A beloved singer. Possibly the greatest football player the world has seen. A basketball talent cut short by a freak helicopter accident. The creator of a much-loved comic. In 2020, the world of cinema, art and sport lost these and several other stars who shone just as bright.
Silverscreen India pays tribute to the stars that fell this year.
Singer SP Balasubrahmanyam died on September 25 at the age of 74 due to Covid-19 complications. Popularly known as SPB, the singer has sung thousands of songs in South Indian languages. People from across the country claimed him as their own when he died. Known as Paadum Nila or the singing moon, SPB lent his voice for stars including MG Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. An active stage performer, SPB brought energy and mirth to the table every time he sang. Aside from singing, SPB was also a voice over artist and an actor.
Irrfan Khan, one of India’s finest actors, died in April after being diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour. The 53 year-old actor’s filmography boasted stunning, empathetic performances including roles in movies like The Lunchbox, The Namesake, Paan Singh Tomar, Maqbool and Piku. He displayed clarity and depth off screen, especially in candid interviews where he spoke about his initial struggle and his rise in the Hindi film industry. The actor, who has also acted in several British and Hollywood films, will be remembered fondly by the world of cinema.
Rishi Kapoor, the Hindi actor known for his portrayals of romantic heroes in his films, died in April due to a long battle with cancer at the age of 67. His youthful energy took over the screens as he danced to some of the biggest hit songs of the generation. The actor was known in his later years for his hilarious social media presence. Kapoor began his performance as a child artist in 1970 in Mera Naam Joker and continued to act for nearly 50 years, ending his career in 2019 with The Body.
Sushant Singh Rajput
Sushant Singh Rajput, the Hindi actor who began his career in television, died in June at the age of 34, leaving his fans and the entire film industry in utter disbelief. Rajput, whose notable films include Kai Po Che and M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, died by suicide. Speculation behind the cause of his death soon snowballed into an online campaign on social media. The actor is fondly remembered for his sensitive and candid interviews about the struggles of being an actor without a film background. Videos of his love for science, dreams and journey dominated Twitter and Instagram for days after his death.
Soumitra Chatterjee, the veteran Bengali actor known for his collaborations with master filmmaker Satyajit Ray, died in November at the age of 85 from Covid-19 related complications. The city of Kolkata came together to bid farewell to the star, whose is known for his legendary performances in the Feluda series, Devi, Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri, Ghare Baire, Koni and Atanka. Chatterjee has received world-wide acclaim including France’s highest civilian award, the Chevalier of Legion of Honour.
Saroj Khan, the noted Bollywood choreographer, died at the age of 71 in July following a cardiac arrest. The National Award-winning choreographer has worked on over 200 songs, including the iconic Ek Do Teen from the movie Tezaab, which is loved and mirrored by dancers all over the country.
Sachy, the Malayalam writer and director, died in June after a cardiac arrest. His film Ayyappanum Koshiyum had just released to wide critical acclaim and box-office success, and the 48-year old was at the peak of his 12-film old writing and directing career when he died.
Naranipuzha Shanavas, the Malayalam director and screenwriter, died at the age of 38 in December, after suffering from a cardiogenic shock. Shanavas was best known for the Malayalam romantic drama Sufiyum Sujathayum, which released earlier this year. Several coworkers wrote about his kindness after his demise. The director made his debut in the year 2015 with the comedy-drama Karie.
Nishikant Kamat, the director best known for directing the Hindi films Drishyam, Force and Rocky Handsome, died at the age of 50 in August after suffering from chronic liver disease. He began his career with the Marathi movie Dombivali Fast and went on to direct Hindi movies like Mumbai Meri Jaan.
Chiranjeevi Sarja, the Kannada film actor and nephew of Arjun Sarja, died at the age of 39. Although the young actor was said to have been completely fine in the days leading to his death, he died of a sudden cardiac arrest. He had starred in 22 films before his demise. Sarja’s debut film was the 2009 Kannada romance Vayuputra, produced by the Sarja family’s production house, and his last movie was Shivarjuna.
Jayaprakash Reddy, the actor who played the antagonist in several notable Telugu movies, died in September at the age of 74 due to a cardiac arrest. Reddy, who did a mix of both comic and serious roles, was well known in the Telugu states. His notable films include Gabbar Singh, Narasimha Naidu and Samarasimha Reddy in Telugu. The actor also featured in a few Kannada and Tamil films.
MR Viswanathan, the Tamil actor, writer and director who was popularly known as Visu, died at 75 due to a cardiac arrest. Visu, who started his career with theatre, later went on to act and direct several super hit films, including Manal Kayiru and Samsaram Adhu Minsaram. His movies were much like his stage plays – they relied heavily on punch filled dialogues and wordplay to convey social messages. The mix of witty wordplay and moralistic family-based plots in his movies made him widely popular. He went on to become a talk show host on television.
MK Arjunan, the Malayalam music composer fondly known as Arjunan Master, died in April at 84. Arjunan Master made his debut in playback music composing through Karuthapournami (1968) and created his best work in the 1970s, when he composed numerous soulful melodies that have outlived the films they were featured in. When he won the Kerala State Film Award for music composition for Bhayanakam in 2018, many expressed disbelief that it was Master’s first state award in his career that spans five decades.
Thavasi, the Tamil actor known for playing character roles in movies like Varuthapadadha Valibar Sangam and Rajini Murugan, died in Madurai at 60. Thavasi made his acting debut in the 1993 Tamil drama Kizhakku Cheemayile, helmed by veteran director Bharathiraja, alongside actors Vijaykumar and Radhika Sarathkumar. The actor suffered from esophageal cancer and his deterioration was swift and brutal. A plea for financial assistance from his family, featuring a photo of the actor looking frail and emaciated, went viral weeks before his death. His last film was Annathe, starring Rajinikanth, which is yet to be released.
Wajid Khan, who composed music for movies along with his brother Sajid Khan, died at the age of 47 after contracting Covid-19. Under the name Sajid-Wajid, the brothers composed several popular songs including Hud Hud Dabangg from Dabangg, Jalwa from Wanted and Fevicol Se from Dabangg 2.
P Krishnamoorthy, the decorated art director and costume designer, died in December at 77. Krishnamoorthy, who won the National Film Awards five times – thrice in the Best Art Direction category and twice in the Best Costume Design category – has worked in the Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam industries. Krishnamoorthy’s best known Tamil films include Thenali, Pandavar Bhoomi, Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikecei, and Naan Kadavul.
Erode Sounder, the writer best known for Puthum Pudhu Payanam, Nattamai and Samudhiram, died at a private hospital in Chennai in December from kidney disease-related complications. He was 63. Sounder also acted in Dasavathaaram and Lingaa.
Diego Maradona, one of the greatest ever football players, died from a heart attack at the age of 60 in November. Maradona inspired a legion of fans at his home country, Argentina and abroad to take up the game, and was best known for winning the 1986 World Cup for his country.
According to a report in Reuters, in Buenos Aires, people began pouring on to the streets to mourn the nation’s favourite son, gathering in the San Andres neighbourhood, where he lived. Although drug and alcohol addiction marred his career in the later years, he continues to be remembered as one of the greatest names in football history.
Kobe Bryant, one of the best basketball players of all time, and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in January; an ominous precursor for the year. Kobe was 41, and his daughter, 13. The news of their death broke the hearts of millions of fans across the world. “Just to see the joy he played the game with, the joy he brought to fans, was pretty remarkable,” Lakers legend Jerry West said to the Los Angeles Times. “You don’t get players of that skill and that caliber that are able to do those things and bring that joy.”
Chadwick Boseman, the actor best known for playing the role of King T’Challa in the groundbreaking superhero film Black Panther, died in August. The 43-year-old actor was battling colon cancer. Despite his short life, Boseman essayed roles asserting the representation of the African American community in Hollywood. Whether it was James Brown in Get On Up, Thurgood Marshall in Marshall or T’Challa in Black Panther, Boseman’s unfussy versatility and old-fashioned gravitas helped turn him into one of his generation’s most sought-after leading men wrote the The New York Times.
Sean Connery, the iconic actor who played the first ever James Bond, died at the age of 90 in October. Connery debuted in an uncredited role in the film Lilacs in the Spring and went on to act in films like Dr. No, Marnie, The Hill and The Murder on Orient Express. Connery retired from acting in 2006, when he received the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen, the rock star, best known for songs including Jump died at the age of 65 in October. According to Variety, Van Halen’s innovative and explosive guitar skills kept the hard rock band that bore his family name cemented to the top of the album charts for two decades. The musician’s razzle-dazzle guitar-playing — combining complex harmonics, innovative fingerings and ingenious devices he patented for his instrument — made him the most influential guitarist of his generation.
John Lee Carre
John Lee Carre, the British novelist, who authored bestselling books including The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy died from pneumonia in December. Many of the Lee Carre’s 25 engaging works of fiction became successful movies and television shows, including the Night Manager and The Constant Gardener. Born as David Cornwall, Le Carre worked in the British Foreign Office and published under a pseudonym, as staff were not allowed to publish books while in service. According to the BBC, his career as a spy ended in 1964 after his name featured in a Soviet Union list of double agents. The incident inspired a plot line in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Alex Trebek, the beloved host of Jeopardy!, died at the age of 80 in November due to complications from pancreatic cancer. In 2019, Trebek announced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and continued to host Jeopardy! while he underwent treatment. Trebek also acted in films like Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds.
Diana Rigg, the actor who played Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, died in September. Rigg, who was 82, had been diagnosed with lung cancer in March. She had a long and storied career in theatre, film and television, winning several BAFTA, Tony and Emmy awards. According to the BBC, she was the only actor to have played the role of Mrs James Bond in a movie (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).
Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s iconic composition for one of the greatest introduction scenes of all time in the Clint Eastwood film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a legacy he carries to the grave. The legend who composed the music for over 500 films, particularly Hollywood spaghetti western films, died at the age of 91 earlier this year. He won the Oscar, the Golden Globes and a number of other awards during his prolific career.
Mary Higgins Clark
‘Queen of Suspense’, Mary Higgins Clark who authored over 50 bestseller books died at the age of 92 in February. Clark started writing novels after she turned 40, and continued writing until 2019. She wrote gripping and pacy mysteries which kept readers engaged.
Iconic actor Ian Holmes, known most recently for playing the role of Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings series, died at the age of 88 from Parkinson’s-related ailments. The actor received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.
Kirk Douglas, the Hollywood legend who acted in films like Lust for Life, Spartacus and Paths of Glory, died at the age of 83 in February. Best known for his rugged looks and dimpled chin, this actor is said to have appeared in at least three movies a year during his peak. He won the Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and the USA’s medal of freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. He is the father of Michael Douglas.
John Saxon, the actor best known as Bruce Lee’s friend in the cult classic Enter the Dragon, died at the age of 83 due to pneumonia. Saxon’s prolific career included appearances in three of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
Albert Uderzo, the co-creator of the wildly popular Asterix comic series, died in March at the age of 92. He created the series in 1959 along with writer René Goscinny, and illustrated the comic until Goscinny’s death in 1977. After 1977, Uderzo wrote and illustrated the comic and continued working on it until 2009 – almost 50 years since he first created the comic.
The world of cinema also lost comedians Fred Willard and Jerry Stiller this year.
The world of music witnessed a number of deaths, including Neil Peart, the drummer of Candian rock band Rush, American musician Little Richard, and R Purushothaman, a band member of music director Ilaiyaraaja.
In February, three members working on the sets of Kamal Haasan’s Indian 2 died, including Krishna (34), an assistant director in filmmaker Shankar’s team, Madhu (29), and Chandran (60), who were part of the catering team, as a heavy duty light came crashing down.