Celebs we've lost in 2019

The entertainment world began 2019 in sad fashion. Three stars passed away on the second day of the year: Wrestling icon "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Curb Your Enthusiasm's Bob Einstein, and Daryl Dragon, one half of music group Captain and Tennille. Later that month, the world lost Top Chef star Fatima Ali after a heartbreaking battle with cancer and also Broadway legend Carol Channing, who played the titular role in Hello Dolly! and became a leading lady in film and television.  

These talented entertainers and household names left an indelible mark on the world, be it through acting, athletics, cuisine, comedy, music, or just high-quality smack-talk. Let's take a moment to honor the stars we've lost in 2019 and to revisit their incredible contributions to the creative arts. 

'Mean' Gene Okerlund

Iconic WWE interviewer "Mean" Gene Okerlund died at age 75 on Jan. 2, 2019. Okerlund had been suffering from health issues for years, undergoing three kidney transplants, according to ESPN. Okerlund was famous for his insult-heavy wrestling promos for WWE, which peaked in the 1980s with stars such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. During the mid-'90s, Okerlund transitioned to WCW. His final major wrestling appearance was on Jan. 22, 2018, for the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw.

The wrestling community was heartbroken over Okerlund's death. WWE CEO Vince McMahon tweeted, "It was impossible not to crack a smile whenever 'Mean' Gene Okerlund entered a room. He was the voice behind so many of WWE's most iconic and entertaining moments, and the WWE family will miss him immensely."

Famed wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had this to say about Okerlund on Twitter: "As an interviewer, pitch man, announcer, or host, he was untouchable. Simply the best. Total professional with quick wit, sarcasm, humor, and that golden voice."

Daryl Dragon

Daryl Dragon of musical duo The Captain and Tennille died on Jan. 2, 2019. The "Captain" was 76 years old. Dragon was born into a musical family. His father was an Oscar-winning conductor and composer, and his mother was a singer who worked with Bing Crosby, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Dragon was classically trained and performed with The Beach Boys before achieving fame with wife partner Toni Tennille in the 1970s. Captain and Tennille's biggest hits were its cover of Neil Sedaka's "Love Will Keep Us Together" and the No. 1 hit "Do That to Me One More Time."

Dragon and Tennille tied the knot in 1975 and divorced in 2014. Following his death, Tennille revealed troubling details about the singer's private live. According to Closer Weekly, she "found out he had Parkinsonian symptoms, including tremors exacerbated by anxiety and PTSD after [allegedly] being beaten from age 4 by his famous dad, bandleader Carmen Dragon." Tennille said she moved to Arizona around 2016 to help care for Dragon. That reportedly meant "firing home health aides whom she said kept him drugged at night, finding him a new place to live with better care and visiting regularly." She was by his side when he passed. "He was a brilliant man," she said, "and I loved him with all my heart."

Bob Einstein

Curb Your Enthusiasm star Bob Einstein died on Jan. 2, 2019, after a battle with cancer, reported Fox News. He was 76 years old. Einstein initially planned on pursuing advertising as a career, but he was discovered by actor and comedian Tom Smothers while performing in a public access show as a favor to a friend. It led to a lucrative comedy writing and acting career, and Einstein won his first Emmy in 1969 for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. In 1979, Einstein created the goofy character Super Dave Osborne, who appeared in various shorts and series for three decades. The New York Times described Osborne as "something of a cartoon character — a witless, deadpan parody of bravado-fueled stuntmen like Evel Knievel."

In 2004, Einstein debuted on Curb Your Enthusiasm as Marty Funkhouser, the "perpetually enraged" pal of  Larry David. "Never have I seen an actor enjoy a role the way Bob did playing Marty Funkhouser on 'Curb,'" David said (via The New York Times). "There was no one like him, as he told us again and again."

Carol Channing

Broadway legend Carol Channing died on Jan. 15, 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday. Channing was best known for her Broadway portrayal of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello Dolly! According to Playbill, she played that role three separate times within 30 years and won a Tony for the part in 1964

Channing became a stage star with her Tony-winning role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949, but was replaced for the 1953 film adaptation with Marilyn Monroe, reported Playbill. She made her mark on the silver screen playing nightclub singer Muzzy Van Hossmere in 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie – she was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for that role. She later became a television staple, appearing in everything from game shows to Touched by an Angel to Family Guy. Channing was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Tonys and the Drama Critics Circle.

Channing was married four times, but her final wedding in 2003 may have had the sweetest story line. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "In her 2002 memoir, Just Lucky, I Guess, Channing reflected on her first love at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco, saying, 'I was so in love with Harry [Kulijian] I couldn't stop hugging him.' A mutual friend who read the book urged the recently widowed Kullijian … to call Channing. They got engaged two weeks after their reunion and wed three months later." They were together until his death in 2011.

Fatima Ali

Top Chef star Fatima Ali died on Jan. 25, 2019 at just 29 years old after battling a rare form of bone cancer. The New York City chef was featured on the 15th season of the hit Bravo TV show. In October 2018, Ali penned a heartbreaking essay in Bon Appetit revealing that she had only about a year left to live. During that time, she pursued her bucket list, which included meeting Ellen DeGeneres and traveling the world to dine at renowned eateries.

She recalled one particularly special dinner in a subsequent essay for the culinary magazine. A restaurant manager had "made a replica of my food stall, VanPakistan, in the kitchen. Down to the tablecloth. Down to the kind of napkin dispenser I had. The chef made the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth Seekh kebabs I've ever had, with flatbread and pickled onions and green chutney they had made just for me. My mom was in tears, bawling. My older brother was crying. Everyone was hugging each other."

In November 2018, she wrote (via Bon Appetit), "There are days that I'm exceptionally afraid. There are days I sit alone and cry, because I don't want to do it in front of my family. And there are other days that we all sit down and cry together, because it is such a scary thing. But at the same time, you can't let that fear cripple you. It's harder being miserable than it is to be happy."