Year in review: We said farewell to these newsmakers

By Charlene
30 December 2013

1. Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first woman prime minister, died of a stroke in London on April 8, at the age of 87. She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century, in office from 1979 to 1990. A Soviet journalist called her the "Iron Lady", a nickname she enjoyed and which summed up her uncompromising politics and leadership style. Public reactions to the news of her death were mixed, ranging from tributes praising her as Britain's greatest-ever peacetime prime minister to expressions of deep vitriol from those who suffered as a result of her policies.

2. Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president and anti-apartheid icon, died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, at the age of 95. He led the country's transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after spending 27 years in prison for his political activities. He had been receiving intensive medical care at home for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital earlier in the year. At a memorial service attended by more than 90 world leaders, US President Barack Obama praised Mandela as the last great liberator of the 20th century, and urged the world to carry on his legacy by fighting inequality, poverty and discrimination.

3. Irish actor Peter O'Toole, star of the 1962 film classic Lawrence of Arabia, died on December 14, aged 81. The role earned him the first of eight Oscar nominations, while the most recent was for Venus, in 2006. He received an honorary Oscar in 2003, although was initially reluctant to accept it, asking for it delayed until he was 80, saying he was "still in the game and might win the bugger outright". Along with close friends Richard Harris and Richard Burton, he had a reputation as a hellraiser, and their shared love of drinking garnered as many headlines as their performances.

4. Prince Johan Friso, second son of the former Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, died on August 21 after 18 months in a coma following a skiing accident. He was 44. He was hit by an avalanche while skiing in Lech, Austria, in February 2012, and was buried under snow for around 15 minutes before being rescued and resuscitated. He never regained more than minimal consciousness. He was moved from hospital in London back to the Netherlands in July 2013, but suffered further complications, which he was unable to survive.

5. Jorge Rafael Videla, de facto President of Argentina from 1976-81, died in jail on May 17, aged 87. A senior army commander, he came to power in the military coup that deposed Isabel Peron. In 1985, following the return of democratic government, Videla was convicted of numerous homicides, kidnapping, torture, and other crimes committed during the dictatorship, in which up to 30 000 political dissidents were killed. He was pardoned by President Carlos Menem in 1990, but tried and jailed for 50 years in 2012 for the systematic kidnapping of new-born babies during his rule.

6. British novelist Doris Lessing died at her home in London on November 17, aged 94. The oldest person to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature – in 2007 when she was 88 – her subjects ranged from politics and race to science fiction. Her first novel, The Grass is Singing, drew on life in colonial South Africa where she grew up, was married and divorced twice, and had three children, before leaving to start a new life in England in the 1950s. Her 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, was championed by the feminist movement, though Lessing herself rejected attempts to define her work this way.

7. American actor Paul Walker, best known for his role as Brian O'Conner in the action movie franchise, The Fast and The Furious, died in a high-speed car accident in Los Angeles on November 30, shortly after attending a charity event for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. He was 40. Walker had appeared in television commercials, game shows and soap operas from the age of two. His big break came in 2001 when he played alongside Vin Diesel in the first Fast and Furious film, and he was working on the seventh in the series at the time of his death.

8. Seamus Heaney, acclaimed by many as the best Irish poet since WB Yeats, died in Dublin on August 30, following a short illness. He was 74. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". In a distinguished academic career he held professorships at both Harvard and Oxford, and in 1996 was made a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in France.

9. British physiologist Sir Robert Edwards, whose pioneering IVF technique helped bring more than five million children into the world, died on April 10, aged 87. Along with surgeon Patrick Steptoe, Edwards successfully developed the technique of in-vitro fertilisation, which led to the birth of the world's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in England in July 1978, an event that completely changed the prospects for couples previously unable to have children.

10. British biochemist Frederick Sanger, the only person to have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry twice, died in hospital in Cambridge, aged 95, on November 19. His work on the structure of the protein insulin led to his 1958 award, while later research into the base sequences of nucleic acids saw him share the 1980 prize. He turned down a knighthood, saying he didn't want to be "different" and described himself as "just a chap who messed about in a lab".

11. Veteran British broadcaster Sir David Frost died on August 30, aged 74, after suffering a heart attack while on board a cruise ship where he was due to give a speech. After graduating from Cambridge, Frost rose to prominence in the UK in 1962 as the host of a new satirical programme, That Was the Week That Was. This led to success on U.S. television, where he interviewed senior political figures, notably former President Richard Nixon in 1977, in which Nixon finally apologised for his role in the Watergate scandal. The interviews with Nixon were later adapted into a stage play and film.

12. Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant and ruthless general who led the outgunned Vietnamese to victory first over the French and then the Americans, died in Hanoi on October 4, aged 102. A national hero, Giap's guerrilla army encircled and crushed the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, an unlikely victory that led to Vietnam's independence and hastened the collapse of colonialism across Indochina. Giap then defeated the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, reuniting a country that had been split into communist and non-communist states.

13. US singer and former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed died from liver disease at the age of 71, on October 27. Reed was considered one of the most influential singers and songwriters in rock music, whose best-known songs included Perfect Day and Walk on the Wild Side. The Velvet Underground was renowned for its fusion of art and music and collaboration with Andy Warhol.

14. Joan Fontaine, one of the most successful film actresses of the 1940s and 50s, died in California on December 16 at age 96. Fontaine, the younger sister of fellow star Olivia de Havilland, was cast as the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's first Hollywood film, Rebecca, opposite Laurence Olivier, before winning an Oscar as a vulnerable wife in the movie Suspicion in 1942. Her sister was also nominated the same year and the fact that Fontaine scooped the honour first contributed to a lifelong antipathy and rivalry between the pair.

15. James Gandolfini, the US actor best known for his role as a therapy-seeking mob boss in The Sopranos, died from a heart attack on June 19, while on holiday in Italy. He was 51. He won three Emmy awards for his role as Tony Soprano, a mafia boss struggling to balance his criminal career and family life.

16. Renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe died on March 21, aged 82. One of Africa's best known authors, his 1958 debut novel Things Fall Apart, which dealt with the impact of colonialism in Africa, sold over 10 million copies and is the most widely read book in modern African literature. In 2007 he was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in honour of his literary career.

17. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez died on March 5, aged 58, following a two-year battle with cancer. The former paratroop commander waged a continual struggle for his socialist ideals, defeating a coup attempt, winning re-election three times and using his country's vast oil wealth to his political advantage. A self-described "subversive", Chavez modelled himself on 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. He thrived on confrontation with Washington, on one occasion memorably referring to President George W. Bush as a "donkey".

18. Reeva Steenkamp, a well-known South African model and girlfriend of Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius, was shot dead in the bathroom of Pistorius's apartment in a gated housing complex in Pretoria in the early hours of February 14, Valentine's Day. She was 29 years old. Pistorius claimed he had mistaken Reeva for an intruder and shot her accidentally, but he was subsequently charged with murder and is due to go on trial in March 2014.

- Julie Mullins, Graphic News

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