The Artists We Lost in 2023, in Their Words

The many creative people who died this year built their wisdom over lives generously long or much too short, through times of peace and periods of conflict. Their ideas, perspectives and humanity helped shape our own: in language spoken, written or left unsaid; in notes hit, lines delivered, boundaries pushed. Here is a tribute to just some of them, in their voices.

“I never considered giving up on my dreams. You could say I had an invincible optimism.”

— Tina Turner, musician, born 1939 (Read the obituary.)

“Hang on to your fantasies, whatever they are and however dimly you may hear them, because that’s what you’re worth.”

— David Del Tredici, composer, born 1937 (Read the obituary.)

“Ever since I can remember, I have danced for the sheer joy of moving.”

— Rena Gluck, dancer and choreographer, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)

“The stage is not magic for me. It never was. I always felt the audience was waiting to see that first drop of blood.”

— Lynn Seymour, dancer, born 1939 (Read the obituary.)

Paul Reubens.Credit…Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Most questions that are asked of me about Pee-wee Herman I don’t have a clue on. I’ve always been very careful not to dissect it too much for myself.”

— Paul Reubens, actor, born 1952 (Read the obituary.)

“If you know your voice really well, if you’ve become friends with your vocal apparatus, you know which roles you can sing and which you shouldn’t even touch.”

— Grace Bumbry, opera singer, born 1937 (Read the obituary.)

“Actors should approach an audition (and indeed, their careers) with the firm belief that they have something to offer that is unique. Treasure who you are and what you bring to the audition.”

— Joanna Merlin, actress, born 1931 (Read the obituary.)

Glenda Jackson.Credit…Evening Standard/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

“If I have my health and strength, I’m going to be the most appalling old lady. I’m going to boss everyone about, make people stand up for me when I come into a room, and generally capitalize on all the hypocrisy that society shows towards the old.”

— Glenda Jackson, actress and politician, born 1936 (Read the obituary.)

“I don’t see myself as a pioneer. I see myself as a working guy and that’s all, and that is enough.”

— William Friedkin, filmmaker, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)

“Some people, every day you get up and chop wood, and some people write songs.”

— Robbie Robertson, musician, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

“I wasn’t brought up in Hollywood. I was brought up in a kibbutz.”

— Topol, actor, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)

Jimmy Buffett.Credit…Michael Putland/Getty Images

“I don’t play at my audience. I play for my audience.”

— Jimmy Buffett, musician, born 1946 (Read the obituary.)

“I’m still not a natural in front of people. I’m shy. I’m a hermit. But I’m learning a little more.”

— Andre Braugher, actor, born 1962 (Read the obituary.)

“Some poets do not see reaching many in spatial terms, as in the filled auditorium. They see reaching many temporally, sequentially, many over time, into the future, but in some profound way these readers always come singly, one by one.”

— Louise Glück, poet, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

“I paint because I believe it’s the best way that I can pass my time as a human being. I paint for myself. I paint for my wife. And I paint for anybody that’s willing to look at it.”

— Brice Marden, artist, born 1938 (Read the obituary.)

“Writing is about generosity, passing on to other people what you’ve had the misfortune of having to find out for yourself.”

— Fay Weldon, author, born 1931 (Read the obituary.)

Ryuichi Sakamoto.Credit…Ian Dickson/Redferns, via Getty Images

“I went to see one of those pianos drowned in tsunami water near Fukushima, and recorded it. Of course, it was totally out of tune, but I thought it was beautiful. I thought, ‘Nature tuned it.’”

— Ryuichi Sakamoto, composer, born 1952 (Read the obituary.)

“I hate everything that is natural, and I love the artificial.”

— Vera Molnar, artist, born 1924 (Read the obituary.)

“A roof could be a roof, but it also could be a little garden.”

— Rafael Viñoly, architect, born 1944 (Read the obituary.)

“True architecture is life.”

— Balkrishna Doshi, architect, born 1927 (Read the obituary.)

Sinead O’Connor.Credit…Duane Braley/Star Tribune, via Getty Images

“Words are dreadfully powerful, and words uttered are 10 times more powerful. The spoken word is the science on which the entire universe is built.”

— Sinead O’Connor, musician, born 1966 (Read the obituary.)

“Before I can put anything in the world, I have to wait at least a couple of years and edit them. Nothing is going out that hasn’t been edited a dozen times.”

— Robert Irwin, artist, born 1928 (Read the obituary.)

“An editor is a reader who edits.”

— Robert Gottlieb, editor and author, born 1931 (Read the obituary.)

Matthew Perry.Credit…Reisig & Taylor/NBCUniversal, via Getty Images

“Sometimes I think I went through the addiction, alcoholism and fame all to be doing what I’m doing right now, which is helping people.”

— Matthew Perry, actor, born 1969 (Read the obituary.)

“It was the period of apartheid. You know, it was very hard, very difficult and very painful — and many a time I felt, ‘Shall I continue with this life or shall I go on?’ But I continued. I wanted to dance.”

— Johaar Mosaval, dancer, born 1928 (Read the obituary.)

“God would like us to be joyful / Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.” (“Fiddler on the Roof”)

— Sheldon Harnick, lyricist, born 1924 (Read the obituary.)

“I remember back in the day, saying it’s so cool that the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie are still played. That’s what we wanted hip-hop to be.”

— David Jolicoeur, musician, born 1968 (Read the obituary.)

“Civilization cannot last or advance without culture.”

— Ahmad Jamal, musician, born 1930 (Read the obituary.)

Harry Belafonte.Credit… Phil Burchman/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

“Movements don’t die because struggle doesn’t die.”

— Harry Belafonte, singer and actor, born 1927 (Read the obituary.)

“Some people say to artists that they should change. Change what? It’s like saying, ‘Why don’t you walk differently or talk differently?’ I can’t change my voice. That’s the way I am.”

— Fernando Botero, artist, born 1932 (Read the obituary.)

“Performing is my way of being part of humanity — of sharing.”

— André Watts, pianist, born 1946 (Read the obituary.)

Renata Scotto.Credit…Evening Standard/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

“Singing isn’t my whole life.”

— Renata Scotto, opera singer, born 1934 (Read the obituary.)

“It’s through working on characters in plays that I’ve learned about myself, about how people operate.”

— Frances Sternhagen, actress, born 1930 (Read the obituary.)

David Crosby.Credit…Mick Gold/Redferns, via Getty Images

“I don’t know if I’ve found my way, but I do know I feel happy.”

— David Crosby, musician, born 1941 (Read the obituary.)

“I’m very abstract. Once it becomes narrative, it’s all over. Let the audience decide what it’s about.”

— Rudy Perez, choreographer, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)

“I don’t have a driven desire actually to be in the act of writing. But my response to any form of excitement about reading is to want to write.”

— A.S. Byatt, author, born 1936 (Read the obituary.)

“I don’t think I ever wrote music to react to other music — I really had a very strong need to express myself.”

— Kaija Saariaho, composer, born 1952 (Read the obituary.)

Richard Roundtree.Credit…Celeste Sloman for The New York Times

“Narrow-mindedness is alien to me.”

— Richard Roundtree, actor, born 1942, though some sources say 1937 (Read the obituary.)

“The reason I’ve been able to dance for so long is absolute willpower.”

— Gus Solomons Jr., dancer and choreographer, born 1938 (Read the obituary.)

“My practice is a resistance to the glamorous art object.”

— Phyllida Barlow, artist, born 1944 (Read the obituary.)

“My lifetime ambition has been to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form.”

— Milan Kundera, author, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)

Mary Quant.Credit…Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“The most extreme fashion should be very, very cheap. First, because only the young are daring enough to wear it; second, because the young look better in it; and third, because if it’s extreme enough, it shouldn’t last.”

— Mary Quant, fashion designer, born 1930 (Read the obituary.)

“I spontaneously enter the unknown.”

— Vivan Sundaram, artist, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

“The goal is to wander, wander through the unknown in search of the unknown, all the while leaving your mark.”

— Richard Hunt, artist, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)

Angus Cloud.Credit…Pat Martin for The New York Times

“Style is how you hold yourself.”

— Angus Cloud, actor, born 1998 (Read the obituary.)

“I have an aura.”

— Barry Humphries, actor, born 1934 (Read the obituary.)

“Intensity is not something I try to do. It’s just kind of the way that I am.”

— Lance Reddick, actor, born 1962 (Read the obituary.)

Alan Arkin.Credit…Jerry Mosey/Associated Press

“There was a time when I had so little sense of myself that getting out of my skin and being anybody else was a sigh of relief. But I kind of like myself now, a lot of the times.”

— Alan Arkin, actor, born 1934 (Read the obituary.)

“I have always thought of myself as a kind of vessel through which the work might flow.”

— Valda Setterfield, dancer, born 1934 (Read the obituary.)

“You spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it. You probably should be doing it.”

— Cormac McCarthy, author, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)

Elliott Erwitt.Credit…Steven Siewert/Fairfax Media, via Getty Images

“In general, I don’t think too much. I certainly don’t use those funny words museum people and art critics like.”

— Elliott Erwitt, photographer, born 1928 (Read the obituary.)

“Every morning we leave more in the bed: certainty, vigor, past loves. And hair, and skin: dead cells. This ancient detritus was nonetheless one move ahead of you, making its humorless own arrangements to rejoin the cosmos.” (“The Information”)

— Martin Amis, author, born 1949 (Read the obituary.)

Magda Saleh.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

“I did not do it on my own.”

— Magda Saleh, ballerina, born 1944 (Read the obituary.)

“The word ‘jazz,’ to me, only means, ‘I dare you.’”

— Wayne Shorter, musician, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)

“What is a jazz singer? Somebody who improvises? But I don’t: I prefer simplicity.”

— Astrud Gilberto, singer, born 1940 (Read the obituary.)

“It’s who you are when time’s up that matters.”

— Anne Perry, author, born 1938 (Read the obituary.)

“When I think about my daughter and the day that I move on — there is a piece of me that will remain with her.”

— Ron Cephas Jones, actor, born 1957 (Read the obituary.)

“Let us encourage one another with visions of a shared future. And let us bring all the grit and openheartedness and creative spirit we can muster to gather together and build that future.”

— Norman Lear, television writer and producer, born 1922 (Read the obituary.)

Tony Bennett.Credit…Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough.”

— Tony Bennett, musician, born 1926 (Read the obituary.)

Photographs at top via Getty Images.

Related Articles

Back to top button