The new year is all about one thing: contemplating the creeping black hand of death that waits to claim us all. And while the rest of pop culture will spend the next week or so talking about the Nelson Mandelas and Paul Walkers of the world, every year we like to stop and remember those whose passing didn't make headlines, despite the fact that each changed your life in some small way.
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Michael Winner, director of Death Wish.
Liver issues, age 77.
Did you like that Liam Neeson movie where his daughter gets kidnapped and he responds by beating the shit out of half of Europe with his bare hands? Well, there would have been no Taken if there hadn't been Death Wish -- the 1974 Charles Bronson film that made the world fall in love with vigilante revenge stories.
It was directed by Winner, who began his film career in Britain with movies like the cleverly titled nudism romp Some Like It Cool. Soon enough, Hollywood came calling and Winner shot to fame, quite literally, with the hugely successful Death Wish -- a revenge killfest that was just what a crime-ridden 1970s America was in the mood to see.
Winner tried his hand at a lot of other genres, but every movie he made from then on was an abject failure -- except for Death Wish 2 and, of course, Death Wish 3.
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Reg Presley, lead singer of The Troggs.
Lung cancer, age 71.
As songwriter for popular '60s U.K. rockers The Troggs, Presley's cheeky proto-punk cover of "Wild Thing" went to No. 1 in the U.S. Later, an unintentionally hilarious recording of the British band members cursing at each other in the studio (around what they didn't know was a live microphone) would serve as inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap.
Unfortunately, though, Presley's most enduring legacy may wind up being a cover of the Troggs' "Love Is All Around," which took the world by storm when recorded by the appropriately named Wet Wet Wet and featured in the floppy-haired-girlish-rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral.
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Hugh Grant accounted for 28 percent of all sex in 1994.
In true insane-rock-star style, Presley spent his truckloads of Four Weddings royalties funding research into alien spacecraft, alchemy, and crop circles. He even published a book about that stuff titled Wild Things They Don't Tell Us. What, the publisher couldn't talk him into Love Is All Around, and So Are Fucking Aliens?
British actor Richard Griffiths.
Complications following heart surgery, age 65.
Today's movie-going public will no doubt remember Griffiths for his work as Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter's cruel, overweight uncle. But for the true cinephiles out there, Griffiths' most beloved role is that of amorous, overweight Uncle Monty in the cult classic Withnail & I.
Is that a Harry Potter spin-off?
Yes, he played uncles in his two most famous roles, though in 2007 he did branch out with his role in Ballet Shoes as Great Uncle Matthew.
Michael France, accomplished screenwriter.
"An extended illness," age 51.
Mr. France! You left us so early! We have so many questions.
Willie J. Allen Jr. via Tampa Bay Times
On a scale of 1 to 10, how many times a day did you want to change your surname? Ballpark figure.
The first script France sold to Hollywood was the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger.
That's the one where Stallone is taciturn because he dropped a girl off a cliff, not the one where Stallone is taciturn because he's a Vietnam vet (First Blood), or the one where he is taciturn because he is slow-witted (Rocky, Cop Land, real life).
France also wrote GoldenEye, Hulk, Fantastic Four, and 2004's The Punisher. This is where questions arise. Like, in The Punisher, why does Thomas Jane set those cars on fire in the shape of the Punisher logo when no one would be able to see it from above? Wouldn't that take hours, if not days, of careful planning? And how come the Castle family has a beach house that is fully stocked with guns and ammo?
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How does he elude a mob kingpin for weeks, but a folk singer finds him in a matter of hours?
If it seems tasteless to mock a man's plot holes after he has passed, consider this: The guy sold only five screenplays in his life. Combined they grossed $1.23 billion worldwide -- each time he put pen to paper, he averaged $246 million in ticket sales. Now enjoy this clip from Cliffhanger:
Getty via Billboard.com
Chris Kelly, aka Mac Daddy from '90s kiddie rap group Kris Kross (NOT Daddy Mac -- that was the other guy).
Suspected drug overdose -- heroin and cocaine, aka speedball. Note: If you're going to do drugs, and we don't advise it, please do not mix heroin and cocaine.
Known for the hit song "Jump," and for wearing their clothes back-to-front because child + rapper = sound fashion choices. Kelly and his best friend, Chris Smith, were 13 when music producer and rapper Jermaine Dupri discovered them in an Atlanta mall. Ah, the '90s. Where grown men trawling shopping malls for underage "talent" was as common and wholesome as child exploitation in rap.
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At least now they've returned to pop, where crushed spirits belong.
Interestingly, Kelly continued to wear his pants backwards well into his 20s and 30s. When asked if it was uncomfortable, the rapper and producer replied: "I don't know. Everybody always asks me that. But you have to understand, I've been wearing my pants backwards for 21 years. ... When I wake up that's how my pants get put on. ... Even if I put on a suit, I put my suit pants on backwards. It's just a way of life for me." A way of life.
Anyway, Kelly joins a long, long list of famous people who have died due to this exact drug cocktail, a tally that includes River Phoenix, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Mitch Hedberg, Layne Staley, and others. Seriously, kids, don't speedball.
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Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Slayer and the guy who won heavy metal.
In the most metal way possible. First, necrotizing fasciitis from a spider bite. Yes, that's flesh-eating bacteria. From a spider. And the spider had a tattoo of a flaming skull on it . Soon after recovering from that, the actual cause of his death was alcohol-related cirrhosis. Duh.
The legacy? THE FUCKING LEGACY? Are you kidding us? Hanneman wrote the best heavy metal songs in existence. Oh, you're skeptical? "Raining Blood," "War Ensemble," "Angel of Death," "Seasons in the Abyss" -- the list continues. Some of those songs have their own Wikipedia entries, such is their influence. So shut up.
We apologize to the thousands of you who watched the above clip and are now in the emergency room due to severe neck trauma.
Actor Aubrey Woods.
Cause unknown, but dude was 85 and died at his home, a cottage in England's Lake District, so we can rule out "gangland shooting while BASE jumping."
If you've seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, you know the character, if not the name:
In real life, a favorite hobby of the 85-year-old Woods was going to the hospital. He was a beloved patient at the hospital in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, where he would reprise his role as the Candy Man for the nurses, and we mean that with no innuendo whatsoever. He also played "the Controller" in early 70s Doctor Who episodes, which could make for some confusing, terrifying, and sugary crossover slashfic.
David Rose/Rex via The Telegraph
Scientist Joseph Farman.
Cause unknown, but he was 82 and smoked a pipe. So maybe puma attack?
So it's 1985. You and your sweet-ass parachute pants are leading a group of rag-tag scientists. You're doing science-stuff with microscopes and beakers and shit, when you realize that the ozone layer, that thing that stops the sun from giving us cancer, has a massive fuck-off tear in it, right over the Antarctic.
The penguins have been looking a little more tan ...
Instead of losing your shit and holding a suicide orgy, you publish a paper and shit gets done. Two years later, we get the most successful environmental treaty ever: World governments signed the Montreal protocol, banning the household chemicals that were reacting with the ozone.
Today, we can use as much hairspray as we want and the only thing it'll be damaging is our chances of getting laid.