The year 2023 has painfully etched itself into history with the devastating loss of iconic black celebrities who died across various spheres like sports, music, activism, and beyond. From the shocking demise of Earth, Wind & Fire drummer Fred White to the untimely deaths of singular musical talents like rapper Trugoy the Dove and Otis Redding III, a wave of grief has hit the African-American creative community. Whether falling victim to undisclosed health conditions, substance abuse or post-career challenges, these remarkable public figures have had their lights dimmed far too soon.
As we process these irreplaceable goodbyes to trailblazing TV pioneer William Dilday or football great Jim Brown, 2023 will be regarded with profound sorrow for the rich legacies cut short. Still, their enduring cultural influences remind us that even in tragedy, the memory of their excellence persists to inspire future generations.
Fred E. White (born Frederick Eugene Adams; January 13, 1955 – January 1, 2023) was a notable American musician and songwriter, recognized for his significant contribution as one of the early members of the iconic band Earth, Wind & Fire. Renowned for his drumming skills, he had previously showcased his musical prowess as the drummer on Donny Hathaway’s Live album.
Earth, Wind & Fire, featuring Fred White alongside half-brother Maurice White, brother Verdine White, and other members, achieved immense success and was rightfully inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Sadly, on January 1, 2023, at the age of 67, Fred White passed away in Los Angeles. The details surrounding the cause of his death were not specified. His legacy endures through his influential contributions to the world of music.
C. J. Harris (Singer)
Curtis “CJ” Harris, born on January 28, 1991, left an indelible mark as an American singer and songwriter from Jasper, Alabama. Rising to fame with a sixth-place finish on the thirteenth season of American Idol in 2014, Harris showcased a unique musical style blending country, blues, soul, and Southern rock influences. Growing up in Jasper, he learned the guitar from his grandfather and self-released the album “Small Town Boy” before captivating audiences on American Idol.
Despite personal challenges, including the loss of his father before the competition, Harris impressed judges and viewers alike with his genuine charisma and emotionally charged performances. His rendition of “Can’t You See” by The Marshall Tucker Band earned widespread acclaim.
Post-American Idol, Harris reunited with Darius Rucker for a Grand Ole Opry performance, participated in the American Idol season 13 tour, and released his debut single, “In Love,” in 2019. Tragically, on January 15, 2023, Harris passed away at the age of 31 from a heart attack, joining the unfortunate list of black celebrities who died too young, leaving behind plans for new music and a legacy of distinctive musical artistry.
Stanley Tobias Wilson Jr.
Stanley Tobias Wilson Jr. was born on November 5, 1982. He was an American NFL cornerback drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2005. Growing up in Carson, California, he played college football for Stanford. In the NFL, Wilson’s career spanned from 2005 to 2007, marked by injuries that led to his eventual retirement in 2008 due to a torn Achilles tendon. Tragically, Wilson faced legal troubles, notably being shot during a 2016 attempted burglary. He struggled with drug-related incidents and arrests, leading to a jail sentence and probation.
On February 1, 2023, Wilson passed away at Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles County at the age of 40. His death revealed post-mortem diagnoses of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), linked to repeated head hits, making him one of the numerous NFL players diagnosed with this condition after death.
Trugoy The Dove
David Jude Jolicoeur (September 21, 1968 – February 12, 2023), known as Trugoy the Dove, was a prominent American rapper, notably one third of the influential hip hop group De La Soul. Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in East Massapequa, Long Island, Jolicoeur, alongside Vincent Mason and Kelvin Mercer, formed De La Soul, gaining fame for their unique style and positive messages in albums like “3 Feet High and Rising.”
In his later years, Jolicoeur faced health challenges, diagnosed with congestive heart failure, requiring a LifeVest defibrillator. He publicly disclosed his health issues in 2017. Despite his condition, De La Soul participated in a special Grammy Awards performance on February 5, 2023. Sadly, on February 12, 2023, at the age of 54, David Jolicoeur passed away, as announced by his representative Tony Ferguson. The cause of death was undisclosed. Jolicoeur’s death marked a significant loss in the hip hop industry, prompting tributes from key figures.
Lance Solomon Reddick, born on June 7, 1962, was an American actor and musician renowned for his contributions to television and film. Notable for portraying characters like Cedric Daniels in The Wire and Phillip Broyles in Fringe, Reddick also starred in the John Wick film series as Charon. His multifaceted career included voicing characters in video games and releasing a debut album, “Contemplations & Remembrances,” in 2007.
Tragically, Reddick passed away from heart disease on March 17, 2023, at the age of 60, at his residence in Studio City, Los Angeles. His death prompted heartfelt tributes from colleagues, friends, and co-stars, including Wendell Pierce, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Keanu Reeves, and Ian McShane. Thousands of gamers paid homage to his Destiny character, Commander Zavala, in virtual worlds. Despite his untimely departure, Reddick’s legacy endures through his impactful contributions to the entertainment industry.
Otis Redding III
Otis Redding III, born on December 17, 1963, in Macon, Georgia, was the son of the legendary soul singer Otis Redding. He and his brother Dexter formed the funk band The Reddings, achieving moderate success in the 1980s with six albums. Otis Redding III continued his musical career as a solo artist, exploring R&B and blues, with notable recordings like “Dance, Dance, Dance” in 2017. Apart from his musical endeavors, he actively supported his community, serving as the Board Chair for Meals on Wheels of Middle Georgia Inc. and contributing to the Mentor’s Project and the Otis Redding Foundation’s programs.
On the eve of Tuesday, April 18, 2023, the world mourned the passing of Otis Redding III, marking the end of a musical legacy and a life dedicated to both artistic expression and philanthropy. Succumbing to cancer at the age of 59, Otis Redding III death left a void in the music industry and a lasting impact on the causes he championed.
Jim Brown, born on February 17, 1936, was an iconic figure not only in football but also in the realms of activism and acting. His personal life included marriages to Sue Brown, with whom he had three children, and Monique, with whom he had two children. Despite his on-field achievements, Brown faced challenges in his personal relationships, with a divorce from Sue in 1972. In 1997, he entered into a second marriage with Monique.
Jim Brown passed away on May 18, 2023, at the age of 87, succumbing to natural causes at his Los Angeles home, with his wife by his side. The sports world mourned the loss of a legend, acknowledging Brown’s impact not only as a gifted athlete but also as a cultural figure who advocated for change. Tributes poured in from prominent figures like Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and LeBron James, highlighting Brown’s enduring legacy beyond the football field. Even Barack Obama recognized Jim Brown’s multifaceted contributions, praising his athletic prowess, activism, and influence on other black athletes.
Clark Cromwell Haggans was born on January 10, 1977, and went on to become an accomplished American professional football player, particularly known for his contributions as a linebacker in the National Football League (NFL). Playing for teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers from 2000 to 2012, Haggans achieved notable success, including earning a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. Starting his football journey as a defensive end for the Colorado State Rams, Haggans left an enduring legacy by setting the all-time sack record with 33 sacks, leading to his induction into the Colorado State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.
Tragically, Clark Cromwell Haggans passed away on June 19, 2023, at the age of 46. Beyond his athletic prowess, he engaged in philanthropy, notably supporting the Black Out Child Abuse Campaign in 2012.
William H. Dilday Jr., a trailblazer in American television, passed away on July 27, 2023, in Newton, Massachusetts, at the age of 85. His death was attributed to complications following a fall. Born on September 14, 1937, Dilday became the first Black person to manage a commercial television station in the United States when he took over as the general manager of WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1972.
His transformative leadership turned the troubled station into a respected and profitable operation with increased diversity. Throughout his career, he advocated for diversity and representation in the media, leaving an indelible mark on American journalism. In 1975, Dilday played a key role in establishing the National Association of Black Journalists, contributing significantly to the history of Black journalism. He is survived by his wife, Maxine Carol Wiggins, three children, and his legacy as a pioneering figure in American television.
Melvin Barcliff, widely known as Rapper Magoo, was a key figure in Virginia’s hip-hop emergence during the 1990s. Born on July 12, 1973, in Norfolk, Virginia, Magoo contributed significantly to the burgeoning hip-hop scene alongside Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Pharrell Williams. His unique style, featuring a distinctive flow and playful lyricism, became a hallmark of their collaborations. Despite not achieving the same mainstream recognition as some peers, Magoo’s impact on the late 1990s and early 2000s hip-hop landscape remains enduring. His death on August 13, 2023, marked the end of an era, leaving behind a lasting legacy and indelible contributions to the rich tapestry of Virginia’s hip-hop history.
Magoo’s collaborations with Timbaland, especially on albums like “Welcome to Our World” (1997) and “Indecent Proposal” (2001), showcased his significant influence and creative prowess within the hip-hop genre.
Zoleka Zobuhle Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, a South African writer, and activist, faced a tumultuous life, documented in her 2013 book, “When Hope Whispers.” Born on April 9, 1980, she candidly shared her struggles with addiction and joined the ranks of black celebs who battled breast cancer, ultimately succumbing to the disease on September 25, 2023, at 43.
The tragedy deepened in 2010 when her 13-year-old daughter, Zenani, died in a car crash during the FIFA World Cup. Zoleka’s autobiography explored the profound impact of this loss, compounded by the earlier death of her infant son, Zenawe Zibuyile Mandela, in 2011.
Zoleka, a vocal advocate against road accidents, fought a brave battle with breast cancer, facing recurrences in 2016 and later a metastatic diagnosis in 2022. She passed away following ongoing treatment, marked by family disputes over her burial arrangements. In 2016, she was honored among the BBC’s “100 Women,” expressing regret for recognizing her worth only after her grandfather’s death.
Rudolph “Rudy” Bernard Isley, born on April 1, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a prominent American singer-songwriter and founding member of The Isley Brothers. Growing up, he began showcasing his vocal talents in church. As a vital part of The Isley Brothers, alongside Kelly, Ronnie, and Vernon, Rudy contributed to the group’s success with hits like “Shout” and “Twist and Shout.”
Rudy Isley played a key role in establishing T-Neck Records and was part of the Grammy-winning success with “It’s Your Thing” in 1969. While Ron Isley led as the primary vocalist, Rudy occasionally took the lead on tracks like “Fight the Power” and “Livin’ in the Life.” After the group’s transformation with younger members, Rudy continued to lend his distinctive vocals.
In 1989, he left the music industry to fulfill his lifelong goal of becoming a Christian minister. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Rudy Isley passed away from an apparent heart attack at his Olympia Fields home on October 11, 2023, at the age of 84.
Walter Pearl Davis (September 9, 1954 – November 2, 2023) was a celebrated American basketball player known for his 15-year career in the NBA, primarily with the Phoenix Suns. A six-time NBA All-Star and 1978 Rookie of the Year, Davis left an enduring impact on the Suns, becoming their all-time leading scorer with 15,666 points. Despite early success, Davis faced challenges in his later career, including recurring back problems and involvement in a drug scandal with the Suns in 1987.
Following his NBA tenure, Davis signed with the Denver Nuggets, later joining the Portland Trail Blazers in a 1991 trade. After retiring from playing, he contributed to basketball as a Nuggets broadcaster and a Washington Wizards scout. Despite past challenges, Davis mended his relationship with the Suns, resulting in the retirement of his No. 6 jersey in 1994 and his induction into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2004. Tragically, Walter Davis passed away on November 2, 2023, in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the age of 69.
Keisha Nash Whitaker, the former wife of actor Forest Whitaker, passed away at 51, confirmed by her daughter True Whitaker. Keisha struggled with anorexia for years, leading to health complications and hospitalizations. Despite Forest’s supportive presence, they amicably divorced in 2018. Married in 1996, the couple shared two daughters, Sonnet and True, and maintained a friendly post-divorce relationship. Keisha, a former model, hosted the TLC reality show “Who Are You Wearing?” and acted in the 2004 film “Proud.”
Known for her vibrant personality, Keisha faced public concerns about her health in 2014, highlighting the challenges of her battle with anorexia. Her passing leaves a legacy as one of the famous black celebrities who died, a trailblazer in television. She is remembered for her resilience, kindness, and impact on Forest Whitaker’s life and career, marking the end of a remarkable journey.
As 2023 bids farewell, we mourn the profound losses within the Black community’s pillars—music, sports, television, and advocacy. Each departure, from the rhythmic beats of Fred White to the soul-stirring voice of Otis Redding III, has left an indelible mark. The void created by these luminaries is immeasurable, yet their enduring legacies continue to resonate.
In this collective grief, we find strength in celebrating their contributions, acknowledging that their influence will persist as an eternal melody, inspiring generations to come. As we navigate a future without their physical presence, their spirits live on in the timeless echoes of their artistry and impact.