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There are some celebrities who are such big superstars it would be impossible not to hear about it if they died. But, there are others who were in our favorite tv shows and movies, and then just seemed to disappear. Some celebrities we grew up watching, and others who have been on the small and the big screen more recently, have passed away without anyone really finding out about what happened. For some reason, their deaths just didn’t make the headlines. There are stars who battled their own inner demons, or drug and alcohol addiction, which ultimately led to their deaths. While there are others who have been cut down in their prime as the result of freak accidents at their home or horrific car crashes which led to injuries so severe that no one could have survived them. Others have passed on because they committed suicide when life just seemed too much to bear, while some have lost battles with rare illnesses. There are even some celebrities whose deaths remain a total mystery, still to be solved. While many celebrities and icons are mourned by the whole world, for others, their passing has been a more private affair, with only friends, family and loved ones in the know. Read on to find out the surprising deaths of stars you may not have realized were no longer with us.
Michael Clarke Duncan – Heart Attack
He often played the “tough guy” in movies. But, sadly, even tough guys can fall victim to all types of diseases. The list of movies he has appeared in is as impressive as his Oscar nominations. He appeared in The Green Mile, The Whole Nine Yards and Armageddon to name just a few of his best-known movies. Sadly, despite medical treatment, he passed away as a result of a heart attack at the age of 54.
Nicole Dehuff – Pneumonia
Tragically, Nicole Dehuff’s death showed that even doctors can get it wrong when it comes to the types of treatment they offer and the diagnosis they give. Best known for her role in the film Meet the Parents, she sought medical treatment when she started to suffer from a respiratory condition. She was told she had bronchitis and sent home with medication. But, sadly, her condition got worse and she died at the age of 30 as a result of pneumonia.
Thuy Trang – Car Accident
Surely everyone had a favorite power ranger while watching the series as a child! Thuy Trang was known for playing the yellow power ranger in the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series. Sadly, she never got the chance to further her acting career. She died after suffering catastrophic injuries in a car crash when she was just 27. Trang died before she got to hospital for medical treatment because of devastating internal injuries she sustained when the car flipped over.
Sunny Johnson – Burst Blood Vessel
Best known for playing figure skater Jeanie in Flashdance, Sunny Johnson sadly died just a year after the movie was released. Although she was rushed to hospital, no medical treatment could save her, and she died at the age of 30 after a blood vessel burst in her brain. One of the cruelest types of diseases to suffer, she was proclaimed clinically dead when she arrived at hospital and the decision was taken to take her off the respirator.
Harold Ramis – Autoimmune Inflammatory Vasculitis
Harold Ramis was best known for playing geeky Egon Spengler in the Ghostbuster franchise. Sadly, he has now passed over to the other side himself. As well as acting, Ramis was a successful director and writer in Hollywood. But, there are obviously some types of diseases which can hit you no matter how famous or successful you are! Ramis started having medical treatment for inflammation of the blood vessels in 2001 and died three years later, aged 69.
Justin Pierce – Suicide
Known for playing Casper in the movie Kids, a skateboarder with a drug and alcohol addiction, Justin Pierce was a troubled teen, who started skipping school and smoking cigarettes following his parents’ divorce. His troubles continued into later life. Although he found love and married stylist Gina Rizzo in 1999, he was found a year later hanged in the Bellagio Hotel. It was too late for any medical treatment by the time hotel security found him. He had left two suicide notes.
Laura Branigan – Ventricular Brain Aneurysm
Laura was a big name in the music industry, contributing to albums including the Ghostbusters and Flashdance soundtracks. Fans across the world were devastated when she passed away in 2004 as a result of a ventricular brain aneurysm. Thankfully, family members were able to be with her while she underwent medical treatment and at the time of her death. She had already had the foresight to make her last will and testament, which meant they knew what her wishes were.
J.T. Walsh – Heart Attack
J.T. Walsh was often the man we loved to hate, because he played the villain so many times. He starred in A Few Good Men, The Negotiator and Good Morning, Vietnam, to name but a few of his achievements. After feeling unwell, he suffered a heart attack in hospital. Despite medical treatment, he died, aged 54. He was so respected among his former co-stars that Jack Nicholson dedicated his Oscar for As Good as it Gets to him.
Andrew Koenig – Suicide
One in four people are affected by mental health issues, and Andrew Koenig was one of them. Even with medical treatment, clinical depression can lead to people taking their own lives. Koenig had small screen success on Growing Pains, playing Mike Seaver’s friend Boner. He was also a successful writer and director. But, his behavior and drug and alcohol addiction started to concern family and friends, and he was found hanged in Stanley Park, Vancouver, at the age of 41.
Chris Penn – Heart Disease
Chris Penn had some big footsteps to follow in, given that his elder brother Sean Penn is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. But, he didn’t let that hold him back, winning parts in big movies, including Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pale Rider. After turning 40, Chris was given the devastating news that he had a heart condition. Full details of his medical treatment were never given. Sadly, he passed away in 2006.
Michael Jeter – Epileptic Seizure
He starred in some of the best-loved movies of all time, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Green Mile, and The Polar Express. Although he was receiving medical treatment as he was HIV positive, Jeter had been in good health, so fans couldn’t understand why he would have been found dead at his home in LA at the age of 50. His partner Sean Blue later revealed he had suffered an epileptic seizure.
Earl Hindman – Lung Cancer
Known to millions as the oddball neighbor in the sitcom Home Improvement, Earl Hindman doled out questionable “wisdom” to the main character Tim Taylor over the garden fence. Taylor must have sometimes questioned buying real estate next to Hindman’s character Wilson. W. Wilson. Hindman died in 2003, at the age of 61, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A long-time smoker, it is thought his habit contributed to his cancer diagnosis.
Alice Playten – Heart Failure / Pancreatic Cancer / Diabetes
She may have been barely five feet tall, but Alice Playten had a knack for providing some big laughs. Her sense of humor meant she was loved by those who worked with her and her fans. She was best known for treading the boards on Broadway in the likes of Oliver! She also appeared in Ridley Scott’s Legend, playing a Goblin creature called Blix. Playten passed away at the age of 63.
Wendie Jo Sperber – Breast Cancer
Known for playing Linda McFly, Marty’s sister, in the Back to the Future franchise, Wendie Jo Sperber was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. After undergoing a number of types of treatments, including experimental radiation therapy, it was hoped that she was in remission. Unfortunately, despite medical treatment, the cancer returned, and she passed away at the age of 47. Even while undergoing treatment, she continued to act in the likes of Will & Grace and Sorority Boys.
Trevor Goddard – Drug Overdose
British-born Trevor Goddard was known for playing Kano in the martial arts movie Mortal Combat. But, even tough guys struggle with their own personal demons. Goddard suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. It’s not certain whether he ever sought any medical treatment in rehab. But, while in the process of getting a divorce, he was found dead at his home in LA at the age of 40. Cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs were all found in his system.
Richard Attenborough – Heart Disease
Actor and filmmaker Richard Attenborough had astounding success in Hollywood during his career, building up a net worth of $20 million. But, no amount of money in the world can protect you from tragedy. Sadly, Attenborough lost his daughter and his granddaughter in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. He died a decade later as a result of heart disease. The last request in his will and testament was that his ashes be placed with those of his lost loved ones.
Ashleigh Aston Moore – Heroin Overdose
A child star who appeared along with Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman in cult classic Now and Then, Ashleigh Aston Moore never got to realize her true potential as an actress as she passed away at the age of just 26. She died as a result of an accidental heroin overdose. Unfortunately, she’s one of many former child actors who have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s not clear whether she ever sought help or went into rehab.
Jonathan Brandis – Suicide
The pressures of fame can be too much for many child stars. Jonathan Brandis began his tv career appearing in commercials when he was just four. He made his acting debut in the soap opera One Life to Live, before taking the main part in the Stephen King miniseries It. Clearly, he was struggling with some personal demons. Brandis took his own life at the age of 27. He was found hanged in the hallway of his apartment building in LA.
James Avery – Complications after Open Heart Surgery
James Avery was best known as the patriarch in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He also appeared in movies including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Iron Man. But, at the age of 68, he needed medical treatment because he was suffering from coronary heart disease. Sadly, he passed away as a result of complications from open heart surgery. His wife Barbara had left his bedside briefly to get some food when he died.
Andy Whitfield – Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
A talented actor with a bright future ahead of him, Whitfield’s life was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer. Best known for starring in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, he knew cancer was one of those types of diseases which take so many lives. But, he accepted medical treatment and fought as much as he could. Sadly, he lost his battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 39, just 18 months after diagnosis.
Richard Griffiths – Complications from Heart Surgery
One of Britain’s best-loved actors, Richard Griffiths was known for playing Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter franchise. Griffiths was also considered twice for the part of the Doctor in Doctor Who, but the timing was never right. He struggled with his weight for most of his life. Griffiths developed heart problems and died at the age of 65 following heart surgery. It’s not known what was in his will and testament, but he left behind his wife.
Glenn Quinn – Heroin Overdose
After shooting to fame playing Becky’s boyfriend in the 90s sitcom Roseanne, Glenn Quinn gained more fans for playing half-demon Doyle in the Buffy spin-off Angel. He built up a sizeable net worth and even invested in a nightclub. But, he ultimately succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction, and died at the age of just 32 from an accidental heroin overdose on a friend’s couch. He had been in rehab in Miami but was asked to leave for drug use.
Anton Yelchin – Traumatic Asphyxia
He was best known for playing Pavel Chekov, navigator of the USS Enterprise, in the Star Trek movies, but tragically, he died in a car accident in 2016 just before the release of his latest movie Star Trek Beyond. As well as coping with his death, his family needed to recruit certain types of lawyers as they brought a case against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after Yelchin’s Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled onto him at his LA home.
Barney Martin – Lung Cancer
While many actors make the transition to directing or writing once they’ve had enough of being in front of the camera, Barney Martin did things the other way around. Best known for appearing in Seinfeld, he started as a writer, before deciding he wanted to be in the spotlight. Sadly, both he and his daughter suffered from similar types of diseases. He died from lung cancer in 2005, three years after his daughter lost her battle with cancer.
Zoe Tamerlis – Cocaine-Induced Heart Failure
Zoe Tamerlis was a woman of many talents. Not only was she an actress, but she was known for her modeling work, as a producer, author, musician, screenwriter and activist. But, she was also suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. She called drugs the “elixir of life” and died in Paris at the age of 37 as a result of heart failure because of her cocaine use. It is understood that she never went into rehab.
Len Lesser – Cancer Related Pneumonia
Sadly, when you are battling something like cancer, it can lead to complications and other types of diseases. Len Lesser, who was best known for playing Uncle Leo in Seinfeld, was fighting lung cancer when he died at his home in LA from pneumonia. He passed away at the age of 88 having done a lot with his life. After getting an economics degree, he served in the army, and appeared in Boy Meets World and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Antoine Ashley – Heart Failure
A big name in the world of drag, Antoine Ashley was better known by his stage name of Sahara Davenport. He started off performing in gay clubs and then appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race. On the show, Ashley was frank about drug and alcohol addiction, saying he had taken ketamine. He died at just 27 as a result of heart failure. Because he died so young, it’s not known if he had thought to make a last will and testament!
Paul Gleason – Lung Cancer / Pleural Mesothelioma
He shot into the spotlight playing the angry Assistant Principal in the cult classic movie The Breakfast Club, and also starred in Die Hard and Trading Places. Gleason died in hospital at the age of 67 as a result of lung conditions. It is thought the types of diseases he suffered from were brought on as a result of working with asbestos on construction sites with his father before he became an actor.
David Graf – Heart Attack
David Graf’s family had a history of heart disease, but no one could have known he would suffer from a heart attack during a family wedding, aged 50. Best known for playing Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry in the Police Academy movies, he probably had looked at all sorts of sensible plans for his real estate and his last will and testament because both his father and his grandfather had passed away as the result of heart attacks when they were 51.
Gina Mastrogiacomo – Myocarditis
After being discovered by Martin Scorsese, Gina Mastrogiacomo was cast as Ray Liotta’s mistress in Goodfellas. She also starred with another A-lister, opposite Tom Cruise in The Color of Money. So, she clearly had a bright future ahead of her. She had also auditioned for the role of Tony’s sister on The Sopranos. But, sadly she passed away from Myocarditis, one of those types of diseases which doesn’t care how young or old you are! She was just 39.
Lynne Thigpen – Cerebral Hemorrhage
An award-winning actress, who starred in movie An American Daughter, and tv series Law and Order, Lynne Thigpen’s death was a mystery at first when she passed away at the age of 54. No one knew if she had been suffering from any types of diseases or if she had medical treatment for anything. Eventually, it was found that she had suffered from painful headaches in the lead up to her death, which was caused by a cerebral hemorrhage.
Leonard Nimoy – Smoking-Related Disease
Leonard Nimoy is one of those iconic actors, who is instantly recognizable by people across the world. He was renowned for playing Spock in Star Trek, a half-Vulcan, half-human creature. He died after falling into a coma at his Bel Air real estate. He was 83 at the time of his death and had already undergone medical treatment for obstructive pulmonary disease caused by smoking. A private pilot, we wonder who his last will and testament left his airplane to!
Teena Marie – Unknown
Also known as Lady Tee, Teena Marie was renowned for her soulful vocals. But, when her mentor, and the man responsible for giving her the stage name passed away, she was shaken and is understood to have developed a drug and alcohol addiction, or at least an addiction to prescription drugs. She died aged 54, having suffered seizures for years after a picture fell on her head in a hotel room. Her cause of death is unknown.
John Cazale – Lung Cancer
A force to be reckoned with, John Cazale was nominated for awards in all five movies he starred in. Known for his stint on The Godfather, he was also known for his relationship with Meryl Streep, and for his A-list friends, who included Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he fought it with all types of treatments. But he sadly died at the age of 42, with Meryl by his bedside.
Fred “Rerun” Berry – Stroke
Who doesn’t remember his famous red beret in the 70s show What’s Happening? Fred Berry became a millionaire before his 30th birthday as a result of the show’s success. Unfortunately, he suffered from drug and alcohol addiction as well as needing medical treatment for depression. He died at home in Bel Air at the age of 52 after suffering a stroke. His last will and testament must have been complicated, as he was married five times, to four different women!
Anita Mui – Cervical Cancer
A renowned singer from Hong Kong, Anita Mui was compared to pop legend Madonna because of the way she performed and as a result of her knack for reinventing herself. But, sadly, she was diagnosed with one of those types of diseases which does not only take the old and frail. Despite medical treatment, Mui lost her battle with cervical cancer, aged 40. Sadly, her family faced battles with the administrators of Mui’s real estate after her death.
James Rebhorn – Melanoma
Part of what must surely be a small club of people who can say they have starred in more than 100 films, James Rebhorn’s best-known part was in the box office hit Independence Day. But, he was diagnosed with skin cancer and, despite medical treatment, the disease took his life 12 years later. He died at home at the age of 65. He surely had his last will and testament in order, as he left behind two daughters!
Holly Lewis – Unknown
She was one of umpteen people who move to LA to pursue their dreams. But, Holly Lewis was one of the few who made that dream a reality. She appeared in movies including Train 48 and These Girls. But, although she was getting work, she made the decision to move back to her home in Nebraska. She died at the age of 47 and mystery still surrounds what types of diseases she had, if any. The cause of her death remains unknown.
Kenneth Baker – Chronic Lung Condition
You may not recognize his face, but you’ll have seen his work! Kenneth Baker was the man inside the Star Wars robot R2-D2. While he had huge success, he was able to keep his private life, well, private, because of being hidden. He’d undergone medical treatment for a chronic lung condition and passed away before his 82nd birthday. His last will and testament could have been complicated as, after his death, it was discovered he had a secret son!