Famous Celebrities Who Died In Their 50s

They say that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and that's never been more true when the world's biggest names go before their time. They might be at the height of their fame, or maybe they're in the midst of a career resurgence — but nothing is more shocking than when a major celebrity meets an untimely end. While a person in their 50s may be well passed their youth, it's not an age where most are ready to say goodbye, and many superstar quinquagenarians still have so much more left to give the world.

It doesn't matter if they're a global pop star, a renowned artist, or a celebrated genius, it's always tragic when a celebrity passes away out in their 50s, when they are still producing great work. Thanks to the wonderful gifts they left behind though, their legacies will always shine brightly. Here are some famous celebrities who died in their 50s.

John Ritter

For decades, comedian and actor John Ritter was best known for his role as the self-described ladies man Jack Tripper in the ABC sitcom "Three's Company." Though early in his career Ritter had made a number of small appearances in films like Disney's "The Barefoot Executive" and a recurring role on "The Waltons," it was "Three's Company" that turned him from a promising young actor into a superstar seemingly overnight.

Ritter bounced around television throughout the mid to late 1980s, including his own short-lived "Hooperman," until playing the father in two "Problem Child" films in the early '90s, where he'd meet his future wife, Amy Yasbeck (via The Sun). But Ritter would return to prominence in 2002 in the hit sitcom "8 Simple Rules," co-starring Kaley Cuoco and Katey Sagal.

Tragically, Ritter's comeback would be cut short just three episodes into the series' second season. The actor would suffer a heart attack on September 11, 2003, passing away later that evening, just shy of his 55th birthday (via Newsweek). Actors David Spade and James Garner stepped in to help continue the series (via Entertainment Weekly), but "8 Simple Rules" couldn't survive without its star, and it was canceled a year later.


A brilliantly talented and multi-faceted artist, Prince's first few albums received strong reviews. But it was in 1984 when he shot to superstardom starring in the film "Purple Rain," while also recording its soundtrack album, according to Biography. Well received, the film's lone Academy Award was won for Best Original Song Score (for the title track "Purple Rain"), while the album itself boasted a number of chart-topping hits. 

From there, Prince would go on to record the celebrated soundtrack to the blockbuster superhero hit "Batman" in 1989, before signing a $100-million-dollar deal with Warner Bros., an unprecedented recording contract for its time. All told, Prince amassed 11 studio albums throughout the '80s alone, and 40 studio and live albums in his career, according AllMusic. Famously, to get out of his deal with Warner Bros., Prince changed his name to a symbol and began being referred to as "the artist formerly known as Prince." 

Sadly, Prince would pass away on April 21, 2016, just a week after he had been hospitalized with the flu, as per Biography. He was 57 years old. Since his death, the artist has had several albums posthumously released, with the previously unreleased "Welcome 2 America," landing in 2021 (via Rolling Stone).

Babe Ruth

Starting out as a devastating lefty starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, leading the league in ERA at just 21 years old (as per the Society of American Baseball Research), some believe Babe Ruth might still be in the Hall of Fame even if he'd never transitioned to a full time hitter. But transition he did when in a trade he was sent to the rival New York Yankees for cash in what would go down as one of the biggest deals in the sport, according to MLB.com.

From there he'd redefine the game of baseball, hitting more home runs in a season than most entire teams (via ESPN). But he was a polarizing personality too, with a short temper, once striking an umpire in an infamous incident where he was ejected, only for his replacement to pitch a perfect game (via the MLB). Ruth retired in 1935 with a total of 714 career home runs, a record that would stand for almost 40 years, as per History. But just over a decade after leaving the game, Ruth would die of cancer in 1948 at the age of 53 (via History). 

Bernie Mac

A regular on the Chicago comedy circuit throughout the 1980s, Bernie Mac would become known to wider audiences thanks to a series of appearances on HBO's "Def Comedy Jam." Mac would transition to sitcoms in the late '90s with a recurring role on "Moesha," as star Brandy's Uncle Bernie, before starring alongside D.L. Hughley, Steve Harvey, and Cedric The Entertainer in Spike Lee's "The Original Kings Of Comedy," a quasi documentary/stand-up comedy film, in 2000. 

But a year after he'd get a wider audience upon securing a key role in the George Clooney-led "Ocean's Eleven" film series as jovial croupier Frank Catton. From there he'd go on to get his own TV series, "The Bernie Mac Show," based on his own standup routines and developed by comedy writer Larry Wilmore. Amazingly, his star was still growing well into his 40s, and he'd continue to make appearances in major film's like "Transformers" in 2007 and "Madacascar" a year later. But his life was cut short in 2008, dying unexpectedly from pneumonia (via Biography). He was just shy of is 51st birthday. In 2017, Rolling Stone would vote Bernie Mac one of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.

George Harrison

Founding member of the Fab Four, Beatles guitarist George Harrison wrote several of the group's most memorable songs, including "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "I, Me, Mine," as per Far Out Magazine. Known as 'The Quiet Beatle," Harrison was soft-spoken and happy to cede the spotlight to Paul McCartney and John Lennon, who took the lead in the band. Appropriately, Harrison would quietly and plainly leave the group during the recording of their final studio album, "Let It Be," in 1969, as chronicled in the documentary, "Get Back" (via the Beatles Bible).

Before and after the dissolution of The Beatles, Harrison would embark on a solo career that produced a number of classics, including the 1987 Rudy Clark penned hit, "I Got My Mind Set On You" (via Salon). In addition to his music, Harrison was a well-known activist and philanthropist too, famously spearheading the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, to raise awareness of the refugee crisis in East Pakistan, reported the George Harrison official website. Diagnosed with cancer in 1997, he'd succumb to the disease just four years later,  as per Rolling Stone, at the age of 58.

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve had few credits to his name when director Richard Donner cast him in the title role of "Superman" in 1978. But as Clark Kent and the Man of Steel, Reeve impressed audiences with his mix of innocent American farm boy and barrel-chested larger than life hero. He'd ultimately star in four "Superman" films throughout the '80s, and despite a number of other films will forever be known as the DC's Big Blue Boy Scout.

But Reeve would suffer a devastating horse riding accident in 1995 that would leave him paralyzed, as per History. Following that tragedy, he would star in a handful of movies and TV shows, including a remake of "Rear Window" and an appearance on the Superman prequel "Smallville." But beyond his acting, Reeve dedicated the rest of his life to supporting stem cell research and causes that would benefit victims of spinal injury. He'd become a big proponent of Hollywood producing films that promoted important social causes and even spoke before Congress where he made an impassioned plea to increase federal funding for medical research (via AP Archive). Ultimately, Reeve would pass away in October of 2004 of heart failure at just 52 years old. Decades later, The Christopher And Dana Reeve Foundation still fights for victims of spinal cord injuries.

Steve McQueen

One of the biggest screen stars of the 1960s and '70s, Steve McQueen made a name for himself as a smooth, charismatic tough guy. Getting his start in television, he'd make appearances in anthologies like "Playwrights '56," "Goodyear Playhouse," and "Matinee Theatre." From 1958 to 1961 he'd headline his own series, as bounty hunter Josh Randall in "Wanted: Dead Or Alive," which only made him a bigger star and helped draw the eye of Tinseltown.

Making a smooth transition to film, his first leading role came in the classic 1958 monster movie, "The Blob," and two years later he'd co-star alongside Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson in one of the greatest westerns ever made, "The Magnificent Seven." But those weren't the only classics for McQueen, who would go on to star in the WWII thriller "The Great Escape," the 1968 crime drama "Bullitt, and the '70s disaster classic "The Towering Inferno." But just as he was moving into the next stage of his career as a distinguished older actor, McQueen's health began to suffer, and he'd be diagnosed with an unknown form of cancer in 1979. He'd lose his battle with the disease a year later, at 50 years old, after a surgery performed in Mexico (via Biography).

Michael Jackson

The undisputed King of Pop, Michael Jackson started his career as child as a part of The Jackson 5 alongside his siblings Marlon, Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie. As part of the family group he'd sing a number of hits, including "ABC" and "I'll Be There." As Biography notes, in 1972, while still with the Jackson 5, he'd start a solo career, with his first album, "Got To Be There," dropping in 1972. In between singing solo and with the family, he'd even try his hand at acting, playing the Scarecrow in the Motown remake of "Wizard Of Oz" called "The Wiz" in 1978.

But in the 1980s he'd reach global superstardom in the wake of 1979s "Off The Wall" album. Its follow-up, "Thriller," produced iconic hits "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" while becoming the most successful album of all time. His hits didn't stop in the '90s either, with his albums "Dangerous" and "HIStory" both debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Charts. No stranger to controversy, Jackson was at the center of a number of scandals late in his career, including allegations of impropriety for which he was ultimately put on trial. But nothing was as shocking as his death in 2009 at the age of 50, the result of a toxic mixture of drugs prescribed by his doctor (via Biography).

Andy Warhol

Pop culture sensation and artist Andy Warhol wasn't just an astounding creative genius. As the curator of the Andy Warhol Museum, Jose Diaz said, he was "easily one of the most recognized and popular artists working in America" (via History) at the time of this death in 1987. Leader of the pop art movement of the era, Warhol's works were celebrated around the world, appearing in art galleries and on magazine covers alike. A prolific and multi-talented creative artist, he dabbled in illustration, filmmaking, writing, and performance art, notes Biography.

From his famous Campbell's Soup can to celebrity portraits, his work was seen far and wide and brought pop art to prominence. A regular on the New York social scene, he partied with the biggest stars in the hottest clubs. In 1968, he famously survived an assassination attempt, shot by disgruntled aspiring actress Valerie Solanas. It would shockingly be something much more mundane that lead to his actual death in 1987, however, as he would pass away from complications following a gallbladder surgery at the age of 58 (via Biography).

Luke Perry

Star of the '90s teen drama "Beverly Hills 90210," Luke Perry found fame playing Dylan McKay. For eight of the series' 10 seasons he made young women swoon with his perfectly coiffed hair and brooding bad boy swagger. He'd star in the series for its first six seasons before departing in hopes of landing better roles on the big screen but returned for its final two seasons as a guest star when those hopes didn't pan out. In the early 2000s he had a memorable recurring role in the HBO drama "Oz" before starring in the short-lived but highly rated post-apocalyptic drama "Jeremiah." 

Throughout the 2000s he'd make appearances on shows like "Law & Order: SVU" and "Will & Grace," while playing ongoing roles in "Windfall," "FCU: Fact Checkers Unit," and "Body of Proof." But in 2017 he'd find his new home as a regular on the CW teen drama "Riverdale," based on the popular Archie Comics characters where he'd play Fred Andrews, Archie's father. His return to a major role would be tragically short-lived however, with the actor's sudden illness and death in 2019 after suffering a stroke, reported TMZ. He was just 52. 

Steve Jobs

According to Biography, tech pioneer Steve Jobs started Apple Computers with his friend Steve Wozniak while they were still in college and sold their first computers out of their garage in Southern California. Before long, the two found investors, and with the release of the Apple II in 1977, the pair became millionaires and the darlings of what is now being called Silicon Valley. But after a string of high profile failures, Jobs was ousted from his own company in 1985 by then President John Sculley after a prolonged power struggle.

But Apple struggled itself through the 1990s, while Jobs was busy founding NEXT Computers and the digital animation studio Pixar, which was later sold to Disney. By 1997, with Apple floundering, the company brought Jobs back full time. Jobs helped Apple back to prominence with the release of the iMac, the iPod, and eventually the iPhone and iPad, which all revolutionized the personal computing industries in their own ways (courtesy The Guardian). A man with a fascinating life story, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and battled the disease for nearly a decade before losing his life in 2011 at the age of 56, not long after the release of the first iPad (via Biography).

George Michael

As Biography details, pop star George Michael had his first hits with the band Wham! in the early 1980s, including "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," which topped the Billboard charts in 1984. A year later, Wham would become the first American pop group to ever perform in China. Too much to contain within the group, Michael would strike out on his own in 1986 and win a Grammy for his duet with Aretha Franklin on the song "I Knew You Were Waiting." In 1988, his first solo album, "Faith," would also win a Grammy for Album Of The Year.

Of course, the single "I Want Your Sex" became the subject of controversy when several outlets refused to play it thanks to its risque subject matter, and Michael himself quickly became known for his provocative image and tawdry lyrics. That image would follow him into the late '90s when he was famously arrested for lewd conduct, after which he went public with his sexuality and quickly making him an LGBTQ icon. A comeback in the late 2000's included the Symphonica Tour in 2011, but it was complicated by failing health. Five years later, he'd die of heart disease at the age of 53 (courtesy Biography).

Michael Clarke Duncan

Recognized for his massive hulking physique, actor Michael Clarke Duncan was often cast with his imposing figure in mind. At 6 feet 5 inches and 300 pounds, Duncan actually started his career as a security guard to the stars, working for several high profile clients like '90s superstars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, as per Biography. He didn't begin to pursue acting until well into his late 30s when he'd secure a number of small parts in television shows like "The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air" and "Married ... With Children." 

But it was his performance in the Frank Darabont film "The Green Mile" that turned heads, where he played the towering prison inmate with a gentle soul, imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. After that it was onward and upwards for Duncan, who would make his presence felt in big budget blockbusters like "Daredevil," "The Planet Of The Apes," and "The Scorpion King." His career was still blooming in the early 2010s when he suffered a fatal heart attack, dying in September 2012, aged 54. Several projects he was involved in were released after his death, including voicing Groot in an episode of "Ultimate Spider-Man" that aired in 2013.

Grace Kelly

Perhaps Hollywood's brightest starlet in the 1940s and '50s, Grace Kelly worked with renowned director Alfred Hitchcock three times, starring in "Rear Window," "Dial M For Murder," and "To Catch A Thief," according to Biography. A failed Broadway hopeful, she was discovered by actor Gary Cooper, who promptly cast her as his wife in the classic western "High Noon." After that it wasn't long before she became an in-demand leading lady, performing opposite Clark Gable in "Mogambo" before her work with Hitchcock.

In 1954, Kelly would win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role in "Country Girl" and was now one of the most highly paid women in Hollywood. During a photoshoot the following year she would meet Prince Rainier III of Monaco, who she'd marry in 1956, after which she made the remarkable choice to end her acting career. Now a princess, she would bear three royal children by the prince. But while she's said to have missed her acting career, she would not get the chance to return before her death in 1982, in a terrible automobile accident caused when she suffered a stroke behind the wheel. She was 52.