There are few tragedies that can compare to the loss of a spouse. Though the pain and grief of losing one’s partner may be unimaginable, life must inevitably continue. Regardless of whether you’ve lost a spouse or partner, here is a list of 15 celebrity widows and widowers whose strength to continue after their loss should serve as an inspiration to us all.
Mel Brooks married actress Anne Bancroft in 1964. The two remained together until she passed away in 2005 from uterine cancer. Brooks recalled that, after their first meeting “From that day, until her death in 2005, we were glued together!” Brooks widely credits his wife as the motivation to adapt his play The Producers into a Broadway hit. He has continued working in Hollywood sporadically since the loss.
Brosnan married Australian actress Cassandra Peterson in 1980. Tragedy struck in 1991 when she died as a result of ovarian cancer in 1991. When he got the role of James Bond in 1995’s Goldeneye, he would cite his late wife as one of his biggest champions in getting the role. Brosnan commemorated her memory with the Whale Seat, which can be found in Orange County, California.
Joyce Carole Oates
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American author, poet, and playwright Joyce Carole Oates lost husband Raymond J. Smithe to pneumonia in 2008. The author documented her loss in the book A Widow’s Story: A Memoir.
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Actor Gene Wilder married Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner in 1984. In 1986 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and, in 1989, Radner passed away. Wilder has since become an active proponent of cancer awareness, helping form the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center in Los Angeles, California.
Perhaps the most controversial personality on this list, the statutory rape charge and subsequent scandal that has followed Polanksi’s reputation since 1977 sometimes overshadows the tragic murder of his wife, Sharon Tate. Her killing at the hands of the Manson clan in 1969 shocked the nation and left the director devastated While Tate’s death and its sensationalized treatment by the media would haunt Polanski for years to come (as detailed in his autobiography Roman By Polanksi), the Polish director did move on with his life. Polanski remarried actress Emmanuelle Seigner in 1989 and has continued his career as one of the most important filmmakers in the world.
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Comedian Martin Short married his longtime girlfriend, actress Nancy Dolman, in 1980. The pair remained together until 2010, when she passed away as a result of ovarian cancer. Despite his loss, the actor has continued working diligently, appearing in such films as Madagascar 3.
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Comedian Joan Rivers married film and TV producer Edgar Rosenberg in 1965. Rosenberg remained Rivers’ manager and spouse until 1987, when he committed suicide by drug and alcohol overdose. In the days following his death, Rivers recalled “I went to New York and a man collecting the garbage would say: ‘Hey Joanie! You’ll get through this.’ People in the grocery store would say: ‘I lit a candle for you last night.’ I thought: ‘My God, the whole city cares.’ People can be a great comfort.”
Star Trek actor William Shatner was briefly married to wife Nerine Kidd-Shatner from 1997 until 1999, when she was found dead due to alcohol and drug induced drowning. Shatner has since put his grief into raising awareness about alcoholism and promoting charities like Friendly House, a non-profit group that helps women recovering from drug and alcohol abuse re-establish themselves.
Following the assassination of husband and ex-Beatle John Lennon in 1980, Yoko Ono spent a period of time in seclusion. After raising their son, Sean, as a single mother, Ono re-emerged and has continued working as a musician, artist, and political activist. She funded and maintains the Strawberry Fields Memorial in New York’s Central Park in memory of her husband.
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Vice President Joe Biden suffered a tragedy in1972 when his wife, Neila, and one-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in an auto accident. Biden nevertheless overcame his grief and continued his political career while raising his three surviving sons. In May, Biden revealed to the families of fallen troops that he contemplated suicide at one time after their death. In the speech, Biden implored the families to work through their grief, promising that, based on his own experience, “It can get better.”
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Classic Hollywood actress and model Lauren Bacall experienced a whirlwind romance with Casablanca actor Humphrey Bogart, resulting in their marriage in 1945. The pair remained one of Hollywood’s favorite couples until Bogart’s death in 1967. Remarkably, Bacall has continued working in films and television throughout her career. Details of their marriage can be read in her autobiography Lauren Bacall By Myself.
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Paul McCartney was married to wife and Wings co-founder Linda Eastman from 1969 until her death from cancer in 1998. Following her death, McCartney entered counseling. The ex-Beatle said of the experience and his counselor: “He was great, particularly in helping me get rid of my guilt [about wishing I’d been] perfect all the time … a real bugger. But then I thought, hang on a minute. We’re just human. That was the beautiful thing about our marriage. We were just a boyfriend and girlfriend having babies.” McCartney has since remarried but continues to be an advocate for breast cancer awareness.
Betty White married TV games show host Allen Ludden in 1963, and the two remained together until Ludden’s death from stomach cancer in 1983. She would not remarry, but White has experienced a career resurgence since last year, starring on the sitcom Hot In Cleveland and hosting a recent episode of Saturday Night Live. When asked how her husband would feel about this comeback, she said “He’d be in my corner and rooting for me the entire time. That’s just the way he was.”
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News anchor Katie Couric married husband Jay Monahan in 1989. After his life was tragically cut short due to colon cancer, Couric became a spokeswoman for colon cancer awareness. She went far as getting an colonoscopy on-air in 2000 with the hope it would inspire others to do the same. Couric would also follow it up with a similarly intended on-air mammogram in 2005.
Liam Neeson and actress Natasha Richardson were married from 1994 until 2009. Richardson’s life would be cut short after sustaining a severe head injury in a ski accident. Following the accident, Neeson has seemingly thrown himself into his work, having appeared in no less than five movies this year alone. Of them, the survival thriller The Grey offered him the opportunity to tap into his grief by playing a character whose wife was similarly taken before her time. In press interviews, the film’s director, Joe Carnahan, explained “There’s a letter that [Neeson’s character] Ottway’s writing to his wife, and I said, ‘Write it to Natasha.’ I wanted it to come from an innermost place.” Carnahan concluded “I think it’s one of Liam’s finest performances. It might honestly be his best.”