The 10 Most Dead People of 2010


Things that ended in 2010 include the original-flavour Law & Order (inexplicably prompting creator Dick Wolf to ask network executives, “Is this because I’m a lesbian?”), the marriages of Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag and Al and Tipper Gore (regrettably not followed by a partner swap), and the comic strip Cathy (which non-readers may safely assume ended with Cathy finally meeting someone on the Internet to fulfill her longtime fantasy of being sexually murdered by a stranger). And, as usual, so did a bunch of celebrities’ lives. Blame it on the Hollywood Star Whackers.

10. Gary Coleman

It’s now been ten months since Gary Coleman was cut short in his prime, marking his longest arrest-free period since 2007. The void he leaves behind goes to show that the size of the person doesn’t make a difference as to how dead he or she is. Just because there was less of Gary Coleman than anyone else doesn’t mean he’s less dead. Otherwise, Manute Bol, at 7’7″ the tallest player ever to appear in the NBA, would be a slam dunk as 2010’s deadest person. The worst of it is that, with Coleman dead and buried in a shoebox in Conrad Bain’s back yard, there’s no one left to prevent the Bicycle Man from molesting Dudley. But at least he’s with Dana Plato now. And Dana’s son. And Dixie Carter. Who’s next in the Diff’rent Strokes death pool anyway? The smart money is, as always, on Todd Bridges, who must have been driven to fits of apoplexy when, in each of his statements to the media in the days following Coleman’s passing, every single reporter’s follow-up question was to ask what he was talking about.

9. J.D. Salinger

One might think that reclusive writer J.D. Salinger couldn’t possibly be one of the most dead people this year. Having barely been seen alive in the last few decades, let alone published anything, the Catcher in the Rye author seemed, for all intents and purposes, already long-dead. Yet, within days of Salinger’s death, America’s favorite surviving literary recluse—Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson—crawled out of his spider hole to give his first interview in 15 years, no doubt motivated by sudden fear of his lonely corpse eventually being discovered after being partially consumed by a starving stuffed tiger. Also, though the news of Salinger’s death was met by immediate dread of the inevitable adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye starring mopey Twilight vampire Robert Pattinson (with screenplay by Diablo Cody), this turned to hope that 83-year-old Jerry Lewis, who had tried for years to get his hands on the part of Holden Caulfield despite not having read the book until he was in his thirties, would finally get his wish, resulting in potentially the greatest cinematic abortion since Lewis’s own notoriously unreleased concentration-camp dramedy, The Day the Clown Cried.

8. Greg Giraldo

Greg Giraldo died the same day that Tony Curtis went yondah to be with his heavenly faddah. So why does a comparatively unknown comic get the nod over an old-time Hollywood legend? Because Giraldo was a mainstay of the Comedy Central celebrity roasts. After this Labour Day’s celebrity roast marathon, viewers might have seen enough of Giraldo for a lifetime, and apparently God agreed. So it would be only right to replace the conventional funeral eulogy with a succession of his fellow comics telling jokes about how dead he is. One can imagine roastmaster Jeff Ross mercilessly lampooning Giraldo’s personal foibles during his eulogy, because Giraldo would have wanted it that way. “Artie Lange is in the audience,” he might say. “Artie says Greg’s death is a bitter pill to swallow. And he should know! Lisa Lampinelli is here too. We know that, because if she were the one in the casket, the front row would be filled with a dozen weeping black men. And at last, we turn to our guest of honor, Greg Giraldo. How dead is Greg? Let me tell you, Greg is so dead that his decisions as a judge on Last Comic Standing have been overturned due to his ineligibility for the position!”

7. Tom Bosley

Best remembered as Richie Cunningham’s dad, Tom Bosley is also one of a series of men who spent time around Murder, She Wrote star Angela “The Black Widow” Lansbury and wound up dead for their troubles, having been predeceased by Jerry Orbach and Wayne Rogers. (Granted, all three were pushing seventy or older, but foul play can’t be ruled out.) As Bosley’s body is wrapped and disposed of in a Glad trash bag as per his wishes, we can take solace in knowing that he and iconic TV mom Barbara Billingsley of Leave It to Beaver, who predeceased him by mere days, will make great TV parents to all the child stars in heaven. He was a good man, and he’s with Chuck Cunningham now. Come to think of it, didn’t the Cleavers’ maid Minerva mysteriously disappear, just like Chuck Cunningham? Maybe Mr. C and June Cleaver won’t be great parents in heaven after all. But they’ll be a perfect couple somewhere.

6. Corey Haim

Speaking of former child stars in heaven, here’s a fact: The same day he was offered Lucas, Corey Haim turned down River Phoenix’s role in Stand By Me. Had he taken it, would it have been Haim found dead in front of the Viper Room all those years ago? It’s not hard to imagine. Instead of a glamorous fatal drug overdose at the height of his fame, a bloated, lonely, and unemployable Haim suffered a pathetic ending as inevitable as the million “Lost Boy” headlines that were bound to follow. (Other notable headlines: “Haim Wraps Shooting on ‘Licence to Die'”; “Feldman Starts Production on ‘The One Corey'”.) It was utterly unsurprising; the only questions raised were whether his erstwhile life partner Corey Feldman would show up at the funeral dressed as Haim, the way he had dressed up as Michael Jackson at his funeral, or whether Feldman would just come dressed in the Michael Jackson outfit again, it being his new official mourning attire. Heartbreakingly, Feldman didn’t show up at all.

5. Rue McClanahan

Blame her Golden Girls co-star Betty White, who sent the ailing McClanahan a don’t-get-well card telling her to hurry up and die so she could be the last Golden Girl standing. (In fact, with Dixie Carter’s passing, the Designing Women are starting to fall too, and White might just live to feed the Sex and the City girls to her pet gator. This isn’t a stretch; Rue “The Slutty One” McClanahan was younger in the first season of The Golden Girls than Kim “The Slutty One” Cattrall was when the latest Sex and the City movie came out. The point is, the Sex and the City girls are getting up there, but to stay on the safe side, don’t form a sassy female foursome until Betty White is safely staked through the heart.) Though she and White famously switched Golden Girls roles to avoid typecasting, playing a man-hungry cougar came naturally to McClanahan; she married six times and once hooked up with Benson star Robert Guillaume. (She likely never went after that other great 1980s TV butler, Mr. Belvedere, because the infamous accident in which he required hospitalization after sitting on his own testicles rendered him incapable of stud duties.) Not only could she fall into bed with anyone, but she also claimed she could fall asleep anywhere and was indeed often found sleeping in various places on the Golden Girls set. So actually, maybe someone should go check on her, just in case.

4. Captain Beefheart

As the Righteous Brothers sang (and as one of them ought to be able to verify by now), if there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band. The class of 2010 would, in itself, be a hell of a band, with pint-sized heavy metal powerhouse Ronnie James Dio as lead singer, power-pop cult figure Alex Chilton as chief songwriter, and Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren as manager. But the undisputed bandleader would unquestionably be Don Van Vliet—better known, with his backing musicians, as Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band (or, as your author’s half-asleep girlfriend once called them, Dr. Monster and the Shit Kings). Beefheart ruled his band with an iron fist; indeed, his former drummer reports being bloodied by punches to the face, as well as being fired by being thrown down a flight of stairs after failing to fulfill Beefheart’s request to “play a strawberry” on the drums. And yet, when invited to rejoin, he came back—again and again. Such was the ruthless perfectionist’s cult leader-like hold over his followers, whom he berated, imprisoned, and starved until they resembled concentration camp internees in the name of fulfilling his musical vision. Fellow musicians hailed the results as innovative, avant-garde, and daringly original. Ordinary folks hailed his music as cacophonous, upsetting, and nausea-inducing. They were both right.

3. Chris Kanyon

As usual, many names were crossed off the Alive Wrestlers List (a more fluid document than you might think; you can imagine how many times the Undertaker has been erased and penciled in again following various casket matches and resurrections). This year, the final bell tolled for Bastion Booger and his beloved Luna Vachon, as well as Jack Brisco, Gene Kiniski, King Curtis Iaukea, Edouard Carpentier, and Skandor Akbar. We also lost seven-and-a-half footer Giant González (Manute Bol’s main rival for 2010’s Longest Coffin award), raising questions of whether Paul Bearer would put aside his feud with González’s manager Harvey Wippleman to preside over the funeral services. Cowboy wrestler Lance Cade, described variously by announcers as a “stud” and a “hoss,” was, at age 29, younger than a couple of notable actual stud racehorses euthanized this year. On the other hand, Angelo Poffo, father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Leapin’ Lanny Poffo, died at an astounding 84 years of age, the equivalent of 210 in wrestler years. And Grizzly Smith, father of Sam Houston, Rockin’ Robin, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts died at 77—arguably not soon enough, given Jake’s claims that he was conceived when Smith raped the 12-year-old daughter of Jake’s grandmother, whom he was dating at the time. Finnish environmentalist wrestler Ludvig Borgia also passed away, as did his old rival Lex Luger, who was reportedly killed by a sled at the Winter Olympics while visiting from his home in Atlanta, Georgia. But in the end, who’s deader than Kanyon? Nobody.

2. Dennis Hopper

The only surprising part about Dennis Hopper’s presence on a “Most Dead People of 2010” list is the “2010” part. It’s simply amazing that he lived as long as he did. At his peak, he consumed more than half-gallon of rum, 28 beers, and three grams of cocaine a day. He was once arrested during a naked, drug-fueled rampage in Los Alamos, New Mexico; another time he was found in the Mexican jungle, wandering naked, raving about an alien landing and World War III, and begging police to shoot him. He drove his car onto an airport runway to block Michelle Phillips from fleeing their eight-day marriage (put off by his firing guns in the house, she’d have left sooner except that he’d had the foresight to handcuff her); another time, he was committed to the nuthouse after trying to escape a moving airplane by climbing onto the wing. He pulled a knife on Rip Torn during the making of True Grit and was chased around the set by a gun-wielding John Wayne. He walked away from a head-on collision with a speeding truck in Jamaica without a scratch. In either a daredevil stunt or a public suicide attempt, he once sat in the eye of the hurricane of a ring of dynamite sticks at a Houston speedway and blew himself up. And appearing as King Koopa in the critically panned box-office-bomb film adaptation of Super Mario Bros. almost certainly should have caused him to die in shame.

1. Leslie Nielsen

The reaction was unanimous to Leslie Neilsen’s death: Truly, you cannot be serious. Certainly not. Verily and forsooth, even. (It’s an overlooked question as to why Nielsen would have objected to being called “Shirley” anyway. It’s no worse than “Leslie”, though it’s not impossible for “Leslie” to be a manly sounding name; witness actress Leslie Mann.) Much is made of his transformation from dramatic leading man to comedic actor to super-sleuth investigating the appearance of an impostor Undertaker at SummerSlam ’94, though perhaps his most baffling move was his entry into the crowded marketplace of comedic instructional golf videos; here was a man who saw Dorf on Golf and thought he could do better. An unquestionable high point was meeting Queen Elizabeth II in 2005, though it’s unclear whether she was aware he had saved her from being assassinated by California Angels right fielder Reggie Jackson years earlier. In the end, though, the once deadpan star is now simply dead, though he did outlast his Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult costar Anna Nicole Smith, some 40 years his junior. He also outlived Peter Graves and jive-talking airline passenger Barbara Billingsley, but only slightly. Can this recent trio of deaths point to an Airplane curse? Tread lightly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

6 Responses to “The 10 Most Dead People of 2010”

  1. Well done, as usual. I always look forward to your “Most Dead” posts.

    Two things:
    1. I’d watch “What’chu Talkin’ ‘Bout, Tragedy?”. Tony Cox hasn’t gotten a major role since “Bad Santa”, but he is easily my favorite black little person actor that didn’t star in a 1980s sitcom.

    2. I would trade in Greg Giraldo for Geraldo Rivera in a heartbeat.

    • 2 Peter Lynn

      Thanks! Two replies:

      1. When Tony Cox asked how tall he could grow, the answer was, simply, “Half.” Speaking of Bad Santa, here’s a question: Alex Borstein is literally in the film for only a couple of seconds as an unnamed character, so how is it that she got billing in the opening credits? If Cox had her agent, maybe he’d be appearing in better stuff than Date, Epic, and Disaster Movie.

      2. I’m willing to put up with Geraldo Rivera so long as I can call him Jerry Rivers and he agrees to keep occasionally publicly humiliating himself.

  2. 3 Peter Lynn

    I just wanted to add how difficult it was to omit hockey legend Pat Burns. After all, how many Jack Adams trophies has Gary Coleman won? It’s doubly cruel that he should be shut out of not only this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame voting but also this list. However, the temporary reinstatement of his name on the Alive NHL Coaches list following the premature rumours of his death, while a rare pleasure, greatly hurt his standing on a ranking of the most dead people.

  3. 4 Victoria

    Wayne Rogers is very much alive. Maybe you were thinking of Pernell Roberts who died in 2010. He played “Trapper John, MD” and since Wayne Rogers played Trapper in the tv version of “M*A*S*H”, confusion often ensues.

    See Mr. Rogers each week on “Cashin’ In” on the Fox News Network–alive.

    • 5 Peter Lynn

      Huh. What’s really weird is that for much of this year, I was convinced (and went around telling people) that Angela Lansbury was dead too. Yet, she too is very much alive. What is it about Murder, She Wrote that makes the mortal status of its cast members so oddly ambiguous? It’s like the Schrödinger’s cat-box of 1980’s television.

      • 6 Victoria

        Well, my husband always said the most dangerous town in America was….Cabot Cove, ME. So, there you are.

        For more proof that Wayne Rogers’ still counts himself among the living, you can check out his website at

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