Going through the in memoriam 2020 lists that newspapers and other media outlets have been putting out, we were struck by how many, many men are celebrated compared to women. For instance, of the 156 people noted in CNN’s year-end compilation of those who have died this year, only 29 were women. That’s 18 percent. Something is wrong with this picture; last time we checked women make up more than half the population.
Does that mean our lives mean less? Hell, no. It means that the parameters for a “noteworthy” life are way too narrow, too unimaginative.
In our own goodbye feature, we’re focusing only on the female powerhouses we have lost this year. We could add many, many more. Please send in names of notable women we’ve missed.
In 1960, Bridges, who died at age 86, took a very brave step. She enrolled her six-year-old daughter Ruby in an all-white school, and facing continuing protests, escorted her to school every morning for a year.
Champion, 101, was part of a dancing couple that were the Fred and Ginger of television. But before she and her husband, Gower Champion, achieved fame, she was a model for three characters in early Disney animated films, including Snow White. Her last Broadway appearance was at age 82.
Mary Higgins Clark
“The Queen of Suspense,” as Clark was called, wrote more than 56 page-turners, all of them bestsellers. She sold more than 100 million copies of her books in the U.S., broke records for the size of her book deals, and was writing almost until she died at age 92.
Cole’s most significant creation was the Magic School Bus series of educational books. The illustrated books feature a teacher named Ms. Frizzle who takes her class to explore everything from dinosaurs to hurricanes. She had recently finished a new book, about human evolution, when she died at age 75.
Olivia de Havilland
De Havilland starred in 49 feature films, most memorably as Melanie in Gone with the Wind. Emblematic of the Golden Age of Hollywood and a certain more dignified era of stardom, she died at the age of 104.
Diane di Parma
See our tribute to the “Lioness of the Beat Poets” here.
If you’re the wife of Donald Sutherland and the mother of Keifer Sutherland, you have to make sure your own achievements don’t get lost. Douglas, 86, had the acting chops to do just that and was also a fierce activist, advocated for women’s rights and establishing the fundraising group “Friends of the Black Panthers.”
Her background was on the stage, but Ferrell, 77, found her biggest success as a tough-talking housekeeper on the TV series Two-and-a-Half Men, a role that earned her two Emmy Award nomintaions.
During the 40s and 50s, Fleming, 97, starred in a number of popular westerns and adventure movies. With her red hair and green eyes, she was a perfect star for the age of Technicolor.
George, 70, achieved success in two uniquely American pursuits. Beauty pageants (as Miss America in 1971) and football (as an NFL commentator). As the first female sportscaster, she was a true pioneer.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The loss of RBG was a true low point for us in 2020, and that’s saying something. It was a comfort knowing such a brilliant, courageous Supreme Court justice was fighting on behalf of women everywhere. We have already seen that the court will not be the same without her.
Hite, 77, was honest (to some, shockingly so) about women and sexual pleasure Her 1976 book, “The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study on Female Sexuality,” freed us to talk openly about sex and take matters into our own hands if needed.
The New York Times described Johnson, 101, as one of the “finest mathematical minds in the country.” And she used that mind to go far and, as an African American woman, to break countless barriers. Her work at NASA, contributing to the success of the Apollo missions, was the subject of the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
Knight was well-known for her TV appearances on such shows as Thirtysomething, Ally McBeal, and NYPD Blue. But the Emmy and Tony-Award winner also created memorable roles in film and stage. She was 83.
She was only supposed to be an extra on the hit TV show M*A*S*H, but Nakahara’s personality was so infectious, she became a regular, appearing as an Army nurse in 167 episodes. Nakahara, 73, went on to appear in a number of films and other TV shows.
Oslin, 78, was a singer-songwriter known for hits such as ‘”80s Ladies” and “Do Ya?” She was a Grammy-award winner, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the first female songwriter to win the Country Music Awards Song of the Year.
Bonnie Pointer was one of the founding siblings of the group, The Pointer Sisters, who reigned as dance-pop queens in the 80s. Their exuberant hits included “I’m So Excited,” “Jump,” and “Neutron Dance.” Pointer was 69.
Preston, 57, was an actress known for roles in Twins and Jerry McGuire. Married for a couple decades to John Travolta, she grieved their son Jett publicly and fought breast cancer privately.
Reinking, 70, had legs in both senses of the term. Long-limbed and lithe, she was an extraordinary dancer and choreographer. And this Tony-winner performed on Broadway for decades, performing in “Chicago” at age 27 and then again in her 40s.
From Emma Peel to Olenna Tyrell, Rigg was a joy and an inspiration. Her honesty and strength, on and off the screen, made her unforgettable and much loved. She died at 82.
Sheehy’s landmark book Passages, about the challenges of adulthood, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than three years and was named one of the 10 most influential books of our time by the Library of Congress. A journalist and Vanity Fair contributing editor, she was known for her psychologically probing articles.
A New Orleans native, Sutton, 76, was as devoted to the theater there as she was to reducing poverty in her hometown. As an actor, she appeared in films like Steel Magnolias and The Help. She died of complications from COVID.
Her passing was shocking because of her age and seemingly charmed life. Tennant, 50, was a model of aristocratic lineage known for her severe, androgynous look. She was still walking designer runways as of last January.
At 17, Wright had a hit single, “The Clean Up Woman,” and over the following four decades she took a prominent role in the Miami Funk sound and became a mentor to a number of rappers and singers. She was 66.
Wurtzel was only 52 when she died of metastatic breast cancer. She had risen to fame with her 1994 memoir Prozac Nation, which was shocking in its highly confessional tone. Though controversial, the book opened up the dialogue about depression.