Every year, at the end of the year, we like to sit down and think about iconic gents who’ve passed away. Three years ago, when we started writing about them, we focused on their style. Now it’s grown into something more: What we can learn from men, period. So here are 25 guys who act as examples to us. And while they might not all be role models, each leaves us with a valuable life lesson. All are missed.
Robin Williams: He brought us so much joy, and his suicide stands as perhaps one of the most shocking news stories of 2014. What we learned: If you’re depressed, get help.
Philip Seymour Hoffman: One of the greatest character actors of his generation, Hoffman died of a drug overdose early this year. What we learned: Quit with the funny business once you have kids.
James Garner: Star of The Rockford Files, Maverick and The Great Escape passed away at the ripe old age of 86. What we learned: Ladies love outlaws.
Richard Kiel: You might not know his name, but his Jaws was one of the few recurring Bond villains. At 7 foot 2, he also played an iconic alien on The Twilight Zone, a giant caveman in Eegah and of course Mr. Larson in Happy Gilmore. What we learned: If you’ve got a prominent feature, own it.
Casey Kasem: The voice of Top 40—and Shaggy—passed away this year after a long battle with Parkinson’s. What we learned: Who needs looks if you’ve got the gift of gab?
Jay Adams: One of the most influential professional skateboarders of all time, Adams battled the demon of drug addiction most of his adult life. What we learned: It’s never too late to get your act together.
Captain Theodore Van Kirk: The navigator of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb, passed away at 93. What we learned: “It’s really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence.”
Chester Nez: The last living Navajo code talker lied to recruiters about his eligibility to enter the Marine Corps. What we learned: Sometime the truth is overrated.
Ultimate Warrior: The former James Brian Hellwig was the first man to cleanly defeat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship and the creator of a line of inspirational and confrontational YouTube videos. What we learned: One man’s crazy is another man’s genius.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The godfather of magical realism brought a touch of the supernatural into surprisingly natural environments. What we learned: Root your work in the classics, but blaze your own trail.
Tommy Ramone: A founding member of the Ramones, he did most of his most notable work as their producer. What we learned: The guy behind the scenes sometimes has more to do with success than the guys getting all the glory.
Dave Brockie: Better known as “Oderus Urungus,” Dave Brockie was the public face of GWAR for over 20 years. What we learned: Sometimes the best thing you can do is be incredibly weird.
Eli Wallach: Eli Wallach starred in such old Hollywood fare as The Misfits and Baby Doll, as well as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. What we learned: A talented chameleon can sneak into a lot of movies.
Tom Magliozzi: The Car Talk co-host was known as much for his unique sense of humor as for his auto advice. What we learned: At least half of everything we ever forgot about fixing cars.
Thomas Menino: Boston’s longest-serving mayor was reknowned for his uncanny ability to never recognize or properly pronounce the name of a New England-based athlete. What we learned: Public speaking skills are not a prerequisite to political success.
Harold Ramis: That brains behind such bona fide comedy masterpieces as Stripes, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. What else do you need to know? What we learned: Lovable losers always make for a good laugh.
Richard Attenborough: Attenborough was one of those actors who just blended in. You know who he is when you see a picture of him, but in a film he’s just there. What we learned: Santa Claus and reanimated dinosaurs might not be real, but it would be awesome if they were.
Sid Caesar: Caesar did more than just pioneer sketch comedy as we know it. He also gave early work to Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen. What we learned: Everything we need to know about how to write comedy for television but were afraid to ask.
Chuck Noll: When he retired, Noll’s 23-year reign as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers was the fourth-longest single-team tenure in NFL history. What we learned: Commit to your job and you might just win four Super Bowl rings. Or, you know, Employee of the Month or whatever.
Bobby Womack: The man who recorded the first version of the Rolling Stones’ first big hit (“It’s All Over Now”) kept himself relevant into the 21st Century by recording with Gorillaz. What we learned: You’re never too old to reinvent yourself.
Alfredo di Stefano: More than one person called di Stefano, who scored 216 times in 282 matches for Real Madrid, the greatest footballer of all time. Pele was slightly more reserved, calling him merely the Greatest Argentine ever. What we learned: It helps to be goal-oriented.
Bob Hoskins: Hoskins became star almost by accident, but was known as a natural once he took the stage, bringing life to everyone from Mario to J. Edgar Hoover. What we learned: A capable actor has no problem playing second banana to a cartoon rabbit.
Ben Bradlee: You might not know him by name, but you know what this Washington Post editor is famous for: Challenging President Nixon over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers. What we learned: When you decide to stand up for something, you need to dig your heels in.
Oscar de la Renta: You know you’ve made it in the world of fashion when Jacquelyn Kennedy is wearing your gear and the editor-in-chief of French Vogue wants to marry you. What we learned: The best of male fashion is timeless, not trendy.
Big Bank Hank: In addition to pioneering hip-hop with the Sugar Hill Gang, Big Bank Hank had a degree in oceanography and held a number of amateur wrestling titles. What we learned: Whatever you do, do the hell out of it, even if no one is looking.
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