7 Celebrities Who Died on Dec. 31

Betty White National Examiner wrong headline stating she turns 100

There’s something about that last day of the year, December 31, when it claims the life of someone we love or idolize. They were just one day short of making it to another year. There have been several celebrities who have died on Dec. 31.

In 2021 a few publications jumped the gun with early headlines and special issues celebrating Betty White turning 100 (her 100th birthday would have been Jan. 17, 2022); however, the beloved star passed away on Dec. 31 at age 99. Here are some of the stars who passed away on Dec. 31.

Betty White

Age: 99
Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1922
Died: Dec. 31, 2021

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Betty White, (1974), 1970-77.

Everett Collection

“Enjoy life. I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside. If you are still functioning and not in pain, gratitude should be the name of the game. I’m blessed with good health and good mental facilities … I am the luckiest broad alive,” Betty White said. The long beloved TV mainstay first made a name for herself on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, starring as the flirty Sue Ann Nivens. She would go on to play the lovable ditz Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992, and in her last regular TV role was Elka Ostrovsky on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland. White had numerous screen credits to her name including Lake Placid (1999) and The Proposal (2009), among other specials and hosting roles. Thousands of tributes for White poured in from around the world on New Year’s Eve 2021 when her passing was announced.

Ricky Nelson

Age: 45
Birthdate: May 8, 1940
Died: Dec. 31, 1985

RICKY NELSON, 1962, 'Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' publicity portrait."

Everett Collection

Teen heartthrobs never had a truer, more bashful representative than Ricky Nelson. Nelson’s teen-idol status began on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, in which he appeared with dad and mom Ozzie and Harriet and brother David Nelson. Some of our first music videos were bits featuring him singing a song on the show. “Poor Little Fool,” Ricky’s first No. 1 single, featured backup vocals by the Jordanaires (who, among others, had backed up Elvis) and says all we need to know about fools and love. “Poor Little Fool” was not only the first chart-topper for Nelson, but it was also the very first No. 1 single on Billboard’s new Hot 100 chart. Nelson died during the crash-landing of his band’s aircraft in De Kalb, Texas. The plane landed in a field and claimed the lives of seven of the plane’s nine occupants, including Ricky’s fiancée Helen Blair (28), the Stone Canyon Band (Nelson’s backup group), which included pianist Andy Chapin (33), drummer Rick Intveld (22), guitarist Bobby Neal (38), bassist Patrick Woodward (35) and sound technician Clark Russell (35). Both pilots survived the crash.

Wayne Rogers

Age: 82
Birthdate: April 7, 1933
Died: Dec. 31, 2015

MASH, Wayne Rogers, 1972-83

Everett Collection

M*A*S*H’s Trapper John McIntyre (for the series’ first three seasons) had one of the saddest series’ exits as he never really got the chance to say goodbye to his best friend Hawkeye. While the character lived on in the spinoff Trapper John M.D. (played by Pernell Roberts), Rogers went on to star in a handful of other projects including the made-for-TV movie I Dream of Jeannie Fifteen Years Later. He found a second successful career in finance. “M*A*S*H is a world of controlled absurdity and insanity,” Rogers said. “I’m fascinated by those things that lend themselves to insanity. What better place to act out your fantasies than in a show that calls for it?”

William Christopher

Age: 84
Birthdate: Oct. 20, 1932
Died: Dec. 31, 2016

MASH (aka M*A*S*H), William Christohper, 1972-83

Everett Collection

Just a year to the day after his costar Wayne Rogers passed, M*A*S*H’s Father Mulcahy passed away of small-cell carcinoma. Christopher was a veteran of military TV series, having appeared on Hogan’s Heroes and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. “I’ve never gotten out of combat boots,” he once said.

Edward Herrmann

Age: 71
Birthdate: July 21, 1943
Died: Dec. 31, 2014

GILMORE GIRLS, Edward Herrmann, (Season 1), 2000-2007

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Gilmore Girls fans forever remember Edward Hermann for his role as the rule-abiding Richard Gilmore, father to Lorelai and grandfather to Rory. Some of his other credits include The Lost Boys, Saint Maybe, Sweet Poison, Eleanor and Franklin, and Here Come the Munsters.  The Emmy and Tony Award-winning star died from brain cancer.

James Avery

Age: 68
Birthdate: Nov. 27, 1945
Died: Dec. 31, 2013

FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR, James Avery, Will Smith, (1990-1996)

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The true sovereign on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was Uncle Phil (played by James Avery) — an imposing lawyer with a booming voice and commanding presence — who didn’t put up with his nephew’s (Will Smith) shenanigans. Or anyone’s shenanigans for that matter. The comic relief on the 1990-96 comedy often came courtesy of his outbursts at Will’s antics (“Look, you big-eared freeloader …” began one rant). When he roared, we roared with laughter thanks to Avery. He died from complications from open heart surgery.

Natalie Cole

Age: 65
Birthdate: Feb. 6, 1950
Died: Dec. 31, 2015

UNFORGETTABLE: THE NATALIE COLE STORY. Natalie Cole as herself. Aired 12/10/00. 2000.

Everett Collection

The daughter of Nat “King” Cole, the nine-time Grammy-winning artist is best known for hits like “Unforgettable” and “This Will Be.” She died of heart failure brought on by a rare lung disease.

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