Top Cat’s Tuesday Top Ten: Most Influential Celebrity Deaths

Last week held the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential rap artists in music history: Tupac Shukar. Remembering his death’s anniversary caused me to think about all of the other influential celebrity deaths that I have bore witness to over the years. Because of our increased love of entertainment, we have more and more celebrities that are relevant to our every day lives and therefore lead to these pop culture icons become idolized and popularized. We as a populous are met with an over saturation of popular culture figures. We see them on TV and movies, can watch their personal lives unfold on Instagram, can see their antics on Snapchat, or anything else that allows us to delve deeper into the lives of our idolized popular culture figures. In our modern society, we know of actors; musicians; politicians; athletes; talk show hosts; and many other people whom we idolize or just enjoy what they do. There is a sad truth to life though: Death. Our favorite popular culture figures are not exempt from this sad reality. The world goes into a frenzy when one of our beloved popular culture figures meets an untimely demise.

I have made a list of the most influential celebrity deaths that I have ever experienced. I use the term celebrity to encompass all facets of ‘people’ because as I have stated earlier…..we know about a lot of people.  (I am excluding any influential people that died before I was born; despite how much I may hate that Elvis Presley died before I could see him in concert. Or witness another movie starring Bruce Lee.)

So here is Top Cat’s Top 10 Most Influential Celebrity Deaths

10. Michael Jackson

(Died June 25th, 2009)

michael-jacksonThe undisputed King of Pop was a worldwide, pop cultural phenomenon. Sadly his contributions to music, dance, and fashion are sometimes overshadowed by the controversial and sometimes questioned lifestyle that he lived. But no one can deny the influence that Michael Jackson has left behind in the gigantic wake that his life left in the ocean of pop culture.

9. Philip Seymour Hoffman 

(Died February 2nd, 2014)


I’m not sure that I could fully get the disturbing image of a sweaty, overweight Philip Seymour Hoffman open mouth kissing Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights until Hoffman’s rendition of one of my favorite pop culture characters: Truman Capote. I read “In Cold Blood” while still in college and the year of my graduation comes The Capote movie. It was remarkable and Hoffman’s Capote was just as remarkable as the man himself was. Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of those actors that made the movie that they were in and his death was a sad loss for the movie industry.

8. Tupac Shakur 

(Died September 13th, 1996)


I was a freshman in high school when we saw that 2pac had been murdered. I had been a 2Pac fan since hearing his work with the Digital Underground (thanks to the 1991 Dan Aykroyd cult comedy classic “Nothing but Trouble” starring Chevy Chase and a then gorgeous Demi Moore) and then on to his solo work. 2pac’s music as well as his poetry (since not only do I love it but I minored in poetry in college) will live on through the ages in our CD players and has definitely joined the pantheon of greatest American musicians.

7. Patrick Swayze 

(Died September 14th, 2009)


So, Patrick Swayze may have been a heart throb because of Ghost and Dirty Dancing but he was a bad-ass, womanizing, karate-kicking, night club cooler from one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time: Road House. Patrick Swayze fought pancreatic cancer for many years and his death was a blow to everyone…especially me.

6. David Bowie 

(Died January 10th, 2016)


The make up drawn lightning bolt on the face of Ziggy Stardust will stay forever entrenched in my mind. Even as a small boy I remember placing the needle tipped arm down on to record after record of rock and soul music. I remember the beginning crackle of the record before the gift of music was placed into my ears. It wasn’t music that drew me to David Bowie at first…it was the Labyrinth. Oh the times that I watched Jim Henson’s classic movie. It was and still is one of my favorite movies. Ah…but the music. The music drew me to David Bowie and a world of songs started to be placed at my finger tips. From “Space Oddity” to “The Man Who Sold the World” (which would be remade and becoming one of my favorite songs of all time and houses one of the most beautiful guitar solos of all time), I loved his music. Much to the chagrin of my Motown-grooving father.

5. Dusty Rhodes 

(Died June 11th, 2015)


The man of the hour, the man with the power. The hit-maker, the record-breaker. He had style and grace with a pretty face. He could make your back crack, and make your liver quiver. He was tough enough to rip off your head and dance down your tonsils. The polka dot clad American Dream Dusty Rhodes was quite possibly the most charismatic personalities that the wrestling world has ever or will ever see. If ya will.

4. Robin Williams 

(Died August 11th, 2014)


From Popeye to Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams and his multi-faceted acting ability has been one of my favorite actors to watch since I was old enough to be able to watch TV with understanding. His stand-up comedy routines, appearances on night time talk shows, TV/movies roles, and his humanitarian work (which includes his work performing for the troops overseas {thusly dubbing him the new Bob Hope} and Comic Relief: the non-profit charity organization which raised money for the homeless) will cement his place in the annals of pop culture and will keep his beautiful spirit alive for all time.

3. Brandon Lee

(Died March 31, 1993)


Bruce Lee’s movies were some of my favorite growing up, so when I heard that his son was starring in a movie opposite the actor who played my favorite cartoon character of all time, He-Man; I knew that it was time to watch Showdown in Little Tokyo. In a time of Jean Claude Van Dam and Steven Seagal movies were the rage, this movie fit right in and thrilled my heart. About a year later, eastern North Carolina was thrown into a whirl when Brandon Lee was accidently killed while filming what would grow into one of my favorite movies of all time: The Crow. The violent nature of Brandon’s death added to the hype of an already amazing movie.

2. Chris Farley 

(Died December 18, 1997)


Chris Farley’s loud, charismatic style immediately drew my attention when he was catapulted onto Saturday Night Live in 1990. I constantly accidently woke up my parents while watching the on screen collaborations of Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade. Farley’s SNL characters, as well as his movie roles, skyrocketed him to the top of my favorite’s list. Growing up, I idolized Chris Farley because despite being a bigger guy; he made people laugh. Chris Farley truly inspired me in my life….despite the negative aspects of his life.

1. Kurt Cobain 

(Died April 5th, 1994)

kurt cobain live in new york
Kurt Cobain (from MTV’s Unplugged Live from New York)

“Smells like Teen Spirit” metaphorically bursted my ear drums as it groundbreakingly pushed itself to the top of the music scene. Kurt Cobain rose to be an influential figure in the youth scene of the early 90s and I was right in the middle of it all. I had my Nirvana T-shirts. I listened to all the songs. I watched all of the videos. I drew x eyed smiley faces every day. For 4 years, Nirvana was on top and I was their biggest fan. I remember that April 5th, 1994 was a Friday. I came home from school, turned on MTV (as you did back then) to see live footage being shot of Kurt’s Seattle home. I still remember the tears that fell when Kurt Loder (MTV news anchor) announced that Cobain was dead in what was an apparent suicide. I remember the disbelief that the captain of the flagship band of Generation X was gone. I still am one of those fans that believe that his wife Courtney Love had him killed but however it happened….a generation lost a leader and the world lost a pop culture phenomenon.


Honorable Mentions: Heath Ledger (Died 2008), Prince (Died April 21th, 2016), Notorious BIG aka Biggy Smalls aka Biggy aka Christopher George Latore Wallace (Died March 9th, 1997), Muhammad Ali (Died June 3rd, 2016), John Pinette (Died 2014), Ryan Dunn (Died 2011), Gene Wilder (2016), Roddy Piper (Died 2015), Leonard Nimoy (Died 2015), Jim Varney aka Ernest P Worrell (Died 2000), Lemmy Kilmster (Died December 2015), Paul Walker (Died 2013)


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