While their presence may light up a room, the funny men and women who grace the silver screen and stand-up stage often grapple with depression, health issues, family problems or addiction.
Here are the memorable men and women who left us before their time.
The brilliantly talented English comic delighted audiences both here and abroad during the fifties and sixties despite a tumultuous private life and his ongoing battle with alcoholism. He died by his own hand in the Sydney apartment in which he was staying while filming a 13-part series for the Seven Network called Hancock Down Under. He was 44.
The much loved English comic enjoyed a long and mostly illustrious career, passing away at 68. But it ended badly. As social mores changed, Hill, who’d built his fame on double entendres and risqué skits – he was forever chasing or being chased by scantily clad girls – attracted criticism from feminists and even fellow comic, Ben Elton, for his oft-times sexist material. Gradually Hill’s audience ebbed away. He died alone in his third floor London flat, seated in a chair before his TV. He’d been there two days.
Known for his iconic characters, such as the hard-to-understand Foreign Man (who later evolved into Latka Gravas) and lounge singer Tony Clifton, Kaufman had a loyal cult following and a five-season stint on television show Taxi. He passed away at the age of 34 in 1984 from a rare form of lung cancer. Due to a long-running joke about faking his own death, many of Kaufman’s fans believed the prankster had faked his own death.
The Chicago-born sketch artist was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. The popular funny man went on to have starring roles in 1978’s Animal House and 1980’s hilarious hit The Blues Brothers. He died in 1982 at Los Angeles’s famed Chateau Marmont after taking a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin. Robin Williams cited Belushi’s shock death as one of his main motivators for getting sober.
An original cast member of Saturday Night Live alongside John Belushi, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, Radner won an Emmy Award in 1978. After battling bulimia during her time on SNL, Radner was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986, two years after she had married the love of her life, Gene Wilder. She died in 1989 at age 42.
The legendary plus-sized comedian was celebrated for films like Uncle Buck, Spaceballs, The Great Outdoors, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Cool Runnings, but Candy was also known for his poor health. The Canadian actor died of a heart attack in Mexico in 1994 at age 44.
An early influence on today’s comedic generation, Bruce kicked off a career in the 1950s with fearless satire covering everything from drugs to religion. He was frequently in the media, whether for his television appearances or his scandalous behaviour, including a 1964 conviction for obscenity. He was pardoned posthumously for the offence but is still remembered as an outspoken, risqué comic personality. He passed away at the age of 40 from an accidental morphine overdose in 1966.
Mac burst onto the scene alongside fellow stand-up stars Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and D. L. Hughley on The Original Kings of Comedy. His subsequent role in the eponymous family sitcom The Bernie Mac Show – which enjoyed a five-season run – catapulted him to film fame with roles in Ocean’s Eleven, Bad Santa and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Mac passed away in 2008 due to complications from an inflammatory lung disease. He was 50 years old.
A two-time Academy Award nominee for Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles, Kahnwas one of the original comediennes whose silver screen and stage career earned her an Emmy award and a Tony award. Tragically, after a three-year stint on the sit-com Cosby, she died in 1999 of ovarian cancer at the age of 57.