Notable deaths 2021

Stage, film and television 

Our look back includes Helen McCrory, “one of the great actors of her generation”; Una Stubbs, memorable from Summer Holiday to Sherlock via Give Us A Clue; Johnny Briggs who played Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street; and John Challis, aka Boycie, from classic comedy Only Fools and Horses.

Helen McCrory 

Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter actress 

Known for her long and acclaimed career on stage, film and television, Helen McCrory was described by the National Theatre’s artistic director Rufus Norris as “unquestionably one of the great actors of her generation”. She played Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders and Narcissa Malfoy in three Harry Potter films. Her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, paid tribute to her “fearlessness, wit, curiosity, talent and beauty”.

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Una Stubbs

Till Death Us Do Part, Worzel Gummidge and Sherlock actress

A much-loved team captain on ITVs long-running game show Give Us A Clue – opposite Lionel Blair, who also died earlier this year – Una Stubbs found fame in Cliff Richard’s 1963 film Summer Holiday. She went on to star in some of the best-loved shows on British TV.

Her last major role was in the BBC drama Sherlock as landlady Mrs Hudson. “Just about the kindest, nicest, funniest person you could meet,” wrote the show’s creator, Steven Moffat, in tribute. “I don’t know how anyone even starts summing up that career – Till Death Us Do Part, Fawlty Towers, the incomparable Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge… and, of course, the irreplaceable heart and soul of Sherlock.”

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Nicola Pagett

Upstairs, Downstairs and A Bit of a Do actress 

Nicola Pagett was best known for playing Elizabeth Bellamy, the rebellious daughter of Richard and Lady Marjorie, in 1970s TV series Upstairs, Downstairs. She landed the title role in the BBC’s 10-episode 1977 mini-series Anna Karenina. Performances in Harold Pinter plays, notably 1985’s Old Times, also defined her 30-year stage and screen career – as did starring alongside David Jason in 1989’s ITV comedy drama A Bit of a Do.

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Charlotte Cornwell

Rock Follies actress

The TV and film actress was best known for her lead role – alongside Rula Lenska and Julie Covington – in the Bafta-winning 1970s ITV series Rock Follies. The show followed the fictional female rock band the Little Ladies. In addition to numerous screen appearances, Charlotte Cornwell was also a star of stage – including spells with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Her half-brother was the spy author, John le Carré.

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Sir Antony Sher 

Award-winning stage and screen actor

Widely regarded as one of the country’s finest contemporary classical actors, Sir Antony Sher had a long association with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Raised in South Africa, he had elocution classes in his early teens, which helped him overcome the shyness he had felt as a boy. He played many of the great Shakespearean roles, from King Lear to Shylock – but it was his portrayal of Richard III as a villainous hunchback on crutches which won him an Olivier Award in 1985.

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Paul Ritter

Friday Night Dinner and Chernobyl actor

Played dad Martin Goodman in the popular Channel 4 comedy Friday Night Dinner. The show’s creator, Robert Popper, described him as “a deeply clever, funny, intelligent, kind man” who also had “the common touch”. A familiar face elsewhere on stage and screen, Paul Ritter also starred in Sky drama Chernobyl and played Eldred Worple in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. His other TV credits included Vera, Belgravia, Cold Feet and No Offence.

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John Challis

Only Fools and Horses actor

John Challis (l) with Roger Lloyd Pack, Sir David Jason and Kenneth MacDonald

John Challis (l) with Roger Lloyd Pack, Sir David Jason and Kenneth MacDonald

Played unscrupulous second-hand car dealer Terrance Aubrey Boyce – better known as Boycie – in BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Co-star Sir David Jason described John Challis as “a wonderful actor” and “a gentleman in the true sense of the word”. Boycie was so popular with viewers that he and his long-suffering wife Marlene ended up in their own spin-off show – The Green Green Grass – when Only Fools and Horses ended its long run. More recently, John Challis played Monty Staines in the ITV show Benidorm.

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Johnny Briggs

Coronation Street actor

Johnny Briggs played Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street for 30 years. Baldwin’s affair with Deidre Barlow, played by Anne Kirkbride – and his feud with her husband Ken, played by William Roache – were long-running ratings hits for the show. “Mike Baldwin and Ken Barlow were arch enemies for many years, but as an actor, Johnny was impeccable, always good, and I was so fortunate to have worked with him for so many years,” said Roache in his tribute.

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Mark Eden

Coronation Street actor

Mark Eden as Alan Bradley, alongside Barbara Knox as Rita Fairclough

Mark Eden as Alan Bradley, alongside Barbara Knox as Rita Fairclough

The biggest role of Mark Eden’s long career was playing one of Coronation Street’s most notorious villains, Alan Bradley – who came to a sticky end when he was hit by a Blackpool tram while chasing Rita Fairclough, played by Barbara Knox. “I loved this man so much,” wrote actress Sally Ann Matthews, who played his daughter Jenny, in tribute. “Thank you for being the most wonderful TV dad, teacher and friend.”

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Gwyneth Guthrie

Take the High Road actress

Gwyneth Guthrie played Mrs Mack for 20 years in the long-running soap opera Take The High Road. The series – filmed on the banks of Loch Lomond – was made by Scottish Television and ran between 1980 and 2003. Her “wonderful comic timing and dramatic flair made her beloved across the UK,” said STV’s Managing Director of Broadcast Bobby Hain.

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Robert Fyfe

Last of the Summer Wine actor 

He was best known for playing Howard in the sitcom Last of the Summer Wine – Pearl’s henpecked husband, who was always trying to hide his passionate affair with Marina. Robert Fyfe joined the long-running BBC show in 1985 and remained until its final episode in 2010.

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Trevor Peacock

Vicar of Dibley actor 

Trevor Peacock (r) with the Vicar of Dibley cast

Trevor Peacock (r) with the Vicar of Dibley cast

He played the lovable but bumbling Jim Trott in the BBC comedy alongside its main star Dawn French. Parish council member Jim won viewers’ hearts with his catchphrase of “no no no no…”. Trevor Peacock was also an accomplished Shakespearean actor and a successful musician and songwriter – writing a number of pop hits performed by Herman’s Hermits, Adam Faith and Billy Fury.

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Ben Roberts

The Bill actor

He had an extensive career in theatre, TV and film but was best known for playing Ch Insp Derek Conway in The Bill from 1987 to 2002. The ITV series depicted life in a fictional police station – Sun Hill – in south London. Ben Roberts went on to appear in the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre and Tim Burton’s 2016 fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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Bernard Holley

Z-Cars and Doctor Who actor

For a time in the late 1960s and early 70s Bernard Holley was a household name – appearing in 277 episodes of police drama Z-Cars as PC Bill Newcombe. He also played two separate roles in Doctor Who, in 1967’s The Tomb Of The Cybermen episode and The Claws Of Axos in 1971. Holley appeared in numerous other TV shows, and was also a storyteller on the BBC children’s series Jackanory.

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Ronald Pickup

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Crown actor

Ronald Pickup’s career break came in 1964 with a role as a physician in Doctor Who episode The Tyrant Of France. He went on to work extensively in theatre, film and TV – from telling stories on children’s programme Jackanory to playing the Archbishop of Canterbury in The Crown in 2016. In the Marigold Hotel films in 2011 and 2015, he played the role of Norman Cousins.

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Dilip Kumar 

Legendary Indian actor

One of India’s earliest and most famous film stars, Dilip Kumar was “arguably the best actor Indian cinema has produced”, wrote Lord Meghnad Desai, eminent economist and Kumar’s biographer.

He performed in more than 65 films over nearly five decades. Some of the productions – Mela, Naya Daur, Ganga Jumna, Devdas and Mughal-e-Azam – were super-hits and won him legions of fans.

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Jean-Paul Belmondo

French film great 

Jean-Paul Belmondo’s laconic style and roguish smile first captured the imagination of French 1960s youth. He was the cool rebel of the new wave of cinema typified in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film classic, A Bout de Souffle. He went on to become a highly bankable commercial actor, as at home in comedy as in drama. Cinema audiences at home and abroad were drawn to his charm and seeming disregard for whatever absurdities were taking place on screen. Empire magazine named him one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history.

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Sally Ann Howes

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang star 

Sally Ann Howes first appeared on screen aged 12, and enjoyed a career that spanned six decades. She shone as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on New York’s Broadway in 1958. Five years later she was nominated for a Tony Award for best lead actress in a musical for her work in Brigadoon. On screen, she was best known for playing the role of Truly Scrumptious – the daughter of a confectionery magnate – in the 1968 musical film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, opposite Dick Van Dyke.

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Christopher Plummer

Star of The Sound of Music

Canadian actor Christopher Plummer was best known for his role as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. His co-star Dame Julie Andrews said the world had lost a consummate actor and she had lost a cherished friend. In 2012, he won an Oscar for the film Beginners – and was also nominated for The Last Station in 2010 and All the Money in the World in 2018. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – which awards the Oscars – said he had “beguiled audiences across generations”.

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Michael K Williams

The Wire star

Michael K Williams was best known for his complex portrayal of Omar Little, a gay, shotgun-toting robber of drug dealers, which helped cement The Wire’s game-changing depiction of life in the projects of Baltimore. Creator of the HBO series, David Simon, described Williams as “a fine man and a rare talent”. He was also known for playing gangster Albert “Chalky” White in the Prohibition period TV series Boardwalk Empire. Other TV credits included Lovecraft Country, The Night Of, Bessie and When They See Us.

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Cicely Tyson 

Pioneering Hollywood actress 

The former fashion model became known for portraying strong African-American characters in a career that spanned seven decades. Cicely Tyson won two Emmys for her 1974 performance in the civil rights-era film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She also became the first black woman to take on a main role, in the TV drama East Side/West Side in the 1960s.

Tyson turned down stereotypical roles for black women, agreeing only to play characters who were strong, positive and realistic. Paying tribute, former US first lady Michelle Obama said: “I smile knowing how many people she inspired, just like me, to walk a little taller, speak a little more freely, and live a little bit more like God intended.”

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George Segal

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? actor

George Segal was Oscar-nominated for his 1966 performance alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the celebrated adaptation of Edward Albee’s dark comedy-drama. He went on to play comic roles in shows like The Goldbergs and Just Shoot Me.

The actor, who developed a penchant for playing warm, everyman characters, was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in 2017. “I always try to find the humour and the irony in whatever character I am playing because I think of myself as a comedic actor,” Segal told in 2016. “So that makes drama a lot more fun for me by not taking it so seriously.”

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Ed Asner

Lou Grant and Up actor

Ed Asner was best known for playing fictional TV newsman Lou Grant – first introduced in 1970 as Mary Richards’ boss in the sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The character later got his own spin-off show from 1977 to 1982 – in which he became the irascible editor of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune. The role helped earn Asner seven Emmy awards across his career, a record for a male performer. In 2009, he became known to a new generation of audiences by playing elderly widower Carl Fredricksen in the animated Pixar film Up.

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Olympia Dukakis

Moonstruck and Steel Magnolias star 

Olympia Dukakis had a long and distinguished career in theatre, both as a performer and as a director – but in her 50s she starred in a series of hit film comedies, including an Oscar-winning turn as Cher’s mother in Moonstruck. That run – in the late 1980s – also included roles in Steel Magnolias, Working Girl and Look Who’s Talking. Other key roles were as a secondary school head teacher in 1995’s Mr Holland’s Opus and as a transgender landlady in the TV adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

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Jessica Walter

Arrested Development star

Jessica Walter was an award-winning US actress whose career spanned seven decades. She won an Emmy in the 1970s for her work on police drama Amy Prentiss – but was best known for playing the icy, sharp-tongued matriarch Lucille Bluth in the 2000s TV comedy Arrested Development. Director Ron Howard – the show’s narrator and producer – paid tribute to Walter, a “brilliant, funny, intelligent and strong” star who had delivered a “lifetime of laughs”.

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Ned Beatty

Deliverance, Superman and Toy Story 3 actor

A prolific performer known for his stocky build, Ned Beatty was once nicknamed “the busiest actor in Hollywood”. He made his screen debut in 1972’s Deliverance, in which his character is brutally assaulted during a canoeing expedition. In 1978’s Superman he was seen as Lex Luthor’s bumbling assistant Otis, a character who returned in 1980’s Superman II. He also starred in Network, All the President’s Men and was heard as menacing teddy bear Lotso in Toy Story 3.

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Norman Lloyd

Hitchcock and St Elsewhere actor

Born in New Jersey in 1914, Norman Lloyd began his career on stage and was a member of Orson Welles’ famed Mercury Theatre company in the 1930s. One of his earliest films was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 thriller Saboteur. Hitchcock cast him again in his 1945 film Spellbound and subsequently hired him to direct and produce episodes of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series. In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, he played stern headmaster Mr Nolan and – for six seasons – played Dr Daniel Auschlander in the TV drama St Elsewhere.

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Charles Grodin

Beethoven and The Heartbreak Kid actor

“One of the funniest people I ever met,” is how comedian Steve Martin paid tribute to the actor – who was also a familiar face on prime-time US talk shows. Charles Grodin was known for his comic roles in films such as Midnight Run and Beethoven – in which he played a short-tempered dad bedevilled by a slobbering, accident-prone St Bernard dog. In 1988, he won best actor at the 1988 Valladolid International Film Festival for his role in Midnight Run – an action-comedy with Robert De Niro. 

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James Michael Tyler

Friends actor

James Michael Tyler starred as Gunther in the hugely-successful US sitcom Friends, appearing in almost 150 episodes of the series which ran from 1994 to 2004. Tyler’s much-loved character worked in the show’s coffee house – Central Perk – and had a crush on Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel. “Thank you for the laughter you brought to the show and to all of our lives. You will be so missed,” said Aniston in tribute.

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Willie Garson

Sex and the City actor

He appeared in the popular HBO series Sex and the City with its four female leads, as Stanford Blatch, talent agent and friend of Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Born William Garson Paszamant in New Jersey in 1964, he took on small roles in several 1980s and 90s TV series – including Cheers, Family Ties, LA Law, The X-Files and Friends. His film credits include Groundhog Day, There’s Something About Mary and Fever Pitch – the 2005 US adaptation of Nick Hornby’s football-based novel.

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Dustin Diamond

Saved by the Bell star 

Dustin Diamond played Samuel “Screech” Powers in the popular US sitcom Saved by the Bell, about a group of high-school friends and their headmaster. It ran for four seasons from 1989 to 1993 and was a global hit.

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Suzzanne Douglas

Parent Hood actress 

She played Jerri Peterson in US sitcom The Parent ’Hood, which ran from 1995 to 1999 and followed the ups and downs of a middle-class black family in Harlem, New York. Suzzanne Douglas also appeared in Netflix’s When They See Us, as well as The Good Wife and NYPD Blue. In the 2015 biopic Whitney, she portrayed Cissy – the mother of singer Whitney Houston. 

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Yaphet Kotto

James Bond villain and Alien actor

Yaphet Kotto (c) in Live and Let Die with Roger Moore as James Bond

Yaphet Kotto (c) in Live and Let Die with Roger Moore as James Bond

Born in New York to a Cameroonian immigrant father and a US Army nurse, Yaphet Kotto made his professional theatre debut at the age of 19 in Othello – and later performed on Broadway in The Great White Hope. He won plaudits for his role as the first black Bond villain Dr Kananga – an evil Caribbean diplomat whose alter ego was a New York drug lord – in Live and Let Die, starring Sir Roger Moore.

In Ridley Scott’s Alien, he took the role of the space ship’s engineer Dennis Parker. His extensive list of film and TV credits also includes US TV police drama Homicide: Life on the Street and the 1980s action movies The Running Man and Midnight Run.

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Tanya Roberts

Bond actress and Charlie’s Angel

Tanya Roberts appeared with Sir Roger Moore in his final Bond film, 1985’s A View To A Kill, playing geologist Stacey Sutton. She also starred in the final series of Charlie’s Angels on TV in 1980 – joining Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd as third “Angel” Julie. She went on to play Midge Pinciotti in more than 80 episodes of sitcom That ’70s Show between 1998 and 2004.

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Marion Ramsey

Police Academy and Broadway star 

Marion Ramsey had an illustrious career on Broadway, starring in the 1978 production Eubie! – a musical about celebrated jazz pianist Eubie Blake. She also appeared in the original production of Hello, Dolly! She starred in six of the Police Academy films in the 1980s and 90s – and was adored by fans for her portrayal of the squeaky-voiced Officer Laverne Hooks.

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Roger Michell

Notting Hill director 

Roger Michell worked as an assistant director at London’s Royal Court Theatre before going on to become resident director at the Royal Shakespeare Company. His 1995 BBC film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion won a Bafta for best single drama – and he soon caught the eye of producer Richard Curtis, who asked him to direct Notting Hill.

The romantic comedy, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, became one of the highest-grossing British films of all time. “I am surprised and delighted that 20 years on people are still talking about it and celebrating it,” he said in an interview in 2020.

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Richard Donner

Superman and Goonies director

Richard Donner started in US television in the early 1960s, on series including The Twilight Zone and spy thriller The Man From Uncle – but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that he made his mark on Hollywood. His work on 1978’s Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, is often regarded as the first modern superhero film.

In 1985, Donner directed and produced comedy cult classic The Goonies, which tells the story of a group of children hunting for a hidden treasure. “Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favourite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and – of course – the greatest Goonie of all,” said director Steven Spielberg in tribute.

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Halyna Hutchins


Born in Ukraine in 1979, Halyna Hutchins grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle. After working on documentaries in the UK, she moved to Los Angeles and began working her way up in Hollywood. American Cinematographer magazine named her one of its rising stars in 2019. Hutchins died after being shot on the set of the film, Rust, where she had been working as director of photography.

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Melvin Van Peebles

‘Godfather of black cinema’

“Damn, we have lost another giant!” mourned Oscar-winner Spike Lee in his tribute to the pioneering US filmmaker. In 1967, Melvin Van Peebles’ first feature-length film – The Story of a Three-Day Pass – featured a black US soldier demoted for fraternising with a white girl in France. He went on to make the 1970 comedy Watermelon Man – about a white, racist 60s-era insurance salesman who wakes up to find he is black.

A year later, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song told the story of a black street hustler on the run from the police. At the time, Van Peebles said all films up until then had been told through the eyes of the Anglo-Saxon majority.

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