17 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Died In 2015 (Part 1)

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This time of year, the Internet is full of articles memorializing the superstars we lost over the last 12 months — icons like Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lee, and Wes Craven. Sports fans will hear about legends Yogi Berra and Ernie Banks. But flying under the radar was the passing of plenty of fascinating people who touched your life in some way, even if you never knew their names.

So, every year at this time, Cracked likes to take a moment to memorialize the less famous deaths that you either missed, or forgot about after briefly seeing them trend on Twitter for an hour. As always, this is by no means comprehensive — already it’s long enough that we’ll run it across two days (Part 2 tomorrow), and we realize this is just scratching the surface:

January 4: The Man Who Gave Us “Booya”

Who?

Stuart Scott, ESPN anchor and reporter.

How?

Appendiceal cancer.

His Story:

“As cool as the other side of the pillow.” That admittedly great line from SportsCenter mainstay Stuart Scott soon launched an onslaught of hyperbolic and nonsensical catchphrases from other, lesser anchors. But Scott’s were just better and cooler. What else can you say besides “BOOYA!” when showing a highlight of a Ukrainian getting viciously dunked on?

“TICKLESHITS!”

Scott’s near-constant presence on the network is made more impressive by the fact that he was far from a healthy man. He suffered from a host of chronic issues with his eyes, which any broadcaster worth his salt will tell you are very important and useful for delivering the news. Making matters worse was taking a football straight to his face while working out with the New York Jets in 2002. The injury was devastating, and he was forced to retrain his eyes to be able to work.

Still, he only missed a couple of months after the injury. He even continued his anchoring career when diagnosed with cancer in 2007. He worked through it, only taking a day off here and there for his chemotherapy sessions. And even then, it wasn’t exactly a day off. After receiving his exhausting doses of medication, he would then immediately go work out at a mixed-martial arts gym.

It’s amazing he was able to lift his leg that high with balls that big.

A mere five months before he passed, he appeared on an ESPN awards show to receive an honor of his own. He stood on stage and said a few words, which is remarkable considering he had four surgeries conducted on him in the previous week. Guy was tough, is what we’re saying here.

January 10: The Ultimate Bit Actor

Who?

Taylor Negron, comedian, actor, and bad guy in The Last Boy Scout.

How?

Liver cancer.

His Story:

You’ve seen him in countless movies and TV shows. Likely half of his IMDB page hits are people who thought “what the shit was that guy in?!” Taylor Negron was that guy. And he was very good at it. One of his earliest roles was in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, when he famously delivered Jeff Spicoli’s pizza mid-class.

Mr. Hand surely won’t mind.

He played other service industry employees in his young career: a mailman in Better Off Dead, a gas station attendant in One Crazy Summer. He was never a star, but the guy stayed busy.

Negron also was an accomplished comedian and playwright. He started working the LA club circuit while he was still in high school. Among the people reading this, he’s probably most well known for being the bad guy in the “kinda decent when you’re 15, but terrible when you grow up” Bruce Willis vehicle The Last Boy Scout.

Where he came closer to killing Bruce Willis than a thousand Die Hard terrorists combined.

Numerous cameos in Seinfeld, Friends, and uh … The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas ensured that his Wikipedia page would be in a steady rotation for curious viewers.

January 18: The Guy Who Changed How You Watch Sports (Very Slowly)

Who?

Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay.

How?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

His Story:

There are some innovations that become so integral that it’s hard to imagine how things worked before — like, it’s weird to think there was there was a time not too long ago when nobody used forks. Well if you watch sports at all, instant replay is like a fork — the concept of watching a game and not having them replay key moments in slow motion over and over is just … weird. Yet it only goes back to 1963.

That’s when Tony Verna was broadcasting the Army-Navy football game, when a play happened that he found remarkable enough that he was sure viewers would want to see it again. He developed a technique to cue the tape at an exact moment that allowed him to replay it live. Aware that this was a new technology, he actually had to clue the audience in to the amazing shit he was doing, lest they think that the team was instantly scoring again or that they were trapped in a time loop.

“Please don’t excitedly call your bookie or hang yourself just yet.”

February 4: A Little-Known, Yet Huge Part of Star Wars

Who?

Richard Bonehill, actor and swordsmith who played like, half the parts in Star Wars.

How?

Unknown.

His Story:

The advantage of a fictional universe in which most of the population is either wearing a mask or in heavy monster makeup is that you can use the same actors over and over again. The downside for the performers is that’s a pretty hard way to get famous. For instance, not even Star Wars fans know the name Richard Bonehill, despite being probably the busiest actor in the entire trilogy.

Sadly, they failed to cast him as “Killer of All Gungans.”

Bonehill was basically the Swiss army knife in George Lucas’ pocket. Whatever character was needed for a scene, he had the guy for the job. Need an extra Stormtrooper? “Richard! Get in here!” Down one TIE fighter pilot? “Bonehill! Stage three!”

Other roles he assumed in The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi were as a rebel fighter, a Tauntaun handler, and, most famously, as Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot Nien Nunb. A travelling spaceship’s rearview mirror never revealed a more debonair/bewildering sight than the Millennium Falcon approaching from behind:

“It works every time.”

He wasn’t just limited to one franchise, either. He was basically the guy to call if you needed some sword work in your film. A skilled fencer and bladesman, Bonehill instructed actors how best to not murder themselves in films such as Rob Roy, Highlander, and Flash Gordon. But now you know he was the man in the Ree-Yees costume, and his legacy is secure behind that triad-of-dicks mask.

Attack Of The Bones.

February 19: The Writer Who Made Parks And Recreation Great

Who?

Harris Wittels, comedian, writer, and television producer.

How?

Drug overdose.

His Story:

Harris Wittels was one young, beloved comedy writer and performer, who packed a huge body of work into a short life. At once a frequent podcast guest, stand-up comedian, TV writer/producer, and even a drummer in a comics-led band, he helped lead a kind of alternative brand of comedy with the likes of Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, and Louis C.K., whom he also toured with.

He coined the term “humblebrag,” which is a boast clothed in a self-critical disguise (“I’m so clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee in my Lamborghini! #klutz”), which became so popular it led to a book on the subject, and an enormously popular Twitter feed.

But Wittels’ crowning achievement would have to be Parks And Recreation. While he had writing and producing success on shows such as Eastbound & Down, when he began writing (and later producing) Parks after the first season, the show hit its stride. He would become executive producer by season four.

The man created Duke Silver, a character that made Nick Offerman even cooler.

Wittels excelled at self-deprecation. Whether it was shitting on his own B-list material on Comedy Bang! Bang! or documenting his struggles with addiction, he never failed to poke fun at his own humanity.

March 12: The Genius Who Sold 85 Million Books (Without The Help Of A Movie Franchise)

Who?

Terry Pratchett.

How?

Alzheimer’s disease.

His Story:

Terry Pratchett cranked out more than 70 books, and if you like books or laughter at all, you should have read at least one of them by now. He was most famous for the Discworld series, writing 41 novels in a franchise that made him the second-most popular author in the U.K. behind J.K. Rowling. Unlike Rowling, Pratchett never had feature films made of his stories, possibly because they were utterly unfilmable. (Discworld takes place entirely on a giant disc balanced on the backs of four elephants who are themselves standing on the shell of an enormous turtle.)

The turtle isn’t standing on anything, because star turtles can’t stand. Don’t be silly.

In 2007, Pratchett announced to the world that he had Alzheimer’s disease via an online post titled simply “An Embuggerance,” assuring readers that he could still get a few more books done before his mind went. The final messages posted under his name on Twitter were:

April 28: The Singer of the “Pornographic” Song “Louie Louie”

Who?

Jack Ely, Kingsmen singer.

How?

Natural causes.

His Story:

If you think it’s hard to understand what Kurt Cobain or Bob Dylan were saying in most of their songs, take an ear gander at Jack Ely. As a result of being thrust into singing a song at the last minute in order to achieve a “live feel,” the impromptu vocalist reared his head back and screamed the 1963 hit “Louie Louie.”

In the original draft, “Louie” was the actual singer, and the song was a general question as to his whereabouts.

The record-buying public wasn’t the only group that had trouble with the hard-to-discern lyrics. Rumors began to swirl that some of the words were of a pornographic nature, especially if one slowed the record down. Even the FBI stepped in to investigate.

“We have learned that 1963 is going to be a slow year for us. Probably.”

It turns out, the song is merely about a sailor who misses his gal back home. The titular “Louie” is a bartender that has to hear about the poor guy’s problems. The FBI either realized this fact or just plain didn’t care in the end, as they came to the conclusion that the lyrics were “unintelligible at any speed.”

May 4: The Rapping Granny

Who?

Ellen Albertini Dow.

How?

From having lived 101 freaking years.

Her Story:

Any aspiring actors out there bummed that you haven’t landed a film role yet? Well, Ellen Albertini Dow didn’t get her first role until she was freaking 72 years old, after spending decades teaching theater and dance. She pursued acting as a retirement project … then proceeded to work for another three goddamned decades. If you don’t know her from the “Rapper’s Delight” scene in The Wedding Singer

… you saw her as the foul-mouthed granny in Wedding Crashers:

She was also in a bunch of movies that didn’t have “Wedding” in the title, but you get the idea.

May 14: A Blues Giant With A Big Guitar

Who?

B.B. King, blues pioneer.

How?

Alzheimer’s disease.

His Story:

A man described by Eric Clapton as “the most important artist the blues has ever produced,” B.B. King was a nonstop performing and touring musician well into his 80s. He started in Mississippi picking cotton and singing songs on street corners, after dropping out of school in the 10th grade.

His career began to take off when he moved to Memphis and began playing bigger and bigger clubs. One night, two men got into a fight at a bar King was playing a gig at. Throwing punches over a woman named Lucille, they eventually got brawling so hard that they knocked over a kerosene heater, setting the place ablaze. King rushed back into the fire to grab his beloved guitar, which he named Lucille in honor of the occasion. It became a massive part of his identity, and he named every instrument he owned the same name forever after.

“Hey lady, what’s your name?”
“Fartnoise Dogboner.”

King didn’t do anything halfway; he had 15 kids with 15 women, which equals the busiest Christmas mornings in the history of everything. He gambled profusely, especially after moving to Vegas in the mid-70s. Though he left school early, he studied language and mathematics well into his later life. He was also an avid Internet user and tech enthusiast, so much so that he schooled a young reporter on how to rip vinyl albums to make MP3s.

Finally, a hipster who was actually hip.

King’s death was not without controversy. Two of his daughters fervently claimed that he was poisoned by two of his closest assistants. Doctors, who have studied medicine for some time, instead pointed their fingers at the Alzheimer’s, diabetes, coronary disease, and heart failure that had ravaged his 89-year-old body. In other words, poison would likely have been the least of his problems.

This time of year, the Internet is full of articles memorializing the superstars we lost over the last 12 months — icons like Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lee, and Wes Craven. Sports fans will hear about legends Yogi Berra and Ernie Banks. But flying under the radar was the passing of plenty of fascinating people who touched your life in some way, even if you never knew their names.

So, every year at this time, Cracked likes to take a moment to memorialize the less famous deaths that you either missed, or forgot about after briefly seeing them trend on Twitter for an hour. As always, this is by no means comprehensive — already it’s long enough that we’ll run it across two days (Part 2 tomorrow), and we realize this is just scratching the surface:

January 4: The Man Who Gave Us “Booya”

Who?

Stuart Scott, ESPN anchor and reporter.

How?

Appendiceal cancer.

His Story:

“As cool as the other side of the pillow.” That admittedly great line from SportsCenter mainstay Stuart Scott soon launched an onslaught of hyperbolic and nonsensical catchphrases from other, lesser anchors. But Scott’s were just better and cooler. What else can you say besides “BOOYA!” when showing a highlight of a Ukrainian getting viciously dunked on?

“TICKLESHITS!”

Scott’s near-constant presence on the network is made more impressive by the fact that he was far from a healthy man. He suffered from a host of chronic issues with his eyes, which any broadcaster worth his salt will tell you are very important and useful for delivering the news. Making matters worse was taking a football straight to his face while working out with the New York Jets in 2002. The injury was devastating, and he was forced to retrain his eyes to be able to work.

Still, he only missed a couple of months after the injury. He even continued his anchoring career when diagnosed with cancer in 2007. He worked through it, only taking a day off here and there for his chemotherapy sessions. And even then, it wasn’t exactly a day off. After receiving his exhausting doses of medication, he would then immediately go work out at a mixed-martial arts gym.

It’s amazing he was able to lift his leg that high with balls that big.

A mere five months before he passed, he appeared on an ESPN awards show to receive an honor of his own. He stood on stage and said a few words, which is remarkable considering he had four surgeries conducted on him in the previous week. Guy was tough, is what we’re saying here.

January 10: The Ultimate Bit Actor

Who?

Taylor Negron, comedian, actor, and bad guy in The Last Boy Scout.

How?

Liver cancer.

His Story:

You’ve seen him in countless movies and TV shows. Likely half of his IMDB page hits are people who thought “what the shit was that guy in?!” Taylor Negron was that guy. And he was very good at it. One of his earliest roles was in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, when he famously delivered Jeff Spicoli’s pizza mid-class.

Mr. Hand surely won’t mind.

He played other service industry employees in his young career: a mailman in Better Off Dead, a gas station attendant in One Crazy Summer. He was never a star, but the guy stayed busy.

Negron also was an accomplished comedian and playwright. He started working the LA club circuit while he was still in high school. Among the people reading this, he’s probably most well known for being the bad guy in the “kinda decent when you’re 15, but terrible when you grow up” Bruce Willis vehicle The Last Boy Scout.

Where he came closer to killing Bruce Willis than a thousand Die Hard terrorists combined.

Numerous cameos in Seinfeld, Friends, and uh … The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas ensured that his Wikipedia page would be in a steady rotation for curious viewers.

January 18: The Guy Who Changed How You Watch Sports (Very Slowly)

Who?

Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay.

How?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

His Story:

There are some innovations that become so integral that it’s hard to imagine how things worked before — like, it’s weird to think there was there was a time not too long ago when nobody used forks. Well if you watch sports at all, instant replay is like a fork — the concept of watching a game and not having them replay key moments in slow motion over and over is just … weird. Yet it only goes back to 1963.

That’s when Tony Verna was broadcasting the Army-Navy football game, when a play happened that he found remarkable enough that he was sure viewers would want to see it again. He developed a technique to cue the tape at an exact moment that allowed him to replay it live. Aware that this was a new technology, he actually had to clue the audience in to the amazing shit he was doing, lest they think that the team was instantly scoring again or that they were trapped in a time loop.

“Please don’t excitedly call your bookie or hang yourself just yet.”

February 4: A Little-Known, Yet Huge Part of Star Wars

Who?

Richard Bonehill, actor and swordsmith who played like, half the parts in Star Wars.

How?

Unknown.

His Story:

The advantage of a fictional universe in which most of the population is either wearing a mask or in heavy monster makeup is that you can use the same actors over and over again. The downside for the performers is that’s a pretty hard way to get famous. For instance, not even Star Wars fans know the name Richard Bonehill, despite being probably the busiest actor in the entire trilogy.

Sadly, they failed to cast him as “Killer of All Gungans.”

Bonehill was basically the Swiss army knife in George Lucas’ pocket. Whatever character was needed for a scene, he had the guy for the job. Need an extra Stormtrooper? “Richard! Get in here!” Down one TIE fighter pilot? “Bonehill! Stage three!”

Other roles he assumed in The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi were as a rebel fighter, a Tauntaun handler, and, most famously, as Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot Nien Nunb. A travelling spaceship’s rearview mirror never revealed a more debonair/bewildering sight than the Millennium Falcon approaching from behind:

“It works every time.”

He wasn’t just limited to one franchise, either. He was basically the guy to call if you needed some sword work in your film. A skilled fencer and bladesman, Bonehill instructed actors how best to not murder themselves in films such as Rob Roy, Highlander, and Flash Gordon. But now you know he was the man in the Ree-Yees costume, and his legacy is secure behind that triad-of-dicks mask.

Attack Of The Bones.

February 19: The Writer Who Made Parks And Recreation Great

Who?

Harris Wittels, comedian, writer, and television producer.

How?

Drug overdose.

His Story:

Harris Wittels was one young, beloved comedy writer and performer, who packed a huge body of work into a short life. At once a frequent podcast guest, stand-up comedian, TV writer/producer, and even a drummer in a comics-led band, he helped lead a kind of alternative brand of comedy with the likes of Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, and Louis C.K., whom he also toured with.

He coined the term “humblebrag,” which is a boast clothed in a self-critical disguise (“I’m so clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee in my Lamborghini! #klutz”), which became so popular it led to a book on the subject, and an enormously popular Twitter feed.

But Wittels’ crowning achievement would have to be Parks And Recreation. While he had writing and producing success on shows such as Eastbound & Down, when he began writing (and later producing) Parks after the first season, the show hit its stride. He would become executive producer by season four.

The man created Duke Silver, a character that made Nick Offerman even cooler.

Wittels excelled at self-deprecation. Whether it was shitting on his own B-list material on Comedy Bang! Bang! or documenting his struggles with addiction, he never failed to poke fun at his own humanity.

March 12: The Genius Who Sold 85 Million Books (Without The Help Of A Movie Franchise)

Who?

Terry Pratchett.

How?

Alzheimer’s disease.

His Story:

Terry Pratchett cranked out more than 70 books, and if you like books or laughter at all, you should have read at least one of them by now. He was most famous for the Discworld series, writing 41 novels in a franchise that made him the second-most popular author in the U.K. behind J.K. Rowling. Unlike Rowling, Pratchett never had feature films made of his stories, possibly because they were utterly unfilmable. (Discworld takes place entirely on a giant disc balanced on the backs of four elephants who are themselves standing on the shell of an enormous turtle.)

The turtle isn’t standing on anything, because star turtles can’t stand. Don’t be silly.

In 2007, Pratchett announced to the world that he had Alzheimer’s disease via an online post titled simply “An Embuggerance,” assuring readers that he could still get a few more books done before his mind went. The final messages posted under his name on Twitter were:

April 28: The Singer of the “Pornographic” Song “Louie Louie”

Who?

Jack Ely, Kingsmen singer.

How?

Natural causes.

His Story:

If you think it’s hard to understand what Kurt Cobain or Bob Dylan were saying in most of their songs, take an ear gander at Jack Ely. As a result of being thrust into singing a song at the last minute in order to achieve a “live feel,” the impromptu vocalist reared his head back and screamed the 1963 hit “Louie Louie.”

In the original draft, “Louie” was the actual singer, and the song was a general question as to his whereabouts.

The record-buying public wasn’t the only group that had trouble with the hard-to-discern lyrics. Rumors began to swirl that some of the words were of a pornographic nature, especially if one slowed the record down. Even the FBI stepped in to investigate.

“We have learned that 1963 is going to be a slow year for us. Probably.”

It turns out, the song is merely about a sailor who misses his gal back home. The titular “Louie” is a bartender that has to hear about the poor guy’s problems. The FBI either realized this fact or just plain didn’t care in the end, as they came to the conclusion that the lyrics were “unintelligible at any speed.”

May 4: The Rapping Granny

Who?

Ellen Albertini Dow.

How?

From having lived 101 freaking years.

Her Story:

Any aspiring actors out there bummed that you haven’t landed a film role yet? Well, Ellen Albertini Dow didn’t get her first role until she was freaking 72 years old, after spending decades teaching theater and dance. She pursued acting as a retirement project … then proceeded to work for another three goddamned decades. If you don’t know her from the “Rapper’s Delight” scene in The Wedding Singer

… you saw her as the foul-mouthed granny in Wedding Crashers:

She was also in a bunch of movies that didn’t have “Wedding” in the title, but you get the idea.

May 14: A Blues Giant With A Big Guitar

Who?

B.B. King, blues pioneer.

How?

Alzheimer’s disease.

His Story:

A man described by Eric Clapton as “the most important artist the blues has ever produced,” B.B. King was a nonstop performing and touring musician well into his 80s. He started in Mississippi picking cotton and singing songs on street corners, after dropping out of school in the 10th grade.

His career began to take off when he moved to Memphis and began playing bigger and bigger clubs. One night, two men got into a fight at a bar King was playing a gig at. Throwing punches over a woman named Lucille, they eventually got brawling so hard that they knocked over a kerosene heater, setting the place ablaze. King rushed back into the fire to grab his beloved guitar, which he named Lucille in honor of the occasion. It became a massive part of his identity, and he named every instrument he owned the same name forever after.

“Hey lady, what’s your name?”
“Fartnoise Dogboner.”

King didn’t do anything halfway; he had 15 kids with 15 women, which equals the busiest Christmas mornings in the history of everything. He gambled profusely, especially after moving to Vegas in the mid-70s. Though he left school early, he studied language and mathematics well into his later life. He was also an avid Internet user and tech enthusiast, so much so that he schooled a young reporter on how to rip vinyl albums to make MP3s.

Finally, a hipster who was actually hip.

King’s death was not without controversy. Two of his daughters fervently claimed that he was poisoned by two of his closest assistants. Doctors, who have studied medicine for some time, instead pointed their fingers at the Alzheimer’s, diabetes, coronary disease, and heart failure that had ravaged his 89-year-old body. In other words, poison would likely have been the least of his problems.

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