2016: A Hard Year in Entertainment

30 December, 2016

The entertainment world may be happy to see 2016 come to a close.

The music industry lost a lot of its stars in 2016, beginning in January with David Bowie's passing, and continuing through December with the death of George Michael.

Many beloved actors also died this year, including Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher and, one day after her daughter's death, Debbie Reynolds.

Indeed, it was a year of tragedy, but also of surprises.

We will start with one of the most unexpected happenings of 2016: singer-songwriter Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for literature.

Bob Dylan Nobel Laureate

The Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize for literature to Dylan. Official Sara Danius said, "Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear. But it is perfectly fine to read his works as poetry." She called his 1966 album "Blonde on Blonde" an "extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and his pictorial thinking."

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2012, file photo, Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles.
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2012, file photo, Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles.

Dylan did not attend the Nobel ceremony on December 10 in Stockholm, Sweden. But he sent a speech for the event. He thanked the Academy for asking if his work was literature and, in his words, "providing such a wonderful answer." Singer Patti Smith honored Dylan at the ceremony with a memorable performance of his 1963 song, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall."

Breakups and breakdowns

Another surprising event in 2016 entertainment news was the break-up of actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. "Brangelina," as the couple is often called, announced in September that they would end their relationship. The two were married in 2014 and have six children together.

The divorce process has been difficult for Brangelina. This month, the two made news headlines in connection with their child custody battle.

Pitt wanted the custody situation to remain private. Jolie had taken legal action that made information publicly available.

Kim Kardashian West also made some unusual news this year. The reality-television star, who is married to musician Kanye West, was robbed at gunpoint.

The frightening incident happened in Paris in October. Five men entered her hotel room in Paris and tied the star up. They stole valuable jewelry, including her $4 million engagement ring, before fleeing. Police never caught the robbers.

Kanye West had a big year all his own. News reports about him included another dispute with Taylor Swift, publicly insulting his friends Beyonce and Jay Z., canceling his concert tour and entering a hospital for mental health treatment. The rapper also announced an interest in a future run for president and his support of Donald Trump.


Sad happenings started early in 2016. On January 10, music lovers lost rock legend David Bowie. The British artist died of liver cancer at his home in New York City. The death was a shock to his fans. Bowie had not told the public that he was sick.

He had just turned 69. He had also just released his final album, "Blackstar." Critics praised it as his best work in years.

Bowie was famous for more than just music. He was an early gender-bender in his style of dress. He was a famous experimenter with musical styles, as well. He was one of the creators of glam rock, and mixed it with hard rock, dance, pop, soul and punk.

FILE - This is a Dec. 1, 1972 file photo of David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust period pictured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo, Brian Horton, File)
FILE - This is a Dec. 1, 1972 file photo of David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust period pictured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo, Brian Horton, File)

He rocketed to fame with his 1969 song "Space Oddity." The song came out in the same month that men first walked on the moon.

Three years later, David Bowie released "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars." The album introduced one of music's most famous personas: the red-headed, androgynous, futuristic rock star Ziggy Stardust. As Ziggy, he wore shiny clothes, metallic face paint and high boots.

Bowie developed additional characters over the years. He also acted in film, television and on stage. And he never stopped making music.

Not long after Bowie left us, music fans mourned for Glenn Fry, who helped create The Eagles, and Maurice White, who founded Earth, Wind & Fire. Later, the death of country star Merle Haggard also hit hard.

But the death of an icon in April shocked the music world. Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply as "Prince," was found dead in his home near Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 21.

His death was as mysterious as his life. The musician was very private. After an investigation officials ruled Prince's death was caused by an accidental overdose of a powerful drug called fentanyl.

Prince was a wildly popular and productive musician. He won seven Grammys during his career. His hit songs included "Little Red Corvette," ''Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry."

His songs crossed many musical borders. He had a powerful voice that could reach high to low. Many critics also considered him one of the greatest guitarists ever. Prince made an unforgettable, unmistakable sound all his own.

In 2004, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame admitted Prince as a member. The organization said the artist "rewrote the rulebook" to make "cutting edge music in the 80s."

U.S. President Barack Obama honored the musician after his passing. He called the artist "a creative icon." He said, "As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all."

Hollywood mourns as well

Some bright lights went out in the movie industry this year.

American actor Gene Wilder, the wild-haired star of many blockbuster comedy films, died in August. He was 83 years old.

Wilder had been living with Alzheimer's disease for three years. A family member said the actor kept the condition private so he would not upset fans.

"He simply couldn't bear the idea of one less smile in the world,'' his nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said.

Gene Wilder is shown in character as he films
Gene Wilder is shown in character as he films "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" with Richard Pryor in 1989. (AP Photo)

Gene Wilder started his acting career on the stage. However, millions of people knew him from his work in film.

His movies with director Mel Brooks were especially famous. They included "The Producers,'' "Blazing Saddles'' and "Young Frankenstein.'' He is also beloved for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Most recently comes the loss of movie stars Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

The 60-year-old Fisher died in Los Angeles on December 27. She had been in a hospital for four days after suffering a medical emergency on an airplane flight.

Fisher was the daughter of famous entertainers Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. She followed her mother into acting as a teenager; her first movie was "Shampoo" in 1975.

Two years later, Fisher accepted what became an iconic part in an iconic movie. She starred as Princess Leia in the 1977 film, "Star Wars." Fisher played an intelligent and brave ruler who fights an evil force.

Fisher's look as Princess Leia is probably one of the best recognized in Hollywood history. She wore her hair braided and rolled into two large buns at her ears. Her character's line, "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope," is legendary.

Carrie Fisher's personal life was filled with difficulty. She was an alcoholic and drug addict. Fisher also had bipolar disorder.

But the actress faced her problems and discussed them openly. She stopped drinking and using drugs and sought psychological help. Fisher went on to write several books about her struggles, including "Postcards from the Edge" in 1987.

'She wanted to be with Carrie'

Debbie Reynolds followed her own daughter in death. She passed away on December 28 after suffering a stroke. She was 84.

"She wanted to be with Carrie," Reynolds' son, Todd Fisher, told the media.

He called his sister's death "too much" for Reynolds.

Reynolds starred opposite Gene Kelly in the 1952 classic movie "Singin' in the Rain." She was only 19 years old. She was later nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."

Reynolds continued to act in movies, television shows, and on stage for many decades.

One day before she died, Reynolds wrote about her daughter's death on Facebook. She thanked those who "embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop. Love, Carrie's Mother."

I'm Alice Bryant.

And I'm Dorothy Gundy.

Caty Weaver wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

custody n. the legal right to take care of a child (such as a child whose parents are divorced)

gender-bender n. the act of dressing and behaving like a member of the opposite sex

evoke v. to bring (a memory, feeling, image, etc.) into the mind

introduce v. to mention or refer to (something) for the first time

persona n. the way you behave, talk, etc., with other people that causes them to see you as a particular kind of person: the image or personality that a person presents to other people

androgynous adj. having both male and female characteristics or qualities

overdose n. an amount of a drug or medicine that is too much and usually dangerous

cutting edge n. the newest, most modern part of some activity or movement

icon n. someone who is the object of devoted attention

prolificadj. producing a large amount of something

comedyn. a play, movie, television program, novel, etc., that is meant to make people laugh

blockbustern. something that is very large, expensive, or successful

legendary adj. very famous or well-known

instant adj. happening or done without delay

gratification n. pleasure, especially when gained from the satisfaction of a desire

awareness n. knowledge that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists