11 grand figures the world lost in 2020
Official portrait of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the famous faces that have left us in 2020, from lionised British spy novelist John Le Carré to left-wing US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the last icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, Olivia de Havilland.


American basketball player Kobe Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 and died on January 26, 2020, in a helicopter crash in California that also killed his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.

Bryant was a five-time NBA champion in a career that began in 1996 straight out of a high school and lasted until his retirement in 2016. He also was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, helping spark the US squad of NBA stars to titles in 2008 at Beijing and 2012 at London.

Bryant bowed out of the NBA in 2016, scoring 60 points in his final appearance before his adoring fans at the home ground of his club the LA Lakers. The game was a fairytale ending to a two decades-long sporting career.


Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas was born on December 9, 1916 and died on February 5, 2020, aged 103.

He was best known for his role as the titular character in the 1960 Golden Age of Hollywood classic Spartacus. Other acclaimed roles include his performance as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life in 1956 and in the 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May, opposite Burt Lancaster – a frequent collaborator with whom Douglas worked on several films.

Douglas was also well-known for standing up to McCarthyism, insisting that Spartacus screenwriter Dalton Trumbo – who had been writing under a pseudonym after being blacklisted for links to the US Communist Party – be credited under his real name.


Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was born on May 4, 1928 and died on February 25, 2020.

A career officer in the Egyptian air force, which he joined as a teenager, Mubarak became a national hero after playing a key role in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. He took over as the country's president just eight years later, aged 53, following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

Mubarak spent three decades in office and played a prominent part in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He became a key ally of the US by rallying Arab support for the first Gulf War.

Egypt received billions of dollars in aid during his time in office, but his presidency was increasingly blighted by unemployment and corruption. Discontent boiled over in January 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring protests, and he was forced to step down.

The next year, Mubarak was found guilty of complicity in the killing of protesters on Cairo's Tahrir Square. That conviction was later overturned and he was freed in March 2017.


Hollywood actress Olivia de Havilland was born in Tokyo to British parents on July 1, 1916 and died on July 26, 2020, aged 103. De Havilland was most famous for her role as Melanie Hamilton in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind.

In the late 1940s, she avoided typecasting for her earlier ingénue roles with acclaimed performances as a woman trapped in a Kafkaesque insane asylum in The Snake Pit (1948) and as the tragically misunderstood Henry James heroine Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, a 1949 adaptation of Washington Square.

De Havilland fell in love with French magazine editor Pierre Galante in 1953 and moved to Paris that same year. She lived in the city of lights for the rest of her life.

Two weeks before her 101st birthday, in June 2017, de Havilland was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth, making her the oldest woman to receive the honor.


US Supreme Court Justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933, and died on September 18, 2020, aged 87.

Bader Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956, where she was one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men. She later transferred to Columbia Law School when her husband, Martin Ginsburg, got a job in New York. She graduated in 1959, first in her class.

She rose to prominence over the following decades, notably with litigation and advocacy to support gender equality.

President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993. Notable majority opinions include United States v. Virginia (1996), which struck down the Virginia Military Institute's male-only admissions policy, and Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), which ruled that mental illness is a form of disability protected by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the Obama era, a new generation of progressives came to revere Bader Ginsburg, giving her the moniker "Notorious RBG".


American rock star Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist and main songwriter of the band the bore his surname, was born on January 26, 1955 and died on October 6, 2020, aged 65.

Born in the Netherlands and raised in California, Van Halen founded the rock group with his older brother Alex in the 1970s and quickly earned a huge fan base with his distinctive tapping guitar technique.

The group's classic hits include Running with the Devil and the guitar solo Eruption, both released in 1978.


British actor Sean Connery, the first and most renowned James Bond, was born on August 25, 1930 and died on October 31, 2020, aged 90.

Connery starred in seven Bond films from 1962 to 1983, starting with Dr. No.

"He was and shall always be remembered as the original James Bond," said the film franchise's producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli upon his death. "He revolutionized the world with his gritty and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent."

Connery's role as the iconic British secret agent brought him roles with film directing giants, such as Alfred Hitchcock, in the 1964 psychological thriller Marnie, and Steven Spielberg, as the father of the main character in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).


Legendary French singer Juliette Gréco was born on February 7, 1927 and died on September 23, 2020, aged 93.

Gréco had just started as a young dancer at the Paris ballet school when the Nazis invaded France in 1940. She was arrested and her older sister and her mother – a member of the French Resistance – were both sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. They returned to France after its liberation in 1945.

Gréco interpreted texts by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, poets Jacques Prévert and Jean Cocteau, German playwright Bertolt Brecht and a variety of iconic French songwriters including Serge Gainsbourg, Léo Ferré, Guy Beart and Georges Brassens.

Her best-loved hits include La Javanaise (1962), written for her by Gainsbourg, and Jolie Môme (1983), written for her by Ferré.


One of the greatest footballers of all time and an Argentian icon, Diego Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, and died on November 25, 2020, aged 60.

Maradona was renowned for his remarkable dribbling and shooting skills, as well as his drug and alcohol abuse off the pitch. The 1986 World Cup quarter final match against England epitomized both his genius and his dark side.

It was 0-0. Maradona darted into the box to meet an Argentinian lob. England goalkeeper Peter Shilton came out to parry the ball, only for Maradona to flagrantly handball it into the net. The referee didn't see and counted it as a goal. It was the "Hand of God", Maradona said. It was the "hand of a rascal", England's legendary manager Bobby Robson responded.

Minutes after cheating, Maradona picked up the ball in the centre of the pitch and ran at breakneck speed, careering through the England midfield and defense before slotting it past Shilton. Unlike the "Hand of God", no one disputed this goal's nickname, "goal of the century".


Former French President Valéry Giscard-d'Estaing was born on February 2, 1926 and died on December 2, 2020, aged 94.

Giscard made the "modernization" of France the theme of his tenure between 1974 and 1981, launching the TGV high-speed rail service and moving towards nuclear power and the country's predominant source of energy. His government also legalised abortion, reinstated divorce by mutual consent, and started providing free contraception.

He slipped into obscurity after his 1981 defeat to François Mitterand, the French left's charismatic old fox. In a telling moment at Mitterand's funeral in 1996, former minister André Santini said: "I don't remember us doing the same for Giscard".

In the 2000s Giscard re-emerged in the public sphere, heading the Convention of the Future of Europe, which drafted the proposed EU Constitution. Critics regarded it as a power-grab against national governments; French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005 referendums.


British spy novelist John Le Carré (real name David Cornwell) was born on October 19, 1931 and died on December 12, 2020, aged 89.

John Le Carré was a young MI6 intelligence officer when his first novel, "Call for the Dead", was published in 1961, centered around the character George Smiley, a bookish, middle-aged spymaster that Le Carré fashioned as a more realistic alternative to James Bond. He quit MI6 and became a full-time writer when his third novel, "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", became an international bestseller in 1963.

Other works include "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (1974), about Smiley's hunt for a mole at the apex of MI6, and "Smiley's People" (1979), in which the cerebral spymaster defeats his KGB nemesis Karla.

Although critics consider Le Carré's Cold War novels his richest works, his later novels were quick to reflect how history had not ended with the fall of communism, with "The Night Manager" (1993) exploring the arms trade, "A Most Wanted Man" (2008) dealing with CIA rendition programs and "Our Kind of Traitor" (2010) portraying the international spill-over from Russian organized crime.