Celebrities Who Surprisingly Died Without Us Knowing It

Whether young or old, death is an unavoidable part of life. It seems like we can’t go a few weeks without hearing about some famous celebrity that has passed away. While some deaths tend to be a bit more puzzling, even becoming unresolved conspiracy cases, most are pretty straight forward.

But sometimes, celebrities pass away and most of us don’t even realize they’re gone. Often, it’s because they’ve been out of the spotlight so long, we assume they’re already dead. At any rate, let’s look at 20 celebrities that surprisingly died without us knowing it.

1. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini

Gandolfini sadly passed away in 2013. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Actor James Gandolfini is best remembered for his iconic role, Tony Soprano, on The Sopranos. It’s hard to believe that the show ended all the way back in 2007, but it’s even harder to believe that Gandolfini passed away just six years later.

He had a heart attack in 2013 while in Rome, Italy, and passed on at the age of 51.

Next: A recognizable character actor

2. James Rebhorn

Actor James Rebhorn attends the premiere of "Don McKay" during the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center on April 24, 2009 in New York City.

Rebhorn wasn’t an A-lister, but he had a very successful career. | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

James Rebhorn probably doesn’t have a name you recognize, but he almost certainly has a face you recognize. Rebhorn has served in a supporting role in several popular movies and television shows over the course of the last few decades, appearing in Independence Day, Scent of a Woman, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and most recently, Homeland.

He died in 2014 at the age of 65, following a battle with melanoma.

Next: A girl from a popular ’90s sitcom

 3. Michelle Thomas

Michelle Thomas wearing a dress, looking to the left

Thomas played Myra, the sometimes-girlfriend of Steve Urkel, on Family Matters. | ABC

If you were alive in the 1990s, there’s good chance you recognize Michelle Thomas as Myra from the popular ABC sitcom Family Matters. Thomas, who is the daughter of Dennis Thomas of the ’70s band Kool & The Gang, made 55 appearances on Family Matters from 1993-98.

She later took up a recurring role on The Young and the Restless, but died suddenly of cancer at the age of 30 in December of ’98.

Next: Another actor from a ’90s sitcom

4. Glenn Quinn

Glenn Quinn as Mark on Roseanne

The reboot of the show paid tribute to the late Quinn. | ABC

Actor Glenn Quinn’s most common role was as Mark on Roseanne. He appeared on the show in a recurring role from 1990-97, marrying Roseanne Conner’s oldest daughter, Becky. The Irish-born actor moved on to appear in 11 episodes of Angel after Roseanne completed its original run, but died of a drug overdose in 2002.

At the time of his death, Quinn was just 32 years old. Roseanne returned with a reboot in 2018, and addressed the character’s absence in an episode dedicated to Quinn that aired on March 10, 2018.

Next: An all-time NBA great

5. Moses Malone

Moses Malone

Malone played in the NBA for 21 years. | Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Moses Malone wasn’t an actor, but he was one of the best professional basketball players of all time. The big man went to the pros at the age of 18 back in 1974, and he had a very long career in the NBA before retiring in 1995 following a season with the San Antonio Spurs.

Malone was just 39 at the time of his retirement, and he finished his career with three MVP awards and one NBA championship. The Hall of Famer passed away from heart disease in 2015 at the age of 60.

Next: Sonya Blade’s nemesis

6. Trevor Goddard

Trevor Goddard

Flexing with Monty, a film starring Goddard, was released in 2010, years after his death. | David McNew /Getty Images

Trevor Goddard is an actor that is best remembered for having several roles in popular TV shows and movies. Goddard appeared in a recurring role on JAG, as a supporting character in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and played Kano in the video game movie, Mortal Kombat.

He died of a drug overdose in 2003 at the age of 40.

Next: A serial antagonist

7. Paul Gleason

Actor Paul Gleason arrives to the 2005 MTV Movie Awards at the Shrine Auditorium June 4, 2005 in Los Angeles, California.

Gleason was known for playing the unhappy educator. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Paul Gleason had many roles throughout his career in Hollywood, but often as an antagonist of some sort. He played Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club, Professor McDoogle in Van Wilder, and the Police Chief in Diehard.

Gleason’s final movie, The Passing, came out in 2011 despite the fact that he passed away from mesothelioma in 2006.

Next: A famous celebrity brother

8. Jerry Van Dyke

Jerry Van Dyke ,"Coach", at the TV Land and Nick at Nite Upfront in "The Bat Cave" on Broadway in New York City on April 24, 2002

Van Dyke lived a fairly long life. | Gabe Palacio/ImageDirect

In the case of Jerry Van Dyke, this may be more of a case of a celebrity that you didn’t realize lived as long as he actually did. The younger brother of Dick Van Dyke, Jerry had plenty of appearances in classics such as My Mother the Car and McLintock!

But his most memorable role came in the hit 1990s TV series Coach as assistant coach Luther Van Damme. Van Dyke made more appearances in various television programs until 2015, but didn’t actually pass away until early in 2018 at the age of 86.

Next: Life finds a way … and so does death.

9. Richard Attenborough

Lord Richard Attenborough attends the Galaxy British Book Awards

Attenborough received many honors from his native England, earning the title ‘Lord’ in 1993. | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This might be another case of, “Oh, he was still alive?” Richard Attenborough’s most famous role came in 1993 with Jurassic Park. In reality, he also made notable appearances in other work, such as Miracle on 34th Street and The Great Escape.

Attenborough appeared briefly in Jurassic Park: The Lost World in 1997, and then his final appearance on screen came in 2001. But he lived until the age of 90 before passing away in 2014.

Next: You probably recognize him from one of the most popular shows ever.

10. Len Lesser

Actor Len Lesser arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "In the Bedroom" November 15, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA.

Lesser’s on-screen nephew commented on his death after the fact, praising the actor. | Jason Kirk/Getty Images

You probably remember Len Lesser as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld, but he also had roles in such films as Papillion, Kelly’s Heroes, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. After Seinfeld came to an end in 1998, Lesser made guest appearances on shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, Son of the Beach, and Castle.

His last appearance in television or film came in 2009, and he passed away at the age of 88 from pneumonia in 2011.

Next: A young life tragically cut short

11. Judith Barsi

Judith Barsi in Jaws: The Revenge

Brsi was an up-and-coming child actress at the time of her death. | Universal Pictures

Judith Eva Barsi had several notable roles as a young girl, including appearances on Trapper John, M.D., Remington Steele, and Jaws: The Revenge. She voiced Anne-Marie in All Dogs Go to Heaven, a kids classic that was released in 1989.

Unfortunately, that was her final role. Judith and her mother were murdered by her father in 1988. She was just 11 years old.

Next: Another child actor lost too soon

12. Jonathan Brandis

Jonathan Brandis in SeaQuest 2032

Brandis’ career was waning at the time of his death. | NBC

Yet another child star that passed away too early is Jonathan Brandis. He made earlier appearances in films such as It, Ladybugs, and The Neverending Story II. As Brandis got older, he had settled into a recurring role on the popular science-fiction series SeaQuest 2032.

But at the age of 27, Brandis had tragically fallen deep into depression. He committed suicide in 2003.

Next: An actor many thought was dead … several times

13. Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda

The rumors of Vigoda’s death were false — until they weren’t. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

You may have actually heard that Abe Vigoda had died, but you probably didn’t believe it. It was a popular internet hoax for several years to spread rumors that Vigoda had passed away, but he actually did in January of 2016 at the age of 94.

His most famous role was as Tessio in The Godfather, but he also appeared as Detective Phil Fish on Barney Miller. Vigoda returned to reprise his role of Tessio by voice in several Godfather video games, even as recent as 2007. His final acting role was in 2014’s Sweet Destiny.

Next: Another Jurassic Park actor

14. Bob Peck

Bob Peck in Jurassic Park

The British actor was also known for several U.K. TV series. | Universal Pictures

Bob Peck is another actor that is best remembered for his supporting role in Spielberg’s hit, Jurassic Park. He played Muldoon, the big game expert that uttered the now famous line, “Clever girl,” when realizing that he had been trapped by two velociraptors.

Peck had few other truly notable movie roles, and he, unfortunately, passed away from cancer in 1999. He was just 53 years old.

Next: Another cute kid from a popular sitcom

15. Sawyer Sweeten

Actors Sawyer and Sullivan Sweeten arrive at the party celebrating the 200th Episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond"

Sweeten acted in the show with his twin brother, Sullivan, and older sister, Madylin. | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Sawyer Sweeten is yet another child star on the list. He was an actor from a very early age, earlier than the point where he could’ve given consent for that fact. Sweeten is best known as young Geoffrey Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond. He appeared on that show from around the time he turned 1 until the age of 9.

Sweeten didn’t do much acting other than Everybody Loves Raymond, and in 2015, he committed suicide at just 19 years of age.

Next: An all-time great TV dad

16. John Mahoney

John Mahoney

His final role was on stage in The Rembrandt in Chicago. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

John Mahoney is known for several big roles in his acting career, but possibly his most famous role was as Marty Crane on Frasier. The dynamic that Mahoney, Kelsey Grammer, and David Hyde Pierce brought to the show as a father and two sons was spectacular.

Frasier ran from 1993-2004, spanning 11 seasons. Mahoney wasn’t nearly as old as his character on the show, however, and he lived until February of 2018. He passed away at the age of 77.

Next: One of the world’s most popular fighters

17. Kimbo Slice

MMA Heavyweight Sensation Kimbo Slice is seen during the Workout/Media Day

The fighter, whose birth name was Kevin Ferguson, was once called “The King of the Web Brawlers.”| Robert Laberge/Getty Images

You may remember Kimbo Slice as the very large MMA fighter that fought his way into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) by competing on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights. Slice became extremely popular among fighting fans, and he signed a multi-year deal to fight in Bellator MMA once again in 2015.

But Slice died suddenly of heart failure in June of 2016, when he was just 42 years old.

Next: An all-time great TV mom

18. Florence Henderson

Actress Florence Henderson attends the Television Academy's 70th Anniversary Gala

Henderson’s death from heart failure was a shock to friends and family. | Mike Windle/Getty Images

Florence Henderson has made a lot of appearances in television over the course of her career, but her most iconic role was as Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. After the show ended in 1974, reprised her role in The Brady Bunch Variety Hour in 1976, and then appeared in The Brady Bunch Movie in 1995 as the grandma.

Her final acting role came in 2017 as Mimi in Bad Grandmas, but that came after her death in 2016 at the age of 82.

Next: A Sith Lord

19. Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Lee acted steadily for several decades. | Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Christopher Lee is best known for his role as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies, but he also had a starring role as Count Dooku in two of the Star Wars prequels. His acting career began in the mid-1940s, and was still going well into his 90s.

In fact, a movie titled The Time War is still in the filming stage that has him listed as the narrator. Lee passed away in 2015 at the age of 93, with an impressive 280 acting credits to his name.

Next: No, it’s not Bill Pullman

20. Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton on the red carpet, looking to his right and smiling

Paxton’s death occurred following a surgery for condition sustained from a childhood illness. | Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Critics’ Choice Television Awards

Unlike Lee, Bill Paxton was not at an advanced age when he passed away in 2017. Paxton is most famous for his starring role in movies such as Aliens and Twister, but he had also appeared in other movies and television series in a supporting or guest star role in recent years. In 2014, he had a six-episode story arc on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

But in 2017, Paxton suffered a stroke and passed away suddenly at the age of 61.

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