At the end of every year, Hollywood buzzes with predictions for who will win Oscars or which picture made the most money. But Hollywood also takes a more somber tone and looks back at the lives and careers of the stars we lost. Though we lost many more than can this list conveys, here are seven of the most notable celebrity deaths of 2012.
1. Phyllis Diller – 1917-2012
An audacious comedienne who broke new ground for female comics, Phyllis Diller made millions laugh with her wildly eccentric humor that was punctuated by puffing smoke from a prop cigarette holder and her trademark cackling laugh. Diller had her start on radio in Oakland, CA and on a Bay Area television show, which lead to performing stand-up in the mid-1950s. While primarily a comedienne, Diller did make appearances on film, starting with a cameo as a nightclub hostess in Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961). She later starred in a wide range of comedies that included the beach party spoof The Fat Spy (1966), Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) with Bob Hope, Eight on the Lam (1967) and The Sunshine Boys (1975), starring Walter Matthau and George Burns. Diller spent the latter part of her career performing mainly on stage with occasional appearances on screen. Following a decade of ill health, she died on August 20th in her longtime Brentwood, CA home at 95 years old.
2. Frank Pierson – 1925-2012
A prolific screenwriter and director, Frank Pierson contributed to making some of Hollywood’s most memorable films of the 1960s and 1970s. After receiving his start on the small screen with Have Gun – Will Travel and Naked City, Pierson segued to features by sharing writing credit on the Western spoof Cat Ballou and the classic prison drama Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman. He went on to partner with director Sidney Lumet to write the heist flick The Anderson Tapes (1971), starring Sean Connery and Lumet’s all-time classic crime thriller Dog Day Afternoon (1975), which won Pierson the Oscar for Best Screenplay. As a director, Pierson helmed the spy movie The Looking Glass War and the remake of the classic musical A Star Is Born (1976), which earned him his share of enemies after writing a damning article about his difficulties with star Barbra Streisand for New West magazine. In the latter decades of his career, Pierson focused primarily on the small screen and wrapped his career writing for high profiles shows like The Good Wife and Mad Men. Peirson died on July 23rd from natural causes at 87 years old.
3. Ernest Borgnine – 1917-2012
One of the most beloved character actors, Ernest Borgnine was adept at playing both sympathetic heroes and reviled villains over the course of his prolific career. Borgnine started his career on Broadway and soon made a lasting impression in Hollywood as the sadistic “Fatso” Judson in Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity (1953). He followed up with his most iconic performance, playing a lovesick butcher resigned to a life of bachelorhood in Marty (1955), a role that earned him the Oscar for Best Actor. After moving over to television to star on the popular sitcom McHale’s Navy, Borgnine had memorable turns in Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Sam Peckinpah’s classic revisionist Western, The Wild Bunch (1969). In the latter years of his career, Borgnine settled into a steady stream of television appearances with small parts in movies too numerous to count. Borgnine died of renal failure on July 8th in Los Angeles, CA. He was 95 years old.
4. Andy Griffith – 1926-2012
While primarily remembered for The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock, Andy Griffith had a memorable film career in the 1950s and 1960s. Griffith’s folksy demeanor was on display in both those shows, but he made his film debut with a dynamic dramatic performance as a conniving and power-hungry grifter in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957). He went on to star opposite Don Knotts as a backwoods rube forced to join the Navy in No Time for Sergeants (1958) and that same year played a failed college student forced to join the Coast Guard in Onionhead. Griffith also starred with Debbie Reynolds in the Western comedy The Second Time Around (1961), but virtually ended his feature career following the failure of Angel in My Pocket (1969). He stuck mainly to his Matlock character in the 1980s and beyond while returning to his love of music with a thriving gospel career. Griffith died of a heart attack on July 3rd in North Carolina at 86 years old.
5. Ann Rutherford – 1917-2012
For a short time, Ann Rutherford had a thriving film career that culminated with a memorable supporting role as Scarlet O’Hara’s youngest sister, Carreen, in Victor Fleming’s classic epic Gone With the Wind (1939). Prior to such heights, Rutherford was Polly Benedict, the sweet and loyal girlfriend of Mickey Rooney’s love struck Andy Hardy in the popular series that included the films You’re Only Young Once (1937),Love Finds Andy Hardy 1938), and The Hardys Ride High (1939). She also starred in several Westerns opposite Gene Autry in Melody Trail (1935) and John Wayne in The Lonely Trail (1936). After Gone With the Wind, Rutherford continued making Andy Hardy movies as her career wound down with parts in unremarkable films like Whistling Dixie (1942), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Adventures of Don Juan, starring Errol Flynn. Rutherford retired from acting after the 1940s, but reemerged briefly in the 1970s only to retired once more. She died due to heart issues on June 11th in Beverly Hills, CA, at 94 years old.
6. Charles Durning – 1923-2012
A great character actor who had a long and venerable career, Charles Durning had a late start with his career, but quickly rose to prominence as a supporting player in several iconic films from the 1970s. Durning fought in World War II at both the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, and returned a decorated war hero with a three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. He used the G.I. Bill to receiving his acting training and worked several odd jobs before making his mark on stage and screen in the 1960s. Breaking through the following decade, Durning had memorable turns as a corrupt cop hassling Robert Redford in The Sting (1973) and as a fiery Brooklyn detective negotiating a hostage situation with Al Pacino’s bank robbing Sonny Wortzik in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). From there, he delivered notable comic turns in North Dallas Forty (1979) and The Muppet Movie (1979), before earning Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and To Be or Not to Be (1983). During also shined as a widowed man who unwittingly romances Dustin Hoffman’s Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie (1982). His later years were spent primarily on television with his career ending on a high note with a fiercely comic performance as Denis Leary’s cantankerous father on Rescue Me. Durning died on Christmas Eve of natural causes in his Manhattan home at 89 years old.