From Rock Stars to Dictators: Who We Said Goodbye To in 2011 The Year in Death
This year we say goodbye to addicts and martyrs, survivors and killers. 2011, we'll miss you and (some of) the people you took with you. Here's a list, in order of the year's progression, of 11 notable folks who died in 2011.
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March 29, 1984 – January 4, 2011
Although his heart beat for only four days of 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi put the wheels in motion of a year that would bring the fall of governments and the rise of youth protests around the world. The tragedy of Bouazizi, a street vendor who got his fruit confiscated by a local officer in his Tunisian village, embodied the frustration and anger of an entire generation of the Arab world, fed up with unemployment and corruption under stagnating dictatorships. "How do you expect me to make a living?" he shouted, before lighting himself on fire outside the local government office.
Protests broke out in solidarity. A couple weeks later, a badly burned Bouazizi died. Protests spread. And ten days after his death, the Tunisian president of 24 years stepped down.
Mohamed Bouazizi is known to the world because of his death, and his story will be told for years to come: the small-town fruit peddler that sparked a revolution that changed the world.
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011
"Big girls need big diamonds," Elizabeth Taylor once said. It's an appropriate statement from the Hollywood actress whose 70-year career epitomized the film industry's glamor, scandal, and liberal activism. The violet-eyed beauty was known for living large and making brash decisions under the public eye. She was married eight times: once to a politician, once to a construction worker, and twice to Richard Burton. Onscreen she played everyone from Cleopatra to a call-girl in BUtterfield 8, for which she won one of two Best Actress awards. Offscreen she struggled with alcoholism and raised more than $100 million dollars to fight against AIDS.
Osama bin Laden
March 10, 1957 – May 2, 2011
The ultimate bogey man of the aughts was laid to rest this year, giving a modicum of closure to the 9/11 attacks that shaped the decade. The son of a Saudi family worth billions, bin Laden played the part of trustafarian to a tee, rejecting his family's ideals while funding his idealism, in the form of al-Qaeda, with their millions. He spent his final years hiding out in a compound in Pakistan.
Bin Laden's meta-philosophy of terror was to become a leech on the economy of Western nations, slowly bleeding them of resources by provoking them to take part in expensive wars. While Osama bin Laden's death was a moment of joy for a beleaguered nation, 10 years into the War in Afghanistan the question remains: Bin Laden may be dead, but is he winning?
April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011
Gil Scott-Heron was right when he said "The revolution will not be televised, brother." (Instead it's being livestreamed and tweeted.) But the influence of his music and poetry extends beyond political predictions. The style and approach of his work—rhythmic and critical—from the 1960s and 1970s laid the groundwork for generations of black artists and is felt to this day: his tracks turn up in samples on both Drake and Kanye West's most recent albums. Later in life, he fell into drug addictions and served time in jail, only to reappear in 2010 with his final album, I'm New Here.
May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011
"Dying is not a crime," said the former doctor who put the issue of assisted suicide at the center of American culture wars. Nicknamed Dr. Death, Kevorkian helped at least 130 patients end their own lives, a practice which ended up sending him to jail for eight years.
His defiance of the law and medical establishment won him many fans and enemies, and whether you agree or disagree with his ideas, he changed the way Americans think about end-of-life issues. As Jack Lessenberry, a journalist who followed the Kevorkian saga, wrote in the Detroit Metro Times: “Jack Kevorkian, faults and all, was a major force for good in this society. He forced us to pay attention to one of the biggest elephants in society’s living room: the fact that today vast numbers of people are alive who would rather be dead, who have lives not worth living.” His awareness-raising for right-to-die issues is credited with the increase in hospice care and access to painkillers for terminally ill patients.
Photo via Greg Asatrian
April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011
First Lady Betty Ford had two qualities that are rare for a Washington insider in today's politics: She told it like it was and enjoyed bipartisan support. On television she discussed taboo subjects, like premarital sex and marijuana. She vocalized her support for legal abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. But she had a darker side as well, and was plagued by the stereotypical malaise of a mid-century housewife.
"I think a lot of women go through this," she said after starting to see a psychiatrist in the early 1960s. "Their husbands have fascinating jobs, their children start to turn into independent people and the women begin to feel useless, empty.” Her emotional struggle led her down the path of addiction to booze and painkillers, and overcoming these dependencies inspired her life's biggest legacy: the Betty Ford Center, a rehabilitation clinic in the California desert.
Image via the Library of Congress
September 14, 1983 – July 23, 2011
It's impossible to disentangle Amy Winehouse the artist from Amy Winehouse the addict. Her first song to make waves, "Rehab," heralded the degeneration to come. Winehouse was beloved for her powerful voice and clever songwriting, but ultimately she was dragged down by her desire for substances. The indomitable energy that carried her music ended up stoking a very public, years-long meltdown in front of the lens of the paparazzi, culminating with her death from alcohol poisoning at 27.
October 9, 1968 – September 21, 2011
In 1989, a police officer was shot to death at a Burger King parking lot in Savannah, Georgia. Seven witnesses said they saw Troy Davis, a 21 year-old black man, commit the crime, but later they said they had been mistaken. Changing minds didn't stop the state of Georgia from carrying out Davis' death sentence on September 21, despite protests from vigils around the world and a last-ditch clemency campaign in the final hours leading up to his death. Davis' execution became a flashpoint for issues of racial injustice in the criminal justice system. In this supposedly "post-racial era," Davis' untimely end was a reminder that life is still brutally unfair if you're young, poor, and black in America.
February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011
The world seemed to pause on October 5 when we found out about Steve Jobs death, probably on a device he had invented. In his passing, people have likened his genius to that of Albert Einstein. Jobs brought us the iPhone, the MacBook, the iPod, the iPad. He changed the way we interact with computers, entertain ourselves and communicate. He made technology accessible and beautiful, and he pushed us to, literally, think different. We'll miss Jobs and treasure all he left behind.
Image via Charis Tevis
June 1942 – October 20, 2011
Exiting heads-of-state don't get much respect these days. Colonel Moammar Gaddafi's oppressive 41-year rule over Libya was brought to an end this year, when a cohort of opposition fighters pulled him from a drainage pipe and put bullets through his head. The world looked on via YouTube.
His death was celebrated but also questioned: Wouldn't a trial, not tribal justice, have set a better tone for a new Libya that values procedural law and human dignity? Still, not too many shed a tear at the news: Gadaffi massacred Libyans up until his final days and funded terrorist attacks throughout his rule, most notably the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight that soared above Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
March 18, 1922 – October 5, 2011
Fred Shuttlesworth may be less well-known than fellow civil rights activist Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, but according to a documentary from 1961, he was "the man most feared by Southern racists." Shuttlesworth was known for a harsher, more confrontational manner than King as he participated in sit-ins at lunch counters and buses throughout Birmingham, Alabama and rode along with the Freedom Rides. Despite their differences, King referred to Shuttlesworth as "the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South."
Screenshot from video of Shuttlesworth's final sermon.