8 ’90s Stars You Didn’t Know Were Dead

This might be quite surprising, and possibly even alarming, but some celebrities you believed to be alive and well, actually passed away years ago! For most celebrities when their time in the spotlight ends, they kind of go off the map and we stop keeping tabs on them. This is when the public misses monumental things like their passing — and that can be said for the following individuals on this list. It seemed there was too much going on, or some other really big news that disallowed everyone to mourn the loss of some television and movie favorites, or toss out a “Thanks for the laughs…” Here are eight stars from the 1990s who have passed away without the social media hoopla.

8. Brad Renfro

Brad Renfro got his start in acting at a young age, locking down a role in John Grisham’s story, adapted for screen, The Client. Brad being a Tennessee native, became an easy front runner for the Grisham story, as all of John’s stuff takes place in his regional backyard. Brad went on to enjoy immense success in the 1990s, pushing into his teenage years and young adulthood at the turn of the century. He was good and he was very intelligent. At a certain point, he let things come between his life and his career goals. In a haunting interview–one of the last he offered–he soberly advised anyone interested in acting to avoid the pitfalls of the party lifestyle, or anything that would be a distraction from reaching goals. It was less than a year later that Brad died of a heroin overdose, after getting clean for a time.


7. James Avery

He will always be known as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The comedy skills came easy for James Avery, but before he booked the lead role on the incredibly popular sitcom, he had enjoyed an impressive career playing a variety of roles in film and television. Fans might remember him as a really mean, abusive police officer in the Chevy Chase comedy, Fletch, while others might have recognized his voice as Shredder in one of the many incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Outside his acting, James was known as an approachable celebrity with a reputation beyond reproach. He continued to work until his unexpected death, which came in 2013. The official cause of death was listed as complications following open heart surgery. “Some of my greatest lessons in acting, living and being a respectable human being came through James,” Will Smith said.

BDG / Rex Features

6. Madeline Kahn

In fairness to Madeline Kahn, she was a celebrity long before the 1990s rolled around, but the 90s didn’t slow her down. She actually enjoyed a career resurgence thanks the to the sitcom Cosby. Madeline is unmistakable in anything and everything she has ever appeared in. Her voice is iconic, her look, completely unique. She got her start on stage, and pressed into the world of film and TV after gaining quite a reputation for quality work on Broadway. Most fans, or those trying hard to place her will remember Madeline as Mrs. White in the feature film version of Clue. In the 1990s, she ventured into new territory and more mature roles, which she seemed destined to play. In 1996 she became a principal character, enjoying immense popularity on Cosby, and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1998. She passed away a year later, at the age of 57.

©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

5. Lamont Bentley

Lamont Bentley was a Wisconsin native, who came to Hollywood and made good. He was enjoying a very successful acting career at the time of his death in 2005. Lamont rose to family and being easily recognized when he joined Brandy Norwood in the cast of Moesha. Lamont enjoyed the six season stint on the popular TV show, and went on to nab some great roles in film and TV–notably working with Spike Lee on Sucker Free City–before he was unexpectedly killed in a car accident. The circumstances surrounding the accident are still mysterious. Witnesses reported Lamont’s car traveling at a high rate of speed, when he crashed through a chain link fence after exiting the freeway. His car rolled down an embankment, and Lamont was ejected into the path of oncoming traffic. He was struck by several other vehicles before the first response team arrived.

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4. Earl Hindman

Earl Hindman enjoyed a long, illustrious career as an actor, making a living and life with his craft, but he will forever be remembered as Wilson, the wise next door neighbor of Tim Allen in Home Improvement. Earl pretty much spent the entire decade doing the show, as it ran from 1991-1999. He was featured in 203 episodes. That is what you call a really steady gig in the fickle world of television. Earl became a cautionary tale when his longtime smoking habit led to a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2003. No treatment was able to offer anything more than a few months lease on life, and he died later that year at the age of 61. Earl was another who passed quietly, out of the spotlight and before the madness of social media; however, we can imagine the very fun, touching tributes and faceless memes.

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3. Sarah (Goldberg) Danielle Madison

There is reason for delineation when discussing the career and death of Sarah Madison. She was born Sarah Goldberg, before opting for Madison as her stage name. There is another Sarah Goldberg presently enjoying an impressive beginning to a career — alive and well. The Sarah we’re reminding everyone of, most would believe is alive and well, because of the circumstances of her death. The former star of 7th Heaven, who also enjoyed Judging Amy and 90210, as well as films like Jurassic Park III passed away in her sleep at the age of 40, while home at her family’s cabin in Wisconsin. When she was found, she still had her computer on her lap. These are the stories that are the most terrifying when it comes to death knocking at your door. A bit of a stretch on the timeline, her career took off in the 2000s. Still worthy of honoring.

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2. Michelle Thomas

Michelle Thomas may be one of those actresses you’re asking yourself about from time to time: “I wonder whatever happened to her?” Michelle was a rising star in the world of entertainment. She was petite, beautiful, sassy and starring on a hit sitcom, playing the love interest of TV’s favorite nerd, Steve Urkel. Before playing Myra Monkhouse on Family Matters, Michelle was on an even more popular sitcom–The Cosby Show–playing the love interest of Theo Huxtable, Justine Phillips. The legendary Justine. Her role on The Cosby Show led to an off-screen romance with Malcolm-Jamal Warner. Michelle was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer in 1997, and underwent two surgeries in an effort to remove the tumors. She opted out of other aggressive treatment, because she wanted children someday. Ultimately, the cancer claimed her life just over a year later, as she was turning 30 years old.

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1. Lisa Robin Kelly

Lisa Robin Kelly is best known for playing Laurie Foreman, the sultry, blonde, manipulative older sister of Eric Foreman on That ’70s Show. The actress who had enjoyed smaller roles on several popular shows, really seemed to be coming into her own. Sadly, an alcohol addiction cost her the role of Laurie on the show–an addiction she blamed on the loss of a child during pregnancy. After losing her job, she endured what seems to be an inevitable, Hollywood downward spiral, including a strange arrest for domestic violence. She offered an interview after the incident to ABC, and she seemed chemically altered, though denying the use of any drugs during the conversational exchange. Eventually, Lisa was admitted to a rehabilitation center, days after being hospitalized with a .34 blood alcohol content. She died in her sleep a few days later, the coroner calling it an accidental overdose.

Lisa Robin Kelly/Twitter

James Sheldon