Notable Deaths in 2004

From Superman to the Gipper, the nation lost icons from the worlds of entertainment, national and international politics -- some universally revered, some controversial, but all interesting. The world is a different place for their contributions.

Ronald Reagan

The 40th president of the United States who went from Hollywood actor to leader of the free world, Ronald Reagan died June 5 at 93. Known for his conservative vision and sunny outlook that transformed America, he succumbed to the Alzheimer's disease that he was diagnosed with in 1989 after leaving office.

A journeyman actor, union president and California governor before he won the presidency in a landslide on his third try, Reagan became known as the Great Communicator. With movie-star charisma and a natural feel for television cameras, he rejuvenated the Republican Party, and along with it, the nation.

Critics protested his cuts in social programs, his buildup in military spending and a hands-off management style that led to a series of scandals. But many Americans enjoyed an economic joyride during his eight years in office, once "Reaganomics" wrenched the country out of the stagnation and malaise of the Carter years.

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve, the actor who gained fame as "Superman" and became known for his bravery and tireless activism after a near-fatal spinal cord injury, died Oct. 10 of heart failure at 52.

With an "S" emblazoned across his chiseled chest, Reeve became the most famous movie actor to take on the role of the comic book hero from planet Krypton, who could bend steel, repel bullets and fly through the air to save damsels in distress, occasionally taking them back to his crystal lair. The 1978 blockbuster led to a series of sequels.

Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down when he was thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in 1995. When he realized he could not breathe without a respirator, he contemplated "pulling the plug," he admitted in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters just months after the tragedy.

Instead, he became an outspoken advocate for spinal cord injury research, raising money, writing books, testifying before Congress and giving motivational speeches all over the country.

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who fought for statehood and went from using terrorism as a policy to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, died Nov. 11 of multiple organ failure.

Under Arafat's leadership, the PLO carried out some of the world's most infamous terrorist attacks, but he was a consistent symbol of the decades-long Palestinian liberation struggle.

Through years of global wanderings, five Arab-Israeli wars, two violent intifadas and several attempts at peace, Arafat became a rallying point for the Palestinian people, even as they often felt at odds with his dictatorial and sometimes mercurial leadership style.

For four decades, Arafat was a symbol their struggle. Although he spent the last few years holed up in his compound in Ramallah, shunned by the United States and Israeli negotiators, Arafat never lost his hold on the Palestinian people.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles, the legendary singer and piano player whose songs like "What'd I Say" and "Georgia on My Mind" became American classics, died June 10 at 73 from liver disease.

Charles, who went blind by the time he was 7 and was an orphan at 15, composed music that defied definition, with hints of blues, jazz, country and big band. He won 12 Grammy awards, nine of which came between 1960 and 1966, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years for "Hit the Road Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Busted."

Throughout his career, Charles partnered with musicians as varied as Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Chaka Khan. He was on the big screen in "The Blues Brothers" and the small screen in Pepsi's long-running "uh-huh" ad campaign.

Even after Charles' death, his legacy lives on. His latest album, "Genius Loves Company," is nominated for seven Grammy awards, including record of the year for "Here We Go Again," a duet with Norah Jones. And the biopic "Ray" has won critical claim.

Jerry Orbach

Jerry Orbach, who played the hardened detective Lennie Brisco from TV's "Law & Order," died on Dec. 28 of prostate cancer, just as production had begun on the spinoff "Law and Order: Trial by Jury," which had been expected to premiere early in 2005, according to his publicist.

The 69-year-old Bronx-born actor was also a Broadway song-and-dance man, appearing in productions of the hit musicals "Carnival," "Chicago," "42nd Street" and "Promises, Promises," for which he won a Tony Award.

On the big screen, he'll be remembered for his work in "Dirty Dancing," "Prince of the City" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Rodney Dangerfield

Rodney Dangerfield, the bug-eyed comic who built a career on his trademark lament of "I don't get no respect," died Oct. 9 at 83 after suffering a stroke during heart surgery and slipping into a coma.

Dangerfield forged a career of poking fun at his troubles. He struck gold with his poor-me, "no-respect" persona, complete with nervous tie-tugging and brow-mopping.

Dangerfield became a hit on the stand-up circuit in the 1960s. Ed Sullivan gave him his big break on television, and later appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live" gave him a national audience.

Many notable movie roles followed. In the 1980 hit "Caddyshack," Dangerfield guaranteed his place in American comedy with his role as Al Czervik, an obnoxious rich golfer. Dangerfield often played different versions of the same character, and audiences loved it. In 1983's "Easy Money," he was a big hit as a working-class guy who suddenly becomes a millionaire. His 1986 film "Back to School" was one of the first comedies to earn more than $100 million.

As founder and owner of the New York City comedy club Dangerfield's, the comic helped a number of struggling comedians who later became stars, including Jim Carrey, Roseanne and Jerry Seinfeld.

Julia Child

Julia Child, the woman who brought French cooking to the American masses, died Aug. 13 at 91.

With her warbly voice, tall stature and penchant for decadent French fare, Child swooped on to the American food scene just in time. Her many cookbooks and television shows saved America from frozen TV dinners and recipes with canned mushroom soup.

The appeal of the "French Chef," her popular, no-frills PBS television show in the 1960s was based on "Child's charm, lack of pretension and endearing klutziness," according to Washington Post Book World.

Her tendency to drop pans and cut herself was endearing but it was also born of necessity -- the show was on such a low budget it could only afford to film scenes once.

In addition to winning an Emmy and a plethora of culinary awards, Child received two ultimate career honors. One was when The New York Times called her first cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (1961), a "masterpiece." The second was when Dan Aykroyd spoofed her on "Saturday Night Live." Child found his sketch hilarious.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando, the sexy, angry everyman of his generation known for playing larger-than-life, emotionally raw characters, died July 1 at 80.

He was the drunken, rapacious hunk in "Streetcar Named Desire"; the definitive motorcycle rebel in "The Wild One"; the hardworking longshoreman in "On the Waterfront." Nominated for four Academy Awards, Brando won two gold men.

But he gained a reputation of being difficult to work with. By 1972, Brando's former brilliance was so tarnished that when he was considered for the role of Don Corleone in "The Godfather," he had to test for it. To further enhance his eccentric mystique, when Brando won the Oscar for his role, he notoriously sent a proxy -- a woman who claimed to be an Apache actress -- to the ceremony to protest Hollywood's treatment of American Indians.

Later in his career, Brando was best known for his reclusive, eccentric behavior, on-set tantrums and outsized indulgence in food and women. In the mid-1990s, Brando weighed more than 300 pounds and he had at least 11 children with three ex-wives and various others.