Some deaths loom so large that they come to signify the passing of an entire era. This year, it seemed as though the 1970s faded away, along with so many figures from the political and cultural life of the decade. Among them were Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, first lady Rosalynn Carter, filmmaker William Friedkin and stars of show business as varied as David Crosby, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett and Richard Roundtree.

The word “last” appeared with painful frequency in obituaries for people of the 1940s, the World War II generation. Ben Ferencz, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, and Traute Lafrenz, the last known survivor of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, both died at 103.

We were reminded this year of the glamour of the 1950s, with the passing of such stars as the voluptuous Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, but also the horror, with the death of Carolyn Bryant, whose accusation led to the lynching of Black teenager Emmett Till. Singer-activist Harry Belafonte, with his a cappella shout of “Day-O!,”straddled the beauty of music-making and the pain of the civil rights struggle, which he helped bankroll.

The 1960s, too, had its losses, with the deaths of actress Raquel Welch, fashion designer Marc Bohan, and composer and songwriter Burt Bacharach, who had more than 70 Top-40 hits. And we said goodbye to many mainstays of the 1980s and beyond, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

There were those whose lives seemed to transcend time — entertainers Tony Bennett, Tina Turner and Wayne Shorter, acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy, the eternal game-show host Bob Barker — and those who lives ended too soon. “Friends” star Matthew Perry and singer Lisa Marie Presley both died at 54. The rebellious Irish musical genius Sinéad O’Connor was 56. But the death, at 96, of counterculture filmmaker Kenneth Anger reminds us that nonconformists were always with us and always will be, as fascinating as they are timeless.

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