Published December 26, 2003
NEW YORK – In 2003, the world lost many of its most legendary entertainers.
From Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn and Gregory Peck to Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash and John Ritter, the talented performers were beloved by the public and influential across genres and generations.
Following is an abbreviated list of some of the renowned artists who passed away this year.
Bob Hope: The legendary comedian traveled the globe performing for millions of American troops through four wars. Hope began his show business career at the age of 10, when he won a Charlie Chaplin imitation contest. He debuted on Broadway in 1932 in Ballyhoo, and became a bona fide star with his first feature-length movie, The Big Broadcast of 1938, in which he sang what became his theme song, "Thanks for the Memory." In 1940, Hope made The Road to Singapore, the first of seven "Road" flicks with Bing Crosby. In 1950 he debuted on NBC television, but declined a weekly show, opting instead to do specials and creating a legendary franchise. The Bob Hope Special aired more than 300 times and remained a ratings hit through the 1990s. Hope is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the entertainer with the "longest-running contract with a single network." During World War II and the Korean War, Hope became a staple of USO shows, boosting the morale of more than 10 million troops. Between 1948 and 1972 he shepherded 22 star-studded Christmas tours everywhere, from Korea, Vietnam and the Pacific to Greenland, Newfoundland and Alaska. Newsweek described him as "USO's perennial Santa Claus." He died in Southern California on July 27 at the age of 100.
Katharine Hepburn : A film legend whose career spanned six decades, Hepburn was one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. She was known for playing spirited, independent women. Her talent as an actress brought her a record four Academy Awards — for Morning Glory, 1933; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 1967; The Lion in Winter, 1968; and On Golden Pond, 1981 — and 12 nominations. An icon of feminist strength and spirit, Hepburn brought a chiseled beauty and quiet dignity to such films as The Philadelphia Story and The African Queen. The product of a wealthy, freethinking New England family, Hepburn was forthright in her opinions and unconventional in her personal life. She married only once, briefly, but her most famous romance was with actor and frequent co-star Spencer Tracy, who remained married to another woman until his death. The two actors starred in several movies together, the last of which was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Tracy died before the film's release. Later in life, Hepburn took to writing. Her first book, The Making of 'The African Queen': Or, How I Went To Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind made her a best-selling author at 77. She followed it up with Me: Stories of My Life in 1991. In 1999, a survey of screen legends by the American Film Institute ranked her No. 1 among actresses. She died in her home in Connecticut on June 29 at the age of 96.
Gregory Peck: The stunningly handsome actor was best known for playing upright, chivalrous characters in such films as Roman Holiday and Gentleman's Agreement. His most heroic and memorable role, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, earned him an Academy Award in 1962. The classic film was based on Harper Lee's novel about a widowed lawyer raising two children amid Southern racial unrest as he defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Peck's performance was infused with dignity, morality and honor. He died at the age of 87 in Los Angeles.
Johnny Cash : The beloved country-music legend was known as "The Man in Black." One of seven children born in Kingsland, Ark., Cash spoke up for the working class and downtrodden, winning fans across generations and musical genres with his deep soulful voice and dark humor. In his work, he spanned the musical spectrum of country, rock and folk. Songs such as "A Boy Named Sue," "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," and "Ring of Fire" became hits that remain popular today. In his career, Cash influenced artists as varied as Bono, Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. In the 1990s, Cash began working with hip-hop producer Rick Rubin on Rubin's label, American Recordings. His 2002 album "American IV: the Man Comes Around" earned him honors from the country music world and MTV. His recording of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt" and the accompanying video for the song were a haunting look back at his life. He was happily married to the singer June Carter Cash, his second wife, for 35 years. She passed away a few months before her husband. He died on Sept. 12 in Nashville of complications from diabetes at the age of 71.
June Carter Cash: A singer, songwriter, musician, actress and author, June Carter Cash performed with her husband, Johnny Cash, on records and on stage. Born into a musical family, June began performing at an early age. Her mother, Maybelle Carter, was in the Carter Family music act with her cousin Sara Carter and Sara's husband. That act broke up, but mother and daughters June, Helen and Anita continued on as Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters. Carter co-wrote her future husband's 1963 hit "Ring of Fire," which was about falling in love with Cash. She also wrote an autobiography, Among My Klediments, and released From the Heart, a memoir, in 1987. She died of complications from heart surgery on May 15 in Nashville at age 73.
John Ritter: The funnyman with a heart of gold died unexpectedly and far too young this year. Ritter, 54, became famous for his role as Jack Tripper in the 1970s sitcom "Three's Company." Known for his physical comedy, Ritter played a man sharing an apartment with two attractive female roommates. After the show's run ended in 1984, Ritter slid into a career lull, but staged a comeback in 1996 with a supporting role in the movie "Sling Blade." Later he came back to the small screen with the hit series "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter." He was beloved by his co-stars and the public. He died of an undetected heart problem after collapsing on the "8 Simple Rules" set in Los Angeles on Sept. 11.
Celia Cruz: Better known as "The Queen of Salsa," Celia Cruz was a beloved singer and entertainer known for her flamboyant attire and dynamic performances. She studied to be a teacher in her native Havana, Cuba, but was lured into show business when a relative entered her in a radio talent contest, which she won. She later studied music at the Havana Conservatory and performed at the world-famous Tropicana nightclub. She recorded more than 70 albums and had more than a dozen Grammy nominations. She won best salsa album for La Negra Tiene Tumbao at the 2002 Latin Grammys and won the same award at the 2003 year's Grammy Awards. She died on July 16 of a brain tumor in Fort Lee, N.J., at the age of 77.
Barry White: The velvet-voiced R&B crooner sang songs infused with sexually charged verbal foreplay, as on 1975's "Love Serenade." He won two Grammys in 2000, for best male and traditional R&B vocal performance for the song "Staying Power." Although his popularity peaked with several disco hits in the 1970s, White's music was often sampled in hip-hop artists and was featured in the popular TV show "Ally McBeal," which created a renewed interest in his music and unmistakable voice. He died at age 58 on July 4 in West Hollywood, Calif., after suffering kidney failure from years of high blood pressure.
Art Carney: The comedic actor found his way into American hearts playing Ed Norton, Ralph Kramden's bowling buddy and not-too-bright upstairs neighbor on "The Honeymooners." With his turned-up porkpie hat and unbuttoned vest, Carney's Norton was known for his exuberant saying: "Hey, Ralphie boy!" Ralph Kramden was played by the late Jackie Gleason. Carney won three Emmys for his role and went on to win a best actor Oscar for "Harry and Tonto" in 1974. He died on Nov. 9 in Connecticut at the age of 85.
Gregory Hines: The multitalented performer was widely seen as the greatest tap dancer of his generation. He transcended the stage with a successful screen career that included a starring role in "The Cotton Club." Hines became internationally known at a young age as part of a jazz tap duo with his brother, Maurice. He won a 1992 Tony Award for the musical "Jelly's Last Jam." On film, he starred with Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1985's Cold War-era dancers' story "White Nights" and with Billy Crystal in 1986's "Running Scared," and he appeared with Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett in 1995's "Waiting to Exhale," among other movies. He also had a recurring role on the hit NBC TV show "Will & Grace." He died of cancer on Aug. 9 in Los Angeles at the age of 57.
Nell Carter: "Gimme a Break!" star and award-winning actress, Carter was blessed with a big voice and strong stage presence despite her 4-foot-11 height. She prided herself on her range as a performer, doing musicals and drama as well as comedy. She won a Tony Award in 1978 for her turn in the musical "Ain't Misbehavin''' on the stage and won an Emmy for the TV version of the show. She was nominated for two Emmys for her role as the feisty housekeeper on "Gimme a Break!" She died in Beverly Hills on Jan. 23 at the age of 54.
Warren Zevon: The "Werewolves of London" singer and songwriter was known for creating witty and original music. His final album, "The Wind," released just a month before his death, was met with critical acclaim and garnered several Grammy nominations. Zevon gained attention in the '70s when Linda Ronstadt covered several of his songs, including "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," "Carmelita" and "Hasten Down the Wind." His work on 1976's "Warren Zevon" and 1978's "Excitable Boy," contained darkly humorous tales of prom-date rapists, headless, gun-toting soldiers of fortune and werewolves who drank piña coladas at singles bars. They cemented the musician's reputation as one of rock's most politically incorrect lyricists, giving him a lifelong cult following. He died on Sept. 7 at the age of 56 after a 12-month battle with cancer.
Nina Simone: The jazz singer with a deep, raspy, forceful voice had a wide influence over singers across many genres. Among those she influenced were Norah Jones, India Arie, Peter Gabriel, Sade and Aretha Franklin. Simone, not content to just be an artist, also helped chronicle the civil-rights movement in her work. In 1963, after the church bombing that killed four young black girls in Birmingham, Ala., and the slaying of Medgar Evers, she wrote "Mississippi Goddam." After the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was killed in 1968, she recorded "Why? The King of Love Is Dead." She died at her home in France on April 21 at the age of 70.
Elia Kazan : The Oscar-winning director was an extremely controversial figure in Hollywood. He made such classics as "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," but his conduct during the McCarthy era haunted his career. Testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, set up after World War II to rid the United States of suspected communist influences, Kazan named several people who were blacklisted because of his testimony. The painful controversy was reopened in 1999 when Kazan received a special Oscar for his life's work. Besides his two Oscar-winning efforts, Kazan directed "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," "East of Eden," "Splendor in the Grass," "A Face in the Crowd," "Gentleman's Agreement" and "The Last Tycoon." He died in New York on Sept. 28 at the age of 94.
George Plimpton: Author, socialite and literary personality, Plimpton was the author of "Paper Lion" and the founder of The Paris Review. Praised as a "central figure in American letters" when inducted in 2002 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Plimpton enjoyed a lifetime of making literature out of nonliterary pursuits. He boxed with Archie Moore, pitched to Willie Mays and performed as a trapeze artist for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. He acted in numerous films, including "Reds" and "Good Will Hunting." He even appeared in an episode of "The Simpsons," playing a professor who runs a spelling bee. But writers appreciated Plimpton's Paris Review, which published the work of emerging authors, including Philip Roth and Jack Kerouac, and printed an unparalleled series of interviews in which Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and others discussed their craft. He died at his home in New York on Sept. 26 at the age of 76.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.