By Stephanie Toone, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Updated Dec 23, 2020
This year was marked by deaths of dozens of politicians, celebrities and dignitaries
2020 was a year unlike any other in U.S. history. Before we embark on 2021 and the promise that it brings, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s content curation desk is taking a look back at the most impactful stories of 2020 and their effects on Georgia and the rest of the nation. Today’s topic: Notable deaths
Civil rights icon John Lewis, who served as a congressman in Atlanta for more than three decades, died on July 17 after a battle with cancer.
The 80-year-old started his mission in service as a young Freedom Fighter, enduring beatings and jail time as he protested alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Once the Pike County, Alabama, native set his sights on politics, he became known for his grit, candor and compassion. His moral clarity and mission to ensure equality for people of races, orientations and creeds cemented his role as one of the most significant civil rights icons of our time.
At a 2016 Bates College graduation, Lewis spoke on a message that would become his mantra: getting into “good trouble.”
“(King) inspired me to stand up, to speak up, and speak out. And I got in the way, I got in trouble — good trouble, necessary trouble. ...You must find a way to get in the way and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. … You have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, when you leave here, to go out and seek justice for all. You can do it. You must do it.”
Ginsburg made history when she was appointed a U.S. Supreme Court justice in 1993, becoming only the second woman to hold that post. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first. Her reign as a justice was notable due to her work in advancing women’s rights. Former President Jimmy Carter called her a “beacon of justice.”
“Rosalynn and I are saddened by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Carter said in a statement. “A powerful legal mind and a staunch advocate for gender equality, she has been a beacon of justice during her long and remarkable career.”
In recent years, the Jewish grandmother had become an icon for millennial women, with merchandise and a movie “RBG” being released in her honor.
The 41-year-old’s scope had expanded beyond the court by the time of his death. He had won his first Oscar for a documentary he produced in 2019. He also offered his wisdom on personal and financial success to many people in public and private. Known as one of the most celebrated Los Angeles Lakers players, Bryant had devoted his later years to his family. He and his wife of 20 years, Vanessa, raised their four children, Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri, together near Los Angeles.
“You have road trips and time where you don’t see your kids, man,” he said during the interview. “So, every time I get to see them and spend time with them — even if it’s just 20 minutes in the car, I want that.”
Alex Trebek, who hosted the popular game show “Jeopardy!” died on Nov. 8, after battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The television icon hosted the beloved trivia game show on NBC since 1984 and had begun filming its 37th season. The congenial, sharp game show host had gained millions of fans over his nearly 40 years of hosting the program. When he announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in March 2019, that legion of fans rallied around him. Many celebrated how he pushed through his ups and downs with the disease, remaining positive and committed to hosting “Jeopardy!”
Through it all, he gained six Daytime Emmy Awards for outstanding game show host and raised research funds for the disease that took his life. He will forever be tied to the syndicated trivia program, which will still air his last few, unreleased episodes in early 2021.
Chadwick Boseman, who immortalized the character of “Black Panther” on the big screen, died on Aug. 28 after privately battling stage 4 colon cancer.
The movie star brought several integral, real-life and fictional characters to life in his career, which started after graduating from Howard University in 2000. The 43-year-old had embodied the likes of James Brown, in “Get On Up,” Thurgood Marshall, in “Marshall,” and Jackie Robinson, in “42,″ on screen, garnering critical acclaim for each role. It would be his role as T’Challa in “Black Panther” that would catapult his status to international star.
While taking on that role, Boseman was reportedly battling the disease that claimed his life. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2016, two years before the premiere of “Black Panther.” Very few outside of his family knew of his battle with the disease. He would go on to support charitable causes, act and produce films during some of the last months of his life.
His last film, Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” premiered Dec. 18. His costar, Viola Davis, spoke on his uncanny spirit, heart and authenticity after his death.
“Your talent, your spirit, your heart, your authenticity........It was an honor working beside you, getting to know you....Rest well prince...May flights of angels sing thee to thy heavenly rest,” she wrote in an August tweet.
Stephanie has been telling stories her whole life. Her interest in the written word started with short stories and journal entries about run-ins with classroom bullies as a child and matured to writing for her high school newspaper over the years. She has written and edited for The Tennessean, Augusta Chronicle and American City & County.