The devastating losses of Black life have kept coming in 2021, even as the year draws to a close.
That fact was especially true after it was announced that anti-apartheid activist and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu died Sunday at the age of 90. His was the latest in what has seemingly been a steady avalanche of deaths of notable Black people this year.
But Tutu’s long life is a testament to how much good work can be done in the world if there is enough time to do it. He and plenty of other Black folks who died this year spent decades changing the world for the better. They include but certainly are not limited to, for example, civil rights luminaries like Bob Moses, Gloria Richardson, Martha White and Meredith C. Anding, to name but a few legendary freedom fighters whose transformative work in the 1960s won’t soon be forgotten.
Those aforementioned long lives stood in stark contrast to many of the other notable Black folks whose deaths this year came at relatively young ages before their untimely demises.
Of course, just because someone died at a younger age than others doesn’t necessarily make the loss of their lives more devastating than others. The true devastation factor seemingly comes into play when there is an element of unexpectedness, whether we’re talking about legendary Fat Boys rapper Prince Markie Dee — who died at the age of 52 in February — or pioneering NBA legend Elgin Baylor — who was 86 when he died on March 22.
And while death is not only expected but promised for all of us, dying at a relatively young age is something that is not necessarily widely anticipated — especially when it comes to notable individuals who have made names for themselves in public life. The devastation of losing the relatively young life of an accomplished individual is typically compounded by the loss of what they were known for, whether it’s a rapper or a politician or athlete or simply just a public figure who was famous for no other reason than being famous.
2021 seems to have hit that populace extra hard and ripped too many celebrated Black lives away from us before many of us expected them to die. Please join NewsOne in mourning their losses by celebrating their accomplishments in life as a way to help keep their names and memories fresh as we move into 2022.
Keep reading to find a list of 21 of the most devastating deaths of 2021. They follow in alphabetical order.
Fashion icon Virgil Abloh, the founder of the Off-White fashion house and artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, died Nov. 28 following a battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, which he kept private until his death. Abloh was 41 years old.
Biz Markie, the pioneering rap star whose hit song, “Just A Friend,” made him a household name in the 1990s, died on July 16 following a long battle with diabetes. He was 57 years old.
John Chaney, the former longtime men’s college basketball at Temple University who recruited student-athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds in the face of an NCAA rule (proposition 48) that he decried as racist in part because it penalized students who were too poor to live in better school districts, died on Jan. 29. He was 89 years old.
CNN and MSNBC analyst Midwin Charles died on April 7. The 47-year-old attorney and legal commentator was a rising star on both social media and cable TV when her death was abruptly announced.
Rapper DMX died on April 9 at the age of 50 after suffering from a heart attack. The influential hip-hop artist was known for his introspective lyrics that explored his trauma and his light. The Grammy-nominated artist, whose real name was Earl Simmons, released a total of eight studio albums during his career which spanned over 20 years. He died after being hospitalized at White Plains Hospital in New York.
Viral internet sensation Antwain Folwer died at the age of 6-years-old. Although the cause of death was not immediately reported, Fowler’s death was likely related to autoimmune enteropathy, the illness which the young boy had been struggling with for most of his life.
Antwain became an internet celebrity after a video showed the young boy sitting in the backseat of a car asking his mother, “Where we ’bout to eat at?’”
Antwain’s personality and lovable look captured the hearts of millions online.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, the legendary boxing middleweight champion, died March 13 at the age of 66. Hagler’s wife said in a Facebook post that he “passed away unexpectedly at his home” in New Hampshire. During his career that spanned 14 impressive years, Hagler lost just two times and scored 53 knockouts while amassing 62 wins.
Acclaimed and prolific author and notable feminist bell hooks died on Wednesday at the age of 69 in her native Kentucky. Madame Noire reported that hooks’ cause of death was not immediately announced.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in the town of Hopkinsville on September 25, 1952, she developed a love for the written word and helped shape what would ultimately become the sharp views fueled by feminism that marked her work. Watkins had more than 30 books published under her pen name bell hooks.
Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, a member of the legendary band the Roots, died on Dec. 16 after battling cancer for more than a decade. A skilled bassist, Hubbard was 62.
Diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, multiple myeloma, Hubbard left the Roots in 2007. His wife told Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate that Hubbard had been in remission, but his health took a turn for the worse. She was not allowed to stay with him because of COVID-19 protocols.
Actor and comedian Anthony “A.J.” Johnson has died at the age of 56. According to HipHopWired, Johnson was found lifeless in a Los Angeles store in early September.
The actor who was widely known for his role on the “Friday” franchise of movies was rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead shortly after. There was no official cause of death immediately released.
Gregg Leakes, a former real estate investor and beloved longtime veteran of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” reality TV series, died September 1 at the age of 66 after a three-year-long battle with colon cancer.
Legendary comedian Paul Mooney, whose real name was Paul Gladney, passed away on May 19 at the age of 79 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Oakland, California. He remains heralded as an architect of modern comedy who worked with the who’s who of Hollywood and was especially influential to Black comedians.
Jovita Moore, an award-winning TV journalist based in Atlanta, died overnight on Oct. 28 following complications from brain cancer. The beloved 53-year-old anchor with Channel 2 Action News had been diagnosed with brain cancer earlier in the year.
Jenae Gagnier, an online model and social media influencer who was more popularly known by her Instagram handle, Mercedes Morr, was found dead on Aug. 30 inside her apartment in Richmond, Texas, alongside a man who police suspect killed the 33-year-old model with millions of social media followers before killing himself.
Rapper and producer Shock G, of the group Digital Underground, died on April 22 from an accidental drug overdose. He was 57. The eccentric and charismatic frontman rose to prominence in the late 1980s and 1990s, cultivating the group’s sound to help steer Oakland, California, as a vital ground in hip-hop. Shock G was also famously known for his rapping alter ego Humpty Hump.
Greg Tate, writer, musician and cultural critic, died on Dec. 7 at the age of 64. He set the standard for the art of critiquing and exploring contemporary mediums across genres. Okayplayer called him the “godfather of hip hop journalism,” signaling his importance to the development of a genre of news coverage and commentary.
Former NFL Pro Bowler Demaryius Thomas was found dead in the shower of his Atlanta home on the night of December 9. Officials suspected that Thomas’ death was related to a medical issue and investigators did not immediately announce any evidence to disprove that theory.
According to Thomas’ family, the 33-year-old had been suffering from seizures for more than a year. They suspect he suffered yet another seizure that, this time, caused his death. LaTonya Bonseigneur, Thomas’ first cousin, told the Associated Press: “He was alone and a friend couldn’t get hold of him, so he called his driver, who has a key because of these seizures, and he went into his home and found him in the shower.”
Chucky Thompson, an award-winning music producer who spawned chart-topping hits with some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B, aided on Aug. 9 at the age of 53. AllHipHop.com reported that Thompson died following a battle with COVID-19.
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson died on Jan. 28 at the age of 96. She was one of the most acclaimed actresses in Hollywood, paving the way for Black thespians while representing the last of the film industry’s golden age. But her road to success was tested at several points in her career where she was faced with racism, sexism, misogynoir. Throughout her career which spanned over 60 years in television, film, and theatre, Cicely was nominated for 52 awards, with 49 wins.
Michael K. Williams, the veteran character actor who rose to fame playing the role of Omar Little, a drug dealer-robbing and openly gay street gangster in the award-winning drama, “The Wire,” was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on Sept. 6 following an accidental drug overdose. He was 54.
Young Dolph, a prominent and popular Memphis rapper, was shot and killed in his hometown on Nov. 17 during an apparent ambush by two gunmen with high-powered weapons. The rapper born Adolph Robert Thornton, Jr., was just 36 years old.
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