It’s that bittersweet time of year when we reflect on the last 12 months and recall the faces we’ll never see on screens again.
Some stars pass far too soon. Others we glibly assume will be around forever. TV icon Betty White fit that description when she passed on December 31, 2021, at 99.
This year, cinema lost stars whose range and screen presence will live far beyond their mortal years.
Kirstie Alley’s first film role made her a Comic Con favorite. She played Lt. Saavik in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” bringing both beauty and a sense of mystery to the character. The studio recast Lt. Saavik in the sequel, “The Search for Spock,” but that one performance endeared her to Trek Nation.
Five years later, everyone else learned how charming, and funny, Alley could be when she replaced Shelley Long on NBC’s “Cheers.” That gig seemed as much of a no-win scenario as a key subplot in “Khan.”
Alley defied all odds and became an integral part of the show’s ensemble.
More juicy roles followed, from co-starring with John Travolta in three “Look Who’s Talking” films to snagging a second sitcom hit with “Veronica’s Closet.”
Alley’s public weigh battles became a source of humor and empathy via Showtime’s “Fat Actress” series. The star said her political leanings cost her work in recent years, but those who followed her on social media found a smart, vivacious soul who put kindness first.
Ray Liotta never became an A-lister despite bravura work in classics like “Goodfellas” and “Field of Dreams.” His face, textured and compelling, made him an easy fit for screen villains. And he often complied, lending his tough-guy gravitas to movies like “Hannibal,” “Unlawful Entry” and “Cop Land.”
He worked constantly, bouncing from glorified B-movies to faith-friendly fare like “The Identical.” And, is often the case with hard-working actors who keep filming until they die, we’ll see him again next year in the ripped-from-the-headlines yarn “Cocaine Bear.”
Anne Heche made as many headlines for her off-screen foibles as her screen efforts, leading up to her tragic death. The actress seemed poised for stardom when she teamed with Harrison Ford for “Six Days, Seven Nights.”
The adventurous rom-com stalled at the box office, and her romance with comic superstar Ellen DeGeneres cast a harsh spotlight on her celebrity. Their union, at a time when Hollywood was far less progressive than it is today, dampened her career ascent.
Her personal demons similarly stalled her progress. She shared tales of her childhood sexual abuse in her 2001 memoir, “Call Me Crazy,” a tome that gave context to her 2000 meltdown. She appeared at a Fresno County farmhouse making odd statements about a plan to take people with her on a spaceship ride, according to a local deputy’s report.
She persevered, switching between acting roles and directorial projects in the ensuing years before she drove her Mini Cooper into a stranger’s Los Angeles home in August. She died nine days later from injuries sustained during the fiery crash.
James Caan’s career could have started and ended with “The Godfather,” and that would be enough to cement his legacy. The actor’s iconic death scene gave his career plenty of momentum, which he used to often great effect over the last 30-plus years.
He embraced dystopian fare (“Rollerball”) and musicals (“Funny Lady”) alike, his broad-shouldered frame bringing menace to every role. He famously turned down roles that made other actors famous, like the lead in 1978’s “Superman.”
No matter, since he kept finding gigs that spoke to his innate gifts, like the superlative Stephen King adaptation “Misery.”
Plum roles started to dry up in Caan’s later years, but he kept plugging away in indie films and genre fare like the B-movie thrillers “The Good Neighbor” and “Sicilian Vampire.” A new generation may remember him best for playing Buddy’s crusty father in “Elf.”
Actress Nichelle Nichols never found a role as rich, or rewarding, as Lt. Uhura on the ‘60s sci-fic classic “Star Trek.” That didn’t dampen fan enthusiasm for her work or its historical import.
Her buss with William Shatner in the show’s third season gave the 1960s one of its most impactful moments. Nichols’ presence alone proved powerful on several levels. The show was set in the future, allowing her to be an equal among her powerful crew mates.
That modeling mattered, especially given the turbulence of the era.
And while her presence today would have been woke-ified and brimming with lectures, Nichols carried herself with dignity and charm, making cultural progress without ever calling attention to it.
Angela Lansbury’s career had more acts than a season’s worth of shows at Gershwin Theatre. She delighted audiences for eight decades, a staggering achievement few modern stars can hope to match.
And, along the way, show business feted her with six Tony Awards along with nominations for Academy Awards (three), Emmys (18), and a Grammy.
She worked steadily in Hollywood in the early days of her career, including an Oscar nomination for her debut in 1944’s “Gaslight.” More big screen smashes followed, but her Oscar-nominated turn in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) catapulted her to another level of fame.
Ironically, the role came after she had transitioned to theater, where she became one of Broadway’s biggest stars thanks to roles in “Mame,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Blithe Spirit.”
She later conquered the small screen via “Murder, She Wrote.” The CBS smash cast her as an amateur detective, expanding her already massive fan base over a 12-season run.
Olivia Newton-John won our hearts in 1978’s “Grease,” but her show business story officially started with pop smashes like “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “I Honestly Love You,” the latter winning the Grammy for Record of the Year.
More chart toppers followed, like omnipresent hits like “Magic” and “Let’s Get Physical.” Her attempt to replicate the “Grease” movie magic, “Xanadu,” bombed, but her adorable image and silky voice ensured her career wouldn’t crater as a result.
She struggled to replicate her early music moments, but her decades-long fight with breast cancer highlighted another part of her public persona. She fought cancer in the public space, her brave face a tribute to fellow patients the world over.
Character actor David Warner could have been a star had the 1982 film “Tron” popped as expected. It proved a theatrical dud, but Warner’s colorful career never missed a beat. The actor starred in more than 200 films, including memorable turns in “Time After Time,” “The Omen” and “Titanic.”
He began his career working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but Hollywood enlisted him a few years later and refused to let him go. Warner summed up his film career with this droll observation.
“I’ve never been asked to play the happy, romantic lead … So getting the girl is something that has never happened to me.”
He didn’t get the girl. He just nailed dozens and dozens of roles for an unforgettable screen legacy.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.