10 Holiday-Themed TV Episodes and Specials Featuring Greats We Lost This Year

by | December 22, 2016 | Comments

For celebrity deaths, 2016 was brutal – whether you’re a fan of classic TV, pop music, movies, or Broadway, the losses this year were substantial. Pay homage to some of those legends with their work on these memorable Christmas specials and episodes.

David Bowie – Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas (1977)


The legendary clip of the Thin White Duke and Der Bingle dueting on “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” always had a certain poignancy, since it was from the last of Crosby’s many classic Christmas specials, but now that we’ve lost both singers, this once unthinkably incongruous duet takes its place among the indelible holiday moments.

Garry Shandling – It’s Garry Shandling’s Show


Before The Larry Sanders Show, Shandling played “himself” in a revolutionary sitcom that constantly broke the fourth wall and acknowledged that it was, in fact, a sitcom. So of course they eventually had to do a Christmas special (season 2, episode 8 – “It’s Garry Shandling’s Christmas Show”), where Garry attempts to get Tom Petty to come perform on Garry’s Christmas special.

Florence Henderson – The Brady Bunch


The multi-talented Henderson has a richly diverse career, but nothing immortalized her in the pop culture pantheon as much as her role as perfect mom Carol Brady, first on The Brady Bunch and then on later iterations, including the family’s beautifully bizarre variety show. In the sitcom’s first season (season 1, episode 12 – “The Voice of Christmas”), Carol gets laryngitis right before she’s supposed to sing at church for Christmas. Will the holiday be saved? (Spoiler: Yes.)

Patty Duke – A Christmas Memory (1997)


Duke was a legendary child star, winning an Oscar at 16 for her turn as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and then headlining her own hit sitcom as a teenager, but she remained active in film and TV throughout the rest of her life. (She was also one of the first celebrities to openly discuss her battles with bipolar disorder, in her must-read memoir Call Me Anna.) One of her more notable adult roles was the lead in this sweetly nostalgic adaptation of the Truman Capote story, which has become an annual holiday staple on cable TV.

William Schallert – The Patty Duke Show


In a strange twist, veteran character actor Schallert, who played Patty Duke’s father on her eponymous sitcom, also passed away this year. (There are a lot of TV dads on his long-as-your-arm IMDB page, but I always think of him as the kindly science professor in the Kurt Russell “Dexter Riley” movies at Disney.) It’s in the season-one holiday episode of The Patty Duke Show (season 1, episode 15 – “The Christmas Present”) that we learn that Schallert’s character is himself a twin, giving him his own opportunity to act opposite himself.

Ken Howard – The White Shadow


Another performer with a long and varied résumé – he played Thomas Jefferson in the original Broadway cast and movie adaptation of 1776, and recently had memorable roles in movies like Michael Clayton and TV hits like 30 Rock – Howard is best remembered for his long-running role on the CBS drama The White Shadow, where he played a retired NBA player who became coach for an inner-city team. In this episode (season 3, episode 5 – “Christmas Story”), his players learn that other kids have it even tougher than they do.

Doris Roberts – Mrs. Miracle (2009)


Whether Everybody Loves Raymond or Remington Steele was the first long-running series to pop into your head when you saw Roberts’ name, she too enjoyed a lengthy and eclectic career that encompassed stage and screen, although she definitely made her mark on TV via shows like the aforementioned, as well as Angie and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She remained busy as ever well into her 80s and 90s, even creating a franchise of Hallmark Christmas movies as the titular busybody of Debbie Macomber’s heartwarming holiday tale.

Ron Glass and Abe Vigoda – Barney Miller


Two talented members of the Barney Miller ensemble left us this year – accomplished actor Glass, who played the dapper Det. Harris, and Vigoda (after years of internet rumors, he actually did die in 2016) as the rumpled Det. Fish, a character who eventually earned his own spin-off show. In this holiday entry (season 3, episode 10 – “Christmas Story”), Fish must go undercover as Santa Claus to find a mugger who’s targeting Saint Nicks.

Janet Waldo – The Jetsons


Waldo’s voice work made her an animation legend; as part of the Hanna-Barbera ensemble, she popped up in classic show after classic show, including The Flintstones (as Fred’s mother-in-law Mrs. Slaghoople), The Wacky Racers (she was Penelope Pitstop), and Josie and the Pussycats (as lead singer Josie). But her most iconic character was unquestionably Judy Jetson, swingin’ teen of the future. In this holiday episode (season 2, episode 45 – “A Jetson Christmas Carol”), mean boss Mr. Spaceley gets the Scrooge treatment after forcing poor George to work on Christmas Eve.

Robert Vaughn – The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


Even the Cold War’s hottest spy show wasn’t immune to the pull of a holiday episode (season 3, episode 15 – “The Jingle Bells Affair”), so remember the suave and distinguished Robert Vaughn – between this show and The Magnificent Seven, his film and TV work has been subject to quite a few remakes of late – with this action tale of attempted assassination and international skullduggery. For Christmas!