The Artists We Lost in 2022, in Their Words

Music innovators who sang of coal country and “Great Balls of Fire.” An actress who made a signature role out of a devilish baker who meets a fiery end. The trailblazing heart of “In the Heat of the Night.”

The creative people who died this year include many whose lives helped shape our own — through the art they made, and through the words they said. Here is a tribute to just some of them, in their own voices.

Sidney Poitier.Credit…Sam Falk/The New York Times

“Life offered no auditions for the many roles I had to play.”

Sidney Poitier, actor, born 1927 (Read the obituary.)

“People in the past have done what we’re trying to do infinitely better. That’s why, for one’s own sanity, to keep one’s own sense of proportion, one must regularly go back to them.”

Peter Brook, director, born 1925 (Read the obituary.)

Ronnie Spector.Credit…Art Zelin/Getty Images

“Every song is a little piece of my life.”

— Ronnie Spector, singer, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

Yuriko.Credit…Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

“Dance is living. Dance is, for me, it’s survival.”

— Yuriko, dancer, born 1920 (Read the obituary.)

Kirstie Alley.Credit…Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

“The question is, how do you create with what you have?”

— Kirstie Alley, actress, born 1951 (Read the obituary.)

Carmen Herrera.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“Every painting has been a fight between the painting and me. I tend to win. But you know how many paintings I threw in the garbage?”

— Carmen Herrera, artist, born 1915 (Read the obituary.)

“I decided that in every scene, you’re naked. If you’re dressed in a parka, what’s the difference if you’re dressed in nothing at all, if you’re exploring yourself?”

— William Hurt, actor, born 1950 (Read the obituary.)

Takeoff.Credit…Rich Fury/Getty Images For Global Citizen

“You gotta have fun with a song, make somebody laugh. You gotta have character. A hard punchline can make you laugh, but you gotta know how to say it.”

— Takeoff, rapper, born 1994 (Read the obituary.)

“I love watching people get hit in the crotch. But only if they get back up.”

— Bob Saget, comedian and actor, born 1956 (Read the obituary.)

Olivia Newton-John.Credit…Las Vegas News Bureau/EPA, via Shutterstock

“I do like to be alone at times, just to breathe.”

— Olivia Newton-John, singer, born 1948 (Read the obituary.)

“Movies are like clouds that sit over reality: If I do cinema well, I can uncover what is beneath, my friends, my allies, what I am, where I come from.”

— Jean-Luc Godard, director, born 1930 (Read the obituary.)

Sam Gilliam.Credit…Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

“The expressive act of making a mark and hanging it in space is always political.”

— Sam Gilliam, artist, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)

“Everyone says that I was a role model. But I never thought of it when I was doing the music and when I was performing. I just wanted to make good music.”

— Betty Davis, singer-songwriter, born 1944 (Read the obituary.)

Nichelle Nichols.Credit…Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

“The next Einstein might have a Black face — and she’s female.”

— Nichelle Nichols, actress, born 1932 (Read the obituary.)

“If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be with Albert Einstein at Panzanella.”

— Judy Tenuta, comedian, born 1949 (Read the obituary.)

“In time, writers learn that good fiction editors care as much about the story as the writer does, or almost, anyway. And you really often end up, the three of you — the writer, and the editor, and the story — working on this obdurate, beautiful thing, this brand-new creation.”

— Roger Angell, writer and editor, born 1920 (Read the obituary.)

Jennifer Bartlett.Credit…Susan Wood/Getty Images

“I spent 30 years trying to convince people and myself that I was smart, that I was a good painter, that I was this or that. It’s not going to happen. The only person that it should happen for is me. This is what I was meant to do.”

— Jennifer Bartlett, artist, born 1941 (Read the obituary.)

Christine McVie.Credit…P. Floyd/Daily Express, via Hulton Archive and Getty Images

“I didn’t aspire to be on the stage playing piano, let alone singing, because I never thought I had much of a voice. But my option was window-dresser or jump off the cliff and try this. So I jumped off the cliff.”

— Christine McVie, musician and songwriter, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

“Sometimes you have to put yourself on the edge. You go to the precipice and lean over it.”

— Maria Ewing, opera singer, born 1950 (Read the obituary.)

Taylor Hawkins.Credit…John Atashian/Getty Images

“There’s so much in what I do that is beyond hard work — there’s luck and timing and just being in the right place at the right time with the right hairdo.”

— Taylor Hawkins, drummer, born 1972 (Read the obituary.)

“I was primarily an actress and not a pretty face.”

— Angela Lansbury, actress, born 1925 (Read the obituary.)

“I always try to improve upon what I’ve done. If something’s not working, I’ll change it to make it better. I’m an artist and a performer above all, and I don’t limit myself.”

— Elza Soares, singer, born 1930 (Read the obituary.)

Leslie Jordan.Credit…Fred Prouser/Reuters

“I’m always working, always. I got to keep the ship afloat.”

— Leslie Jordan, actor, born 1955 (Read the obituary.)

“The reward of the work has always been the work itself.”

— David McCullough, historian and author, born 1933 (Read the obituary.)

“To me, sitting at a desk all day was not only a privilege but a duty: something I owed to all those people in my life, living and dead, who’d had so much more to say than anyone ever got to hear.”

— Barbara Ehrenreich, author, born 1941 (Read the obituary.)

James Caan.Credit…Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

“Passion is such an important thing to have in life because it ends so soon, and my passion was to grow up with my son.”

— James Caan, actor, born 1940 (Read the obituary.)

Tina Ramirez.Credit…Michael Falco for The New York Times

“Words are unnecessary when movement and feeling and expression can say it all.”

— Tina Ramirez, dancer and founder of Ballet Hispánico, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)

Claes Oldenburg.Credit…Tony Evans/Getty Images

“I haven’t done anything on the subject of flies. It’s the sort of thing that could interest me. Anything could interest me, actually.”

— Claes Oldenburg, artist, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)

“A skull is a beautiful thing.”

— Lee Bontecou, artist, born 1931 (Read the obituary.)

“I like to write strong characters who are no better or worse than anybody else on earth.”

— Charles Fuller, playwright, born 1939 (Read the obituary.)

Ray Liotta.Credit…Aaron Rapoport/Corbis, via Getty Images

“One review said I played a sleazy, heartless, cold person who you don’t really care about. Great! I love it; that’s what I played.”

— Ray Liotta, actor, born around 1954 (Read the obituary.)

Jerry Lee Lewis.Credit…Thomas S. England/Getty Images

“There’s a difference between a phenomenon and a stylist. I’m a stylist, Elvis was the phenomenon, and don’t you forget it.”

— Jerry Lee Lewis, musician, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)

“All of us have something built into our ears that comes from the place where we grow up and where we were as children.”

— George Crumb, composer, born 1929 (Read the obituary.)

Anne Heche.Credit… SGranitz/WireImage, via Getty Images

“People wonder why I am so forthcoming with the truths that have happened in my life, and it’s because the lies that I have been surrounded with and the denial that I was raised in, for better or worse, bore a child of truth and love.”

— Anne Heche, actress, born 1969 (Read the obituary.)

Louie Anderson.Credit…Gary Null/NBCUniversal, via Getty Images

“That’s my goal every night: Hopefully at some point in my act, you have forgotten whatever trouble you had when you came in.”

— Louie Anderson, comedian and actor, born 1953 (Read the obituary.)

“Adult human beings live with the certainty of grief, which deepens us and opens us to other people, who have been there, too.”

— Peter Straub, author, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

Ned Rorem.Credit…Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

“I believe in the importance of the unimportant — in the quotidian pathos.”

— Ned Rorem, composer, born 1923 (Read the obituary.)

Gilbert Gottfried.Credit…Fred Hermansky/NBC, via Getty Images

“I don’t always mean to offend. I only sometimes mean to offend.”

— Gilbert Gottfried, comedian, born 1955 (Read the obituary.)

“Merce Cunningham is quoted somewhere as saying he wanted a company that danced the way he danced. I kept doing the same thing. And I began to wonder why I was insisting that they be as limited as I am.”

— David Gordon, choreographer, born 1936 (Read the obituary.)

Hilary Mantel.Credit…Ellie Smith for The New York Times

“The universe is not limited by what I can imagine.”

— Hilary Mantel, author, born 1952 (Read the obituary.)

“Getting the right people with a shared vision is three-quarters of the battle.”

— Anne Parsons, arts administrator, born 1957 (Read the obituary.)

Paula Rego.Credit…Rita Barros/Getty Images

“My paintings are stories, but they are not narratives, in that they have no past and future.”

— Paula Rego, artist, born 1935 (Read the obituary.)

Javier Marías.Credit…Quim Llenas/Getty Images

“When you are addressing your fellow citizens, you have to give some hope sometimes, even if you want to say that everything is terrible, that we are governed by a bunch of gangsters. In a novel, you can be much more pessimistic. You are more savage, you are wilder, you are freer, you think truer, you think better.”

— Javier Marías, author, born 1951 (Read the obituary.)

“Art is not blameless. Art can inflict harm.”

— Richard Taruskin, musicologist, born 1945 (Read the obituary.)

“I am a worker who labors with songs, doing in my own way what I know best, like any other Cuban worker. I am faithful to my reality, to my revolution and the way in which I have been brought up.”

— Pablo Milanés, musician, born 1943 (Read the obituary.)

Peter Bogdanovich.Credit…Evening Standard/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

“Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do.”

— Peter Bogdanovich, director, born 1939 (Read the obituary.)

Loretta Lynn.Credit…CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

“I think the highest point of my career was in the late ’70s. I had No. 1 songs, a best-selling book and a movie made about my life. But I think it was also the lowest point for me as well. Life gets away from you so fast when you move fast.”

— Loretta Lynn, singer-songwriter, born 1932 (Read the obituary.)

Thich Nhat Hanh.Credit…Golding/Fairfax Media, via Getty Images

“Many of us have been running all our lives. Practice stopping.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh, monk and author, born 1926 (Read the obituary.)

Photographs at top via CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images; Anthony Barboza/Getty Images; Evening Standard/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images; Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images.

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