Every year brings the inevitable passing of beloved stars of stage and screen. But it's hard to recall a single year that can lay claim to as many shocking celebrity deaths as 2009. • The unexpected death of actor Brittany Murphy is the latest head-shaker. The 32-year-old star of films such as Clueless and 8 Mile died Sunday morning after collapsing at her Hollywood Hills home. Paramedics tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. • On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Murphy was ill with flulike symptoms in the days before her death and prescription medications were taken from her home. The gossip sheets, predictably, had their own take on the story, alleging a possible drug overdose along with eating disorders. • No matter what toxicology tests will eventually conclude, Murphy's death is just one of a half-dozen bizarre deaths this year. And keep it mind, this year ain't over yet. • Here are some that stand out.
Natasha Richardson (March 18): The daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director/producer Tony Richardson won the Tony Award for a 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret and appeared on film in Patty Hearst, The Handmaid's Tale and Nell. On March 16, the actor fell while taking a skiing lesson in Quebec. Immediately afterward, Richardson reportedly seemed fine. But she would die two days later at age 45 from what an autopsy would reveal as "epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head."
David Carradine (June 3): The star of TV's Kung Fu series and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films appeared in more than 100 movies during his career. His death this summer at age 72 in Bangkok was originally believed to be a suicide because Carradine was found hanging by a rope in a hotel room closet. But as more odd details emerged from investigators in Thailand — and photos of the death scene hit tabloids — the more popular theory became that the actor died accidentally by autoerotic asphyxiation.
Michael Jackson (June 25): The final chapter has yet to be written in 2009's most headline-generating death. When the King of Pop died of heart failure at age 50, Jackson left behind more questions than answers, including where the blame lies. With a combination of the drugs propofol, lorazepam and midazolam ruled the cause of M.J.'s heart attack, an investigation continues into the behavior of Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray.
Billy Mays (June 28): The TV pitchman whose trademark voice helped sell everything from cleaning supplies to baking soda, was found dead at age 50 in his Tampa home. Heart disease, exacerbated by cocaine use, was the cause of death, according to the Hillsborough County medical examiner's final autopsy report.
John Hughes (Aug. 6): The filmmaker behind '80s flicks such as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off had retired from Hollywood at the time of his death in New York at age 59. But to fans whose teenage years were influenced by his work, he remained an icon of the Brat Pack era of movies. Though Hughes died of a heart attack during a walk in Manhattan while visiting family, his body was taken home so he could be buried in his beloved Chicago.
Adam Goldstein (Aug. 28): The celebrity disc jockey/musician was better known to his fans as DJ AM. Goldstein almost didn't live to see 2009. On Sept. 19, 2008, he was seriously injured when a private jet he was flying in crashed on takeoff in South Carolina. A fatal overdose of drugs — some prescribed, others not — that Goldstein used to combat the continuing pain and trauma of the crash would lead to his death at his New York City apartment at age 36.
This report contains material from the Associated Press, Radar Online, Reuters and IMDB.com.