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17 Life Lessons Left Behind by the Influential People We Lost This Year


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Even as far back as March, we were all talking about how insanely high the number of great artists and athletes and figures we've lost this year was. And then that number just kept going up. We lost a lot of incredible people this year, but the legacies and lessons they left behind will stick with us always.

If we could all live our lives in some of the ways these notable figures did, we would be better off -- and so would the world as a whole. Here's how they told to live, and we, for one, are going to listen.

Caroline Olney

1David Bowie

On January 10, David Bowie passed away after battling cancer for a year and a half. His legacy is just beyond: He was an incredible musician capable of embracing a flexible identity and exploring strangeness in a way that inspired many to do the same. He was an incredible human whose love and curiosity was legendary. And he never said or wrote anything that wasn't inspiration, but we'll always be partial to this quote from a 2002 interview Bowie did with Livewire.

More from CafeMom: 10 David Bowie Quotes That Show Why He Was Such a Freakin' Rock Star in Every Way

Caroline Olney

2Alan Rickman

In 2008, Alan Rickman gave an interview to IFC in which he talked about his love for stories and how much we need them as a society. It took us a while to realize how right he was, but these words have stuck with us since. 

Alan passed on January 14 of pancreatic cancer. He was 69.

Caroline Olney

3Harper Lee

On February 19, we lost Harper Lee. She left us with two really, really incredible books (To Kill a Mockingbird is still a staple in schools across the country for a reason, you know). But this quote, which comes from a letter she sent a fan in 2006, speaks to us on an entirely different level: It was meant as a lesson for a young fan, but really, it's a lesson for us all.

Caroline Olney

5Nancy Reagan

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan left a legacy of gentleness and giving after her death in early March. She gave many public speeches in her life, but her 1986 address on behalf of her "Just Say No" campaign against drug use among young people has always stood out to us. It's full of advice we didn't know we needed until we read it, and we're so thankful for this, for Nancy, and for everything she gave us.

Caroline Olney

6Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, legendary boxer and one of the best athletes of all time, died on June 3. It was heartbreaking and shocking, but we can't think of a single person who left behind more wisdom or advice. We'll be quoting this -- and everything else Ali ever said -- to ourselves for the rest of our lives.

More from CafeMom13 Muhammad Ali Quotes That Can Help Our Kids Grow Up to Be 'The Greatest'

Caroline Olney

7Anton Yelchin

Anton Yelchin was only 27 when he died, but his absolutely incredible performances in movies like Star Trek and Like Crazy got him the attention he deserved before he passed. He was one of those people who was always wise beyond his years -- this quote from a 2011 interview with Collider, we think, proves that.

Caroline Olney

8Bill Cunningham

It's kind of insane that somebody who lived to be 87 could make it through their entire life without making any enemies, but it really seems like that's what Bill Cunningham managed to do. He was one of the most in-demand fashion photographers of all time (especially known for capturing fashion in real life), but he never let that go to his head. This quote, which is from an interview he did in 2011 with the New York Times, kind of explains why. And it's advice, we think, we all can take with us.

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Caroline Olney

9Elie Wiesel

By every standard we have, Elie Wiesel was an incredible human being. He survived the Holocaust and one of the books he wrote about his experience, Night, quickly became standard fare in classrooms for its heartbreaking honesty, as well as for the emotional and essential story it tells. Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his "practical work in the cause of peace," and this quote -- which is one of his most famous for a reason -- comes from his acceptance speech.

Caroline Olney

10Garry Marshall

Everyone has a favorite Garry Marshall film. Many would say it's Pretty Woman. We might say ours is The Princess Diaries. Either way, though, it's hard to say that Garry Marshall wasn't illustrious. He died on July 19, but left behind millions of wise words, including these from his 1997 biography, Wake Me When It's Funny.

Caroline Olney

11Youree Dell Harris

You might not think you know Youree Dell Harris, but you do -- she's Miss Cleo, the TV psychic famous for her late-night infomercials in the '90s. It's probably true that not all of her fortune telling was 100 percent genuine, but the lessons she passed on were real. This advice, which is from the Advocate interview in which she came out for the first time in 2006, is a perfect example.

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Caroline Olney

12Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder is the only Willy Wonka we will ever love or need, and his death at the end of August hit us hard. But he passed on so much incredible wisdom throughout his lifetime, most of which was related to being truthful and joyful and genuine, and because of that, we'll never forget him.

Caroline Olney

13Edward Albee

Playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Albee died on September 16. His most famous play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, was full of life lessons, but this quote, which is from The Zoo Story, proves that all his work included them, too.

Caroline Olney

14Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer was the king of golf, but a lot of times, his love for the game and his advice for young players translated really well into general advice for the rest of us. For example, this quote, which he wrote in Go for Broke: My Philosophy of Winning Golf, the book he cowrote with William Barry Furlong, is about winning in golf ... and, you know, winning in life.

More from CafeMom: 8 Arnold Palmer Recipes to Keep It Summer All Year 'Round

Caroline Olney

15Leonard Cohen

Many would say that Leonard Cohen was one of the most talented lyricists of his generation, and we'd probably agree. The proof is in the lyrics -- this one, which is from a song called "Anthem," is a life philosophy and an essential lesson all in one.

Leonard was 82 when he died on November 7.

Caroline Olney

16Gwen Ifill

The incredible journalist Gwen Ifill was writing and reporting for PBS, just as she's done for years, up to just weeks before her death on November 14. She had a long and successful career in political journalism, so of course she had wise words to pass on -- like these, which are from a story she wrote from PBS NewsHour after visiting Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Caroline Olney

17Florence Henderson

Florence Henderson, who's perhaps better known as one of TV's best and most essential moms, Carol Brady, died on November 24. Since she was the mom on The Brady Bunch, she was essentially a mom for everyone who ever sat and watched her on TV, which means she had to give motherly wisdom to all of us. And she did. This quote, from an interview published in 2012 in US 1 Newspaper, is maybe the best of what she passed on.

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Caroline Olney

18George Michael

Pop music legend George Michael broke the world's collective heart when he was found dead in his bed on Christmas morning. The cause of death wasn't immediately clear, but George's partner, Fadi Fawaz, said he went peacefully. George always insisted he was just like us, even from the beginning -- he gave this quote to USA TODAY in September 1990 when he was explaining why he didn't believe he was a star.

Caroline Olney

19Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher was famous for her blunt wit and wise words (and her Princess Leia buns), so we got a lot of advice from her over the years. But this quote, which she tweeted in 2015 after Star Wars fans commented that "Princess Leia hadn't aged well," is maybe the wittiest and the wisest. We lost Carrie on December 27 after she had a heart attack a few days before. She was 60. 

More From CafeMom: 14 Quotes From Carrie Fisher, the Wisecracking Princess We Always Wanted to Be

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