Where Aren't They Now? 25 Overlooked Deaths Of 2019 (Pt. 2)

What follows are some prominent people whom you probably had no idea passed over this past year. Or maybe you briefly heard and forgot about it due to, you know, all of the stuff that's been happening. They all absolutely left a mark, but their deaths quickly got buried by the next terrible thing that popped up on everybody's trending lists. This is actually Part 2 of the list. Part 1 is here. So let's pick up with June ...

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June 9: A Diminutive Rap Giant

Who?

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Bushwick Bill, Geto Boys member.

How?

Pancreatic cancer.

His Story:

We're not judging here, but there's a good chance that most of our readers know Bushwick Bill's work from the movie Office Space. Remember the scene where they take their malfunctioning printer out to a field and treat it like Joe Pesci at the end of Casino? A gangsta rap track plays in the background saying, "Die, motherfucker, die motherfucker ..."

That music was by the Geto Boys, a Houston-based group who have a couple of songs on that soundtrack, including the classic "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta." Bushwick Bill was an integral part of the group from the moment he joined in 1986. He started out as a warm-up dancer, then appeared on seven albums. In one infamous 1991 incident, Bill shot himself in the eye while under the influence of PCP and alcohol. Bill, born Richard Shaw, was always honest when his pen hit his pad, and wrote a brutally raw song about the whole thing. It ends with the words "It's fucked up I had to lose an eye to see shit clearly."

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June 29: The Champion Of 9/11 First Responders

Who?

Luis Alvarez, NYPD officer.

How?

Cancer.

His Story:

Pundit/comedian Jon Stewart has spent the last several years making loud, audacious pleas to Congress to provide needed benefits for 9/11 first responders. Countless police, firefighters, paramedics, and volunteers who dug through the debris after the attacks have since been getting very sick (presumably from breathing the toxic smoke and dust). And when the Victim Compensation Fund was nearing an end, lawmakers were failing to show up, literally and figuratively. One unforgettable voice at the hearings was an NYPD officer, bomb squad detective Luis Alvarez.

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He helped dig through the chaos on that day, and he too developed cancer. Despite getting sicker with time, Alvarez pushed Congress as it dragged its heels, often having to go to chemotherapy appointments directly after a hearing. He passed away in June. Congress finally extended the compensation fund a month later.

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July 2: The Last Car Baron

Who?

Lee Iacocca, automobile executive.

How?

Parkinson's.

His Story:

Creating the iconic Ford Mustang could be the only thing you do in your career, and it would be an unqualified success. You could put that on your resume, go home, and sleep on your gold-wrapped pillow. But Lee Iacocca not only created one of the most iconic cars in existence, but also basically invented the minivan as you know it. He also created the Ford Escort, but we don't need to talk about that.

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Iacocca became the head honcho at Chrysler, which at the time was $5 billion in the hole. He engineered a historic turnaround, making the company profitable again. He was loud and arrogant, and chomped on a cigar while spitting out his famous catchphrase "If you can find a better car, buy it!" Perhaps most impressively, at the height of his fame in 1988, he was pushed to run for president, but had the good sense not to.

July 10: The Most Memorable Wonka Victim

Who?

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Denise Nickerson, actress.

How?

Pneumonia.

Her Story:

"Violet, you're turning ... VIOLET!" That was the horrified response when one Miss Violet Beauregarde tried out her remarkable gum-chewing antics on a prototype treat in Willy Wonka's candy factory. It simply wasn't ready for human consumption, sadly, and Violet began to turn purple and inflate, becoming a giant blueberry. Then she was whisked away to be "squeezed" -- presumably code for getting eaten by the Oompa-Loompas.

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The intrepid young gum enthusiast was played by Denise Nickerson. She'd already had a pretty impressive resume by then, having starred in the cult classic show Dark Shadows in the '60s, but it was her turn as Violet in 1971's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory which secured her place in Hollywood lore. Two years later, Nickerson was in talks to play the possessed child Regan in The Exorcist, but her parents took her out of the running, finding it all too disturbing. It seems like that film actually featured quite a bit less child suffering than Wonka, but they surely had their reasons.

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Related: Nobody Needs To Know How Willy Wonka Came To Be

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August 5: The First Black Female Nobel Prize Winner

Who?

Toni Morrison, author.

How?

Pneumonia.

Her Story:

Toni Morrison didn't publish her first novel until she was 40. That's right, the writer of Beloved, a work that earned her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, started writing when baseball players usually retire. Though she did graduate from Howard University with an English major and snagged a Master's at Cornell, so she probably had a pretty damn good idea what she was doing. She took an editorial position at a publishing house in 1963, and began writing her novel as she was editing others.

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Her first book, The Bluest Eye, came out in 1970, and eventually became part of the curriculum at City University of New York. Not bad for a first effort. But it was 1987's Beloved that changed everything for her. Along with the Pulitzer, it spawned a movie starring Oprah Winfrey, and in 2010 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Two years later, Barack Obama was offering her a cool Presidential Medal of Freedom. So yeah, if you've been putting off writing that novel, get to it! All of those exact things will happen to you.

September 12: The Bus Boycott Architect

Who?

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Juanita Abernathy.

How?

Stroke.

Her Story:

The Montgomery bus boycotts were a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The 1955 boycotts fought the segregation of public transit in the Alabama city. Intended to last a day, they went on for over a year. Courts would eventually rule in favor of the boycotters, and one of its leaders was Juanita Abernathy.

Abernathy worked alongside Martin Luther King to organize many civil rights protests and practices, and was part of the March on Washington in 1963. Juanita and her activist husband (Reverend Dr. Ralph Abernathy) were the subject of constant death threats, and it was clear these weren't just words -- in 1957, their home was firebombed. Juanita and her young daughter were unharmed, while her husband was out of town. Two KKK members confessed to the crime ... then were acquitted by an all-white jury. If things are better today, it's partly because of people like her.

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September 15: One Of The Most Unique Voices (And Faces) Of '80s Rock

Who?

Ric Ocasek, musician and producer.

How?

Cardiovascular disease.

His Story:

Ric Ocasek did not look like your average rock star. Tall, pale, and lanky, Ocasek helmed rock group The Cars through the 1980s, helping to create some of the biggest hits you've ever heard. "Just What I Needed," "You Might Think," and the Phoebe Cates spankalong hit "Moving In Stereo" were pure ear candy during the decade of excess. And the videos were unforgettable:

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Ocasek in particular had a knack for creating concise, weird, unconventional little earworms, and though he didn't relish the spotlight, the spotlight liked him a lot. Just ask Paulina Porizkova, the supermodel he married in 1989 after meeting her on the set of a music video. He went on to become a producer, making some of Weezer's best-known albums, including their debut Blue Album, which contained "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So." And if you listen closely, you can hear Ocasek's giddy little fingers all over it.

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September 17: The Mother Of NPR

Who?

Cokie Roberts, journalist.

How?

Breast cancer.

Her Story:

NPR was not the cultural and journalistic powerhouse it is today when Cokie Roberts joined up with them in 1978. It was pretty progressive, however, having a large variety of female reporters in their ranks. Roberts was the daughter of Louisiana politicians, and used her knowledge of the inner workings of Washington during her storied career.

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Roberts was NPR's congressional correspondent for a decade before leaving for ABC's World News Tonight. She also hosted Nightline whenever Ted Koppel was off for the night brushing his eyebrows. She earned three Emmys during her career, along with an Edward R. Murrow award. The organization American Women in Radio and Television declared her one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting. We could keep listing accolades, but to put it simply, in an industry full of inflammatory bullshit and clickbait, Roberts did the job with integrity right up to the end.

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September 21: Rob Zombie's "Captain"

Who?

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Sid Haig, actor.

How?

Cardiorespiratory arrest.

His Story:

The beginning of Rob Zombie's film debut, House Of 1000 Corpses, sees Dwight Schrute and friends coming across an off-the-highway haunted house and fried chicken joint. The man behind the counter to welcome them is "Captain Spaulding," a middle-aged, clown-makeup'd psycho who goes on to show the intrepid younguns more horror than they bargained for. Actor Sid Haig was the only man who could have pulled off such a hilariously terrifying character.

Haig would be Zombie's muse in a trilogy of films featuring him and his merry band of murderous family members. The Devil's Rejects and 3 From Hell would follow House. While Haig was more than just a murder clown, having had roles in Night Of The Living Dead 3D and a couple of Tarantino flicks, his turn as Captain Spaulding made him a sensation in the horror community. Oddly enough, Haig had side hustles like being a drummer on a semi-hit in the 1950s. He also was a bit player in many blaxploitation films, so his resume contained all of the delightful weirdness you'd expect from the man.

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Related: 10 Criminally Underrated Horror Movies To Watch On Halloween

October 27: The Longest-Serving Black Congressman

Who?

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John Conyers Jr., politician.

How?

Natural causes.

His Story:

He introduced Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. He was a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and helped establish the Congressional Black Caucus. John Conyers Jr. took office in 1965, when there were only six other black members in the House of Representatives. Today there are 56.

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He worked with MLK in Selma and hired Rosa Parks, establishing a close relationship with the Civil Rights Movement. When the 1967 uprising happened in Detroit, he took to the streets, bullhorn in hand, to try to calm things down. The Black Caucus was a particular point of pride for Conyers, even though then-President Nixon refused to recognize them, causing them to boycott his State of the Union address. Yet his last years in office would be marked by scandal, with him finally resigning from Congress in late 2017 following multiple sexual harassment allegations. (Conyers admitted that he had paid a settlement to a staffer who had previously accused him.)

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November 6: A Champion For Ethiopian Women

Who?

Bogaletch Gebre, humanitarian.

How?

Undisclosed.

Her Story:

Bogaletch Gebre discovered the horrors of female genital mutilation firsthand, as she was subjected to the practice at age 12 in her home country of Ethiopia. She moved away for a bit, first to Israel and then to grad school in California, but felt that she could have been doing more to combat the awfulness she had gone through. So she founded KMG Ethiopia, which had the difficult task of breaking cultural norms and trying to put an end to FGM.

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Her efforts had a massive impact, with her organization cutting the rate of FGM by 97% in areas where it operated. She also helped stop countless child marriages and abductions. She endured a car accident later in life, after which doctors feared she may never walk again. Instead her inner strength kindly slapped that idea in the face, and she went on to run six marathons.

November 23: A Cancer Survivor Who Trekked To Both Poles (Just For The Hell Of It)

Who?

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Barbara Hillary, adventurer.

How?

General declining health from being 88 years old.

Her Story:

Saying Barbara Hillary was the first black woman to reach the North Pole, and then the first black woman to reach the South Pole, doesn't even do her story justice. She spent 55 years as a nurse -- during which time she got lung cancer which robbed her of 25% of her breathing capacity -- retired, and then decided to become an adventurer.

That's right, she was in her mid-70s when she found out that no black woman had ever set foot at the North Pole and decided she'd like to just go do that. (Her South Pole trip would be at age 79.) She had to take skiing lessons, since she'd never done it before. She had no sponsor; she just went around and raised the $25,000 for the trip herself.

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And even that doesn't scratch the surface of the stories this woman surely had to tell. She was born in New York during the Great Depression, drove a taxi for a while, and founded a small magazine for which she served as editor in chief. Oh, and at the time of her death at 88, she had just completed a trip to Outer Mongolia, and was planning a trip to a remote part of Russia. You have to think that eventually, she'd have almost certainly made it to Mars.

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December 1: An Actress Who Took A Bit Part And Ran With It

Who?

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Shelley Morrison, actress.

How?

Heart failure.

Her Story:

Shelley Morrison was ready to give up on acting after four decades of taking whatever she could get when she was handed the script for a new show called Will & Grace. The character of the sharp-tongued maid was supposed to appear in exactly one episode, but Morrison nailed it so hard that she became a series regular, finally making the big time in a career that dated back to the Kennedy administration. Her biggest role prior to that was as one of the non-flying nuns in the 1960s Sally Field sitcom The Flying Nun, about a nun that flies. Yes, that was a real show.

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Note that even if you're a Will & Grace fan, you might have missed the news of Morrison's passing, because the famous death that was trending at that time was internet sensation Lil Bub. We're not here to judge. It's just good to go back and catch the stuff that slipped under the radar, that's all.

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See you next year! Well, unless no one dies.

For more, check out 4 Awkward True Stories About Dealing With Death:


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