The Artists We Lost in 2021, in Their Words

This year, as pandemic deaths ebbed and flowed, a distinctive, eternal beat — that of artist’s deaths — played on as usual, bringing its own waves of collective grief. Some, such as Cicely Tyson and Stephen Sondheim, held the spotlight for generations. Others, like Michael K. Williams and Nai-Ni Chen, left us lamenting careers cut short. Here is a tribute to just a small number of them, in their own words.


Cicely Tyson, actress, born 1924 (Read the obituary.)


— Melvin Van Peebles, filmmaker, born 1932 (Read the obituary.)


— Liam Scarlett, choreographer, born 1986 (Read the obituary.)


— Nelson Freire, pianist, born 1944 (Read the obituary.)


Bob Avian, choreographer, born 1937 (Read the obituary.)


— Carla Fracci, dancer, born 1936 (Read the obituary.)


— Emi Wada, costume designer, born 1937


— Larry McMurtry, novelist, born 1936 (Read the obituary.)


Ed Asner, actor, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)


Olympia Dukakis, actress, born 1931 (Read the obituary.)


Charlie Watts, drummer, born 1941 (Read the obituary.)


Jacques D’Amboise, dancer, born 1934 (Read the obituary.)


Robert Downey Sr., filmmaker, born 1936 (Read the obituary.)


— Joe Allen, theater district restaurateur, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)


Charles Grodin, actor, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)


Jerry Pinkney, children’s book illustrator, born 1939 (Read the obituary.)


— Larry King, TV host, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)


Anna Halprin, choreographer, born 1920 (Read the obituary.)


— Dave Hickey, art critic, born 1938 (Read the obituary.)


Nai-Ni Chen, choreographer and dancer, born 1959 (Read the obituary.)


— Virgil Abloh, designer, born 1980 (Read the obituary.)


Yolanda López, artist, born 1942 (Read the obituary.)


— Helen McCrory, actress, born 1968 (Read the obituary.)


— Michael K. Williams, actor, born 1966 (Read the obituary.)


— bell hooks, writer and scholar, born 1952 (Read the obituary.)


— Norm Macdonald, comedian, born 1959 (Read the obituary.)


— Elizabeth McCann, theater producer, born 1931 (Read the obituary.)


Eric Carle, author and artist, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)


— Beverly Cleary, author, born 1916 (Read the obituary.)


— Young Dolph, rapper, born 1985 (Read the obituary.)


— Carlisle Floyd, composer, born 1926 (Read the obituary.)


Louis Andriessen, composer, born 1939 (Read the obituary.)


— Cloris Leachman, actress, born 1926 (Read the obituary.)


Hung Liu, artist, born 1948 (Read the obituary.)


— Art Gensler, architect, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)


Christopher Plummer, actor, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)


Lisa Banes, actress, born 1955 (Read the obituary.)


— Kaari Upson, artist, born 1970 (Read the obituary.)


— Sophie, pop producer and performer, born 1986 (Read the obituary.)


— Etel Adnan, author and artist, born 1925 (Read the obituary.)


Michael Nesmith, musician, born 1942 (Read the obituary.)


Dottie Dodgion, drummer, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)


— Jessica Walter, actress, born 1941 (Read the obituary.)


Edita Gruberova, soprano, born 1946 (Read the obituary.)


— DMX, rapper, born 1970 (Read the obituary.)


Stephen Sondheim, composer and lyricist, born 1930 (Read the obituary.)