The artists we lost in 2020, in their words
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The artists we lost in 2020, in their words
Chadwick Boseman in Los Angeles, Nov. 18, 2018. Boseman, who found fame as the star of “Black Panther” and who also portrayed pathbreaking Black figures including Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, died on Aug. 28, 2020 after a battle with colon cancer. He was 43. Magdalena Wosinska/The New York Times.

by Gabe Cohn, Peter Libbey and Lauren Messman

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- It’s always difficult to lose a favorite actor or a beloved musician. But in 2020, a year of crisis upon crisis, some of those losses were especially painful, brought on by a pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone. The artists on this list could help us better understand the time we’re living through, or at least help us get through it with a smile or cathartic cry. Here is a tribute to them, in their own words.


“When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.” — Chadwick Boseman, actor, born 1976

“It’s crucial to know where the work stops and your life begins.” — Ann Reinking, dancer, born 1949

“I don’t consider myself an artist. I consider myself a very opinionated man who uses words as fighting tools.” — Larry Kramer, writer, born 1935

“When that first photograph was taken of Earth from space and you saw this little ball in blackness … I became aware of what I felt I was. I feel very much that a tree is a relative, a cousin. Everything in this world, I find, I’m related to.” — Luchita Hurtado, artist, born 1920

“If you start thinking of your image, or what the mysterious ‘they’ out there are thinking of you, you’re in a trap. What’s important is that you’re doing the work that’s best for you.” — Sean Connery, actor, born 1930

“I’m not conceited — I’m convinced.” — Little Richard, singer, born 1932

“My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that. And it doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” — Alex Trebek, TV host, born 1940

“Dancing and singing is all I always wanted. Doing what you want makes you happy — and old.” — Othella Dallas, dancer, born 1925

“All I know is that rock ’n’ roll guitar, like blues guitar, should be melody, speed and taste, but more important, it should have emotion. I just want my guitar playing to make people feel something: happy, sad, even horny.” — Eddie Van Halen, guitarist, born 1955

“In my opinion, the goal of music in a film is to convey what is not seen or heard in the dialogue. It’s something abstract, coming from afar.” — Ennio Morricone, composer, born 1928

“The older you get, I have to say, the funnier you find life. That’s the only way to go. If you get serious about yourself as you get old, you are pathetic.” — Diana Rigg, actress, born 1938

“I would like to thank God because she makes everything possible.” — Helen Reddy, singer, born 1941

“Laughter is the answer to all the pain I experienced as a kid. When I’m not doing it, it all gets eerie and weird. I am only left with the memories that inhabit me that can only be knocked out by hearing laughter.” — Jerry Stiller, comedian, born 1927

“I have never had any support, I have not been encouraged by anyone, it is not in my character or the customs of my family. I made myself on my own, thanks to my work.” — Christiane Eda-Pierre, singer, born 1932

“I am totally a believer in the idea that style is a limitation of perception and understanding. And what I’ve tried in my life is to avoid style and find an essential reason for making things.” — Milton Glaser, designer, born 1929

My life is in a turmoil

My thighs are black and blue

My sheets are stained so is my brain

What’s a girl to do?

— Cristina, singer, born 1956

“I’d rather write about a high school prom or something than write about a midlife crisis, you know?” — Adam Schlesinger, songwriter, born 1967

“I’m an actor. I can play a lizard, anything. I’ve worked in ‘nontraditional’ theater. I did ‘Of Mice and Men.’ Played Slim. The great Joe Fields did a Willy Loman. We as actors want to act.” — Anthony Chisholm, actor, born 1943

“I would prefer to live forever in perfect health, but if I must at some time leave this life, I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise longue, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of Champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword.” — Olivia de Havilland, actress, born 1916

“Listening to classical music is like reading philosophy books, not everybody has to do it. Music is not for everybody.” — Krzysztof Penderecki, composer, born 1933

“If I do something somebody likes, well, I’m satisfied because somebody liked what I did, but I don’t think it’s important.” — Helen LaFrance, artist, born 1919

“If I thought a man had never committed a sin in his life, I don’t think I’d want to talk with him. A man with flaws is more interesting.” — Kirk Douglas, actor, born 1916

“I was strong and tireless and full of passion and loved dancing as deeply as one could ever love anything.” — Aileen Passloff, dancer, born 1931

“I love my wife, I love my family, I love my life, and I love my music.” — Kenny Rogers, singer, born 1938

“An artist who goes around proclaiming that the art he’s making is art is probably making a serious mistake. And that’s one mistake I try not to make.” — Peter Beard, artist, born 1938

“What we don’t need in country music is divisiveness, public criticism of each other, and some arbitrary judgment of what belongs and what doesn’t.” — Charley Pride, singer, born 1934

“The way I am is that I put everything I have into whatever I’m doing or thinking about at the moment. So it’s not right when people say I’m self-absorbed. I think I’m just absorbed.” — Elizabeth Wurtzel, author, born 1967

“I was driven, if anything, even harder by all of my successes. There was always more to attain, and more to achieve, and more musical depths to plumb, and lurking behind it all, the terrifying risk of failure.” — Leon Fleisher, pianist, born 1928

“I know the business of acting is sharing an experience, provoking an emotion. I don’t want to use the world love. It’s an abused word, hackneyed. But the truth is that I love to act in the theater.” — Zoe Caldwell, actress, born 1933

“I am a dancer who loves dance, any kind of dance. In choreographing, I don’t think of dance as ballet, modern or anything, just dance.” — Louis Johnson, dancer, born 1930

“I like to surprise myself. I’ve always been attracted to projects where I don’t know how they’re going to turn out. If I ever evince bravery in my life, it tends to be at a keyboard.” — Terrence McNally, playwright, born 1938

“I found myself involved with the dance as a child in Hawaii. We’d have picnics on the sand and get up and do hulas. I didn’t even know what I was talking about at the time, but I wanted to create my own theater.” — Jean Erdman, dancer, born 1916

“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.” — Bill Withers, singer, born 1938

“I am allergic to any art related to propaganda. And everything: commercial propaganda, political propaganda, religious propaganda — it is all about propaganda. And the greatness of art, like poetry or music, is that it is totally unnecessary.” — Christo, artist, born 1935

“I’m horrified at the notion of autobiography because I’m already constructing the lies I’m going to tell.” — John le Carré, author, born 1931

“Life nails you to something real in the falsehood of the stage. I have always felt a connection between daily life and art. I’ve always known where the stage door was, to get in and get out. Some others get lost in the maze. My reality has been my key.” — Mirella Freni, singer, born 1935

“I’ve been criticized for doing very Brechtian design, but when I go to a play or an opera, I love getting involved rather than just looking at it. I prefer a total theatrical experience to an analytical experience.” — Ming Cho Lee, theater designer, born 1930

“You can pick up a camera. The technology is there. You can get your friends together and you can make a movie. You should do it. Now.” — Lynn Shelton, director, born 1965

“The producer kept telling me: ‘Get tough. Get mean. Get angry.’ But I’m a nice guy. I’m Canadian.” — Nick Cordero, actor, born 1978

“You have got to be tough. Don’t just give up in life. Be strong, and believe in what you believe in.” — Toots Hibbert, singer, born 1942

“I want people to enjoy what I do, and understand what I’m doing is for their enjoyment. And that’s all I can ask for.” — Regis Philbin, TV host, born 1931

“Let others decide whether or not I’m a good writer. I know I’m a good Irish storyteller.” — Mary Higgins Clark, author, born 1927

“No one could have imagined I would be an actor, I was so shy. So thin. But the desire was so intense.” — Irrfan Khan, actor, born 1967

“As long as you keep yourself in love with people, you can transcend time.” — Betty Wright, singer, born 1953

When I get to heaven

I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm

What are you gonna do with time

After you’ve bought the farm?

— John Prine, musician, born 1946

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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