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In Memoriam: Remembering Notable (And Some Honorary) Canadians Who Died In 2020

We pay tribute to Alex Trebek, a prime minister, a rock star, an award-winning actress, and trailblazing athletes.

Saying goodbye can be tough, and processing the loss of noteworthy names is no different. When news breaks about the death of a public figure, together, we reminisce about their legacy, and the lasting imprint of their cultural impact.

This past year, many Canadians mourned the deaths of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman, rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, and longtime associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among others.

With that in mind, we look back and fondly remember these impactful Canadian newsmakers (or Canadian transplants), who passed in 2020:

Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek.
© Walter McBride/MediaPunch/IPx
Alex Trebek.

The beloved “Jeopardy!” game show host and philanthropist died in his Los Angeles home on Nov. 8 at 80 years old, following a public battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Born in Sudbury, Ont., this broadcasting veteran was perhaps best known for his playfully straight-laced emcee role on more than 8,200 episodes of the relaunched version of “Jeopardy!,” a position he held from 1984 until his death.

Alex Trebek bravely shared his cancer diagnosis with his audience on March 6, 2019, and kept them informed about his condition throughout his treatment, maintaining his droll sense of humour throughout. The father-of-three continued working until Oct. 29, when he filmed his final “Jeopardy!” episodes, which will start airing in syndication on Jan. 4.

Trebek, who routinely skewered his quizmaster persona by playing a version of himself on other films and television shows, will also make a posthumous appearance in the Ryan Reynolds-starring action comedy, “Free Guy” in 2021.

Allan Gotlieb

Allan Gotlieb.
Boris Spremo via Getty Images
Allan Gotlieb.

Renowned public servant and author Allan Gotlieb died on April 18, of Parkinson’s disease and an undisclosed cancer, in Toronto at the age of 92.

The Winnipeg-raised Gotlieb spent eight years as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. during the Ronald Reagan administration, holding the position from 1981 to 1989, and serving former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, respectively.

A Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law graduate, Gotlieb’s 2006 political memoir, The Washington Diaries , made Maclean’s magazine’s bestseller list that same year.

Andrée Champagne

Quebec actress and politician Andrée Champagne passed away at her hometown hospital in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., on June 5. The Globe and Mail reports the 80-year-old was facing pulmonary complications, and was planning to record an audiobook composed of her two memoirs.

Champagne, a known federalist, garnered major exposure for her role as Donalda on the long-running Radio-Canada series, “Les Belles Histoires des pays d’en haut,” from 1956 to 1970. In 1984, she made the pivot to politics, and was elected an MP for the Progressive Conservative party until 1993. In 2005, she rejoined the political realm as a senator for the Conservatives, serving until her 75th birthday in 2014.

Christie Blatchford

Tireless, tenacious, and controversial, newspaper columnist and intrepid journalist Christie Blatchford died on Feb. 12, while undergoing treatment for lung cancer. She was 68.

The divisive critic and crime reporter got her start on the sports beat in the 1970s at the Globe and Mail, before going on to write for the three other Toronto-based daily newspapers; the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, and the National Post.

A National Newspaper Award winner and inductee into the Canadian News Hall of Fame, Blatchford covered the 2019 federal election before taking medical leave.

Colby Cave

Colby Cave of the Edmonton Oilers, in 2019.
Codie McLachlan via Getty Images
Colby Cave of the Edmonton Oilers, in 2019.

Professional ice hockey player and Edmonton Oilers forward Colby Cave died suddenly in April after suffering a brain bleed. He was 25. The Saskatchewan-raised athlete skated for both the Oilers and the Boston Bruins, and was also playing for Edmonton’s AHL affiliate team, the Bakersfield Condors, in the 2019-2020 season.

Cave’s death came four days after he had emergency surgery to remove a colloid cyst, which the Canadian Press reports was putting pressure on his brain. Responding to the news of Cave’s death, his teammate Connor McDavid posted a tribute on Twitter for the fallen star, sending condolences to wife Emily Cave, and adding that Colby “always brought so much energy and positivity into the room and peoples’ lives.”

Diane Ford

Diane Ford in 2014.
David Cooper via Getty Images
Diane Ford in 2014.

Political matriarch Diane Ford passed away surrounded by family at her Etobicoke, Ont. home on Jan. 5, after her fight with cancer. She was 85. The mother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Diane was a well-known community leader and advocate with decades of political ties.

Her late husband, Doug Ford Sr., was an MPP for the Ontario Progressive Conservative party from 1995 to 1999, and according to her son, Doug Jr., “She guided us through the good times and through the tough times and until her last day.”

Speaking at her funeral service, the Ontario premier said, “Our family never made any major decision without her.”

Fred Sasakamoose

 Lanny McDonald (L) and Fred Sasakamoose in 2019.
Jeff Vinnick via Getty Images
Lanny McDonald (L) and Fred Sasakamoose in 2019.

Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous athletes to ever play in the NHL and a former Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation chief, died due to COVID-19 complications in Prince Albert, Sask. on Nov. 24, at the age of 86.

Sasakamoose made 11 game appearances in the NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks, and according to the New York Times, he faced off against hockey greats like Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard during his tenure.

In a pre-recorded statement at Sasakamoose’s funeral, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called him a pioneer who helped pave the way for others.

“After he survived the residential school system, after he made history as one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, he returned home to give back,” said Trudeau. “Fred didn’t just share his love of the game with young people, he believed in them and worked hard to support them.”

John Turner

Former prime minister John Turner.
Boris Spremo via Getty Images
Former prime minister John Turner.

John Turner was Canada’s prime minister for only 79 days in 1984, but the Bay Street lawyer and politician left an impression on Canadians long after his tenure in office. Famously dubbed “Canada’s Kennedy” during an early political run back in 1962, the headstrong London-born liberal held posts as the federal justice minister, and finance minister under former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Motivated by his social compass, Turner helped advocate for divorce law reform, and the legalization of both abortion and same sex marriage.

Longtime aide Marc Kealey told the Canadian Press that Turner died in his sleep at home in Toronto on Sept. 18, at 91.

Neil Peart

Neil Peart.
Chris Mckay / MediaPunch/MediaPunch/IPx
Neil Peart.

After decades of rock supremacy, Rush performed their final show together on their 40th anniversary tour in Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 2015. But on Jan. 7, the trio’s famed drummer and lyricist Neil Peart died after his quiet three-and-a-half-year row with brain cancer. He was 67.

Peart, a major hockey fan, famously recorded a drum-heavy version of the “Hockey Theme” for TSN, which debuted in full in 2010. Well-regarded as a music virtuoso, the Hamilton, Ont.-born Peart ranked fourth on Rolling Stone’s acclaimed 2016 list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. Alongside his bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, Rush became the first Canadian band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, and they were also the inaugural band named to Canada’s Walk of Fame back in 1999.

In an Instagram statement, Lee and Lifeson thanked the band’s loyal fans for “the incredible outpouring of love and respect for Neil since his passing.”

Nick Cordero

Broadway actor Nick Cordero.
Brad Barket/Invision/AP
Broadway actor Nick Cordero.

Tony-nominated Broadway star Nick Cordero passed away on July 5 in Los Angeles, after complications stemming from a 95-day fight with COVID-19.

Born in Hamilton, Ont., Cordero attended Ryerson University’s theatre program for two years before leaving to pursue his passions. The 41-year-old’s COVID-19 health struggles were chronicled by his wife, dancer Amanda Kloots, on social media. Kloots regularly shared updates on his condition with their fans, from his right leg amputation, to the nearly seven weeks he spent in a medically-induced coma.

Cordero was later memorialized on Twitter by Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and many others in the theatre and Hollywood creative communities.

Rocky Johnson

Rocky Johnson in 2012.
George Napolitano/MediaPunch/IPx
Rocky Johnson in 2012.

World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson, who was born in Amherst, N.S. and is the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, died of a pulmonary embolism on Jan. 15 at 75, near Tampa Bay, Fla.

Better known as the “Soulman,” Rocky fought through discrimination and homelessness, before making his professional wrestling debut in Ontario in 1964. He carved out a winning career before retiring in 1991, and subsequently went on to help train his son Dwayne how to fight.

Dwayne posted a loving tribute on Instagram in honour of his late father, writing, “I was the boy sitting in the seats, watching and adoring you, my hero from afar ... You broke [colour] barriers, became a ring legend and [trailblazed] your way [through] this world.”

Shirley Douglas

Kiefer Sutherland and his mother, actress Shirley Douglas, in 2012.
George Pimentel via Getty Images
Kiefer Sutherland and his mother, actress Shirley Douglas, in 2012.

A strong-willed siren of the stage and screen, actress and advocate Shirley Douglas accumulated nearly 65 years of performance credits during her career in the public eye.

Just days after her 86th birthday, Douglas passed away following a bout of pneumonia, on April 5 in Toronto. Douglas’ fiery commitment to her craft, and the rights and recognition of her fellow actors in Canada and abroad likely stems from her father’s unshakeable political resolve. Shirley’s father, Tommy Douglas, spent 17 years as the premier of Saskatchewan, and fought to establish universal, publicly-funded health care for Canadians.

Shirley continued to hold that torch for activism and government lobbying, as does her son, Emmy-winning actor, Kiefer Sutherland. Shirley and Kiefer only got to perform once together as actors, playing mother and son in a 1997 production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” which ran at both Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, and at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

In a Twitter post, Sutherland thanked his fans for their notes of condolence after Shirley passed. “I wanted to take a moment to thank so many of you for your incredibly kind and thoughtful tweets to me and my family. We were genuinely moved. Please stay safe and healthy.”

Therese Dion

Céline Dion and Therese Tanguay Dion in 2010.
Alexander Tamargo via Getty Images
Céline Dion and Therese Tanguay Dion in 2010.

Therese Dion, mother to 14 children — including her youngest, the incomparable pop diva Céline Dion — died surrounded by members of her family, at her Montreal home on Jan. 17. She was 92.

Affectionately known to the public as “Maman Dion,” Therese spent three years hosting the aptly-titled lifestyle talk show of the same name, kickstarting her television career at 71, as per the Montreal Gazette.

Quebec premier François Legault shared his condolences after Therese’s passing, and highlighted her generosity before noting that the entire province is mourning her loss.

Hours after her mother passed, Céline took to the stage as planned while on tour in Miami, and performed a tribute to “Maman,” singing Judy Garland’s signature ballad, “Over the Rainbow.”

Dressed in an ethereal white gown, Céline looked overcome with emotion as she performed in front of a black-and-white portrait of her mother. Closing the show, she added, “Thank you from my mom,” before saying good night to the crowd.

Tony Fernández

Tony Fernández in 2001.
Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Tony Fernández in 2001.

Though not officially Canadian, the Dominican Republic-born Fernández launched his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1983, before retiring with the team in 2001. The shortstop and four-time Gold Glove-winning infielder was also an integral part of the 1993 World Series Championship team, famously hitting a nearly-unheard of five RBIs (run batted in) in Game 4.

Fernández spent a total of 12 seasons with the Blue Jays, and still holds the team leaderboard record in hits, triples, and games played. Fernández was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

The athlete, whose foundation for underprivileged children also has a Canadian headquarters, died in hospital in Weston, Fla., after suffering a stroke and complications from kidney disease He was 57.

WATCH: The celebrities we lost in 2020.

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