With another year past, the comedy industry was forced to say goodbye to many talented people. Most of us can only dream about accomplishing what the guys on this list have done, and they sure have done a lot. From writers to actors to writer-director-producer-actors on stage, TV, and film, here are 10 recently departed people who really knew how to make you laugh.
Don Payne, March 26 (48)
Screenwriter Don Payne makes this list for his comedy beginnings, although more recently he was a part of box office hits, getting to unleash his inner superhero comic book nerd. The Simpsons writer and producer won four Emmy awards during his long stint on the show from 2000 to 2013. He went on to write the 2006 Uma Thurman/Luke Wilson comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend and co-wrote the scripts for Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Thor. Payne lost his battle with bone cancer at his home in Los Angeles.
Mickey Rose, April 7 (77)
Mickey Rose may not have had the celebrity of his long–time friend and writing partner Woody Allen, but when the two went to NYU, Rose was the only one to graduate. The pair met in high school and later wrote Take the Money and Run and Bananas, Allen’s first two movies as a director, together. Rose continued writing for a slew of TV shows, including Sid Caesar, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Dean Martin Show, All in the Family, and The Odd Couple. He died of colon cancer at his home in Beverly Hills.
Jonathan Winters, April 11 (87)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a comedian who has done as much as Jonathan Winters. During his life, he released over a dozen comedy albums and appeared in countless films and TV. Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize in 1999 and was known for his inventive characters. Winters played Mork’s son on the last season of Mork and Mindy, and upon his death, co-star Robin Williams said on Facebook, “First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend. I’ll miss him huge. He was my Comedy Buddha. Long live the Buddha.”
Jean Stapleton, May 31 (90)
Actress Jean Stapleton didn’t become famous until she was nearly 50 years old. She achieved stardom as mother Edith Bunker in the hit comedy All in the Family, for which she won three Emmys and two Golden Globes. Also a singer, Stapleton began on Broadway and appeared on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour early on. She moved to film with roles in Nora Ephron’s Michael and You’ve Got Mail, but returned to TV with many guest spots on shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and Murphy Brown. Stapleton died of natural causes at her home in New York City.
Bernie Sahlins, June 16 (90)
Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner. Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Steve Carell, and Martin Short: all of these alumni of The Second City have Bernie Sahlins to thank. Sahlins co-founded the famed Chicago sketch comedy theater The Second City in 1959. There, as a director and producer, he had an eye for talent and influenced a sphere much greater than the Chicago comedy scene. Sahlins also co-created SCTV, the influential Emmy award–winning sketch show that ran for six seasons. The Chicago Tribune said, “If any single individual could have been said to have invented topical sketch comedy — the form upon which Saturday Night Live and many other such TV shows are based — Sahlins was that individual.”
Gary David Goldberg, June 23 (68)
Millions of Americans have unknowingly identified with Gary David Goldberg’s life experiences: he created both Family Ties and the short-lived Brooklyn Bridge as semi-autobiographical TV series. The hit show Family Ties gave Michael J. Fox his breakout role, and Goldberg worked with him again as co-creator of Spin City with Bill Lawrence. The two-time Emmy award winner also wrote episodes of The Bob Newhart Show and M*A*S*H. Goldberg even founded his own production company, Ubu Productions, which allowed him to write, direct, and produce the films Must Love Dogs, Bye Bye Love, and Dad. Goldberg died from brain cancer two days before his 69th birthday.
Mel Smith, July 19 (60)
The only Brit on this list, Mel Smith’s comedy sure was internationally funny. Smith rose to fame as a writer-performer on the British sketch shows Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. At Not the Nine O’Clock News, he met Rowan Atkinson, who he went on to direct in Bean. Smith also co-founded TalkBack Productions, one of the largest TV production companies in the UK whose shows include Da Ali G Show and Smack the Pony. As an actor, Smith also appeared in The Princess Bride and Brain Donors. He died from a heart attack at his home in London.
Eileen Brennan, July 28 (80)
Actress Eileen Brennan may have started on stage with musicals, but she will be remembered for her hilariously sassy characters on-screen. Most famously she played a no-nonsense captain in both the movie and TV versions of Private Benjamin, winning her an Emmy award and Oscar nomination. Brennan also received Emmy nominations for her guest starring roles on Taxi, Newhart, Thirtysomething, and Will & Grace, and had memorable turns in films Clue, Murder by Death, and The Sting. After hearing Brennan died of bladder cancer, her Private Benjamin co-star Goldie Hawn tweeted, “We have lost my old friend Eileen Brennan. No one made me laugh more! Now I cry. Please keep singing darling from on high. Rest.”
Kumar Pallana, October 10 (94)
Until 1996, Kumar Pallana was a retired vaudevillian-turned-yoga studio owner in Texas — definitely not a character actor beloved for his comic deadpan. In the 1950s and ‘60s, he performed as “Kumar of India,” a plate spinner in Las Vegas and on television shows such as The Mickey Mouse Show. Decades later, Pallana and his son became friends with the young Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, which led to his casting in their debut movie Bottle Rocket. Pallana became a regular in Wes Anderson’s movies, stealing scenes in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited, along with Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal.
Marcia Wallace, October 25 (70)
Marcia Wallace had quite the four-decade career in television, playing not one but two iconic comic roles. Wallace began her career on The Merv Griffin Show, which led to a part written specifically for her as receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show. She then appeared on many celebrity game shows before voicing Bart’s teacher, Edna Krabappel, on The Simpsons, for which she won an Emmy award in 1992. During her time at The Simpsons she continued to guest star in a range of TV shows. Wallace, a breast cancer survivor and advocate, died of complications from pneumonia.