The deaths of celebrities like Honor Blackman evoke a range of feelings

Honor Blackman in a publicity still for 'Goldfinger', circa 1964. Picture: Getty Images

Honor Blackman in a publicity still for 'Goldfinger', circa 1964. Picture: Getty Images

As I am writing this, news just came through that actress Honor Blackman has died at the age of 94. Blackman had a long career on stage and TV and in films but will always be remembered as Pussy Galore in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964).

Blackman might fall into the blase category of "Huh, didn't realise she was still around" for many. But most of us have at least one such person whose death strikes us. Sure, we didn't know them, but they still meant something, in some way.

News of the dwindling number of survivors of, say, a favourite old film or era or activity is a bittersweet experience: a reminder of them and their work and the "little pieces of time" they gave us, to quote actor James Stewart, who said that was one of his favourite things about being an actor

. It's also something of a memento mori. Famous or obscure, rich or poor, death comes to claim us all.

Some are still hanging in there, but probably not for very much longer. One principal cast member of Gone With the Wind (1939) - Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie - was still alive at the time of writing, at the age of 103. A few minor actors from the film - including Mickey Kuhn, 87, who played Melanie's son Beau - were also still living.

Olivia de Havilland in one of her final films, The Swarm (1978). Picture: Supplied

Olivia de Havilland in one of her final films, The Swarm (1978). Picture: Supplied

Most of the cast of The Wizard of Oz, from the same year, have also died. None of the credited actors or those with speaking (or singing) roles remain.There seem to be a few Munchkin actors left: to bulk out the ranks of adult midgets and dwarfs in Munchkinland, the filmmakers included some children, including Joan Kenmore, who was born in 1931. But they, too, will soon be gone, the last living links to a beloved film.

Kirk Douglas in The Brotherhood (1969). Picture: A Paramount Picture

Kirk Douglas in The Brotherhood (1969). Picture: A Paramount Picture

For those of who love classic movies, hearing of Kirk Douglas's death in February at the age of 103 was another lost connection to old Hollywood. Douglas was a fighter, on screen and off. He helped break the film industry's blacklist by hiring - and crediting - Dalton Trumbo as the writer of Spartacus (1960). After a stroke in 1998 he had therapy to regain his speech and wrote several books.

Some are still alive - for now. Eva Marie Saint (95) - an Oscar winner for On the Waterfront (1954) who also starred in North by Northwest (1959) is another of the few remaining stars from that bygone era, as is Kim Novak, (Vertigo), who is 87.

Less prominent people in some fields might be remembered more by aficionados. Film and TV buffs will recall Norman Lloyd - a busy supporting actor whose films include Dead Poets Society (1989) and Saboteur (1942) - who is also still alive, at the age of 105.

Some older celebrities are still very much in the public eye - sometimes amazingly so. Betty White, whose TV career included The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland (which ended in 2015) is still working, for example at the age of 98.

Julie Andrews, left, and Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Picture: Supplied

Julie Andrews, left, and Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Picture: Supplied

And Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins) is 97 and still active: he even did a dance in Mary Poppins Returns (2018).

Van Dyke worked with writer, director and actor Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show). Both are 98.

Another of Reiner's sometime collaborators, Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, The Producers) is not far behind, at 93.

In recent years, 2016 was particularly notable - and noted - for the number of deaths of high-profile celebrities, including Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Harper Lee, Alan Rickman, Arnold Palmer, Nancy Reagan and George Michael.

Also gone in 2016 was Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose main claim to fame was her long series of marriages rather than her film career.

She seemed to be at death's door for a long time.

From 2002 she survived a long series of health problems: injuries from a car accident, multiple surgeries, and the amputation of part of her right leg.

She died at the age of 99.

On December 27 the same year. actress and writer Carrie Fisher died unexpectedly at the age of 60.

Poignantly, Fisher's mother Debbie Reynolds, 84, a veteran of movie musicals, followed her the next day.

Some deaths - of actors and other famous people - are a true shock.

I remember I was watching TV one night in 1997 and the news came on that Princess Diana had been mortally injured in a car accident and died shortly afterwards at the age of 36.

It was probably Generation X's equivalent of the John F. Kennedy assassination (and sparked almost as many rumours and conspiracy theories).

Hot in Cleveland: from left, Jane Leeves, Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli and Wendie Malick. Picture: Supplied

Hot in Cleveland: from left, Jane Leeves, Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli and Wendie Malick. Picture: Supplied

And the death of former LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, in a helicopter crash in January this year was another shock, a reminder that even for the rich and famous, death can come at any time.

These premature deaths are the saddest of all, whether through illness, accident, murder, or suicide. Think of people like Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Marilyn Monroe and Janis Joplin, among many others: what else could they have given us if they had lived?

Some prominent people have already succumbed to a new threat - coronavirus - including playwright Terrence McNally (Master Class) and actors Jay Benedict (Aliens) and Andrew Jack (The Force Awakens). There might be more.

Though we might not have known them - might even have half- forgotten them - hearing or reading of the death of someone in the public eye who made an impact on us, large or small, can still bring about pangs: of loss, of time passing, of memory.

Stewart - who died in 1997 - was on the money.

Those "little pieces of time" stay with us, the legacy of those who gave them.

This story Losing the givers of pieces of time first appeared on The Canberra Times.