Dead or Alive: Famously Dead, Surprisingly Alive

This post combines two elements of pop culture nostalgia that regularly come up in terms of celebs of the past — "Oh, my God, I can't believe he/she died!" and, "Oh, my God, I can't believe he/she is still alive!" ...

Rock me, Falco! Pinup image via Bravo)


The '80s seem recent-ish to those of us who lived through them, and with celebrities of the '50s and '60s still running — or power-walking — around, it's hard to fathom, but a huge number of predominantly '80s pop stars are already gone, and not just the ones you immediately think of:

Melanie Appleby of Mel and Kim (July 11, 1966—January 18, 1990): The singer was just 23 when she died of pneumonia following cancer treatment.

Izora Armstead of the Weather Girls (July 6, 1942—September 16, 2004): Armstead, more than 10 years older than fellow Weather Girl Martha Wash (b. 1953), who died of heart failure.

Matthew Ashman of Bow Wow Wow and Adam & the Ants (November 3, 1960—November 21, 1995): The guitarist died of complications from diabetes.

Baltimora aka Jimmy McShane (May 23, 1957—March 29, 1995): The singer most associated with "Baltimora," which was actually an Italian collective, died of AIDS.

Stiv Bators of the Lords of the New Church (October 22, 1949—June 4, 1990): The punk singer died of a traumatic brain injury hours after being hit by a cab.

David Bowie (January 8, 1947—January 10, 2016): The music icon died of liver cancer two days after his birthday.

Laura Branigan (July 3, 1952—August 26, 2004): The "Gloria" (1982) hitmaker died in her sleep following a period of headaches that turned out to be caused by a brain aneurysm.

Pete Burns of Dead or Alive (August 5, 1959—October 23, 2016): The colorful lead singer's fixation on plastic surgery couldn't have helped his health; he died of a heart attack.

Cliff Burton of Metallica (February 10, 1962—September 27, 1986): Burton played on Metallica's first three studio efforts before perishing in a horrific tour-bus accident.

Vincent Crane of Dexy's Midnight Runners (May 21, 1943—February 14, 1989): The keyboardist on the band's third album committed suicide with pills.

Robbin Crosby of Ratt (August 4, 1959—June 6, 2002): The rocker died of a heroin overdose complicated by AIDS.

Ian Curtis of Joy Division (July 15, 1956—May 18, 1980): The ill-fated musician barely lived to see any of the '80s, yet his work on the first two Joy Division albums helped define a post-punk sound that would become highly influential. He committed suicide by hanging.

Bobby DeBarge of DeBarge (March 5, 1956—August 16, 1995): The lead singer of the '70s band Switch and eventual second-string member of DeBarge died of AIDS complications.

Frank Esler-Smith of Air Supply (June 5, 1948—March 1, 1991): The keyboard player and arranger died of AIDS complications.

Falco (February 19, 1957—February 6, 1998): The Austrian pop singer became world famous for "Der Kommissar" (1981), Rock Me Amadeus" (1985) and "Vienna Calling" (1985) died in a drunken, cocaine-fueled car crash in the Dominican Republic.

Rob Fisher of Naked Eyes (November 5, 1956–August 25, 1999): The keyboardist for Naked Eyes and Climie Fisher died after cancer surgery.

Glenn Frey (November 6, 1948—January 18, 2016): Frey was of course famous for the Eagles, but his '80s solo hits are not to be overlooked. He died from a combination of rheumatoid arthritis, pneumonia and ulcerative colitis.

Gary Garcia of Buckner & Garcia (July 28, 1948—November 7, 2011): One half of the duo who brought us the 1981 novelty hit "Pac-Man Fever" died in 2011, apparently of natural causes.

Gwen Guthrie (July 9, 1950—February 3, 1999): This prominent backup singer is immortal for her anthemic "Ain't Nothin' Goin' on but the Rent" (1986), which narrowly missed the U.S. Top 40. She died of uterine cancer.

Greg Ham of Men at Work (September 27, 1953—April 19, 2012): The longtime Men at Work band member died of unknown causes after a grueling copyright lawsuit. Some said he had drug issues, others asserted it was natural causes/a heart attack.

Dan Hartman (December 9, 1950—March 22, 1994): This talented singer/songwriter/producer tasted success via many different songs, most famously "I Can Dream About You" (1984). He died of AIDS complications.

Ofra Haza (November 19, 1957—February 23, 2000): The Middle Eastern icon was a huge success in the '70s, '80s and '90s before dying of AIDS complications in 2000.

Paul Hester of Crowded House and Split Enz (January 8, 1959—March 26, 2005): The drummer committed suicide by hanging.

Whitney Houston (August 9, 1963—February 11, 2012): The iconic singer, as you may have heard, died in an accidental drowning exacerbated by heart disease cocaine abuse.

Michael Hutchence (January 22, 1960—November 22, 1997): The sexy frontman committed suicide by hanging.

Phyllis Hyman (July 6, 1949—June 30, 1995): An accomplished R&B singer who never quite tasted the pop success she seemed destined for, Hyman — a Tony nominee — committed suicide using pills.

Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958—June 25, 2009): The King of Pop died when his heart stopped while he was under the effects of various drugs, including propofol.

Jimi Jamison of Survivor (August 23, 1951—September 1, 2014): The frontman died of a brain stroke.

Kirsty MacColl (October 10, 1959—December 18, 2000): The unique singer introduced "They Don't Know" in 1979 and realized some U.S. success with 1991's "Walking Down Madison," but was very active in the '80s. She died in a gruesome accident when a powerboat ran her over in Mexico, with the man who took responsible ultimately doing no prison time and paying just over $2,000 to her grieving family. Rumors persist that the multimillionaire CEO who owned the craft may have been at the controls.

Teena Marie (March 5, 1956—December 26, 2010): Lady Tee suffered from seizures following an injury to her head in 2004. She died six years later, apparently of natural causes — at just 54 years old.

Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946—November 24, 1991): The Queen lead singer died of complications from AIDS.

George Michael (June 25, 1963—December 25, 2016): One of the biggest success stories o the '80s, this troubled superstar never came to terms with his fame. After decades of struggles with drug abuse, he died, apparently of natural causes, at 53.

Rob Orbison of the Traveling Wilburys (April 23, 1936—December 6, 1988): Though Orbison's career predated his time with the Wilburys (most amazingly with "Oh, Pretty Woman" in 1964), he definitely helped that group hit the charts and the pop radar in the '80s. Isn't it shocking to realize that when he succumbed to a heart attack he was only 52?!

Benjamin Orr of the Cars (September 8, 1947—October 3, 2000): The handsome second lead of the Cars died of pancreatic cancer.

Robert Palmer (January 19, 1949—September 26, 2003): As a solo star, Palmer brought to life the work of Patrick Nagel (1945-1984) with his music video for the smash "Addicted to Love" (1986). He had other solo hits and was a Power Station member. He died of a heart attack after filming a TV spot, shown above.

Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli (June 8, 1965—April 2, 1998): One half of the notorious lip-synching hitmakers, Pilatus died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol.

June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters (November 30, 1953—April 11, 2006): One of the dazzlingly talented Pointer Sisters, June sang lead on some of their biggest hits. She suffered a stroke that led to the discovery of terminal cancer.

Jeff Porcaro of Toto (April 1, 1954—August 5, 1992): The drummer and prolific musician died of hardened arteries brought on by cocaine addiction.

Prince (June 7, 1958—April 21, 2016): They don't get much bigger in the '80s than the Purple One. The majestic rocker died of an accidental O.D. of fentanyl in his sprawling Paisley Park home.

Scott Smith of Loverboy (February 13, 1955—November 30, 2000): The group's bassist on all of its hits, Smith was swept overboard while sailing off the coast of San Francisco — and his body was never recovered.

Ray Stephens of the '80s Village People (December 14, 1954—October 4, 1990): The lead singer of this disco group in the '80s, Stephens sang on its failed Sex Over the Phone album in 1985. He died of AIDS complications.

Van Stephenson (November 4, 1953—April 8, 2001): Best known for the woman-hatin' anthem "Modern Day Delilah" (1984) about a tricky high-class hooker, Stephenson died of melanoma.

Jermaine Stewart (September 7, 1957—March 17, 1997): The "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" (1986) song died of AIDS complications. (Also found it odd the song was putting down sex but plugging alcohol as a requirement for fun!)

Tony Thompson of the Power Station (November 15, 1954—November 12, 2003): The drummer for the Power Station and Chic died of kidney cancer.

Luther Vandross (April 20, 1951—July 1, 2005): The massively popular soul singer broke through in the '80s. In 2003, he suffered a devastating stroke. In 2005, he succumbed to a heart attack, never having fully recovered.

Vanity (January 4, 1959—February 15, 2016): The lead singer of Vanity 6 died of kidney failure months before her mentor, Prince, died of a drug overdose.

Ricky Wilson of the B-52's (March 19, 1953—October 12, 1985): Wilson, one of the founding members of the New Wave trailblazers, died from complications of AIDS in 1985, right after they recorded their album Bouncing Off the Satellites.

Paul Young of Mike + the Mechanics (June 17, 1947—July 15, 2000): The British singer/songwriter — not to be confused with the solo star — died of a heart attack.


On the flip side ...

Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, famous for their "2,000-Year-Old Man" routine, are currently 96 and 92 years old.

Other long-lived actors with familiar faces — but who you may be surprised to know are still with us —  include:

Gloria Henry (Images via CBS & by Matthew Rettenmund)

Gloria Henry, the mom from TV’s Dennis the Menace (1959-1963) is 95

Glynis Johns, Winifred from Mary Poppins (1963) is 94

How's Trixie? (Images via CBS & by Matthew Rettenmund)

Joyce Randolph, Trixie on The Honemooners (1955-1956), is 93

June Lockhart, the mom on Lost in Space (1965-1968), is 93

Kaye Ballard, musical theater legend, is 92

Mustachioed Today show critic Gene Shalit is 92

The Peter principle (Images via video still & by Matthew Rettenmund)

Hollywood Squares (1966-1981) host Peter Marshall is 92

Michael Constantine, the Room 222 (1969-1974) principal, is 91

Conrad Janis, Mindy’s dad on Mork & Mindy (1978-1982), is 90

Blyth spirit (Images via Warner Bros. & TCM)

Ann Blyth, Veda from Mildred Pierce (1945), is 90

Vera Miles, the persistent sister from Psycho (1960), is 89

Grandmother Nature (Images via video still & via Alan Eichler)

Dena Dietrich, Mother Nature in those Chiffon commercials (1971-1979), is 89

Jaye P. Morgan, singer and boob-flashing The Gong Show (1976-1978) panelist, is 86

With notable exceptions, director Alfred Hitchcock has had an extraordinary number of his leading ladies live to ripe old ages, including the late Maureen O’Hara of Jamaica Inn (1939), who died at 95, and the late Nova Pilbeam of Young and Innocent (1937), who also died at 95. The only leading ladies from Hitchcock films who are still alive are (youngest to oldest):

Scary Poppins (Image via Universal)

Julie Andrews, 83 on October 1, of Torn Curtain (1966)

Shirley MacLaine, 84, of The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Vertigo-ing my way? (GIF via Paramount)

Kim Novak, 85, of Vertigo (1958)

Tippi Hedren, 88, of The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964)

Vera Miles, 89, of The Wrong Man (1956) and Psycho (1960)

Eva Marie Saint, 94, of North by Northwest (1959)

TIll the end of her Days (GIF via Paramount)

Doris Day, 96, of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

Yellow fever (Image via MGM)

There are a number of people who appeared in The Wizard of Oz (1939) who are still alive. They are (youngest to oldest):

Joan Kenmore, 86, a Munchkin child

Valerie Lee, 86, a Munchkin

Betty Ann Bruno, 88, a Munchkin

Ardith Dondanville, approximately 88, a Munchkin child

Priscilla Montgomery, 89, a Munchkin child

Caren Marsh, 99, who was  Judy Garland’s dance stand-in

Ambrose Schindler, 101, who was the stunt double for the Tin Man

Yesterday is another day (Image via MGM)

Aside from Olivia de Havilland, the only other credited cast member from the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind who is alive is Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes. He is 86 as of September 21 and retired from acting in 1957 — more than 60 years ago. There are another 11 uncredited players who are still alive 79 years after the movie hit theaters.

Speaking of de Havilland, she is the oldest living Oscar winner, at 102, and the earliest winner still surviving (she won in 1946). She is also the oldest living nominee, and the earliest surviving nominee (1939).

Life with Elizabeth debuted on TV on October 7, 1953. Its titular star, Betty White, is 96, making her one of the oldest actors alive from the early days of TV, even though she is far more famous for her mid-career and for her very late-career revival. That show tops even The Honymooners, which bowed in 1955, and whose Trixie — Joyce Randolph — is alive and well at 93.

The TV series Sugarfoot (September 17, 1957-April 17, 1961) starred Will Hutchins as Tom Brewster, the Canary Kid. He is the show’s only regular cast member, appearing in all 69 episodes. He is 88 today, meaning Sugarfoot may be the oldest TV show whose entire regular cast is still living.

The series Please Don’t Eat the Daisies debuted on September 14, 1965 and ran until September 2, 1967. It is the oldest series whose entire cast of principles — comprised of more than one person — is still living. They are: Mark Miller (93), Pat  Crowley (85) and all the actors who played the Nash boys.

The Smothers Brothers Show aka My Brother the Angel starring the Smothers Brothers, Dick (78) and Tom (81) Smothers, debuted three days later, on September 17, 1965, and wrapped April 22, 1966, making it the second oldest TV show whose entire regular cast — comprised of more than one person — is still living.

There are 11 people alive today who are known to have appeared — in any capacity — in a Silent Era silent movie. They are (youngest to oldest):

Garry Watson, 89

Mildred Kornman, 93

Petra Unkel, 93

Donnie “Beezer” Smith, 94

Kathleen O'Malley, 94

Billy Watson, 94

Silas Hathaway, 99, the baby from Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921)

Dorothy Morrison Green, 99, the oldest black actor of the silents

The author with Peggy in 2012 (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)

Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy, 99, the last surviving actual Silent Era "star"

Fay McKenzie, 100

Don Marion Davis, 100

The crack of Don (Image via video still)

The oldest movie with a still-living on-screen participant is Station Content (1918) starring Gloria Swanson; Fay McKenzie, a baby in the movie, just turned 100. A one-reel version of the five-reel film is all that exists.

The only other films of the teens with a living cast member are Cupid’s Day Off (1919), Back to the Kitchen (1919) and His Last False Step (1919) — but all were shorts. All starred Don Marion Davis, now 100.

Big in Japan (GIF via GIPHY)

The oldest actor in the world today may be Noriko Honma of Japan, who appeared in Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954) and many others. She worked until a cameo in 1993, including a bit part in Rhapsody in August (1991). She turns 108 on November 29

Catherine Deneuve, 74, has an actress mother who’s still with us! Renée Simonot just turned 107. She made her stage debut in 1918. In films, she dubbed into French the voices of such luminaries as Olivia de Havilland and Judy Garland.

The oldest living American actors include Norman Lloyd, 103; Olivia de Havilland, 102; Earl Cameron, 101 (he was in 2010’s Inception); Kirk Douglas, 101; and Marsha Hunt, 100.

The animation world seems to grow many long-lived members, none more so than  Disney’s Ruthie Thompson. She worked, largely uncredited, for the company for some 40 years, until 1975. She just turned 108.

The world’s oldest living professional musician is Cecilia Seghizzi, who is 110, and one of the world’s oldest living famous singers is England’s Dame Vera Lynn, 101.

1 Response

  1. I submit that Dan Hartman died in 1994 not 1984. Great Article!

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