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Many celebrities died this past year. But who's the most dead? As usual, CRACKED is on top of things. In fact, we're so on top of things that we've already gotten a jump start on ranking next year's Most Dead list. Which beloved stars of stage and screen have we personally cut down in the full bloom of youth so far? Wait and see! For now, here are CRACKED's 10 Most Dead People of 2006.

(Only kidding. We haven't actually murdered any celebrities yet this year. But if we had, we would have started with Jim Belushi.)

Don Knotts

When you think about down-home TV lawmen whose methods may have been unconventional but still got results, one name comes to mind: Marshal Sam McCloud, as ably portrayed by the likable Dennis Weaver, who also died this year, sadly.

But just as likable and unconventional was Don Knotts' bumbling deputy Barney Fife, who got no results whatsover—unless you count making every single episode of the otherwise slow-moving Andy Griffith Show in which he appeared eminently watchable. Of course, you may also know him as nosy Lothario landlord Ralph Furley from Three's Company or from roles in such poultry-themed projects as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Robot Chicken, and Chicken Little.

He was a flat-out comic genius—as well as some kind of human-chicken hybrid, evidently. Frankly, it's a surprise lung cancer claimed his life, rather than avian flu. 

Jack Palance

It was sad to see the rugged, tougher-than-rawhide, one-handed-pushup-doing cowboy actor hang up his tack this year, but on the other hand, the road is now clear for treasure hunters seeking to pursue the legend of Curly's gold.

Speaking of City Slickers, Bruno Kirby died this year too, come to think of it. Not to be mean, but why not Billy Crystal? Let's be honest: Billy Crystal hasn't been funny in years. Let's get rid of him before Analyze This and Analyze That are inevitably followed by Analyze the Other Thing. That's a trilogy to which we just don't need closure. Instead, why not get closure on that trio of Comic Relief hosts? We don't need Billy Crystal. No one's going to miss Whoopi Goldberg. And it's pretty much universally agreed at this point that Robin Williams has got to go. Get to work, Death. 

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Chris Penn

Penn's passing was undeniably a sad example of an enormous acting talent cut down far too soon, but on the bright side, at least we won't have to put up with a few things we won't miss. All that wife-beating and punching out of photographers. The obvious Oscar-bait roles in which he played retarded guys and politicians even though the movies themselves were actually pretty awful. His intolerable humorlessness, self-righteousness, and strident political activism, which only made him look foolish in his dust-ups with Chris Rock and the South Park guys. Nobody likes the war on Iraq or Hurricane Katrina, but on the other hand, if this douchebag is against them, can they really be all that bad?

Oh wait. That's his brother, Sean Penn. Chris Penn was Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, not to mention Kevin Bacon's sidekick in Footloose, the guy who couldn't dance a lick but was still an underrated screen presence who made everything he was in better. Shoot. We liked that one. 

John Kenneth Galbraith

John Kenneth Galbraith was a giant in the field of economics. Literally, he was a giant. The guy was 6'9", the same height as Karl Malone and Lurch from The Addams Family. (By the way, Grandpa Munster died this year too.) If it weren't for author Michael Crichton, who's an inch taller, he'd be the tallest guy ever to be famous for reasons that have absolutely no reason to do with his height. Economist John Maynard Keynes was pretty tall too, at 6'6½". It's hard to say if the similar names are a factor, but it actually makes sense that economists would be taller on average. Height is a function of nutrition. Nutrition is a function of income. Income is a function of knowing how money works. Economists know how money works.

Know who didn't seem to know how money worked, though? Ken Lay, that Enron dick. Think he needed a special oversize casket like that other money guy named Ken? No, Ken Lay was allegedly quickly cremated after suddenly dying during a ski vacation following his conviction on fraud charges, thus conveniently escaping 20 to 30 years of life behind bars. Ken Lay is in fact quite possibly tanning his fat hide on a beach on a private island bought with the billions stolen from ordinary Americans at this very moment. Sadly, Ken Lay gets the award for Least Dead Person of 2006. 

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Aaron Spelling

The world's most prolific television producer, Aaron Spelling simply could not take a dump without it receiving at least a 13-week run on the WB (see Summerland, starring Lori Loughlin and Jesse McCartney). Among his many successful creations are The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, Charmed, 7th Heaven, and Beverly Hills, 90210. Among his unsuccessful creations are Life with Lucy, Models, Inc., and Tori Spelling.

He gave us Heather Locklear in Dynasty and kept giving her to us in T.J. Hooker and Melrose Place until someone agreed to take her. As the creator of S.W.A.T., Charlie's Angels, Starsky and Hutch, and The Mod Squad, he is at least partly to blame for the execrable big-screen versions of these television series, which raises the terrifying specter of an inevitable film adaptation of Fantasy Island with Verne Troyer in the Hervé Villechaize role. Mark our words: This will happen. And it will suck. 

Steve Irwin

Obviously, the Crocodile Hunter merits a mention here. No question about it: He's one of the Most Dead People this year. But on the other hand, is there a single joke about his demise that hasn't been driven into the ground by every hack comic standing front of a fake brick wall? He had it coming. We get it. Instead, let's use this space for a couple of unrelated observations about this year's also-rans.

First, musician Freddy Fender died of cancer this year, but it should have been in a drunk-driving accident. Tabloid newspapers everywhere had that "FENDER BENDER" headline just waiting to be run. Forget your wasted days and wasted nights—that's just a wasted opportunity.

Second, 2006 was the year that saw the passing of comedian Red Buttons and basketball legend Red Auerbach, not to mention President Gerald Ford, actor Glenn Ford, and sci-fi author John M. Ford. So considering what a bad year it was to have either "Red" or "Ford" in your name, Robert Redford must have been wheeling around in naked panic every time he heard the sharp report of a popcorn kernel bursting. Glad you made it, sir. And shame on you, Paul Newman, for making all that popcorn and scaring poor Sundance like that.

Third, we might as well take this opportunity to mention that this year, hardboiled crime writer Mickey Spillane took the big sleep, 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley became Dead Bradley, baseball hall-of-famer Kirby Puckett was tagged out, the buck stopped here for country musician Buck Owens and Negro League great Buck O'Neil, and Paul "Principal Vernon" Gleason messed with the bull and got the horns. 

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Shelley Winters

"Hey, CRACKED," some of you might be saying. "How come there aren't any women on your list? What are you, misogynists?" To that, we say, you're the misogynists. We're not the ones who want women to die just for a cheap laugh. Besides, women aren't funny anyway. (And now we're the misogynists again.)

Fact is, though, not a lot of really famous women died this year. There were Coretta Scott King and Dana Reeve, of course, but it's hard to take joy in mocking Martin Luther King and Superman's widows. There was Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique, but we've dug ourselves in deep enough already in this past paragraph without mocking one of the mothers of the feminist movement. There was actress Maureen Stapleton, but we always get her mixed up with Jean Stapleton, who's actually alive even though we always think she's dead just because she played Edith Bunker, who died offscreen between the first and second seasons of Archie Bunker's Place, and you can see how this just gets confusing.

Fortunately, there's Shelley Winters, and we can always make a fat joke about her. To wit: Shelly Winters was so fat that when she starred in A Place in the Sun, it was as a total solar eclipse. There. 

James Brown

He was the hardest working man in show business, as evidenced by his also being the sweatiest. He recorded "Funky Drummer", without which rhythm track sampling would be unthinkable, and "I Feel Good", without which the terrible comedy movie musical montage would be impossible. He made crazy, coked-up car chases with the police fun again. He leaves a rich legacy, including immeasurable contributions to the genres of R&B, soul, funk, and hip hop, not to mention a series of Spike TV promos of slo-mo footage of exploding watermelons and pro wrestler Jeff Jarrett smashing guitars over other dudes' heads, soundtracked to "It's a Man's Man's Man's World."

You couldn't keep Soul Brother Number One down. And you still can't. He isn't dead. He's just waiting for one of his backup musicians to drape a cape around him and lead him away, just so he can throw it off and leap back to center stage for another chorus. 

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Gerald Ford

Okay, so he pardoned Nixon. But let's see how he stacks up against our current chief executive. Ford was never elected to the highest office in the land, but after ballot box shenanigans in Florida and Ohio, we can't be sure about Bush either, so that's a wash. Ford was a college football star. Bush was a college football cheerleader. Ford fell down some airplane stairs once. Bush wiped out on his bicycle a bunch of times, fell off his couch and knocked himself unconscious while choking on a pretzel, and managed to fall off a Segway, which isn't even supposed to be possible. The guy who impersonated Ford on SNL saw his career flame out spectacularly after a few good years and was last spotted living in a cardboard box somewhere off Hollywood Boulevard. The guy who impersonated Bush on SNL has gone on to incredible fame and fortune as a member of the Frat Pack, and still has a career trajectory pointing so sharply upward that it wouldn't be a surprise to see him land in the Oval Office. Advantage: Jerry Ford. No question. 

Saddam Hussein

The world just didn't need this wild-eyed, bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal anti-Semite with a white-streaked beard and poor impulse control. Not with Mel Gibson now ably filling that role. And speaking of the star of Conspiracy Theory, here's one for you to explain the timing of Saddam's execution, which, come to think of it, seemed a little sudden to those used to seeing prisoners languish on death row for decades: There's a rule of threes that always seems to claim celebrities at year's end. And after the sudden passings of James Brown and Gerald Ford, it probably seemed like a good idea to quickly appease the gods with a human sacrifice before we lost somebody we actually liked. Kirk Douglas is hanging on by a thread, you know.

So, so long, Saddam, who joins Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in an unholy trinity of bloody despots punching one-way tickets to hell this year. And good riddance.

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