The people we’ve lost to coronavirus

A country music star, a college professor, an award-winning playwright and an ICU nurse: Here are just some of the victims who have been lost to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Manu Dibango, saxophonist

FILE PHOTO: Camoroonese musician Manu Dibango plays his saxaphone during French designer Sorbier's Spring/Summer..
The influential Cameroon-born musician Manu Dibango (December 12, 1933-March 24, 2020) was famed for “Soul Makossa” (1972), what some have described as the first disco record.


The influential Cameroon-born musician Manu Dibango died March 24 at age 86 from the coronavirus. Dibango was famed for “Soul Makossa,” released in 1972, which some have described as the first disco record. His music fused African rhythms with jazz, soul, funk, rumba, disco and hip hop, and internationalized the music of Africa while inspiring many other major artists during a career that lasted more than six decades.

Dibango, whose nickname was “Pappy Groove,” was primarily known as a saxophonist, though he also played piano and vibraphone. He recorded more than 40 albums, and recorded and toured with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel, Sinead O’Connor, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Upon news of Dibango’s passing, composer and music producer Quincy Jones tweeted, “His contributions to music as we know it today are unparalleled, & it absolutely breaks my heart to hear about this tremendous loss. Soul Makossa my brother!! Thank U for your music & your light.”

Terrence McNally, playwright

Terrence McNally and Tom Kirdahy
Terrence McNally at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019, in New York City.


Playwright Terrence McNally died of complications from the coronavirus on March 24. McNally, a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic inflammatory lung disease, was 81.

McNally won four Tony Awards during a career crafting plays and musicals that explored love, creativity and homophobia. The writer tackled the themes of family, war and relationships with empathy and wit.

His early successes included the “The Ritz,” a farce set in a gay bathhouse, the romance “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” a landmark play about AIDS that focuses on two married couples who spend a weekend on Fire Island. He won his first Tony for the 1992 musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” which he followed with his Tony-winning play “Love! Valour! Compassion!”

McNally’s love of opera informed such works as the Tony-winning “Master Class,” which explored the life of opera diva Maria Callas. He also contributed librettos to operas, and wrote the books for several stage musical adaptations of movies, including “The Full Monty,” “Catch Me if You Can,” “Anastasia” and “Ragtime.”

Last year, as he accepted a lifetime achievement Tony Award, McNally said, “The world needs artists more than ever to remind us what truth and beauty and kindness really are.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton,” said he was “heartbroken” over the loss of McNally, whom he called “a giant in our world, who straddled plays and musicals deftly. Grateful for his staggering body of work and his unfailing kindness.”

Mark Blum, “Succession” and “Law & Order” actor

Actor Mark Blum attends the Roundabout Theater 2005 Spring Gala at Chelsea Piers in New York City.


Veteran actor Mark Blum died March 25 at age 69 after suffering complications from the coronavirus. He was known for his roles in the television shows “Succession” and “Law & Order” as well as movies such as “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Crocodile Dundee.”

Madonna, Blum’s co-star in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” honored him in a heartfelt Instagram post after learning of his death.

“I Want to Acknowledge the Passing of a remarkable Human, fellow actor and friend Mark Blum, who succumbed to Coronavirus,” the pop star wrote. “This is really tragic and my heart goes out to him, his family and his loved ones. I remember him as funny warm, loving .and professional when we made Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985!!”

Araceli Buendia Ilagan, Miami ICU nurse

Araceli Buendia Ilagan

CBS Miami

Araceli Buendia Ilagan, an intensive care unit nurse in Miami who was on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, died March 27 from the illness, CBS Miami reports. She was 63.

Buendia Ilagan had worked at Jackson Memorial Hospital for nearly 33 years, the hospital said.

In a tribute posted on Facebook, her brother Roy Buendia wrote, “My dearest sister, we admired you for your dedication on your profession. We are very, very proud of you. You’re a true ‘Hero’ in this fight against Covid-19.”

William Helmreich, sociology professor

Bill Helmreich has traversed 6,048 miles in all five boroughs on foot, as documented in his book, “The New York Nobody Knows.”

CBS News

William Helmreich, a professor of sociology at City College and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, died March 28 at age 74. He wrote about the streets of New York City through his own particular experience: walking almost every street, nearly 125,000 blocks, from the best-known to the most remote, from the most affluent to the most distressed. He listened to stories from locals and uncovered a unique history of Gotham. Over four years, through all four seasons and in all kinds of weather, he walked 6,048 miles, wearing out nine pairs of shoes in the process.

The idea for Helmreich’s 2013 book “The New York Nobody Knows” (one of nearly 20 he wrote) came from a game he’d played as a boy, in which he and his father would hop the subway near their Manhattan apartment and ride it until the end of the line, then wander the city from there.

“If I could say anything about this city that sums it up, it’s that it’s the greatest outdoor museum in the world, ” he told “Sunday Morning” in 2016.

Alan Merrill, “I Love Rock and Roll” songwriter

Alan Merrill


Alan Merrill, who co-wrote the song “I Love Rock and Roll” that became a signature hit for fellow rocker Joan Jett, died March 29 in New York of complications from the coronavirus, his daughter said. He was 69.

“I was given 2 minutes to say my goodbyes before I was rushed out. He seemed peaceful and as I left there was still a glimmer of hope that he wouldn’t be a ticker on the right hand side of the CNN/Fox news screen,” his daughter Laura Merrill wrote on Facebook. “I walked 50 blocks home still with hope in my heart. The city that I knew was empty. I felt I was the only person here and perhaps in many ways I was. By the time I got in the doors to my apartment I received the news that he was gone.”

Joe Diffie, country music star

2019 Stagecoach Festival - Day 1
Joe Diffie performs onstage during the 2019 Stagecoach Festival at Empire Polo Field on April 26, 2019, in Indio, California.


Country music hit-maker Joe Diffie died March 29 at age 61 from complications related to the coronavirus. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he spent his early years singing with bluegrass bands. Diffie married his college sweetheart and worked as a machinist before he was laid off from his job and left bankrupt. His wife took their two kids and left, and Diffie rolled the dice by moving to Nashville. There, he recorded demos for songwriters, before signing with Epic to release his debut album, “A Thousand Winding Roads,” in 1990.

Diffie had five #1 country hits, including “Home,” “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From the Sun,” “Pickup Man” and “Bigger Than The Beatles.” He recorded 13 studio albums, including two that went platinum: “Honky Tonk Attitude” (which featured the single “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)”) and “Third Rock From the Sun.”

Inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1993, Diffie shared a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart and others for the 1998 song “Same Old Train.”

Singer Carrie Underwood tweeted, “Absolutely no words for the loss of Joe Diffie. The music and legacy he leaves behind are legendary.”

Andrew Jack, “Star Wars” actor and dialect coach

Andrew Jack

Twitter/Gabrielle Rogers

“Star Wars” actor and dialect coach Andrew Jack died in the U.K. on March 31 as a result of the coronavirus. He was 76.

For several years during the 1970s, Jack worked as an airline steward, which not only exposed him to countless accents, dialects and cultural differences around the world, but also the importance of putting people at ease. They were skills that served his career as a dialect coach on an array of films, including “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Chaplin,” “Mansfield Park,” “Troy,” “Eastern Promises,” “Sherlock Holmes” (for which he also supplied the voice of Moriarty), “Robin Hood,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and several of Marvel’s “Avengers” films.

Jack also worked in front of the camera, appearing as Resistance figure Caluan Ematt in two “Star Wars” films: “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” His last project was “The Batman,” starring Robert Pattinson.

While he was in an ICU unit at a hospital near London, Jack’s wife, dialect coach Gabrielle Rogers, was in quarantine in Australia and tragically could not be with him. After he passed, Rogers tweeted: “We lost a man today. Andrew Jack was diagnosed with Coronavirus 2 days ago. He was in no pain, and he slipped away peacefully knowing that his family were all ‘with’ him.”

“Lord of the Rings” star Elijah Wood tweeted about the “heartbreaking news,” describing Jack as “a kind and lovely human being.”

Frank Gabrin, New Jersey ER doctor

A photo from Dr. Garbin’s Facebook page. His last post was about being positive and kind during the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook/Dr. Frank Garbin

Dr. Frank Gabrin, an emergency room doctor at East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey, died in his husband’s arms on March 31. The two-time cancer survivor first developed symptoms on March 24 before succumbing to his illness. He was 60.

“He never complained about anything, he just wanted to work and help people,” his husband Arnold Vargas told

Many people are now sharing Gabrin’s last social media post. “Don’t forget about these tools people! They can be the most powerful drugs we have to use in this pandemic!” Gabrin wrote, sharing an image of a word cloud that included positive words like “tolerance,” “empathy,” “good will,” “human dignity,” and “open heart.”

Ellis Marsalis Jr., famed jazz family’s patriarch

Wynton Marsalis and his father, Ellis Marsalis play at Wynton Marsalis Awarded Legion of Honor held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

Brian Zak/Sipa Press

Ellis Marsalis Jr., jazz pianist, teacher and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan that includes famed performer sons Wynton and Branford, has died after battling pneumonia brought by the coronavirus, one of his sons said on April 1. He was 85.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the musician’s death in a somber news release Wednesday night. The elder Marsalis had continued to perform regularly in New Orleans until December.

Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” Cantrell said in her statement. “He was a teacher, a father, and an icon – and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world.”

Adam Schlesinger, Fountains of Wayne co-founder

Virgin Festival By Virgin Mobile 2007 - Show - Day 1
Bassist Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne performs onstage at the Virgin Festival By Virgin Mobile 2007 at Pimlico Race Course on August 4, 2007, in Baltimore, Maryland.


Adam Schlesinger, the New Jersey native who co-founded music groups Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, and was known for his work on the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” died April 1 from coronavirus-related complications at 52.

Schlesinger, a father of two, has been a career musician since the ’90s. He formed rock band Fountains of Wayne with college friend Chris Collingwood in 1995. With Schlesinger on bass and backup vocals, the band had a hit just one year later with “Radiation Vibe.”

In 1997, Schlesinger received an Academy Award nomination for writing the title song to the movie “That Thing You Do!” — the first film Tom Hanks directed. He has also been nominated for 10 Emmy awards for his song-writing work on TV shows, three of which he won. The 2003 Fountains of Wayne hit “Stacy’s Mom” was nominated for a Grammy.

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