We can all attest to the difficulties that the real world has posed in 2020. Sadly, the community of horror films, literature, and television has not been spared; it has been a year in which many performing celebrities who found success within the genre have passed away. With the end of the year coming, we’d like to pay homage to at least some of them.
While it can be difficult to determine who should be considered a true horror actor or performer, our tribute tries to include those who spent a substantial portion of their careers in horror, or made an impact with one significant horror credit to their lives.
Here are some of the most notable figures we have lost over the past 12 months. They will all be missed, even as we look forward to better days in 2021.
(Derek Acorah, died on January 3rd, age 69)
Acorah, who passed away unexpectedly from pneumonia and sepsis, was a famed British television medium, gaining stardom as the host of shows like “Most Haunted” and Derek Acorah’s “Ghost Towns”. He had become somewhat of a disgraced figure after allegations surfaced that he had faked some of the instances in which his body appeared to be taken over by a spirit presence. He also received criticism for conducting public séances in which he attempted to contact the spirits of deceased celebrities like Michael Jackson.
While such controversies left his reputation tainted, his appearances on “Most Haunted” were wildly entertaining, often featuring extreme and borderline violent possessions in which he spoke angrily while sometimes falling to the ground and contorting his body. In contrast to many ghost hunters, Acorah had a strong screen presence and made the art of ghost hunting fun and dramatic, if not exactly accurate or scientific.
(Bobb Cotter, died on February 8th, age 60)
A well-known author within the horror community, Cotter died from the effects of a stroke. He wrote a number of books, including Monster Magazines: A Critical Study of the Black and White Publications of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Cotter also wrote biographies of horror actresses Caroline Munro and Ingrid Pitt and did comprehensive research on other actresses known for their association with Hammer Films.
Cotter regularly attended the popular Monster Bash Conference, held every June in Pennsylvania. A colorful personality, Cotter often dressed in a light-colored suit that was reminiscent of Carl Kolchak, the vampire and monster hunter from The Night Stalker film and TV series. As part of his Monster Bash appearances, Cotter often spoke on the subject of Mexican horror films, one of his preferred areas of study.
(Ben Cross, died on August 18th, age 72)
An accomplished British actor, Cross became a permanent part of horror culture when he took on the role of Barnabas Collins in the 1991 television remake of “Dark Shadows”. Faced with the daunting task of following Jonathan Frid in the role, Cross succeeded in giving Barnabas his own interpretation, as a fiercer, more violent, and less conflicted vampire. It was certainly a tough act for Cross to follow—given Frid’s place in pop culture—but the English actor received praise from fans and media alike for his own distinct turn as the famed vampire.
Cross appeared in several other horror ventures, including the 12 Monkeys television series and the 2006 feature film, Wicked Little Things. On the science fiction front, he also made a memorable appearance as Spock’s father in the 2009 adaptation of Star Trek.
Cross’ passing came after a battle with cancer. He died only a few days after completing work on the film, The Devil’s Light. The movie, co-starring Virginia Madsen and centering on a nun performing an exorcism, is scheduled for release in January of 2021.
(Cheryl Duran, died on January 22nd; age 59)
Her name might not be readily familiar to many fans, but it was Duran who ran the excellent and popular Facebook page known as “The Monster Club,” in which she posted photos and written entries about horror films and famous actors from the genre.
In addition to The Monster Club page, Cheryl ran the web site of the same name and wrote several books on horror, including The Monster Club.com – Guide to Horror. She also served as the producer of a horror/comedy film, earning her a page at the IMDB web site.
Prior to her passing, Duran’s health had taken a downturn in recent months, limiting her ability to continue posting. Her last post came on Christmas Day of 2019; she succumbed to heart-related problems less than a month later.
On a personal note, Cheryl was very helpful to this writer, giving me cogent advice about the best ways to promote my own Facebook horror page and ways to generate more interest in it. She took the time to offer genuine help and advice, for which I will always be indebted.
(Lee Fierro, died on April 5th, age 90)
Fierro, who died from the coronavirus, made only three appearances in films, but one of them proved especially memorable. In the 1975 blockbuster film, Jaws, Fierro played the role of Mrs. Kintner, the mother of the first victim of a shark attack. In a famed scene, Fierro’s character, wearing a funeral veil, confronts Chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) and slaps him in the face before blaming him for the decision to keep the beaches of Amity open. The scene lasts only a few minutes but remains one of the most memorable and heart-rending parts of a classic film.
In 1987, Fierro reprised her role as Mrs. Kintner in Jaws The Revenge. While her screen career was relatively limited, she spent 25 years as the artistic director for the Island Theatre Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.
(Stuart Gordon, died on March 24th, age 72)
Gordon, who succumbed to multiple organ failure, was known as the creator of several cult classic films, in particular low-budget movies like Re-Animator and From Beyond, both of which developed avid followings and starred two of his preferred actors, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.
Gordon specialized in taking stories from famed writers H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe and adapting them into successful films despite limited financial resources. His film credits included The Pit and the Pendulum, based on Poe’s story, and Castle Freak, another film that starred Combs and Crampton and one that has become a favorite of late-night horror hosts. While Gordon was best known for his efforts as a filmmaker, he also worked in theater. He directed the live show, “Nevermore…An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” in which Combs portrayed the legendary writer of horror poetry and short stories.
(Danny Hicks, died on June 30th, age 68)
The talented character actor, who died from cancer, first made a name for himself in the 1980s and nineties before enjoying a career resurgence in the early 2000s. Hicks became close friends with director Sam Raimi, who cast him in several of his movies, including major hits like Evil Dead II and Darkman.
After a seven-year gap in his career, Hicks returned to the industry in 2004 and remained busy for the next decade and a half, appearing in films through 2018.
(Ian Holm, died on June 19th, age 88)
The British-born Holm, who passed away due to Parkinson’s disease, was a decorated and knighted actor who gained enormous fame late in his career for his work in The Lord of the Rings films. But he also made a name for himself in horror thanks to his memorable performance in the original Alien film of 1979. Holm, who at the time was little known in America, played the character of Ash, a seemingly human astronaut who turns out to be an android and an enemy agent charged with bringing the alien life form back to Earth.
Holm also appeared in several other horror ventures, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and From Hell, the feature film about “Jack the Ripper.”
(John Karlen, died on January 22nd, age 86)
A mainstay of the original “Dark Shadows” series that aired from 1966 to 1971 on ABC, Karlen played Willie Loomis, the ever-nervous man-servant to vampire Barnabas Collins. It was Karlen’s Loomis who opens up the coffin that unleashes Barnabas on Collinwood. The introduction of Barnabas in the 1967 episode would change the course of the show, essentially saving it from early cancellation.
While Karlen was not a headlining actor, he performed wonderfully in giving Loomis an ever-jittery presence, seemingly always one step away from incurring the wrath of Barnabas.
In addition to his TV work, Karlen appeared in both of the Dark Shadows films of the early 1970s and also starred in the sexually charged Daughters of Darkness, a 1971 movie about the infamous Countess Bathory. During the filming, Karlen came to the defense of actress Danielle Ouimet, who was struck in the face by director Harry Kumel. Karlen punched Kumel in the face, sending a clear message that his dictatorial direction would not be tolerated.
Continuing to act into the 1990s, Karlen became a staple at horror conventions, particularly those featuring panels of original “Dark Shadows” cast members.
(Daria Nicolodi, died on November 26th, age 70)
While Nicolodi was not a household name to many filmgoers, the Italian actress was enormously popular within the genre of horror, especially to those fans and followers of director Dario Argento. Involved in a long-term relationship with the director, Nicolodi starred in such films as Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae, and Opera.
At one point, Nicolodi was scheduled to play one of the key roles in Argento’s 1977 film, Suspiria, which she had co-written. But she suffered a back injury at the last moment, preventing her from playing the part, which was then given to another Italian actress, Stefania Casini.
Nicolodi is survived by her daughter, fellow actress Asia Argento. The cause of Nicolodi’s death has not been revealed publicly.
(David Prowse, died on November 28th, age 85)
Prowse was a six-foot, seven-inch bodybuilder who turned to acting in the 1960s, often taking uncredited roles that emphasized his enormous size. Best known for playing Darth Vader in the early Star Wars movies, the British-born Prowse provided a strong physical compliment to the wonderful voice work of James Earl Jones. But Prowse also had a connection to the world of horror, portraying monsters in The Horror of Frankenstein and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. In the latter film, he plays a particularly hideous and beastly creature, one that was covered in heavy makeup and fake hair. It remains one of the most distinctive monster portrayals in horror history. Prowse also had small roles in Vampire Circus and the controversial film, A Clockwork Orange.
By all accounts, Prowse was a kind gentleman whose personality belied his often intimidating presence, gaining him a reputation as a likeable castmate within the movie industry.
Prowse passed away after a short illness, but the specific cause of his death has not been announced.
(Diana Rigg, died on September 10th, age 82)
An accomplished actress best known for her recent work on the series, “Game of Thrones”, and her iconic role as Emma Peel on the 1960s hit TV show, “The Avengers”, Rigg also ventured occasionally into the world of horror. In 1995, she appeared in The Haunting of Helen Walker, a made-for-TV movie. But it was her appearance in another horror film, one from the early 1970s, that gained her far more acclaim.
In 1973, Rigg starred in Theater of Blood; Rigg called it the best film of her long career. Starring Vincent Price in the lead role, Theater of Blood centers on a Shakespearean actor named Edward Lionheart who seeks revenge against the critics that have savaged him. In the film, Rigg plays Price’s daughter, but she also performs a disguised role as one of his henchmen. In a particularly famous scene in which Price dons an Afro-style wig and pretends to be a hairdresser, Rigg also wears a disguise, sporting a wig and a phony mustache that make her look like a man. Upon initial review, most viewers (including this one) had no idea that it was Rigg wearing the mustache and wig.
Throughout her career, Rigg’s beauty and versatility made her a special talent, one who was equally comfortable in film, TV, and theatrical roles. In 1994, she earned the title of Dame Diana Rigg, awarded by the Queen of England for her contributions to theater and film.
(Joel Schumacher, died on June 22nd, age 80)
Schumacher, who died from the effects of cancer, was a famed director who only occasionally ventured into the world of horror, but when he did, he made an impact. His 1987 film, The Lost Boys became one of the most popular horror films of the decade, as Schumacher successfully planted a group of vampires onto modern day California. The film mixed a serious vampire story with plenty of humor, while also utilizing the talents of young actors like Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and Jason Patric.
In the 1990s, Schumacher again tapped into the horror vein with two films about real-life terrors: Flatliners, centered on a group of young people experimenting with self-imposed near-death experiences, and 8 MM, which explored the seedy world of snuff films.
(Max von Sydow, died on March 8th, age 90)
A legendary actor, von Sydow appeared in a number of horror films over the years, but his most famous portrayal stood above the rest—the title role in the 1973 film, The Exorcist. As Father Merrin, von Sydow leas the effort to extricate the demon from young Regan MacNeil (played by Linda Blair), whose physical deterioration baffles her doctors and her mother. It was not an easy role for von Sydow. He was only 43 at the time, but he wore several layers of makeup in order to make it appear that he was closer to 70.
In interviews that followed the production of The Exorcist, von Sydow discussed how difficult it was to remember his lines while the demon, voiced by Mercedes McCambridge, unleashed a torrent of obscenities against him and his fellow priest, Father Karras (played by Jason Miller).
In spite of the difficult conditions, von Sydow delivered a stunning and sympathetic performance as Father Merrin. In addition to The Exorcist, he took on a villainous role in Stephen King’s Needful Things, in which he portrayed devious shopkeeper Leland Gaunt. He also starred in more recent horror movies like the new adaptation of The Wolfman and Shutter Island.
Von Sydow’s prolific career spanned from 1949 until 2018. The specific cause of his death has not been publicly announced.
(Fred Willard, died on May 15th, age 86)
Willard was best known for his efforts as a comic actor, but he took a couple of turns at horror, including the film, Idle Hands. His most memorable horror role came in 1979, when he played the local small-town real estate agent, Larry Crockett, in the made-for-TV film, Salem’s Lot. After being caught in bed with another man’s wife, Willard’s Crockett is held at gunpoint by the furious husband and forced to stare down the barrel of a shotgun. And then just when he escapes that predicament, he runs directly into the face of the unseen vampire, Kurt Barlow, who is waiting outside of the house.
Willard, who never officially retired from the industry, continued to act up until his passing in the spring. The cause of his death was reported as cardiac arrest.
Check out what Bruce is up to on his Facebook page: Ghostly Gallery.
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