17 Black Celebrities That Died In 2020; We Celebrate Their Lives
The year 2020 was a difficult one–the world experienced the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia saw devastating wildfires, and the United States witnessed yet another instance of police brutality against Black people with the killing of George Floyd. Adding to these tragedies, we also lost several Black celebrities in 2020.
Read on as we look at some of the black celebrities that died in 2020, including actors, musicians, sports players, activists, scientists, and writers.
1. Chadwick Boseman (November 29, 1976 – August 28, 2020)
Actor Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43 from colon cancer on August 28, 2020. He had been diagnosed in 2016, but only a few family members were aware of his illness, and he did not disclose it to the public. Boseman was one of the most famous Black male celebrities that died in 2020.
He was best known for playing King T’Challa in Black Panther, the first Marvel film featuring a Black lead character. Boseman got his breakthrough in 2013 when he starred as Jackie Robinson in the documentary film 42. The following year, he played James Brown in Get On Up. Between 2016 and 2019, he played Black Panther in four Marvel movies.
In 2018, Boseman won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor. The last film that he acted in–Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom–was released after his death. He was posthumously given a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the film.
In addition to his incredible acting career, Boseman was a generous supporter of cancer charities. He also contributed to the Boys and Girls Clubs in New York, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and the Covid-19 pandemic response.
2. Little Richard (December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020)
Singer Little Richard died at the age of 87 from bone cancer on May 9, 2020. Famous for his songs Tutti Frutti and Good Golly Miss Molly, Richard was at the height of his popularity during the 1950s. He sold over 30 million albums worldwide.
His debut album Here’s Little Richard was released in 1957 and included the songs Tutti Frutti, Ready Teddy, and Slippin’ and Slidin’. He followed this in 1958 with the album Little Richard which featured songs like Keep A Knockin’, Send Me Some Lovin’, and Good Golly, Miss Molly.
In 1986, Richard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His rock and roll and R&B music had a huge influence on future generations of musicians, including Mick Jagger, James Brown, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix.
Richard was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.
3. Kobe Bryant (August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020)
Basketball star Kobe Bryant died on January 26, 2020, at the age of 41. He and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were passengers on a helicopter that crashed into the side of a mountain in California.
Bryant began his basketball career in 1996 when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers at the age of 17. He won five championships over his 20-year career and was the top-scoring player for the Lakers. He was named Most Valuable Player in 2008.
He won a gold medal at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, where he played with the U.S. team. In 2016, Kobe retired due to declining health.
Outside of his basketball career, Bryant was a supporter of many charitable organizations, including the Make A Wish Foundation. He also contributed to charities that helped youth, veterans, and people experiencing homelessness.
4. Bill Withers (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020)
Singer and musician Bill Withers died on March 30, 2020, in Los Angeles. He was 81 and passed away from heart complications. Withers got his career started in 1971 with his debut album, Just As I Am. He released another six studio albums in the 1970s and his final album Watching You, Watching Me, in 1985.
Withers won 3 Grammy Awards for Best Rhythm & Blues Song for his songs Lean on Me in 1987, Ain’t No Sunshine in 1971, and Just the Two of Us in 1981. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
5. Katherine Johnson (August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020)
Scientist Katherine Johnson passed away in Virginia on February 24, 2020, at the age of 101. John graduated from college at the age of 18 with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and French. She worked as a teacher before being hired by NASA.
She was employed as a human-computer with NASA and worked on missions involving Alan Shephard and John Glenn. She also assisted with the 1969 flight to the moon. She was one of the people who inspired the 2016 movie Hidden Figures.
Johnson overcame a lot of racial and sexist prejudice during her career to become a successful mathematician and scientist. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Furthermore, in 2021 she was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
6. Jas Waters (October 21, 1980 – June 9, 2020)
Writer Jas Waters died by suicide at the age of 39 on June 9, 2020, in Los Angeles. Waters had been diagnosed with depression when she was 19 and had intentionally overdosed at the age of 21. She sometimes posted about her mental health struggles on her social media accounts.
Waters worked as a journalist in the music industry, writing for Vibe magazine. She later appeared on the reality television show Gossip Game. Waters was best known for her work as a staff writer for the drama series This Is Us, which premiered in 2016.
Waters also worked on television shows such as ER, The Real World, Hood Adjacent with James Davis, and Kidding. Her film work included What Men Want, Spiderman 1 and 2, and the Barbershop series.
7. Naya Rivera (January 12, 1987 – July 8, 2020)
Singer, model, and actress Naya Rivera was 33 years old when she died in California on July 8, 2020. Her death was determined to be due to accidental drowning after her young son was found alone on a boat they had rented; her body was found five days later.
Rivera was best known for her role as Santana Lopez on the hit television show Glee. She had worked as an actress since she was a young child. Rivera also modeled and was a singer. She released her memoir in 2016.
Rivera was an outspoken advocate and supporter of women, immigrants, and the LGBT community. She contributed time and/or funds to organizations involved with cancer research, educational scholarships, and clean drinking water.
8. Rocky Johnson (August 24, 1944 – January 15, 2020)
The father of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Retired wrestler Rocky Johnson died at the age of 75 on January 15, 2020. He passed away in Florida from a pulmonary embolism. Johnson was born in Canada and began his career there before moving to California.
He was the first Black person to win the heavyweight championship title in Georgia. Along with Tony Atlas, they became the first Black team to win the World Tag Team Championship in 1983.
Rocky Johnson retired from wrestling in 1991. In 2008 he was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame.
9. Johnny Nash (August 19, 1940 – October 6, 2020)
Singer and songwriter Johnny Nash passed away in Texas on October 6, 2020. His family stated that he died of natural causes; he was 80 years old.
Nash started singing gospel music as a child before switching to R&B as a teenager. He sang on television and radio programs in Houston before making his career debut in 1957 with the song A Teenager Sings The Blues.
Other Nash songs included A Very Special Love in 1958, Let’s Move and Groove Together in 1965, Hold Me Tight in 1968, and Stir It Up in 1971. However, he was best known for the song I Can See Clearly Now, which was released in 1972 and sold over one million copies.
In addition to his singing career, Nash was also a television and film actor.
10. Bonnie Pointer (July 11, 1950 – June 8, 2020)
Singer Bonnie Pointer passed away at the age of 69 on June 8, 2020. She died of cardiac arrest at her home in Los Angeles.
Pointer was one of the original members of the singing group The Pointer Sisters. The group was formed in 1970 and sang a range of genres, including R&B and country. During the time she was with the group, hit songs included Yes We Can Can and Fairytale. The latter won the 1975 Best Country Vocal Performance Grammy Award.
In 1974, The Pointer Sisters were the first Black musical group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. After Pointer left the group in the late 1970s, she began a solo career. She would release four albums as a solo artist.
11. Lou Brock (June 18, 1939 – September 6, 2020)
Former baseball player Lou Brock died at the age of 81 on September 6, 2020, in Missouri. Though the cause of death has not been publicized, he had dealt with several health issues, including diabetes, blood cancer, and a stroke.
Brock was known for playing in the major leagues with the St Louis Cardinals and was famous for stealing bases. He started his career in 1961 with the Chicago Cubs but was traded to St Louis in 1964.
He played for a total of 19 years. In 1967 he won the Babe Ruth Award for outstanding player in the World Series. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
After he retired from baseball, he worked as an instructor for different MLB teams during spring training and was an analyst for live baseball telecasts. He was also a successful florist and a minister.
12. Joseph Echols Lowery (October 6, 1921 – March 27, 2020)
Minister Joseph Echols Lowery died at the age of 98 on March 27, 2020, in Georgia. Lowery was a minister who was very active in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. He was involved with the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1955 to 1956.
From 1952 until 1961, Lowery ministered to a Methodist congregation in Alabama. He participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, the first of which became known as Bloody Sunday after protesters were beaten and tear-gassed by police. Lowery also helped found the Black Leadership Forum which spoke out against South African apartheid during the 1970s.
Along with Martin Luther King Jr, Lowery and others founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lowery later served as its president for 20 years. In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
13. Nikita Pearl Waligwa (2004 – February 15, 2020)
Actress Nikita Pearl Waligwa died on February 15, 2020, from a brain tumor. She was just 15 years old. The child star from Uganda was famous for her role playing Gloria in the 2016 Disney film Queen of Katwe.
The movie was based on a true story about Phiona Mutesi, a girl from Uganda who became an international chess prodigy. Waligwa starred in the film alongside Madina Nalwanga and Lupita Nyong’o.
Waligwa was the youngest Black female celebrity that died in 2020.
14. Gregory Tyree Boyce (December 5, 1989 – May 13, 2020)
Actor Gregory Tyree Boyce died at the age of 30 on May 13, 2020. He and his girlfriend Natalie Adepoju were found dead in Las Vegas from an accidental overdose of cocaine and fentanyl. Boyce left behind a younger daughter.
He was best known for playing the role of Tyler Crowley in the first Twilight film, which was released in 2008. He also appeared in Trevor Jackson’s 2018 music video for the song Apocalypse.
After his death, Boyce’s mother stated that he was an excellent chef and was in the process of starting a company called West Wings. Boyce had posted on Instagram on his 30th birthday, commenting that he had made mistakes in his life and previously thought he wouldn’t make it to age 30.
15. Bruce Williamson (September 29, 1970 – September 6, 2020)
Singer Bruce Williamson passed away in Las Vegas on September 6, 2020. He died of complications related to Covid-19 at the age of 49, less than a month shy of his 50th birthday.
Williamson grew up singing at church and performing gospel music. He later sang with the band BlackBerry Jam. For a long time, he wanted to join R&B and soul group the Temptations, and in 2006 he realized that dream.
The Temptations were originally formed in 1960, and throughout their six-decade success have seen various members come and go from the band. Williamson was part of the group when they released their 2007 album Back to Front as well as the 2010 album Still Here.
Williamson left the Temptations in 2015 to focus on his health and singing gospel music. He later sang with the Sons of Soul and the Lon Bronson Band.
16. Charley Pride (March 18, 1934 – December 12, 2020)
Country music singer Charley Pride passed away on December 12, 2020, in Texas. He was 86 and died of complications from Covid-19.
Pride wanted to be a major league baseball player when he was younger; however, he was only able to play in the minor leagues. His singing career took off in the 1970s. Pride’s songs included Kiss an Angel Good Morning, Just Between You and Me, Afraid of Losing You Again, and Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone.
In 1971, the Country Music Association named Pride Entertainer of the Year. In 1973 and 1976, he won the American Music Award for Favorite Country Male Artist. He would win four Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. The Country Music Association also gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
17. David Dinkins (July 10, 1927 – November 23, 2020)
Former mayor of New York, David Dinkins, died on November 23, 2020. He passed away in New York City at the age of 93 from natural causes.
Dinkins served in the United States Marines from 1945 to 1946. He attended law school, graduating in 1956 and working in private practice until 1975. He then served as a city clerk in New York for 10 years.
Dinks was elected mayor in 1989 and held the position until 1993. He was the first Black mayor in New York City’s history. In 1993, he was narrowly defeated by Rudy Giuliani in a close race.
From 1994 until he died in 2020, Dinkins worked as a professor at Columbia University.
Black Celebrities That Died In 2020, Final Thoughts
Update: We now have a list of black celebrities that died in 2021.
We lost an incredible amount of black talent in 2020. From writers and actors to singers and sports stars, the loss of Black celebrities that died in 2020 has left a hole in our hearts. While we mourn this loss, let us celebrate their accomplishments and the legacy they have left with us.