In a year defined by a deadly pandemic, the world lost iconic defenders of civil rights, leading politicians, great athletes and ground-breaking artists.
Many of their names hold a prominent place in the collective consciousness — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Diego Maradona, Sean Connery, or Valéry Giscard d’Estaing just — but COVID-19 restrictions often limited the public’s ability to mourn their loss in a year that saw more than a million people die from the coronavirus.
Here is a look back at some influential figures lost in 2020 and the legacies they left behind.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, 79. He was the Mideast’s longest-ruling monarch who seized power in Oman in a 1970 palace coup and pulled his Arabian sultanate into modernity while carefully balancing diplomatic ties between adversaries Iran and the US. January 11.
Daniel arap Moi, 95. A former schoolteacher who became Kenya’s longest-serving president and presided over years of repression and economic turmoil fueled by runaway corruption. February 4.
Hosni Mubarak, 91. The Egyptian leader who was the autocratic face of stability in the Middle East for nearly 30 years before being forced from power in an Arab Spring uprising. February 25.
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, 100. The two-term United Nations secretary-general who brokered a historic cease-fire between Iran and Iraq in 1988 and who in later life came out of retirement to help reestablish democracy in his Peruvian homeland. March 4.
Pierre Nkurunziza, 56. As president of Burundi, his 15-year-rule was marked by deadly political violence and a historic withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. June 8.
William S. Sessions, 90. A former federal judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan to head the FBI and fired years later by President Bill Clinton. June 12.
John Lewis, 80. An icon of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress. July 17.
John Hume, 83. The visionary politician who won a Nobel Peace Prize for fashioning the agreement that ended violence in his native Northern Ireland. August 3.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87. The US Supreme Court justice developed a cultlike following over her more than 27 years on the bench, especially among young women who appreciated her lifelong, fierce defense of women’s rights. September 18.
Saeb Erekat, 65. A veteran peace negotiator and prominent international spokesman for the Palestinians for more than three decades. Erekat died of coronavirus on November 10.
Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, 84. As Bahrain’s prince, he was one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers and led his island nation’s government for decades. November 11.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, 94. He was the president of France from 1974 to 1981 and became a champion of European integration. Giscard d’Estaing died of COVID-19 on December 2.
Tabaré Vázquez, 80. He was Uruguay’s first socialist president, rising from poverty to win two terms as leader. The politician died of cancer on December 6.
ARTS & CULTURE
Ivan Passer, 86. A leading filmmaker of the Czech New Wave who with Milos Forman fled Soviet-controlled Prague and forged a celebrated career in Hollywood. January 9.
Mary Higgins Clark, 92. She was the tireless and long-reigning “Queen of Suspense” whose tales of women beating the odds made her one of the world’s most popular writers. January 31.
Andy Gill, 64. The guitarist who supplied the scratching, seething sound that fueled the highly influential British punk band Gang of Four. February 1.
George Steiner, 90. He became one of the world’s leading public intellectuals through his uncommon erudition, multilingual perspective and the provocative lessons he drew from his Jewish roots and escape from the Holocaust. February 3.
Kirk Douglas, 103. The intense, muscular actor with the dimpled chin who starred in “Spartacus,” “Lust for Life” and dozens of other films, helped fatally weaken the blacklist against suspected communists and reigned for decades as a Hollywood maverick and patriarch. February 5.
Mirella Freni, 84. An Italian soprano whose uncommon elegance and intensity combined with a sumptuous voice and intelligence to enthral audiences for a half-century. February 9.
Ernesto Cardenal, 95. The renowned poet and Roman Catholic cleric who became a symbol of revolutionary verse in Nicaragua and across Latin America, and whose suspension from the priesthood by St. John Paul II lasted over three decades. March 1.
Max von Sydow, 90. The actor is known to art-house audiences through his work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and later to moviegoers everywhere when he played the priest in the horror classic “The Exorcist.” March 8.
Manu Dibango, 86. He fused African rhythms with funk to become one of the most influential musicians in world dance music. The musician died of coronavirus on March 24.
Honor Blackman, 94. The potent British actress who took James Bond’s breath away in “Goldfinger” and who starred as the leather-clad, judo-flipping Cathy Gale in “The Avengers.” April 5.
Nobuhiko Obayashi, 82. He was one of Japan’s most prolific filmmakers who devoted his works to depicting war’s horrors and singing the eternal power of movies. April 10.
Brian Dennehy, 81. The burly actor who started in films as a macho heavy and later in his career won plaudits for his stage work in plays by William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. April 15.
Irrfan Khan, 54. A veteran character actor in Bollywood movies and one of India’s best-known exports to Hollywood. April 29.
Shady Habash, 22. An Egyptian filmmaker detained without trial for over two years for making a music video that mocked President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. May 2. Died in prison.
Little Richard, 87. He was one of the chief architects of rock ‘n’ roll whose piercing wail, pounding piano and towering pompadour irrevocably altered popular music while introducing Black R&B to white America. May 9. Bone cancer.
Christo, 84. He was known for massive, ephemeral public arts projects that often involved wrapping large structures in fabric. May 31.
Charles Webb, 81. A lifelong nonconformist whose debut novel “The Graduate” was a deadpan satire of his college education and wealthy background adapted into the classic film of the same name. June 16.
Vera Lynn, 103. The endearingly popular “Forces’ Sweetheart” who serenaded British troops during World War II. June 18.
Ian Holm, 88. An acclaimed British actor whose long career included roles in “Chariots of Fire” and “The Lord of the Rings.” June 19.
Joel Schumacher, 80. The eclectic and brazen filmmaker who shepherded the Brat Pack to the big screen in “St. Elmo’s Fire” and steering the Batman franchise into its most baroque territory in “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.” June 22.
Ennio Morricone, 91. The Oscar-winning Italian composer who created the coyote-howl theme for the iconic spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and soundtracks for such classic Hollywood gangster movies as “The Untouchables” and “Once Upon A Time In America.” He died of complications of surgery after a fall on July 6.
Olivia de Havilland, 104. The doe-eyed actress beloved to millions as the sainted Melanie Wilkes of “Gone With the Wind,” but also a two-time Oscar winner and an off-screen fighter who challenged and unchained Hollywood’s contract system. July 26.
Franca Valeri, 100. An elegant, ironic and versatile actress who pioneered female comic roles in Italy’s post-war years and helped the nation laugh at its foibles. August 9.
Chadwick Boseman, 43. He played Black American icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown with searing intensity before inspiring audiences worldwide as the regal Black Panther in Marvel’s blockbuster movie franchise. Boseman died of cancer on August 28.
Diana Rigg, 82. A commanding British actress whose career stretched from iconic 1960s spy series “The Avengers” to fantasy juggernaut “Game of Thrones.” September 10.
Toots Hibbert, 77. One of reggae’s founders and most beloved stars who gave the music its name and later helped make it an international movement through such classics as “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man” and “Funky Kingston” with his band “Toots and the Maytals”. September 11.
Terence Conran, 88. The British designer, retailer and restaurateur who built a furniture empire around the world, founded The Design Museum in London and modernized the everyday lives of British people. September 12.
Michael Lonsdale, 89. An enigmatic giant of the silver screen and theatre in France who worked with some of the world’s top directors in an acting career that spanned 60 years. September 21.
Juliette Greco, 93. A French singer, actress, cultural icon and muse to existentialist philosophers of the country’s post-War period. September 23.
Kenzo Takada, 81. The iconic French-Japanese fashion designer famed for his jungle-infused designs and free-spirited aesthetic that channelled global travel. Takada died of coronavirus on October 4.
Eddie Van Halen, 65. The guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock’s biggest groups and became elevated to the status of rock god. The musician died of cancer on October 6.
Mohammad Reza Shajarian, 80. His distinctive voice quavered to traditional Persian music on state radio for years before supporting protesters following Iran’s contested 2009 election. October 8.
Mahmoud Yassin, 79. An Egyptian actor and pillar of the country’s film industry during the second half of the 20th century. October 14.
Spencer Davis, 81. A British guitarist and bandleader whose eponymous rock group had 1960s hits including “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man.” October 19.
Sean Connery, 90. The charismatic Scottish actor who rose to international superstardom as the suave secret agent James Bond and then abandoned the role to carve out an Oscar-winning career in other rugged roles. October 31.
Barbara Windsor, 83. A British actress whose seven-decade career ranged from cheeky film comedies to the soap opera “EastEnders.” December 10.
John le Carre, 89. The spy-turned-novelist whose elegant and intricate narratives defined the Cold War espionage thriller and brought acclaim to a genre critics had once ignored. December 12.
Jeremy Bulloch, 75. The English actor who first donned a helmet, cape and jetpack to play Boba Fett in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. December 17.
Kobe Bryant, 41. The 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career spent entirely with the Los Angeles Lakers. January 26. Helicopter crash.
Stirling Moss, 90. A daring, speed-loving Englishman regarded as the greatest Formula One driver never to win the world championship. April 12.
Diego Maradona, 60. The Argentine soccer great who scored the “Hand of God” goal in 1986 and led his country to that year’s World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity. November 25.