UPDATED: 9:30 a.m. ET., Oct. 31
While death is an inevitable part of life, that fact doesn’t make it any easier when it is reported that someone has died.
At NewsOne, we’re using this space as both a celebration as well as a commemoration of the lives of notable Black people who left their indelible marks on the planet while they were here with us.
Last week, the longest-serving Black Congressional staffer in U.S. history died.
Bertie Bowman, who worked on Capitol Hill for more than 60 years in various roles from the custodial to those of much more political significance, was 92. He died last Wednesday following multiple heart surgeries, NBC News reported.
More from NBC News:
Born the fifth of 14 children to sharecroppers in South Carolina, Bowman wrote in his 2008 autobiography “Step by Step” that his life changed in 1944 when, during a visit to his hometown, South Carolina Sen. Burnet Maybank told residents: “If you all ever get up to Washington, D.C., drop by and see me!”
Bowman, 13 at the time, took the senator’s word for it and ran away from home. He paid a visit to Maybank, who helped him secure a job sweeping the Capitol steps for $2 a week, according to his autobiography.
During more than 60 years in D.C., Bowman garnered a reputation for doing it all — he worked as a janitor, a cook and a shoe-shiner. He also bore witness to some of the most consequential periods in U.S. history, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision ending legal segregation in schools, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, among others.
In the 1960s, Bowman became a clerk for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later a hearing coordinator, according to CBS News. In 1966, he joined the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union as a volunteer on the credit committee and would go on to become a board member and chair.
Those remembering Bowman’s life include Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Bertie Bowman was a dedicated public servant,” Harris wrote on the social media app formerly known as Twitter. “The son of sharecroppers, Bertie served in the halls of Congress for more than 60 years. His unmatched devotion represents the best of our nation and the American people are forever grateful for his service. Doug and I send our prayers to Bertie’s family, friends, and all those who loved him.”
Keep reading below to learn more about the other notable Black people who have died this year.
Rest In Power: Notable Black People Who Have Died In 2023 was originally published on newsone.com
1. DJ Mark The 45 King, hip-hop producerSource:Getty
DJ Mark the 45 King, a legendary hip-hop producer behind hit songs for rappers like Jay-Z, Eminem and Queen Latifah, died on Oct. 18 at the age of 62.
2. Gail O’Neill, model and journalistSource:Getty
Gail O’Neill, a pioneering fashion model who later in life worked as a journalist, has died at the age of 61. Women’s Wear Daily first reported O’Neill’s death. She was reported to have died at her home in the Atlanta area on Oct. 12.
There was no official cause of O’Neill’s death immediately reported. However, ArtATL — a news publication for which O’Neill served worked as an editor — reported that she “had courageously fought a serious illness over the past two years.”
3. Rudolph Isley, singer and founder of the Isley Brothers
Rudolph Isley, founder of the famous singing group The Isley Brothers, died on Oct. 11 in Illinois at the age of 84, according to TMZ. His cause of death was not immediately confirmed, but sources told TMZ they believe he suffered a heart attack.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 1, 1939, Rudolph Isley started his music career in the church singing with his brothers, Ronald, O’Kelly, and Vernon. Rudolph would go on to create The Isley Brothers when he was just a teenager. After the passing of his brother Vernon, the three remaining Isley Brothers moved to New York to pursue their dream in music. In 1959, the group landed a deal with RCA and recorded their first song, “Shout.”
In the 1960’s the brothers went on to form their own label called T-Neck Records, dropping the Grammy-winning hit “It’s Your Thing” in 1969. Although Ron Isley was the main lead singer of the group, Rudolph also had extremely strong vocals and sometimes recorded lead vocals for the group.
Younger brothers Ernie and Marvin would also later join the group as they continued to record hits like “Fight the Power” and “Livin’ in the Life.”
In 1986, Rudolph’s older brother Kelly died in his sleep from a heart attack. Kelly’s death devastated Rudy and in 1989 he left the group and the music industry to become a Christian minister.
The Isley Brothers’ music would go on to inspire some of the most influential names in music, such as Jimmy Hendrix, Micheal Jackson, Boyz II Men, Usher and many more.
4. Charles Porter Jr., reporter and anchor
Charles Porter Jr., the first Black reporter and anchor in Houston, has died at the age of 81, due to a lingering illness, according to ABC 13.
Porter Jr., was known for his deep, resonating voice that could win over his most vocal critics. He worked for ABC 13 for eight years, from 1971 to 1978 and covered major events around the city, including the swearing-in of late-Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
Porter Jr. leaves behind two daughters and two sons, 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
We are sending our deepest condolences to the Ellis and Porter families during this time.
5. Hughes Van Ellis, Tulsa Race Massacre survivor
Hughes Van Ellis, one of three remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre died Monday morning in Denver, Colorado, at the age of 102, according to KJRH.
Ellis, who was only a year old during the Tulsa Race Massacre, was a proud U.S. Army Veteran who fought in WWII alongside the British.
Ellis told KJRH during a 2021 interview that they barely escaped the massacre with their lives and losing everything made it tough to survive.
“My sister Viola told me, she said it was thought guns were going off,” Van Ellis told KJRH. “Dad looked outside to see people getting gunshot, houses getting burned. So, there’s only six little kids. I was a baby. So, my father just managed to barely get out, just with the clothes on our backs. We didn’t have time to get nothing else together.”
Ellis also talked about his time in a very segregated army.
“Back then they had a Black army and they had a white army,” said Van Ellis. “You were treated differently than the white army. Sometimes you couldn’t get supplies you needed in the Black army. Sometimes they weren’t able to get you shoes, stuff like that, you know?”
In May 2021, Ellis and his sister Viola Fletcher, 109, who also survived the massacre, testified in front of Congress, sharing their story about living through one of America’s most tragic moments in history.
“I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home,” Fletcher said during his testimony. “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”
Their testimony was so compelling that President Joe Biden proclaimed May 31, 2021, a Day of Remembrance: 100 Years After The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
6. Zoleka Mandela
Zoleka Mandela passed away from cancer on the evening of September 25 at the young age of 43.
The granddaughter of South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela, was surrounded by friends and family in her final moments.
Mandela is seen as an inspiration for detailing her cancer treatment, her history of drug addiction, a suicide attempt and surviving the tragedy of losing two young children.
Her untimely death was announced by the Mandela family on September 26, revealing that although the breast cancer she had fought for years had been in remission, she had been diagnosed with cancer in her liver and lungs, which had metastasized and spread, according to the family.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation praised Zoleka, calling her a “beloved grandchild” to Nelson Mandela while praising her work raising awareness of cancers and being a true inspiration to women around the world.
Zoleka Mandela’s life was full of overcoming hardships and pushing through many tough times. During childhood, she suffered sexual abuse and as a teen battled through drug and alcohol addiction. In 2010, her 13-year-old daughter, Zenani, was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver.
“I hadn’t seen my daughter for 10 days before her passing, and I hadn’t because I chose to use drugs,” Mandela said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2013. “That’s obviously a reminder that I chose my addiction over my kids and I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Since her daughter’s death, she has worked tirelessly to bring attention to both cancer awareness and also for road safety, gaining admiration for her work in both fields.
Zoleka Mandela has raised “awareness about cancer prevention” as well as “breaking down the stigma surrounding the disease.”
7. Irish GrinsteadSource:General
Irish Grinstead, who rose to prominence in the late 1990s as one-third of the award-winning R&B trio 702, has died, according to her sister. The announcement was posted on Instagram and reported that the singer died on Saturday following a “long battle.” She was 43.
“It is with great sadness that I have to let you know that my beautiful sister and friend has passed away this evening,” LeMisha Grinstead, who is a current member of 702, wrote in an Instagram post late Saturday night. “She has had a long battle and she is finally at peace.”
LeMisha Grinstead eulogized her “beautiful” sister and group mate.
As part of 702, Irish saw mainstream success with hits like “Steelo” and “Where My Girls At,” among others.
The trio also saw a Billboard win with Missy Elliott‘s hit record, “Beep Me 911.” The song also featured a cameo by rapper Magoo, who passed away in August of 2023. He was 50 years old.
702 went through several iterations of the group with several different members. However, Irish Grinstead was a constant throughout it all.
The group is named for the area code of Las Vegas, where Irish was a high school student when she and her group mates were discovered by comedian Sinbad. Afterward, New Edition legend and music mogul Mike Bivins began managing the group. The rest, as they say, is history.
The group three studio albums between 1996 and 2003, and in 2018, 702 announced a reunion tour featuring Irish, LeMisha and Kameelah Williams, an original member.
Irish Grinstead’s death comes more than 15 years after her twin sister, Orish, an original member of 702, died from kidney failure.
8. David Mack III, Lawmaker and Radio Host
Former South Carolina lawmaker and radio host, David Mack III, died September 20 at the age of 69. According to friends and colleagues, Mack had been undergoing cancer treatments, but the specific cause of death has not been announced.
David Mack III served in South Carolina’s House District 109 from 1997 to 2021. He was a committed supporter of civil rights and equality for Black people not only in his hometown of North Charleston but also state and nationwide.
Mack also served on the board of the S.C. Coalition for Black Voter Participation, the Progressive Network, Hollings Cancer Center and was a member of the North Charleston branch of the NAACP.
In the 80’s Mack wrote columns for the The Chronicle newspaper before transitioning into a radio host called the David Mack Radio Show. He was also the president of his own media company Sunrise Communications.
“A wise man always willing to find solutions rather than complain about challenges, Rep. Mack was not only a dedicated member of the SCLBC (S.C. Legislative Black Caucus) and former chairman, but also a true leader, and a friend to all,” SCLBC Chair Ivory Thigpen told the Post and Courier. “His leadership and his voice will be very much missed.”
9. Mike Williams, NFL PlayerSource:Getty
Former NFL wide receiver Mike Williams died Tuesday at St. Joseph’s Hospital from injuries sustained in a construction accident two weeks ago. He was only 36 years old. His death was confirmed by his agent, Hadley Engelhard.
According to AP, Mike Williams was injured at a construction site in Hillsborough County. He was immediately put on a ventilator but was removed from life support on Thursday.
Williams was an accomplished NFL wide receiver who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills from 2010-14. He was a standout college player at Syracuse University and was drafted in the fourth round by the Bucs. As a rookie, he had 11 touchdowns with 65 catches. In 2014, he was traded to Buffalo, where he grew up as a child. He would later play a short stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Williams exploded onto the scene in 2010, finishing second in Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year voting to then-St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. The wideout started in all 16 games that season and hauled in 11 touchdowns and 964 receiving yards on 65 receptions. He had another big season in 2012, turning in nine TDs and 996 yards.
The Buccaneers organization released a statement sending their condolences to the family.
“We are saddened to hear of the untimely death of Mike Williams, which has left our organization, his former teammates and fans with very heavy hearts,” said the Bucs organization. “We send our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones as they mourn this tragedy.”
10. Brandon Hunter, NBA Player
Former NBA player Brandon Hunter died this week at the age of 42. His cause of death has not been publicly released. Hunter was a standout player at Ohio University, earning three All-MAC First Team awards. The Cincinnati native was the 56th overall pick in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft. He played his NBA ball with the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.
“We are terribly saddened to learn of the loss of our former teammate, Brandon Hunter,” the team said in a statement. “We send our deepest condolences to the entire Hunter family.”
11. Bill Pinkney, American Sailor
Bill Pinkney, the first Black American to sail around the world solo via the Capes died this week at the age of 87.
According to reports, Pinkney died after complications from falling down a staircase. He suffered a serious brain injury from the fall.
Captain Bill Pinkney was most known for his adventures on the water. In 1992 the Black sailor sailed around the world by himself, leaving from Boston, sailing around Cape Horn and returning to Boston.
“My original plan was to sail around the world on a 35-footer as inspiration for my two grandchildren, Pinkney told Boat US. “It became something much bigger when I got some sponsorship, added an educational component, and ultimately developed a curriculum for school kids in Chicago and Boston.”
One of Pinkney’s greatest memories from his trip around the world was sailing around South Africa just weeks after Nelson Mandela was released from jail after almost three decades in prison.
“I sailed past Robben Island, where he’d been imprisoned, flying a red, black, and green spinnaker, the colors of the African liberation movement,” Pinkney told Boat US. “As an afterthought, I should’ve put a big yellow Star of David on there as well [laughing], because I’m Jewish.”
Pinkney also made it a mission to sail the Middle Passage slave trade routes and has won a handful of awards, including being inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2021 and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award. He also would go on to write a children’s book about his experiences as a Black sailor.
“I had some tough times, I got knocked down twice, passed through two hurricanes, almost got run over by a big ship, it’s all adversity, but it ends. You have to stick to your guns and keep moving forward and it will end,” Pinkney once told Fox 32.
“Being Black never stopped Bill,” said his window Migdalia. “Being Black never stopped Bill. The racism in the U.S. never stopped Bill. People telling him he couldn’t do things never stopped him. People telling him he was too old–He did sail around the world when he was 55! If he believed people that he was old, he would have never done it.”
From Atlanta First News:
Pinkney was not the first Black man to sail around the world alone; that honor belongs to Teddy Seymour, who completed the journey by sailing through the Panama and Suez Canals.
Seymour completed the trip in 1987. According to the Bay State Banner, he traveled through the Suez Canal to avoid Durban, South Africa, which was still under a racist apartheid policy.
His trip around the world was over 27,000 miles and took 22 months to complete.
Pinkney also sailed the Great Lakes as well as several oceans for over his 30-year career on the water.
12. Clarence Avant, music executive and businessmanSource:Getty
Clarence Avant, the music industry veteran executive and businessman who became known as “The Black Godfather” of the entertainment business, died on Sunday. He was 92 years old.
USA Today reported that Avant’s family confirmed the death on Monday.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” the family said in part of a statement about the man who the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as ‘The Black Godfather’ in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports.”
More from USA Today:
Avant, a North Carolina native, became a pillar in entertainment after moving to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. There, he formed Sussex Records in 1969, which signed Sixto Rodriguez and soul singer Bill Withers, who released hits “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me” and “Lean on Me,” while signed to the label.
The cause of Avant’s death was not immediately reported.
13. DJ CasperSource:Getty
DJ Casper, the Chicago native who birthed an international dance craze with the “Cha Cha Slide,” died. He was 58 years old.
Born Willie Perry Jr, Casper had been diagnosed with kidney and liver cancer in 2016. His time in the limelight began with the “Cha Cha Slides” released in 2000. The record, which was accompanied by a dance, topped music charts in the United States and abroad. Even twenty years later, the track remains a popular song of choice at parties, celebrations and sporting events.
Earlier this year, Casper told Chicago’s ABC7 that even he was surprised that the song became a global phenomenon.
“When I first did it, I did it as an aerobic exercise for my nephew at Bally’s,” Casper said. “From there, it just took off. Elroy Smith from WGCI grabbed ahold of it.”
During his interview, Casper reflected on the lasting impact the “Cha Cha Slide” made on an international scale.
“I have one of the biggest songs that played at all stadiums: hockey, basketball, football, baseball; they played it at the Olympics,” Casper said. “It was something that everybody could do.”
Casper also talked about his health complications, encouraging his fans to keep pushing.
“I used to weigh 236 pounds, and I think I’m about 60 pounds less,” Casper told ABC7. “If you know me, you know I’m not going to stop. I’m going to continue to go. I’m going to continue to go until I can’t go.”
He continued, “Anybody that’s going through cancer, know that you have cancer and cancer does not have you,” Casper said. “So, keep on doing the ‘Cha Cha Slide.’”
Let’s keep DJ Casper and his family in our thoughts and prayers.
14. Sheila Oliver, New Jersey Lieutenant GovernorSource:Getty
New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver has died at the age of 71, according to her family.
Oliver was the first Black woman to serve in the statewide-elected position. Her cause of death was not disclosed by the family.
“She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero,” the Oliver family said in a statement to CNN. “Sheila Y. Oliver leaves behind a legacy of dedication, service, and inspiration. We will remember her commitment to the people of New Jersey and her tireless efforts to uplift the community.”
Sheila Oliver was a woman of many firsts. She was a graduate of Lincoln University and obtained her Master’s from Columbia University
Oliver has served as the state’s lieutenant governor since January 2018. Not only was she the first Black woman to hold the position, but also the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in the history of New Jersey. Oliver also served as speaker of the state general assembly in 2003, becoming the first Black woman to achieve that feat as well.
Gov. Phil Murphy said he and his family were “incredibly saddened and distraught” when they found out about Oliver’s passing.
Murphy issued a statement about the tragic loss calling Oliver a trailblazer.
“When I selected her to be my running mate in 2017, Lieutenant Governor Oliver was already a trailblazer in every sense of the word,” Murphy said in a statement to CNN. “She had already made history as the first Black woman to serve as Speaker of the General Assembly, and just the second Black woman in the nation’s history to lead a house of a state legislature. I knew then that her decades of public service made her the ideal partner for me to lead the State of New Jersey. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Oliver’s colleagues remembered her as a “compassionate and accomplished legislator.”
“Sheila will be remembered as a pioneer in public service paving the way for so many women, but most of all I will remember her for the thoughtful compassion with which she approached the legislative process,” Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald said in a statement to CBS News.
“She never forgot what this work was all about: the people, said Attorney General Matt Platkin. “And she always believed things could get better – better for an individual, better for a community, better for a state. The world needs more Sheila Olivers. May she rest in peace.”
15. John Beasley, actorSource:Getty
Hollywood actor John Beasley has died at the age of 79. His death which, was confirmed by his son Tyrone Beasley, comes after John had been undergoing tests on his liver. His condition unexpectedly worsened right before his passing.
John Beasley appeared in movies and Broadway plays for the past two decades. One of his most memorable roles came in 1993 when Beasley played an assistant coach in the famous football movie Rudy. That same year Beasley also starred in Losing Isaiah across from Halle Berry.
His movie list is quite remarkable. He also starred in The Mighty Ducks, The Apostle, Little Big League, The Sum of All Fears, as well as the remake of Walking Tall and most recently the 2022 film Firestarter.
Beasley also spent quite some time onstage. He recently appeared on a Chicago Broadway musical The Notebook, which is based on the book which became a very popular film in 2004. Beasley appeared on TV as well, appearing on shows like Missing Persons, Early Edition, CSI, Judging Amy, Boston Legal, Treme and The Mandalorian.
“Man…you know this is a part of life…but that doesn’t make it any easier,” wrote Tyrone. “I lost my best friend today. They say you shouldn’t ever meet your heroes because they don’t turn out to be who you thought they were. That is so wrong. My hero was my father. Thank you for everything. I hope I made you proud. Love you more.”
16. Jim Brown, football player, activistSource:Getty
Jim Brown, the football legend who also became an activist, actor and overall mainstay in popular culture, has died at the age of 87. The Associated Press reported that Brown died Thursday night at his home in Los Angeles. No cause of death was immediately reported.
From the AP:
One of the greatest players in football history and one of the game’s first superstars, Brown was chosen the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1965 and shattered the league’s record books in a short career spanning 1957-65.
Brown led the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 before retiring in his prime after the ’65 season to become an actor. He appeared in more than 30 films, including “Any Given Sunday” and “The Dirty Dozen.”
An unstoppable runner with power, speed and endurance, Brown’s arrival sparked the game’s burgeoning popularity on television. When he finished playing, Brown became a prominent leader in the Black power movement during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
Aside from professional football, Brown also enjoyed a lengthy career as an actor in Hollywood, where he would star and appear in productions for four decades.
In the 1960s, Brown became actively involved in the civil rights movement and founded the Black Economic Union, which focuses on community revitalization “while stimulating economic growth for existing independently owned area businesses,” according to its website.
Decades later, Brown founded the Amer-I-Can Foundation, an academic-centered organization serving “at-risk and high risk youth in underserved schools and juvenile detention facilities,” its website says.
In later years, Brown’s political activity turned slightly to the right; namely during Donald Trump’s presidency, which Brown would often defend.
While Brown never offered his full-throated endorsement of Trump, he also would not condemn it.
During a memorable meeting in the White House attended by both the press as well as rapper Kanye West, Brown spoke glowingly of Trump.
“We had the opportunity to meet with the President of the United States which everybody doesn’t have that privilege,” Brown told reporters back in 2018. “With me, at 82 years old, the only thing I could talk about was how to help other people. So, it was very positive.”
“This is the President of the United States,” Brown added. “He allowed me to be invited to his territory, he treated us beautifully, and he shared some thoughts, and he will be open to talking when I get back to him. That’s the best he could do for me.”
17. Bill Perkins, Harlem politicianSource:Getty
Bill Perkins, the venerable New York City politician who served in the city council and state senate over the course of several decades representing his hometown of Harlem, has died at the age of 74. He died on the night of May 15 in his Harlem home, his wife confirmed with the Amsterdam News.
“After a lifetime fighting for justice, equality and to make the of our community heard, my husband, former City Councilman and State Senator died at his home in Harlem, the community he loved and fought for his entire life” Pamela Green Perkins said in a statement. “May he rest in peace and power.”
No cause of death was immediately reported.
Perkins, a Democrat, was remembered by the New York Daily News as a politician who “emerged as a leading progressive voice — a supporter of the Central Park Five, an early voice against the Iraq War and for LGBT rights.”
Perkins served in the New York state senate from 2007 to 2017. He was first elected to the New York City Council in 1997.
When his city council term limit expired in 2005, he ran for Manhattan Borough President. While he came up short in that race, the loss paved the way for Perkins’ successful run in the state senate, where he would serve for a decade.
18. Oakland Athletics v Baltimore OriolesSource:Getty
Vida Blue, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher who led the Oakland Athletics franchise to win three straight World Series in the 1970s, died on May 13 at the age of 73. It was neither immediately clear where Blue died nor the cause of his death.
The Oakland A’s eulogized Blue on Twitter with a brief statement acknowledging the death and explaining why he meant so much to the ball club.
“There are few players with a more decorated career than Vida Blue, the team statement began. “He was a three-time champion, an MVP, a six-time All-Star, a Cy Young winner, and an Oakland A’s Hall of Famer. Vida will always be a franchise legend and a friend. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends during this arduous time.”
The New York Times reported how Blue energized fan bases of all MLB teams, not just the A’s, because of his legendary pitching prowess.
Opposing hitters spoke mystically of how Blue’s fastballs would disappear or jump over their bats. Reporters speculated about why he carried two dimes in his pocket when he pitched, with some suggesting it was a charm to help him win 20 games. Across the country, attendance at his outings swelled to levels that stadiums had not seen in years. Fans of an opposing team, the Detroit Tigers, chanted outside the clubhouse, “We want Vida!”
Blue also made Black history as a pitcher.
During the 1971 season, he and Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates were both names starting pitchers for that year’s all-star game, the first time two Black pitchers started each other in MLB all-star game history.
19. Tori Bowie, track and field championSource:Getty
Tori Bowie, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field, has died at the young age of 32. The death of Bowie, who was found dead in her Florida home, was confirmed by the athlete’s sports management agency.
“We’re devasted to share the very sad news that Tori Bowie has passed away,” Icon Management Inc. tweeted on May 3. “We’ve lost a client, dear friend, daughter and sister. Tori was a champion…a beacon of light that shined so bright! We’re truly heartbroken and our prayers are with the family and friends.”
No cause of Bowie’s death was reported, according to TMZ.
20. Larry “Gator” Rivers, Harlem Globetrotters legendSource:Getty
Former Harlem Globetrotter and Georgia high school basketball legend Larry “Gator” Rivers, died April 29 at the age of 73 after losing his battle with cancer. Rivers died at a hospital in his hometown of Savannah, according to Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis.
Larry Rivers was a pioneer for high school basketball in the state of Georgia. Rivers participated on the all-Black Beach High School team that won the first Georgia High School Association basketball tournament to include Black and white players in 1967. By the time he was a senior, River was an all-state hooper and would go on to be an all-American talent Moberly Junior College in Missouri.
After college, Larry Rivers went on to play and coach for 16 seasons with the Harlem Globetrotters, a traveling exhibition basketball team that originated in 1926 and was a place where talented Black players could show the world their skills.
After Rivers’ basketball career, he returned back to Savannah and become involved in the community. He volunteered in schools and promoted the rebuilding of neighborhood basketball courts. He eventually ran for county commission in 2020 and was elected after his opponent was disqualified.
21. Harry Belafonte, singer, actor, activistSource:Getty
Actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte has died at the age of 96, according to the New York Times.
The actor, who was a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, died Tuesday morning of congestive heart failure. His death was confirmed by his publicist Ken Sunshine.
Harry Belafonte was a pioneer in so many ways. He’s arguably one of the most successful Caribbean-American signers of all time. His first album Calypso, which premiered in 1956, sold over a million records. With hit songs like “The Banana Boat Song,” and “Jump In The Line,” Harry Belafonte’s rise to fame was inevitable. He would go on to perform on Broadway and star in numerous mega films such as Bright Road and Island In The Sun.
But music wasn’t Belafonte’s only passion. His support for the Civil Rights Movement ultimately defined who he was as a person. Belafonte was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants, often helping the family finically since King only made an honest living as a preacher.
Belafonte, along with Sidney Poitier, also helped bankroll the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” of 1964. He also served as chairman of the International Symposium of Artists and Intellectuals for African Children in Dakar, Senegal. Belafonte successfully leveraged his entertainment popularity to help drive social change all over the world.
Friends, family and fans took to social media to celebrate Harry Belafonte’s legacy and remember the leader, entertainer and civil rights pioneer.
“May Harry Belafonte, the lionhearted civil rights hero, rest in peace,” tweeted journalist Christian Amanpour. “He inspired generations around the whole world in the struggle for non-violent resistance justice and change. We need his example now more than ever.”
Educator Nina Turner tweeted a perfect Belafonte quote that eloquently sums up his legacy.
“I was an activist who became an artist, I was not an artist who became an activist.” – Harry Belafonte
22. Otis Redding IIISource:Getty
Otis Redding III, the youngest son of the iconic soul singer who became a revered musician in his own right, has died at the age of 59.
As reported by ABC affiliate WGXA in Macon, GA, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones confirmed Redding’s death at a local hospital on Tuesday (Apr. 18), following a battle with cancer.
His sister, Karla Redding-Andrews, posted a statement on the Facebook page of the family charity, the Otis Redding Foundation:
Born in 1963, Otis III was only three when his famous father died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. However, Otis III and his older brother, Dexter, would keep their father’s musical legacy alive with their funk band, The Reddings.
The Reddings would achieve moderate success, releasing six studio albums between 1980 and 1988. Their singles included “Remote Control” (peaking at #6 on Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart) and “Call The Law” (#16 on Hot Black Singles).
Following the band’s breakup in 1988, Otis III continued to tour on the Soul/Blues circuit. He also worked with the family’s foundation to organize summer camps for kids to learn music and served as board president for the local chapter of Meals on Wheels.
23. Howell Wayans
One of the most influential Black families in Hollywood is mourning the loss of a loved one. According to reports, Howell Wayans died on April 1 at the age of 86. His death was confirmed by Marlon Wayan’s rep to E! News. No cause of death has been revealed.
Howell Wayans is the father to Keenan Ivory, Damon, Shawn, Dwayne, Kim, Nadia, Elvira, Diedra, Vonnie and Marlon. Their family is arguably the most successful Black family in Entertainment. Howell Wayans lost his wife Elvira in 2020.
Howell’s children took to social to express their emotions around their father’s loss and touched on their dad’s legacy.
“Thank you Pop for being an example of a Man to all your boys. I pray all young black boys can grow up to be a Man like you,” Marlon wrote on Instagram. “Baby boy loves you. And if ever i need you i know exactly where to find you… in my Bible that now sits by bed. Rest well. Kiss Ma for me. Tell her her babies miss her,” the actor continued. “I got two angels. I feel y’all lifting me already.”
Diedra also took to Instagram to share a heartfelt message about her father.
“My Heart is Heavy,” she wrote on her Instagram. “I thank God for allowing Us to have so many years of love, memories and great parents. The kind that never gave up on their kids. I know I was a handful but through y’all tough love, discipline and devotion, I became a phenomenal woman just like you Momta. A Spiritual woman like you Dad. And so it ends with a beautiful love story. Back together again. I can only imagine the joy y’all experienced seeing and holding each other again.”
Howell raised 10 of his children in NYC alongside his late wife, Elvira, who died three years ago. That includes several who went on to be incredibly successful in showbiz … Marlon, Shawn, Damon, Kim and Keenen. Just about all of the siblings have touched entertainment in one way or another … and have all enjoyed successful careers in their own right.
Howell has been described by his loved ones as a disciplinarian and a hard worker who instilled core tenets and values in all of his kids.
24. Willis Reed, NBA hall of famerSource:Getty
NBA Hall of Famer and Knicks legend, Willis Reed, has died at the age of 80 according to multiple reports.
In 2018, Reed underwent surgery after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
Willis Reed was arguably the greatest Knicks player of all time. The two-time NBA Finals MVP was a member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th-anniversary team, named an All-Star five times and Reed and won league MVP in the 1969-70 season. He was also named to the All-NBA team five times. Reed was also a Louisiana native and standout at Grambling State University.
Although undersized, the 6-foot-10, 235-pound center averaged nearly 19 points and 13 rebounds during his career. Reed is also one of three players to ever win All-Star MVP, NBA MVP, and NBA Finals MVP in the same season. The only other players to achieve this feat are Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
His most famous moment came during Game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. After a thigh injury had sidelined him in the previous game, Reed shocked the Madison Square Garden crowd by walking onto the court during warmups.
He scored the Knicks’ first two field goals and went on to win Finals MVP as the Knicks won the franchise’s first championship. Reed was again named Finals MVP two seasons later after New York’s second title.
Reed’s career was cut short by injuries, and he retired shortly after the second title run. He went on to briefly coach the Knicks before taking over at Creighton from 1981-85.
He eventually joined the New Jersey Nets in 1988, first as a coach and then as a member of the front office, helping to build the franchise into a championship contender in the early 2000s.
Reed’s legacy as one of the greatest basketball players to ever live will never die.
25. Lance Reddick, actorSource:Getty
Lance Reddick, the actor widely known for his role in the hit cable crime drama, “The Wire,” has died, according to reports.
First reported by TMZ, Reddick was found dead at his home in California on Friday morning. His cause of death was not immediately reported.
TMZ reported that law enforcement said the death of the 60-year-old “appears to be natural.”
NBC News published a statement from Reddick’s publicist asking to respect the actor’s grieving family’s privacy.
“Acclaimed actor Lance Reddick passed away suddenly this morning from natural causes,” Mia Hansen said. “Lance will be greatly missed. Please respect his family’s privacy at this time.”
Reddick also made a name for starring in the John Wick movie series, the latest of which he had been in the middle of promoting when he died.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is scheduled to be released in movie theaters on March 24.
Reddick rose to fame playing the character of Baltimore Police Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, who appeared in all five seasons of “The Wire” on HBO.
Acting wasn’t Reddick’s only talent in the arts.
In 2011, he released his first album, “Contemplations and Rememberances.”
He previously attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he studied classical composition. He also played piano and said he always wanted to be a musician, but the acting jobs came first, which allowed him to take care of his family.
Reddick is survived by his wife, Stephanie Reddick, and two children, daughter Yvonne Nicole and son Christopher Reddick.
26. Felton Spencer, former NBA playerSource:Getty
Before Spencer took his talents to the NBA, he was a standout student-athlete at the University of Louisville. Spencer ended his college career with h 1,168 points and 694 rebounds. He also holds the school record for career field goal percentage (62.8%). During his time at the school, he helped the Cardinals win three consecutive Metro Conference tournaments and two Sweet 16 appearances.
27. Otis Taylor, NFL Player
Former NFL wide receiver and Hall of Famer Otis Taylor died last week at the age of 80. According to his family, Taylor had been battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia for more than a decade. According to ESPN, the former Kansas City Chiefs star was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and associated dementia in 1990, and in 2012, his family filed a lawsuit against the NFL claiming it was legally responsible for health issues he experienced beginning with seizures in 1969.
Taylor spent all 10-plus years of his career in Kansas City, where he was a fourth-round pick out of Prairie View A&M in the 1965 AFL draft. He went on to have two 1,000-yard seasons during an era in which the passing game was still evolving, and he finished his career with 7,306 receiving yards and 57 touchdown catches.
“My family and I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Otis’ wife Regina, his sister Odell and the entire Taylor family as we mourn his passing,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. “He was one of the most dynamic receivers of his era, and he helped revolutionize the position. Off the field, he was kind and dedicated to his community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Otis’ legacy will live forever.”
28. Johanna Mazibuko, world’s oldest personSource:Twitter
Johanna Mazibuko, the oldest woman in South Africa, recently died following a long life of 128 years. Prior to her death on March 3, Mazibuko was believed to have been the oldest person living in the world.
Johanna Mazibuko, who was born on May 11, 1894, died two months before she was set to turn 129.
The cause of Mazibuko’s death was not immediately confirmed.
Local media outlet News 24 reported:
Speaking to News24 on Tuesday, her caregiver and daughter-in-law Thandiwe Wesinyana, better known as MmaLerato, said Mazibuko may have died from a stroke.
“Ouma [Mazibuko] wasn’t feeling well, so I took her to the hospital on 14 February. At the hospital, the left side of her body was numb, and doctors said it might be a stroke. She was given high blood medication and painkillers, then discharged on 28 February,” said Mmalerato.
Mazibuko spent three days at home and died the next day.
MmaLerato said she was at the supermarket when Mazibuko died. Her sister Elisa was by her side.
On my return, it started raining heavily as I entered the yard. I ran into the house, put my plastics down, and immediately boiled the kettle to make tea. While I was doing that, her sister, Elisa, said, ‘Ouma is gone’.
Mazibuko said last year that she was “amazed” at how long she had been able to live while also questioning the reasoning for her longevity.
“I am amazed at why I am still here after so many years. Why am I still here? People around me have been dying,” Mazibuko told News 24 at the time. “When will I die? What’s the point of being alive? The world has tired me because I am just sitting here doing nothing.”
Chances are that Mazibuko was indeed the oldest person living, and perhaps even the oldest person of all time.
Previously, a French woman who died in 1997 was recognized as being the oldest person in history.
Jeanne Calment, who was born in the late 1800s like Mazibuko, lived to be 122 years old.
29. Wayne Shorter, jazz legendSource:Getty
Legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter died on March 2 at the age of 89 in Los Angeles. His death was confirmed by his publicist Alisse Kingsley.
The saxophonist and composer was one of the most influential jazz musicians on the planet.
Coming in prominence in the 1950s, Shorter was the primary composer for Art Blakey’s Bass Messengers. He would later partner with Miles Davis joining his Second Great Quintet, then co-founding the world-renowned jazz fusion band Weather Report.
Shorter composed 20 albums as a bandleader of the Weather Report. He also recorded several albums for Blue Note Records, composing the majority of the music.
30. Zandra Flemister
U.S. Secret Service agent Zandra Flemister has died at the age of 71. She was the first Black woman to serve as a special agent for the Secret Service. According to reports, Flemister died from Alzheimer’s complications. Flemister is remembered a pioneer at the agency although she said she left because of racial discrimination.
She went on to spend over three decades as a foreign service officer, rising to the upper ranks of senior foreign service before Alzheimer’s disease forced her to retire in 2011. She did so while juggling family responsibilities, including raising her son, who was diagnosed with autism as a child.
“The level of accomplishments that my wife managed … under the conditions that she lived, that to me says a hell of a lot about the woman,” Flemister’s husband, John Collinge, told NPR in a phone interview.
Flemister’s death — of Alzheimer’s complications and publicized in a Washington Post obituary — has renewed attention to her trailblazing stint at the Secret Service in the 1970s.
“I’ve gotten an incredible outpouring from Black women Secret Service agents past and present, and they are looking to her now as, I guess I would say, a forgotten pioneer who has been rescued from oblivion,” Collinge said, of the emails and calls he has gotten in recent days.
31. Irv Cross, NFL Player and sport analystSource:Getty
Former NFL player Irv Cross has died at the age of 81. Cross, who was the first Black full-time sports analyst on national television, suffered from stage 4 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, according to Boston University researchers. The degenerative brain disease made life tough for Cross in his final days as he suffered from depression, mood swings and memory loss that forced him into isolation.
“He really didn’t want to be with people,” said his widow, Liz Cross. “The only person he wanted to be with was me. When he was with me, he really didn’t want to be with me. He just wanted me to be there.”
Cross was diagnosed with mild cognitive dementia in 2018, and his family says after the diagnosis he often sat in a chair complaining of headaches that never went away. He also stopped going to church, could barely watch football anymore and struggled physically with his balance and was paranoid.
Toward the end,” Cross said, “he saw things that weren’t there.”
Irv Cross, of course, was not alone in misery among his former NFL brethren. According to its latest report, the BU CTE Center said it has diagnosed 345 former NFL players with CTE out of 376 former players who were studied, a rate of 91.7%. The disease can be diagnosed only after death.
“He was the nicest, kindest, most helpful, wonderful man I ever met,” Cross said. “But that wasn’t who he was at the end. And that wasn’t who he was. It was the disease that did that.”
Dr. Ann McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, said she was not surprised Irv Cross’ brain reached stage 4 given the length of his overall football career (the study counted 17 years) and his age. Irv Cross and his family made the decision to donate his brain to help raise awareness of the long-term consequences of repeated blows to the head.
“I do think there’s more education about the risks of football and I do think there’s more awareness of concussion management but I still think we’re way, way behind where we should be,” McKee said. “We need to educate young athletes that this is a risk that they are undertaking. We need to educate coaches to keep head trauma out of the game. We need to do more managing of athletes by monitoring them better. I still think there’s a very cavalier attitude toward CTE. There’s a lot of denial.”
Cross was an outstanding NFL player, During his career, he was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who had 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles, and two defensive touchdowns. In 1971 he joined CBA and became the first Black network sports show anchor. Although CTE made it hard on Cross towards the end of his life, his wife said he never regretted playing football.
“He would have done it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “But he didn’t think kids should play football.”
32. Oi Fashion Rocks In Rio – Charity AuctionSource:Getty
Glória Maria, a pioneering broadcast journalist in Brazil who is widely believed to be the country’s first Black TV reporter of African descent, died on Feb. 2 at the age of 73.
The New York Times reported that Maria “toppled barriers for Black women in television at a time when the country’s anchor chairs were mostly filled by white men.”
Globo, her longtime employer, said in an announcement that the cause was a cancer that she had seemingly beaten in 2019, but that returned last year and had spread to her brain.
Glória Maria spent more than five decades in front of the camera at Globo TV, Brazil’s largest television network, becoming a Black idol in a country with a history of deep racial prejudice.
Starting as a local reporter in Rio, she went on to work as a correspondent and anchor. She reported from more than 100 countries, covering the 1982 Falklands War, the 1996 Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Peru, two World Cups and two Olympics.
“I was very poor,” she told a Brazilian television program in 2019. “I didn’t have money to see the world. I started traveling with Globo TV, and then I made the world my playground.”
According to a Brazilian news report, Maria was the South American country’s “first black reporter to stand out on TV and to use the law against racism. That last part was a reference to the time Maria cited a 1951 Brazilian law designed to punish racial discrimination.
The first black reporter to stand out on Brazilian television, she was proud to be one of the pioneers in using the Afonso Arinos Law , from 1951, which included racial discrimination among criminal offenses. She said, in an Instagram post from 2019, that, when she was prevented from entering through the front door of a hotel in Rio, in 1970, she sued the manager, who said that black people could not enter that way. Glória called the police, the manager was sued and, being a foreigner, he was expelled from the country. When remembering the story, she reaffirmed its importance in the fight against discrimination.
Upon Maria’s death, news outlets fondly remembered a number of the high-profile interviews she conducted, including one with the legendary Michael Jackson, who was in Rio de Janeiro in 1996 and on the set of a video shoot for his hit song, “They Don’t Care About Us.”
33. Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, rock ‘n roll pianistSource:Getty
Huey “Piano” Smith, whose two-fisted keyboard style and rambunctious songs propelled the sound of New Orleans R&B into the pop Top 10 in the late 1950s, died on Feb. 13 at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 89.
His daughter Acquelyn Donsereaux confirmed his death.
Mr. Smith wrote songs that became cornerstones of New Orleans R&B and rock ’n’ roll perennials, notably “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It” and “Sea Cruise.”
34. Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, pioneering TV reporter
Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, the first Black television reporter in Atlanta, has died at age 83.
The media milestone was reached when WSB-TV hired him in 1967. He would remain with the station through 1976.
35. Thomas W. Dortch Jr.Source:Getty
Atlanta civic leader Thomas W. Dortch Jr., the chairman of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s board and former leader of 100 Black Men of America, has died at the age of 72. No cause or date of Dortch’s death was immediately reported. The Georgia native was also a successful businessman in his own right.
36. Stanley Wilson Jr., former NFL playerSource:Getty
Stanley Wilson Jr., a former NFL cornerback with the Detroit Lions, died on Feb. 1 in police custody. He was just 40 years old.
37. AKA, rapperSource:Getty
AKA, a South African rapper, was shot to death on Feb. 10 outside of a restaurant in the city of Durban. He was 35 years old.
The police said that AKA, 35, had been walking to his car on a popular nightlife strip shortly after 10 p.m. when two armed people approached from across the street and fired several shots at close range before running away.
AKA, whose legal name was Kiernan Forbes, and another man died at the scene, the police said. Although the police did not name the second victim, South African news reports identified him as AKA’s close friend Tebello Motsoane, a 34-year-old chef and music entrepreneur known as Tibz.
38. Roslyn Pope, civil rights leader
Roslyn Pope, who as a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta wrote a 1960 manifesto that set the stage for dramatic advances in civil rights in the city and inspired generations of activists around the country, died on Jan. 19 in Arlington, Texas. She was 84.
Spelman College confirmed the death.
39. Charlie Thomas, of the DriftersSource:Getty
Charlie Thomas, who recorded memorable songs like “There Goes My Baby” and “Under the Boardwalk” with the Drifters, the silken-voiced R&B group that had a long string of hits from 1959 to 1964 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Fame, died on Jan. 31 at his home in Bowie, Md. He was 85.
The singer Peter Lemongello Jr., a close friend, said the cause was liver cancer.
Mr. Thomas, a tenor, was a Drifter for more than 60 years, from the version of the group that had its first hits in the late 1950s to the version he led and toured with until the pandemic struck.
40. Brandon SmileySource:Getty
A comedian in his own right, Brandon was also featured in the TV One reality show “Rickey Smiley For Real.”
41. Fred White, Earth Wind & Fire drummerSource:Getty
Fred White, the drummer for the legendary R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire, died on Jan. 1. He was 67 years old.
42. Lynette “Diamond” HardawaySource:Getty
Lynette Hardaway, also known as one-half of the MAGA duo Diamond and Silk, died on Jan. 9.
43. Gangsta Boo, rapperSource:Getty
Lola Chantrelle “Gangsta Boo” Mitchell, who rose to prominence as part of the Three 6 Mafia collective, was found dead on New Year’s Day at a home in Memphis just hours after celebrating the end of 2022 with her family at a concert. She had been showing no signs of distress in the hours before her death, according to reports. Gangsta Boo was 43 years old.
44. Cleophas “Cleo” Orange, civil rights icon
Cleophas “Cleo” Orange, 78, died of lung disease Jan. 4. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described her as a “mother figure” in the civil rights movement.