy, too.
There is a mystery to Laurie’s work as Sarah Packard that will always be worth investigating and re-investigating. Laurie lived to be 91. Sarah Packard snuffs herself out like a candle in relative youth. But it is Sarah who will always live on as a possibility, wasted potential, and a portrait that can encompass both nihilism and idealistic rebellion. Some people think life is so bad that they want to make an example of themselves, and of such martyrs Sarah Packard is not someone you can forget.
Terence Davies was once called “the keeper of British cinema.” He kept it well. It felt like watching a film by Terence Davies was to spend time with Terence Davies. More than most filmmakers, he poured himself into his work, using his craft to reflect his memories and dreams. His films are often portrayed as stuffy, but they were more often the exact opposite of those willing to engage with them, more full of life in a single scene than some filmmakers pull off in their careers. His loss this week after a short illness at the age of 77 is a major blow to the international film scene, the exit of a true titan of empathetic filmmaking, one of the best to ever do it.
Everybody who has seen horror movies remembers the image that most frightened them, that put the hook in them, that alerted them to the idea that a movie could contain more than its fair share of the malevolence of the universe in its images. How could this thing fit into a single frame? How did someone dream this up? I remember what mine was. I opened Entertainment Weekly in 1999 because of a dare of front cover offering up the scariest movies of all time. I flipped to the centerfold and saw Linda Blair, her face scarred and craggy, her eyes staring into your soul and finding nothing they could not destroy, her head turned around as her legs sat like a doll’s uselessly the other way in a room whose disheveled arrangement offered a short story of its own. I couldn’t look at it squarely. I couldn’t get it out of my head. This was “The Exorcist.” This was horror. This was William Friedkin. And he was just getting started.
His unique brand of absurd humor, dainty mannerisms, quirky facial expressions, and subversive nostalgia infused with progressive inclusivity (and plenty of innuendo) spoke to many queer people, young and old. He was a weirdo through and through, free to express that weirdness at top volume, and for most of the 1980s, he was embraced by the mainstream in a way that few such oddballs had been afforded.
The fact that Treat Williams was not one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars has to rank as one of its most egregious failures. Here was a guy who had all the qualifications one might look for in such a person—the looks, the charisma, and the sheer, unquestionable talent—and while he worked steadily until his tragic death on June 12 at the age of 71 in a motorcycle accident, he never quite became the top-shelf star that, by all rights, he should have been. If there’s anything resembling a bright side to such a horrific event, it’s that the interest brought about by his passing may inspire people to take another look at his career, to discover for themselves why Williams was indeed one of the great actors of our time.
In an era when Black artists are judged by their perceived cultural authenticity, which leads to a tendency that can be read as pandering, Tina Turner never reminded us of her cultural bonafides. She didn’t need to because who she was self-evident, and she was far more interested in becoming what she wanted to be than reminding us where she came from. That, along with her voice and performing, was part of her genius.
Jim Brown is not a simple figure to reconcile, as he touched the worlds of Civil Rights, entertainment, and commerce. He gained the trust of star athletes, including Ali in the latter’s moment of truth. He lost the adulation of millions of fans through his domestic and legal troubles. He reached out to local youth during one of the most violent eras in L.A. history. NFL coaches and owners welcomed him into their locker rooms to impart lessons of toughness and perseverance.
“He gave us a piece of his fire so we could help ourselves in a business that did not acknowledge us in a manner that we wish to be acknowledged,” recalled Diahann Carroll. “For those who had no voice & those who seemingly had no hope, [he] made the world a better place,” Quincy Jones shared on Twitter. “He has always raised his voice against the dark. For that, we owe him so much,” explained Sidney Poitier. They were talking about Harry Belafonte, a man who at the height of film career, at the pinnacle of his musical prowess, at the apex of his political voice, would not allow himself to be lesser than. How do you define someone who avoided definition? You do so through his friends.
All children of iconic artists struggle to create their own identities, but few carried a burden as great as that of singer Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla. Elvis died in 1977 when Lisa Marie was nine. Lisa Marie died last week of a heart attack, and spent her existence making sense of, and reacting against, her father’s legacy, which followed her everywhere she went.