It is impossible in any year to take note of all the prominent people who died, but here’s a look of those in Canada and around the globe who had an outsized impact or influence.
Roger Ailes, born 1940, Warren, Ohio
For a half-century, Roger Ailes impacted political discourse and news coverage in the U.S. Early efforts included improving the media skills of Republican candidates and devising aggressive campaign ads for them, from Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential bid to a little-known Senate candidate named Mitch McConnell in 1984.
Ailes’s influence soared after being tapped to launch Fox News Network in 1996. Fox resonated with Americans who perceived liberal bias on other networks, covering the indiscretions and impeachment trial of Bill Clinton with zeal. Host-driven opinion was Fox’s game, targeting Hollywood and campus elites and what they saw as government bloat.
Harvey Weinstein in 2017 has been cited as the domino that led to a wave of sexual misconduct allegations concerning prominent men. But Ailes was an earlier, arguably more powerful name. After he was shown the door in 2016, Donald Trump soon called on him for presidential debate advice. Even with the public settlements and allegations to follow involving a number of its personalities, Fox is, on most nights, the top-rated cable news network.
Chuck Berry, born 1926, St. Louis, Mo.
Chuck Berry’s songs were often tales of redemption and so was his life. Sixty years before the death of another black St. Louis-area teen became a racially divisive flashpoint, Berry found his salvation through the guitar, a few years after a robbery conviction.
In the rock-n’-roll cultural wave that transfixed the youth of America to the consternation of many parents, Berry’s Maybellene in 1955 landed just before the first hits of Little Richard and Elvis Presley.
He was a headstrong man who refused to be ripped off by promoters and labels. If rock ‘n’ roll was also about transgression, Berry could fit that bill offstage — some allegations were trumped up, while others were undeniably creepy.
The only thing uncomplicated about his legacy was the music.
“Every riff and solo played by rock guitarists over the last 60 years contains DNA that can be traced right back to Chuck Berry,” as Sweden’s esteemed Polar Music Prize Foundation once said.
Gord Downie born 1964, Amherstview, Ont.
Gord Downie’s death was presaged 18 months earlier by the news he was terminally ill. But the singer-songwriter lived his remaining months with such fervour, and often in the public spotlight, that it was still a shock when the confirmation appeared on the Tragically Hip website on Oct. 17.
Downie and his band had raised a generation of Canadian music fans, graduating from local bars and campus venues to arenas. The current prime minister, within that demographic, was visibly moved at his friend’s death. If that reaction was surprising, more so was the amount of thoughtful coverage around the world for a truly Canadian group.
He maintained the balance he sought in his career until the end, first playing to the cheap seats in the best possible sense on rapturously received final concert dates with his Tragically Hip bandmates. But the last solo album released in his lifetime was a passion project, Secret Path, which drew its inspiration from the tragic 1966 death of an Indigenous child.
Helmut Kohl b. 1930, Ludwigshafen, Germany
Helmut Kohl reflected the sweep of a half-century of German life, going from membership in the Hitler Youth and service in the Second World War to overseeing the reunification of his country following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
He was “the right man at the right time,” current Chancellor Angela Merkel said of his presence as leader in the 1980s, as democratic sentiment built up around the continent.
Later on, Kohl also spearheaded the creation of the widely used euro currency.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, at the memorial, gave Kohl a specific type of praise in a year in which the new U.S. administration complained loudly about all manner of what it saw as one-sided international deals and agreements.
“He wanted to create a world in which no one dominated,” said Clinton.
Allan MacEachen, born 1921, Inverness, N.S.
Allan MacEachen’s life would have been considered a success even before his impact on Canadian politics beginning in 1953 under the Liberal governments of Louis St-Laurent, mentor Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Born in a mining town, he went on to post-secondary education at home as well as in Toronto, Chicago and MIT near Boston before becoming an economics professor.
He made no bones about being in the progressive wing of his party during his ultimately unsuccessful 1968 leadership bid. But he was a practical problem-solver and not overly dynamic or an orator — while serving as external affairs minister under eventual winner Trudeau. Years later, he once said of Canada’s relationship with the U.S. that Canada “had puritanically opted for strict monogamy in a polygamous world.”
MacEachen served in the health, labour and finance portfolios as well. Rightly lauded upon his death for helping launch medicare and the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, he took slings for much less popular moves, like announcing higher income tax during a recession in 1982.
“Hard Things Done Well: The Allan J. MacEachen Story,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared at his memorial.
Norma McCorvey born 1947, Simmesport, La.
Pregnant for the third time at 21, Norma McCorvey sought an abortion. With the help of lawyers eager to take on her cause, she launched a landmark case in 1970 as the anonymous Jane Roe. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled three years later the right to privacy protected the termination of pregnancy in some cases, she had long since given that child up for adoption.
The number of abortions in the U.S. would double within six years and peaked in 1990 (over 1.4 million). By 2016, they reflected pre-Roe levels due to advances in contraception, reduced stigma and legal victories for anti-abortion supporters that reduced access.
McCorvey’s life reflected how inflammatory the issue remained. She deemed some anti-abortion activists “terrorists” after the 1994 fatal shooting of an abortion doctor, but found religion and just a few years later said she believed not even rape gave cause for terminating a pregnancy.
She regretted the lawsuit and late in life appeared in an advocacy ad to claim President Obama “murders babies.”
Maryam Mirzakhani, born 1977, Tehran
“Her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” Stanford’s president said after the death of Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female to win the Fields Medal, the highest honour for a young mathematician.
With the drive to encourage more girls into the STEM fields ongoing, Mirzakhani showed there is no set path. She had no particular affinity for math as a child, preferring storybooks and writing.
The challenge of math eventually spoke to her, and by the age of 18 she was a two-time winner of the International Mathematical Olympiad for Iran.
Making her way to Harvard and then Stanford, she gained acclaim for her studies on hyperbolic geometry and the affect of complex structures on abstract surfaces. Her lectures were characterized by frenetic energy and humour, even long after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mary Tyler Moore, born 1936, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Mary Tyler Moore’s multidimensional talents were apparent, from the comedic turns on The Dick Van Dyke Show and the funny, inspirational Mary Tyler Moore Show to her icy, Oscar-nominated turn in Ordinary People. She also gained clout as a woman in Hollywood, a rarity then, by forming a successful production company with her then-husband.
Moore made it look easy onscreen, but the twice-divorced actress overcame obstacles throughout her life. Alcoholism ran deep in her family and claimed the life of her sister; Moore sought treatment herself.
Admitting she hadn’t always been the most attentive of mothers, Moore survived her only biological child when he died in a freak accident at 24. She tirelessly raised money for medical research as a Type-1 diabetes patient and for other causes, including gay rights and the prevention of animal abuse.
Sima Wali. born 1951, Kandahar, Afghanistan
A few years after the New York Times described Kabul as a diverse city of “magnetic charms,” Sima Wali was there attending university in an era in which many Afghan women made substantial advances in education and work.
The coup that brought down the Afghan government in 1978 saw Wali leave for the U.S., and it was the first domino in the country’s grim, ongoing history of occupation and war. Women’s rights were eroded by communist-backed regimes and then crushed by the Taliban.
Wali, who had long worked with refugee groups and women’s rights think-tanks in North America, was called upon by the UN in 2001 as a valued voice in Afghanistan’s reconstruction after the fall of the Taliban.
Wali saw her cause as amplifying “the shattered and muted voices of my Afghan sisters,” but her concern for others was all encompassing, nephew Suleiman Wali told CBC’s As It Happens.
“She had no biological children of her own, but she was like a mother to her entire family and to her nieces and nephews,” he said. “She was an inspiration.”
Liu Xiaobo, born 1955, Changchun, China
Liu Xiaobo, jailed for the first of four times in the aftermath of the widespread protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, was instrumental 19 years later in writing Charter 08, a China-focused manifesto published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Liu became the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate since 1935 to be honoured while detained, his prize placed on an empty chair at the 2010 Nobel ceremony.
Imprisoned even as illness was ending his life, his death triggered an outpouring around the globe, as supporters lauded his courage.
One couple travelled from France to Shenzhen to display a painted mural featuring an empty blue chair in tribute.
That likely would be applauded by Ye Du, an activist and family friend of Liu’s.
“The only way we can grieve for Xiaobo and bring his soul some comfort,” he told the AP, “is to work even harder to try to keep his influence alive.”