We’ve lost a lot of the greats this year. With respect, we pay homage to all of those pioneers, trailblazers and notable figures who left such an invaluable mark in our lives and history.
Cicely Tyson, one of the most iconic actresses in Black history and Hollywood, died at the age of 96. Tyson was a pioneer that paved the way for Black actors for years to come. Tyson won 49 awards out of 52 nominations throughout her almost 70-year career.
Colin Powell, and esteemed diplomat, politician, and Army officer was the first Black U.S. Secretary of State who helped shape America’s major foreign policies throughout the late 20th and early 21st century. He died at the age of 84 due to cancer and COVID-19 complications.
Hank Aaron made MLB history in 1974 after he shattered Babe Ruth’s home run record becoming the “Home Run King.”
Earl “DMX” Simmons
Rapper DMX died on April 9 at the age of 50 after suffering from a heart attack. The influential hip-hop artist was known for his introspective lyrics that explored his trauma and his light.
Ronnie Wilson, the older brother of “Uncle” Charlie Wilson as well as a co-founder and one-third of the legendary Gap Band, passed away at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Nov. 2. His wife, Linda Boulware-Wilson, said her husband died peacefully as he held her hand before he drew his final breath. He was 73 years old.
Melvin van Peebles
Melvin van Peebles, the iconic filmmaker and movie director whose groundbreaking work like “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” went on to become cult classics, especially in the Black community, died on Sept. 21. He was 89 years old.
Anthony “A.J.” Johnson
Actor and comedian Anthony “A.J.” Johnson died at the age of 56. The actor was widely known for his role on the “Friday” franchise of movies. There was no official cause of death immediately released.
Born Shaun Shiller Fequiere, rap pioneer Kangol Kid died less than a year after being diagnosed with colon cancer. A member of the 80’s rap group UTFO, Kid was known for his affinity for Kangol hats, and is said to be the first rapper to sign an endorsement deal, later followed by Run DMC.
(Preferred lowercase presentation of her pseudonym in honor of her great-grandmother and to draw greater attention to her ideas instead of her identity.)
Born Gloria Jean Watkins, notable author known for her work on the intersectionality between race and feminism died at the age of 69 in her hometown in Kentucky.
Dr. Shirley McBay
Dr. Shirley McBay, a pioneer in the world of mathematics and the first Black student to receive a doctorate from the University of Georgia died at the age of 86. She was a leader in the movement for diversity and inclusivity in mathematics. Her cause of death was diabetes and dementia.
A world-renowned fashion icon and first Black artistic director for Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh died from his battle with a rare form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, at the age of 41.
Former professional golfer Lee Elder became the first Black person to play in the Masters Tournament, and played 448 matches in the PGA Tour, winning four times. Elder died at the age of 87.
The adorable, viral Youtube sensation Antwain Fowler died at the age of 6 years old due to a serious disease known as auto-immune enteropathy, which he had been battling most of his life.
Michael K. Williams
Renowned actor Michael K. Williams, known for his roles in “The Wire’ and “Lovecraft County” was found dead in his apartment at the age of 54. The cause of death was drug intoxication.
Gloria Richardson was a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement, fighting against racial inequality and unfair labor laws. She is the subject of an iconic photograph where she is standing against an officer with a bayonet in her face. She died at the age of 99.
Esteemed actress Suzanne Douglass starred in many culturally revered movies like “Jason’s Lyric,” “Tap,” and most recently “When They See Us.” She died at the age of 54 from cancer.
Gregg Leakes, a former real estate investor and husband of NeNe Leakes of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” reality TV series, died September 1 at the age of 66 after a three-year-long battle with colon cancer.
Robert “Bob” Moses, a lifelong educator and civil rights leader who inspired generations of organizers, engaging with them around the importance of collective action and respecting local knowledge, died on July 25. He was 86 years old.
Biz Markie, the pioneering rap star whose hit song “Just A Friend” made him a household name in the ’90s, died on Friday (July 16) following a long battle with diabetes. He was 57 years old.
Clarence Williams III
Clarence Williams III, the enigmatic actor who rose to fame as the character “Linc” On “The Mod Squad,” becoming a Black power icon during the ’70s, died on June 4 at the age of 81 after a battle with colon cancer. Some of Williams’ most notable credits include playing troubled father figure type roles in the smash hits, “Purple Rain” and Sugar Hill.”
Legendary comedian Paul Mooney, whose real name was Paul Gladney, passed away on May 19 at the age of 79 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Oakland, California.
Digital Underground’s Shock G died on April 22 from unknown causes. He was 57. The eccentric and charismatic frontman rose to prominence in the 80’s and 90’s, cultivating the group’s sound to helped steer Oakland, California, as a vital ground in hip-hop. Shock G was also famously known for his persona Humpty Hump.
Mary Wilson, one of the founding members of The Supremes, has died at the age of 76. Her death on Feb. 8 was unexpected. There was no cause of death immediately announced.
Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks died on Feb. 5 after a five-year battle with prostate and other cancers. Spinks, 67, was most famously known for one of the greatest sports upsets of all time during a 1978 boxing match with Muhammad Ali, where he beat the champ, securing the heavyweight title. Several months later Ali reclaimed the title.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, the legendary boxing middleweight champion, died March 13 at the age of 66. Hagler’s wife said in a Facebook post that he “passed away unexpectedly at his home” in New Hampshire. During his career that spanned 14 impressive years, Hagler lost just two times and scored 53 knockouts while amassing 62 wins.