Sean Lock, Helen McCrory, Sarah Harding: The celebrities we lost in 2021

·TV Reporter
·11 min read
The celebrities we lost in 2021. (PA/Getty)
The celebrities we lost in 2021. (PA/Getty)

This year has seen the sad loss of many a big name from the worlds of music, acting and entertaining.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory, Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding and comedian Sean Lock were amongst the celebrities we said goodbye to in 2021.

Read more: The best TV shows of 2021

Here are some of the biggest stars who passed away over the last 12 months.

Gerry Marsden

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24:  Gerry Marsden sings prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers at Anfield on October 24, 2010 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Gerry Marsden was a favourite in Liverpool. (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Date: 3 January

Cause of death: Blood infection

Age: 78

Marsden was the frontman and co-founder of Liverpool band Gerry & the Pacemakers. As the second act to sign with the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, Gerry & the Pacemakers scored big hits with Ferry Cross the Mersey, I Like It, and a cover of Rodgers & Hammerstein's You'll Never Walk Alone (which became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club). After the band broke up in 1967, Marsden became a British television personality and West End theatre actor.

Phil Spector

Phil Spector was sentenced Friday to 19 years to life in prison for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, during proceedings at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles with Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler presiding. Clarkson was shot through the mouth in the music producer's home six years ago. Spector, 69, showed no emotion as Judge Fidler ordered a term of 15 years to life for second–degree murder plus four years for personal use of a gun.  (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Phil Spector was sentenced19 years to life in prison for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Date: 16 January

Cause of death: COVID-19 complications

Age: 81

The famed music producer, who was imprisoned since 2009 for the murder of Lana Clarkson, died at a California hospital. Known for his “Wall of Sound,” in his younger years he helped create hits for the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers and the Beatles among others. He long had personal issues, with wife Ronnie Spector (of the Ronettes) claiming abuse. In 2003, after a night of drinking, he shot and killed Clarkson at his home. He was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison, and was serving time at a prison hospital due to long-term medical issues. Spector’s daughter said he tested positive for COVID in December 2020 and died several weeks after being intubated.

Read more: The best TV this Christmas, day by day

Larry King

US television and radio host Larry King gives an interview to AFP on the television set of his talk show at CNN in Washington on December 7, 1995. (Photo by Joyce NALTCHAYAN / AFP) (Photo by JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US television and radio host Larry King (Joyce NALTCHAYAN / AFP) (Photo by JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Date: 23 January

Cause of death: Sepsis

Age: 87

The radio and TV star hosted CNN's Larry King Live from 1985 to 2010. King got celebrities and world leaders talking, which he credited to his “dumb” questions. King, who was married eight times to seven women, had health issues throughout his life, including suffering a stroke in 2019. He was hospitalised in December 2020 with COVID and developed sepsis.

Christopher Plummer

Actor Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music
Actor Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music

Date: 5 February

Cause of death: Head injury following a fall

Age: 91

Nearly 50 years after cementing his screen icon status as Captain Von Trapp in 1965's The Sound of Music — a film experience for which he later voiced contempt — the Canadian star at last took home his first Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor, aged 82 as a father who comes out late in life in 2011's Beginners. He also starred in The Insider, Inside Man, The Last Station, Knives Out and All the Money in the World; the latter resulted in another Oscar nod after he was hastily cast to replace Kevin Spacey amid the actor's #MeToo scandal. Plummer suffered a fall, striking his head and dying just a couple of weeks later, according to widow Elaine Taylor.

Johnny Briggs

Coronation Street' actor Johnny Briggs. 7th December 1983. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Coronation Street' actor Johnny Briggs. 7th December 1983. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

Date: 28 February

Cause of death: Undisclosed illness

Age: 85

Coronation Street legend Briggs had played Mike Baldwin in the soap for 30 years, with many of his storylines involving Deidre (the late Anne Kirkbride) and Ken Barlow (William Roache). During his career, he won a British Soap Award for lifetime achievement and an MBE.

Read more: The best soap moments of 2021

Jessica Walter

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Jessica Walter attends the premiere of Netflix's 'Arrested Development' Season 5 at Netflix FYSee Theater on May 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
Jessica Walter attends the premiere of Netflix's 'Arrested Development' Season 5 at Netflix FYSee Theater (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Date: 24 March

Cause of death: Undisclosed

Age: 80

Best known as Bluth family matriarch Lucille on TV sitcom Arrested Development, Walter won an Emmy in 1975 (for playing the title character in limited series Amy Prentiss) and was nominated for another four: for The Streets of San Francisco, Trapper John, M.D., animated series Archer and Arrested Development, the series she starred in during both of its runs, from 2003 to 2006 and again between 2013 and 2019.

Paul Ritter

Paul Ritter has died aged 54 from a brain tumour. (Getty Images)
Paul Ritter has died aged 54 from a brain tumour. (Getty Images)

Date: 5 April

Cause of death: Brain tumour

Age: 54

Best known in recent years for playing dad Martin in sitcom Friday Night Dinner, the actor also had featuring roles in acclaimed series Chernobyl and with Daniel Craig in Bond film Quantum of Solace. Other notable appearances included Vera, The Trial of Christine Keeler, and the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Nikki Grahame

LONDON - JULY 14:  Nikki Grahame poses for photographers after being the  eighth person to be evicted from the Big Brother Seven House on July 14, 2006 in Borehamwood, England.   (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
Nikki Grahame poses for photographers after being the eighth person to be evicted from the Big Brother Seven House on July 14, 2006 (MJ Kim/Getty Images)

Date: 9 April

Cause of death: Anorexia

Age: 38

Grahame became known as a reality TV star after appearing in the 2006 series of Big Brother, where she kept viewers entertained with her outraged "who is she?" catchphrase. She went on to appear in a number of other reality shows, including Ultimate Big Brother. Many of her celebrity friends paid tribute to her after she passed away from anorexia which she had been battling for much of her life.

Read more: The best TV and films streaming this Christmas

Helen McCrory

Helen McCrory had a private battle with cancer. (Getty Images)
Helen McCrory had a private battle with cancer. (Getty Images)

Date: 16 April

Cause of death: Breast cancer

Age: 52

McCrory was one of the biggest stars of Peaky Blinders, where she played Aunt Polly, with the final season still in production at the time of her death. She was also well known for her role as Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and in 2017 was awarded an OBE. McCrory was married to Damian Lewis, who she shared two children with, and together the couple spent the early days of the pandemic campaigning to feed health care workers while keeping her own diagnosis private.

Les McKeown

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  Photo of Les McKEOWN and BAY CITY ROLLERS; Les McKeown  (Photo by Jorgen Angel/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Les McKEOWN and BAY CITY ROLLERS; Les McKeown (Photo by Jorgen Angel/Redferns)

Date: 20 April

Cause of death: Natural causes

Age: 65

Scottish pop singer McKeown was best known as the frontman of the Bay City Rollers, who during the height of their "Rollermania" teen idol era were heralded as the next Beatles. McKeown sang on the band's biggest hits, including Remember (Sha-La-La-La), Shang-a-Lang, Summerlove Sensation, Give a Little Love and All of Me Loves All of You, and a cover of the Four Seasons' Bye, Bye, Baby, all of which cracked the top 10. Their albums Rollin' and Once Upon a Star both went to No. 1, and the Rollers eventually went on to sell 120 million records worldwide. After leaving the group in 1978, McKeown released nine solo albums. In 2015, he reunited with fellow Rollers Stuart Woo and Alan Longmuir for a Bay City Rollers nostalgia tour.

Read more: The most controversial TV moments of 2021

Una Stubbs

Una Stubbs stars in
Una Stubbs stars in "Great Expectations" which opens on February 25th at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. (Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Date: 12 August

Cause of death: Undisclosed

Age: 84

The beloved actor was best known for playing landlady Mrs Hudson in TV series Sherlock, and Rita Rawlins in sitcoms Till Death Do Us Part and In Sickness and In Health. She was also Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge, and Miss Bat in The Worst Witch. Stubbs was said to have been ill for a few months before her death and passed away with her family by her side. 

Sean Lock

Date: 16 August

Cause of death: Lung cancer

Age: 58

As well as his sell-out stand up shows, the comedian was known for his regular appearances on 8 Out of 10 Cats, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and QI. Many of his fellow comedians paid tribute to him, with close friend Bill Bailey sharing how he had sat by Lock's bedside and sung his favourite songs to him in his final days.

Charlie Watts

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 29:  Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones performs live on stage at St Mary's Stadium on May 29, 2018 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Matthew Baker/Getty Images)
Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones performs live on stage at St Mary's Stadium on May 29, 2018 (Matthew Baker/Getty Images)

Date: 24 August

Cause of death: Undisclosed

Age: 80

Rolling Stones drummer Watts was married to wife Shirley for nearly 57 years. Though he eventually battled substance abuse in the 1980s — something he chalked up to a midlife crisis — Watts was more likely to sketch his hotel room than trash it; he reportedly had more than a dozen journals filled with illustrations of his lodgings. Despite a previous battle with throat cancer, Watts had kept up with the Stones' notoriously exhaustive tour schedule until this year. In August, the band announced that he'd be sitting out the remaining No Filter shows due to a heart procedure; by the month's end, he had died, though no exact cause of death has been publicly revealed.

Read more: The most exciting TV shows coming in 2022

Sarah Harding

Sarah Harding was treated at the Christie Foundation in Manchester prior to her death. (Getty Images)
Sarah Harding was diagnosed with cancer a year before her death. (Getty Images)

Date: 5 September

Cause of death: Breast cancer

Age: 39

Harding died from breast cancer just a year after her August 2020 diagnosis, saying in March that she had been told it was terminal. The singer was known for her career with Girls Aloud after they formed on and won talent show Pop Stars: The Rivals. She also branched out into acting in the St Trinian's films and Coronation Street, and published her autobiography as well as releasing new solo music in the months before her death.

Michael K. Williams

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 07: Michael K. Williams poses for the 2021 Critics Choice Awards on March 07, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ABA)
Michael K. Williams poses for the 2021 Critics Choice Awards on March 07, 2021 (Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ABA)

Date: 6 September

Cause of death: Accidental overdose

Age: 54

Williams created unforgettable characters on The Wire (Omar Little) and Boardwalk Empire (Chalky White) — the former getting high praise from then-President Barack Obama. Overall, the actor received five Emmy nominations for his work, including Lovecraft Country and the miniseries When They See Us. Williams, who was open about his addiction struggle, died at his Brooklyn home of acute intoxication by a mixture of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.

John Challis

John Challis was best known for playing Boycie. (Getty Images)
John Challis was best known for playing Boycie. (Getty Images)

Date: 19 September

Cause of death: Cancer

Age: 79

Famed for his role as Boycie in Only Fools and Horses, Challis also reprised his character for more recent spin-off The Green Green Grass and played Monty Staines in sitcom Benidorm. His Only Fools and Horses co-stars Sir David Jason and Sue Holderness were amongst the many celebrity friends who paid tribute to him.

Read more: The TV shows that ended in 2021

Willie Garson

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker poses with actor Willie Garson at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles June 1, 2008.     REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)
Sarah Jessica Parker poses with actor Willie Garson, 2008. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Date: 21 September

Cause of death: Pancreatic cancer

Age: 57

While filming the Sex and the City spinoff, And Just Like That..., the beloved actor who played Stanford Blatch, lost his private battle with cancer. In addition to being Carrie Bradshaw's male bestie, he appeared on White Collar and Hawaii Five-0 and in movies including Being John Malkovich and Groundhog Day.

James Michael Tyler

James Michael Tyler starred as Gunther in 'Friends'.
James Michael Tyler starred as Gunther in 'Friends'.

Date: 24 October

Cause of death: Prostate cancer

Age: 59

Best known for his role as Central Perk manager Gunther on Friends, Tyler revealed in June he had been quietly battling prostate cancer since 2018. It wasn't caught early and spread to his bones. Tumours on his spine left him unable to walk, but he hid it when appearing virtually on the HBO Max Friends reunion in May because, "I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, and Gunther has cancer,'" he said. He passed away peacefully at his LA home.

Stephen Sondheim

28th August 1962:  American songwriter Stephen Sondheim, whose works include the musicals 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum', 'Into the Woods' and 'Passion'.  (Photo by Michael Hardy/Express/Getty Images)
28th August 1962: American songwriter Stephen Sondheim, whose works include the musicals 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum', 'Into the Woods' and 'Passion'. (Photo by Michael Hardy/Express/Getty Images)

Date: 26 November

Cause of Death: Cardiovascular disease

Age: 91

The celebrated composer and lyricist was responsible for some of the biggest theatre successes of our lifetimes, including A Little Night Music, for which he penned Grammy-winning tune Send in the Clowns; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Sweeney Todd; Into the Woods and Company. He won a long list of accolades, including an Oscar for the Madonna song Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man) in Dick Tracy; a Pulitzer Prize; and eight Tony Awards. (The one he received in 2008 was for lifetime achievement.)

Watch: Helen McCrory's friends learned of illness days before her death

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