While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
We look back at some of the greats who passed away in 2023.
Keep reading below to learn more about the notable Black people we’ve lost in 2023…
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We’ve Lost In 2023 was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. Willis Reed, NBA Legend
Willis Reed, a former 7-time All-Star for the New York Knicks, has passed away. He was 80 years old.
Reed was drafted in the second round by the Knicks in the 1964 NBA draft. He was that year’s Rookie of the Year and went to seven straight All-Star games. He also made the All-NBA Team five times. The former center and power forward helped New York win titles in 1970 and 1973, and was the league MVP in the 1969-70 season.
2. Lance Reddick, ActorSource:Getty
Lance Reddick, the actor widely known for his role in the hit cable crime drama, “The Wire,” has died, according to reports.
First reported by TMZ, Reddick was found dead at his home in California on Friday morning. His cause of death was not immediately reported.
TMZ reported that law enforcement said the death of the 60-year-old “appears to be natural.”
NBC News published a statement from Reddick’s publicist asking to respect the actor’s grieving family’s privacy.
“Acclaimed actor Lance Reddick passed away suddenly this morning from natural causes,” Mia Hansen said. “Lance will be greatly missed. Please respect his family’s privacy at this time.”
Reddick also made a name for starring in the John Wick movie series, the latest of which he had been in the middle of promoting when he died.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is scheduled to be released in movie theaters on March 24.
Reddick rose to fame playing the character of Baltimore Police Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, who appeared in all five seasons of “The Wire” on HBO.
Acting wasn’t Reddick’s only talent in the arts.
In 2011, he released his first album, “Contemplations and Rememberances.”
He previously attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he studied classical composition. He also played piano and said he always wanted to be a musician, but the acting jobs came first, which allowed him to take care of his family.
Reddick is survived by his wife, Stephanie Reddick, and two children, daughter Yvonne Nicole and son Christopher Reddick.
3. Felton Spencer, former NBA playerSource:Getty
Former NBA Basketball star Felton Spencer died on March 12 at the age of 55. Spencer’s death was confirmed by his sister Tammy Pollock in a tweet, but there was no cause of death mentioned.
Before Spencer took his talents to the NBA, he was a standout student-athlete at the University of Louisville. Spencer ended his college career with h 1,168 points and 694 rebounds. He also holds the school record for career field goal percentage (62.8%). During his time at the school, he helped the Cardinals win three consecutive Metro Conference tournaments and two Sweet 16 appearances.
4. Otis Taylor, NFL Player
Former NFL wide receiver and Hall of Famer Otis Taylor died last week at the age of 80. According to his family, Taylor had been battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia for more than a decade. According to ESPN, the former Kansas City Chiefs star was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and associated dementia in 1990, and in 2012, his family filed a lawsuit against the NFL claiming it was legally responsible for health issues he experienced beginning with seizures in 1969.
Taylor spent all 10-plus years of his career in Kansas City, where he was a fourth-round pick out of Prairie View A&M in the 1965 AFL draft. He went on to have two 1,000-yard seasons during an era in which the passing game was still evolving, and he finished his career with 7,306 receiving yards and 57 touchdown catches.
“My family and I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Otis’ wife Regina, his sister Odell and the entire Taylor family as we mourn his passing,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. “He was one of the most dynamic receivers of his era, and he helped revolutionize the position. Off the field, he was kind and dedicated to his community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Otis’ legacy will live forever.”
5. Wayne Shorter, jazz legendSource:Getty
Legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter died on March 2 at the age of 89 in Los Angeles. His death was confirmed by his publicist Alisse Kingsley.
The saxophonist and composer was one of the most influential jazz musicians on the planet.
Coming in prominence in the 1950s, Shorter was the primary composer for Art Blakey’s Bass Messengers. He would later partner with Miles Davis joining his Second Great Quintet, then co-founding the world-renowned jazz fusion band Weather Report.
Shorter composed 20 albums as a bandleader of the Weather Report. He also recorded several albums for Blue Note Records, composing the majority of the music.
6. Zandra Flemister
U.S. Secret Service agent Zandra Flemister has died at the age of 71. She was the first Black woman to serve as a special agent for the Secret Service. According to reports, Flemister died from Alzheimer’s complications. Flemister is remembered a pioneer at the agency although she said she left because of racial discrimination.
She went on to spend over three decades as a foreign service officer, rising to the upper ranks of senior foreign service before Alzheimer’s disease forced her to retire in 2011. She did so while juggling family responsibilities, including raising her son, who was diagnosed with autism as a child.
“The level of accomplishments that my wife managed … under the conditions that she lived, that to me says a hell of a lot about the woman,” Flemister’s husband, John Collinge, told NPR in a phone interview.
Flemister’s death — of Alzheimer’s complications and publicized in a Washington Post obituary — has renewed attention to her trailblazing stint at the Secret Service in the 1970s.
“I’ve gotten an incredible outpouring from Black women Secret Service agents past and present, and they are looking to her now as, I guess I would say, a forgotten pioneer who has been rescued from oblivion,” Collinge said, of the emails and calls he has gotten in recent days.
8. Irv Cross, NFL Player and sport analystSource:Getty
Former NFL player Irv Cross has died at the age of 81. Cross, who was the first Black full-time sports analyst on national television, suffered from stage 4 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, according to Boston University researchers. The degenerative brain disease made life tough for Cross in his final days as he suffered from depression, mood swings and memory loss that forced him into isolation.
“He really didn’t want to be with people,” said his widow, Liz Cross. “The only person he wanted to be with was me. When he was with me, he really didn’t want to be with me. He just wanted me to be there.”
Cross was diagnosed with mild cognitive dementia in 2018, and his family says after the diagnosis he often sat in a chair complaining of headaches that never went away. He also stopped going to church, could barely watch football anymore and struggled physically with his balance and was paranoid.
Toward the end,” Cross said, “he saw things that weren’t there.”
Irv Cross, of course, was not alone in misery among his former NFL brethren. According to its latest report, the BU CTE Center said it has diagnosed 345 former NFL players with CTE out of 376 former players who were studied, a rate of 91.7%. The disease can be diagnosed only after death.
“He was the nicest, kindest, most helpful, wonderful man I ever met,” Cross said. “But that wasn’t who he was at the end. And that wasn’t who he was. It was the disease that did that.”
Dr. Ann McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, said she was not surprised Irv Cross’ brain reached stage 4 given the length of his overall football career (the study counted 17 years) and his age. Irv Cross and his family made the decision to donate his brain to help raise awareness of the long-term consequences of repeated blows to the head.
“I do think there’s more education about the risks of football and I do think there’s more awareness of concussion management but I still think we’re way, way behind where we should be,” McKee said. “We need to educate young athletes that this is a risk that they are undertaking. We need to educate coaches to keep head trauma out of the game. We need to do more managing of athletes by monitoring them better. I still think there’s a very cavalier attitude toward CTE. There’s a lot of denial.”
Cross was an outstanding NFL player, During his career, he was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who had 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles, and two defensive touchdowns. In 1971 he joined CBA and became the first Black network sports show anchor. Although CTE made it hard on Cross towards the end of his life, his wife said he never regretted playing football.
“He would have done it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “But he didn’t think kids should play football.”
9. Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, rock ‘n roll pianistSource:Getty
Huey “Piano” Smith, whose two-fisted keyboard style and rambunctious songs propelled the sound of New Orleans R&B into the pop Top 10 in the late 1950s, died on Feb. 13 at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 89.
His daughter Acquelyn Donsereaux confirmed his death.
Mr. Smith wrote songs that became cornerstones of New Orleans R&B and rock ’n’ roll perennials, notably “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It” and “Sea Cruise.”
10. Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, pioneering TV reporter
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, the first Black television reporter in Atlanta, has died at age 83.
The media milestone was reached when WSB-TV hired him in 1967. He would remain with the station through 1976.
11. Thomas W. Dortch Jr.Source:Getty
Atlanta civic leader Thomas W. Dortch Jr., the chairman of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s board and former leader of 100 Black Men of America, has died at the age of 72. No cause or date of Dortch’s death was immediately reported. The Georgia native was also a successful businessman in his own right.
12. Stanley Wilson Jr., former NFL playerSource:Getty
Stanley Wilson Jr., a former NFL cornerback with the Detroit Lions, died on Feb. 1 in police custody. He was just 40 years old.
Wilson Jr. had been in police custody following his vandalism arrest back in August … but according to prosecutors, he was declared incompetent to stand trial and was transferred from county jail to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles County on Feb. 1.
But, law enforcement sources tell us during intake at the medical facility — which specializes in caring for those with mental health issues — he collapsed and died.
13. AKA, rapperSource:Getty
AKA, a South African rapper, was shot to death on Feb. 10 outside of a restaurant in the city of Durban. He was 35 years old.
The police said that AKA, 35, had been walking to his car on a popular nightlife strip shortly after 10 p.m. when two armed people approached from across the street and fired several shots at close range before running away.
AKA, whose legal name was Kiernan Forbes, and another man died at the scene, the police said. Although the police did not name the second victim, South African news reports identified him as AKA’s close friend Tebello Motsoane, a 34-year-old chef and music entrepreneur known as Tibz.
14. Roslyn Pope, civil rights leader
Roslyn Pope, who as a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta wrote a 1960 manifesto that set the stage for dramatic advances in civil rights in the city and inspired generations of activists around the country, died on Jan. 19 in Arlington, Texas. She was 84.
Spelman College confirmed the death.
15. Charlie Thomas, of the DriftersSource:Getty
Charlie Thomas, who recorded memorable songs like “There Goes My Baby” and “Under the Boardwalk” with the Drifters, the silken-voiced R&B group that had a long string of hits from 1959 to 1964 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Fame, died on Jan. 31 at his home in Bowie, Md. He was 85.
The singer Peter Lemongello Jr., a close friend, said the cause was liver cancer.
Mr. Thomas, a tenor, was a Drifter for more than 60 years, from the version of the group that had its first hits in the late 1950s to the version he led and toured with until the pandemic struck.
16. Trugoy The Dove, 54
Trugoy The Dove, co-founder of the legendary Hip-Hop trio De La Soul has died. The cause of Death has not been released to the public. Trugoy, born David Jude Jolicoeur along with high school friends Posdnuos (Kelvin Mercer) and Maseo (Vincent Mason) would form De La Soul in the mid-80s. The group would go on to release their groundbreaking debut “3 Feet High and Rising” in 1988. Their more conscious style of rap made them known as “Hip-Hop Hippies.” De La Soul, along with A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and Black Sheep would be known as the “Native Tounges,” delivering more positive-minded, Afrocentric, and eclectic lyrics behind sampled beats that would inspire a generation.
17. Barrett Strong, 82
The Motown Museum confirmed the passing of singer/songwriter Barrett Strong on Jan. 29. Strong sang “Money (That’s What I Want)” which became Motown Records’ first hit in 1959.
18. Brandon Smiley, 32Source:Getty
“I just had bad news this morning. I’m on the way to the airport to get to Birmingham. I just want everybody to pray for me, pray for our family,” Rickey said in a video. “My son, Brandon Smiley, has passed away this morning.”
No official word on his passing.
19. Jesse Lemonier, 25Source:Getty
His former team, the Detroit Lions released a statement on Twitter, saying “We are shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of former Detroit Lion Jessie Lemonier,” the Detroit Lions wrote in a statement shared via Twitter. “Jessie was a model teammate and wonderful young man who is gone far too soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
20. CJ Harris, 31Source:Getty
According to TMZ, the former American Idol contestant suffered a heart attack. He was only 31 years old.
21. Arthur Duncan, 89Source:Getty
22. Charles White, 64Source:Getty
23. Kevin Lemons, 44
Official Announcement from The Lemons Family 🕊️
It is with great sadness that we announce the transition of our Founder – Kevin Lemons. Please keep his wife Tiunna, Family and Higher Calling lifted in prayer as we all process this sudden loss. Thank you all for the outpouring of love already shown. We are so appreciative and grateful for each of you! 🍋🕊️
24. Gordy Harmon, 79Source:Getty
Gordy Harmon, a founding member of the R&B group The Whispers, died Thursday in his sleep at his Los Angeles home.
25. Uche Nwaneri, 38Source:Getty
Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan tweeted “Rest In Peace, Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri played 7 seasons with the Jaguars, 2007-2013, and forged a strong bond with the Jags fans that’s remained to this day. On behalf of the Jaguars organization and my family, our thoughts are with Uche’s family + friends at this terrible time.”
26. Gangsta Boo, 43Source:Getty
Mitchell was the second woman to join Three 6 Mafia in the early ’90s, and after her departure from the group, she continued to record mixtapes and appear on singles from the likes of Gucci Mane, La Chat, and more. When she was fifteen, she contributed to Three 6’s Mystic Stylez album and remained a fixture in Memphis through her untimely passing.
27. Fred White, Earth Wind & Fire Drummer, 67Source:Getty
Verdine White confirmed the news on Instagram saying
Our family is saddened today. With the loss of an amazing and talented family member, Our beloved brother Frederick Eugene “Freddie” White.
He joins our brothers Maurice, Monte and Ronald in heaven and is now drumming with the angels! 🥁🥁 Child protégé, member of the EWF ORIGINAL 9, with gold records at the young age of 16 years old! He was brother number 4 in the family lineup. ❤️❤️❤️❤️
But more than that at home and beyond he was the wonderful bro that was always entertaining and delightfully mischievous!
And we could always count on him to make a seemingly bad situation more light hearted!🙏🏾😍🙏🏾
He will live in our hearts forever, rest in power beloved Freddie!!
We thank you all for your love, blessings and support at this time. Soar high baby bro, we love you to the shining ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️and back!
28. Anita Pointer, 74 (December 31st)Source:Getty
Pointer’s family, in a statement obtained by CBS News, said, “While we are deeply saddened by the loss of Anita, we are comforted in knowing she is now with her daughter, Jada and her sisters June & Bonnie and at peace. She was the one that kept all of us close and together for so long. Her love of our family will live on in each of us. Please respect our privacy during this period of grief and loss. Heaven is a more loving, beautiful place with Anita there.”
Pointer is preceded in death by her only daughter Jada, who passed in 2003, and sisters Bonnie and June, who passed in 2020 and 2006 respectively.