Fidel Castro, the Cuban “Liíder Máximo” who died at 90 on Friday, was a subject of fascination for Hollywood. Figures from Oliver Stone to Harry Belafonte to Steven Spielberg traveled to Cuba to meet him over the years.
Here are some of the Hollywood luminaries who met with Castro, or tried to, and offered words of admiration despite the leader’s tainted record on human rights.
Film director Steven Spielberg accepted an invitation in 2002 from Cuba’s film institute to attend a Cuban film festival featuring Spielberg’s work.
Jack Nicholson visited the island in 1998 and was followed by Cuban intelligence. Delfin Fernandez , a Cuban intelligence operative who defected in 1999 after becoming disillusioned with the regime, has recounted having bugged both Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio’s rooms during their visits. Nicholson told Variety at the time that “he [Castro] is a genius. We spoke about everything.”
The actor Jack Lemmon was praised by the Castro government at his death in 2001 for being “a friend of Cuba.”
Oliver Stone and Fidel Castro in ‘Comandante’
Oliver Stone was widely criticized for a 2003 documentary about Castro, “Comandante,” that allowed the dictator to tell his story his own way.
Stone called Castro “very selfless and moral. One of the world’s wisest men.”
Kevin Costner went to Cuba in 2001 to preview his film “13 Days” at a private screening for Castro: “It was an experience of a lifetime to sit only a few feet away from him and watch him relive an experience he lived as a very young man,” he said at a press conference at the time.
Model Naomi Campbell was in awe of the Communist leader when she and Kate Moss met him in 1999. “I’m so nervous and flustered because I can’t believe I have met him. He said that seeing us in person was very spiritual,” Campbell told the Toronto Star.
Redford was in Cuba over the weekend wearing his producer’s hat for a private screening of “The Motorcycle Diaries” for the widow and children of the legendary Argentine guerrilla fighter, who was Castro’s comrade-in-arms. “He came to me…. He seemed in good health, good humor, good spirit,” Redford said of the 77-year-old Cuban leader after their brief encounter at the 8Hotel Nacional.
Redford last saw Castro in 1988. The actor was said to have gone scuba-diving with the Cuban leader and was later questioned by U.S. officials.
At a 2000 Earth Day event, actor Chevy Chasedeclared, “Sometimes socialism works… Cuba might prove that.”
Longtime left-wing activist Harry Belafonte has also endorsed the policies of Castro.
“If you believe in freedom, if you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!” the actor-singer once declared.
Other celebrities who embraced Castro-led Cuba over the years include Danny Glover, Gina Lollobrigida, Ed Asner and Woody Harrelson.
Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2016 (Photos)
Vilmos Zsigmond, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," died in Big Sur, California on Jan. 1 at the age of 85.
Craig Strickland, frontman for the country band Backroad Anthem, was found dead from hypothermia on Jan. 4. He was last seen on Dec. 27 when his boat capsized while duck hunting in Oklahoma. He was 29.
Robert Stigwood, former manager of Cream and The Bee Gees, died in London on Jan. 4 at the age of 81. He produced the smash hit albums "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease."
Pat Harrington Jr. died from complications of Alzheimer's on Jan. 6. He is best known for playing superintendent Schneider on the 1970s CBS sitcom "One Day at a Time."
Sian Blake, who starred in the British soap "EastEnders" in the 1990s, was found buried in her garden with her two children on Jan. 5. Police were investigating the deaths.
Iconic singer-songwriter and style icon David Bowie died on Jan. 10, two days after the release of his 25th album "Blackstar." He was 69 years old.
Alan Rickman, the British film icon known worldwide for roles in "Die Hard" and the "Harry Potter" films, died on Jan. 14 from cancer. He was 69.
Celine Dion’s husband and former manager, René Angélil, died on Jan. 14 following a battle with cancer. He was 73.
Glenn Frey, the singer, guitarist and founding member of The Eagles, died on January 18 at 67. The musician and co-writer of hits like “Hotel California” and “Take It Easy” had been struggling with intestinal issues.
Abe Vigoda, star of "The Godfather" and "Barney Miller," died on January 26 at 94. Vigoda earned three Emmy nominations for his performance as a police detective in "Barney Miller" and became famous beyond the screen for numerous false reports of his death. Vigoda kept taking acting jobs until 2014.
Joe Alaskey, legendary voice actor, died on February 3 at 63. Alaskey began voicing several Looney Tunes characters, including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, in 1989 following the death of original Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc. Alaskey's performance as Daffy in the cartoon "Duck Dodgers" earned him an Emmy in 2004.
Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Airplane, died January 28 at 74. Kantner was the only member of Jefferson Airplane to also appear on all the albums of the band's successor, Jefferson Starship.
Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind, and Fire, died on February 3 at age 74. Under White's leadership, Earth, Wind, and Fire won six Grammys and reached the top of the charts through songs like "Shining Star" and "In the Stone." Though a Parkinson's diagnosis ended his touring career in 1994, he remained an active part of the music industry until his death.
Denise Matthews, a.k.a. Vanity, died on February 15 at 57. Matthews was known as the protege of Prince and a member of Vanity 6. Matthews had long suffered from kidney failure and was being treated for abdominal illness shortly before her death.
George Gaynes, star of the "Police Academy" films, died on February 15 at 98. Gaynes played Commandant Eric Lassard, the head of the titular academy. He also had famous roles as the grumpy foster father Henry Warnimont in "Punky Brewster" and as an actor smitten with a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie."
Harper Lee, author of the literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," died in her sleep in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama during the early morning hours of Feb. 19. She was 89 years old.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; HarperCollins
George Kennedy died of a heart ailment on Feb. 28 at age 91. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Cool Hand Luke" and also co-starred in "The Dirty Dozen," "Airport" and "The Naked Gun" films.
Nancy Reagan died of congestive heart failure on March 6 at age 94. The actress-turned-first lady starred in films such as “Night Into Morning” (1951) and “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957), in which she appeared with her husband, eventual President Ronald Reagan, and led the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign of the 1980s.
George Martin, the producer for the Beatles, died on March 8 at age 90. The mastermind behind the Beatles' unparalleled success was affectionately known as "The Fifth Beatle."
Keith Emerson, founding member of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 11 at age 71. ELP is known as one of the most famous rock bands of the '70s, and Emerson also worked as a film composer on movies like the Sylvester Stallone thriller, "Nighthawks."
Frank Sinatra, Jr. died of a heart attack on March 16 at age 72. The son of the legendary singer served as a musical director and conductor for his father, and often performed his father's greatest hits while on tour.
Rob Ford, former mayor of Toronto, died of cancer on March 22 at age 46. Ford was known for a turbulent political career that included, among other things, confessing during his tenure as mayor that he smoked crack cocaine.
Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg, died on March 23 at age 45. The rapper was the co-founder of the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
Joe Garagiola, MLB announcer, died on March 23 at age 90. In addition to a sportscasting career that was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, Garagiola also was known as a panelist on NBC's "Today" show and a guest host on "The Tonight Show."
Ken Howard, president of SAG-AFTRA, died on March 23 at age 71. Howard was responsible for restoring stability to the Screen Actors Guild in 2008 and merging it with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists four years later.
Stand-up comedian Garry Shandling died of a heart attack on March 24 at age 66. Shandling's subversive brand of TV comedy paved the way for future hits like "Seinfeld" and "The Sarah Silverman Program."
Earl Hamner, TV writer and producer, died of cancer on March 24 at age 92. Hamner was the creator and narrator of the famed family TV series, "The Waltons."
Tom Whedon, father of "The Avengers" director Joss Whedon, died on March 25 at age 83. Tom Whedon was a writer on several classic TV shows, including a stint as showrunner for the children's series "The Electric Company."
Erik Bauersfeld, voice of "Star Wars" character Admiral Ackbar, died on April 4 at age 93. Ackbar's famous line "It's a trap!" is commonly spoken amongst "Star Wars" fans and in Internet culture
Merle Haggard, famed country music star, died of pneumonia on April 6 at age 79. Haggard was most well-known for writing the song "Okie From Muskogee."
Doris Roberts, star of "Everybody Loves Raymond," died on April 18 at age 90. Roberts won five Emmys in her career, including four as Ray Romano's mother, Marie.
Joanie Laurer, a.k.a. Chyna, died at age 45 on April 21. Known as the "Eighth Wonder Of The World," Chyna was one of the biggest stars of WWE's Attitude Era and a member of the infamous faction D-Generation X.
Guy Hamilton, famed British director, died at age 93 on April 21. The director was known for helming four James Bond films: "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever," "The Man With The Golden Gun," and "Live and Let Die."
Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply to his fans as Prince, died at age 57 on April 21. Prince was known worldwide as one of the biggest rock stars of the 80s, with albums like "Purple Rain" and "Sign o' The Times."
Michelle McNamara, crime writer wife of Patton Oswalt, died on April 22 at age 46. McNamara was the founder of the website True Crime Diary, which provided news on developing investigations and cold cases.
Reg Grundy, veteran TV producer, died on May 8 at age 92. Grundy is considered to be the most prolific producer in the history of Australian television, launching multiple acting careers and hit shows, including the long-running soap opera "Neighbors."
William Schallert, veteran actor, died on May 9 at age 93. Schallert took on over 400 roles in a career that continued until 2014. He served as SAG president from 1979-81, during which the guild entered a three-month strike over home video sales.
Gene Gutowski, Holocaust survivor and film producer, died May 11 at age 90. Gutowski produced four films by Roman Polanski, including "The Pianist." He lost his family in the Holocaust and worked in U.S. intelligence to hunt down Nazis after World War II.
Morley Safer, longtime correspondent for "60 Minutes," died on May 19 at age 84. Safer won a dozen Emmys during his 46-year career on CBS News' marquee program.
John Berry, founding member of the Beastie Boys, died on May 20 at age 52. Berry was a member of the group during its formative years, but left shortly after the release of their debut EP. The Beastie Boys thanked Berry for his influence during their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.
Burt Kwouk, star of Peter Sellers' "Pink Panther" films, died May 24 at age 85. Kwouk played Inspector Clouseau's servant Cato, whom was instructed to attack Clouseau when he least expected to keep him on his toes. Kwouk also appeared in the Bond films "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice"
Joe Fleishaker, low-budget film actor, died on May 25 at age 62. With a weight of over 500 lbs., Fleishaker gained cult fame as Troma Films' "biggest action star" and was featured in the "Toxic Avenger" series
Muhammad Ali, legendary professional boxer, died on June 3 at age 74. Ali was a three-time heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest and, at his peak, the most polarizing athletes who ever lived.
Kevin Ferguson, known better as MMA star Kimbo Slice, died June 6 at age 42. Slice became an early Internet star thanks to viral videos of his unsanctioned street fights, which he parlayed into a mixed martial arts career with Bellator.
Peter Shaffer, Oscar-winning screenwriter, died on June 6 at age 90. Shaffer won two Tony awards for penning the scripts to "Equus" and "Amadeus," the former of which featured Daniel Radcliffe in a 2007 revival at the peak of his "Harry Potter" fame. In 1984, Shaffer won an Oscar for writing the film adaptation of "Amadeus."
Theresa Saldana, star of the film "Raging Bull," died on June 7 at age 61. Along with her performance in Martin Scorsese's famed film, Saldana also received a Golden Globe award in 1994 for her work alongside Michael Chiklis on the show, "The Commish"
Hockey legend Gordie Howe died on June 10 at age 88. Howe is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player ever, winning the Stanley Cup four times with the Detroit Red Wings and scoring over 800 goals. Howe is also known for being featured in an episode of "The Simpsons," when Bart uses Howe's picture as part of a fake love letter to get back at his teacher.
Actor Michu Meszaros died June 13 at age 76. Meszaros is most famous for his work in the NBC sitcom "Alf," where he played the titular alien that lands on Earth and lives with a human family. Outside of the Alf suit, he gained fame for playing the creepy butler Hans in the cult horror film, "Waxwork."
Actor Anton Yelchin, who appeared in Paramount's "Star Trek" reboot series, died on June 19 at the age of 27. The actor was fatally pinned between his own car and a brick mailbox at his San Fernando Valley home, police confirmed to TheWrap.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of dozens of books about his experience as a Holocaust survivor, died July 2 at his Manhattan home at age 87.
Michael Cimino, visionary director of movies such as "The Deer Hunter" and "Heaven's Gate," died on July 2 at age 77. "The Deer Hunter" won five Oscars including Best Picture for its depiction of traumatized Vietnam War soldiers, while "Heaven's Gate" got panned upon first release but later received critical acclaim when Cimino's uncut version was released in 2012.
Robin Hardy, director of the British cult classic "The Wicker Man," died on July 2 at age 86. Since its release in 1973, "The Wicker Man" has become known as one of the finest works in the history of British cinema. Its lead actor, Christopher Lee, called it the the best film he ever worked on. In May 2016, the band Radiohead released a stop-motion rendition of "The Wicker Man" as a music video for their single, "Burn The Witch."
Garry Marshall, creator of "Happy Days," died on July 19 at age 81. In addition to Happy Days, Marshall's filmography included movies like "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries."
Youree Dell Harris, a.k.a. TV psychic Miss Cleo, died of colon cancer on July 26 at age 53. Miss Cleo became famous for her TV infomercials in the 90s, though she also was hit with a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive advertising charges.
James Nederlander, owner of Hollywood's Pantages Theatre, died July 26 at age 94. Nederlander has produced over 100 plays and owns several major theatres, including the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where "Hamilton" opened on Broadway.
Gloria DeHaven, star of Hollywood's Golden Age, passed away July 31 at age 91. DeHaven made her debut alongside Charlie Chaplin in the legendary Little Tramp film "Modern Times." She went on to become a big star in various MGM musicals alongside contemporaries like Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Fred Astaire.
David Huddleston, star of "The Big Lebowski," died Aug. 4 at age 85. Huddleston played the titular Jeffrey Lebowski, whom Jeff Bridges' "Dude" Lebowski crosses paths with when two brutes attack the Dude because he shares the same name with the wheelchair-bound millionaire.
Sagan Lewis, star of "St. Elsewhere," died of cancer on Aug. 9 at age 63. Before taking the role of Dr. Jacqueline Hyde in the hit 80s medical drama, Lewis had an appearance on the famed series finale of "M*A*S*H".
John Saunders, longtime ESPN anchor, died Aug. 10 at age 61. Saunders' 30-year career at ESPN began with an anchor job on "SportsCenter." He went on to cover major sports events on ABC and host the Sunday morning press panel show "Sports Reporters"
Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in "Star Wars," died Aug. 13 at age 83. Baker played the famous droid in the original and prequel "Star Wars" trilogies. Ironically, he had an acrimonious relationship with Anthony Daniels, who played R2's beloved companion, C-3PO.
John McLaughlin, host of the political panel show "The McLaughlin Group," passed away Aug. 16 at age 89. The last episode aired prior to his death was the first McLaughlin had missed since the show's debut in 1982.
Arthur Hiller, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, died Aug. 17 at age 92. Hiller was nominated for an Oscar in 1970 for "Love Story" and received the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2001. In between, he served as DGA president from 1989-1993 and Academy president from 1993-1997.
Steven Hill, star of "Law and Order," died on Aug. 23 at age 94. Hill reached TV stardom in the 90s as District Attorney Adam Schiff on Dick Wolf's famed crime show, receiving two Emmy nominations during his tenure. Hill was the longest serving member of the show's original cast, playing Schiff for ten seasons.
Gene Wilder, star of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," died on Aug. 28 at age 83. Wilder was a longtime collaborator with Mel Brooks, working together on films like "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," and "The Producers," the last of which earned Wilder a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as the antsy accountant Leo Bloom.
Jerry Heller, manager of N.W.A., died Sept. 3 at age 75. Heller had a turbulent relationship with several members of the famed rap group and filed a defamation suit against Dr. Dre after he was negatively portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film "Straight Outta Compton."
Alexis Arquette, actress and LGBT activist, died Sept. 11 at age 47. Born Robert Arquette, she made her transition in 2006 and became a vocal supporter for other trans men and women.
Edward Albee, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, died Sept. 16 at age 88. Albee won three Pulitzers in his long career, but his most famous play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," was rejected by the Pulitzer board for its vulgarity.
Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer passed away on Sept. 25 at age 87. Palmer is considered one of the greatest in his sport, winning seven majors from 1958 to 1964 at the dawn of golf's television age. Along with Jack Nicklaus, he is credited with bringing golf to a national audience.
Kevin Meaney, the veteran comedian who briefly starred in the TV adaptation “Uncle Buck,” died Oct. 21 at the age of 60. One of the breakout stars of the 1980s comedy boom, Meaney appeared on shows including “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman.”
Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General, died on Nov. 7 from complications due to Parkinson's. She was 78 years old.
Leonard Cohen, the singer and songwriter best known for the anthem “Hallelujah,” died Nov. 10 at the age of 82. He had been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Robert Vaughn, who played secret agent Napoleon Solo on the 1960s spy comedy series “Man From U.N.C.L.E.," died Nov. 11 at 83 from complications from acute leukemia. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his breakthrough role in “The Young Philadelphians” in 1959, and appeared on shows including “Bonanza,” “Law & Order,” “The A-Team” and “Hawaii Five-O” and films like “Superman III,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Bullitt.”
Leon Russell, the rock singer/songwriter who worked with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker, died in his sleep in his Nashville home on August 12.
Gwen Ifill, the host of "PBS NewsHour," died on Nov. 14 at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer. She hosted multiple vice presidential debates and made history as part of the first all-female nightly news anchor team alongside Judy Woodruff.
"Brady Bunch" star Florence Henderson died Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, at the age of 82. She worked on both stage and screen before winning worldwide fame as Carol Brady, the widowed mother of three girls and stepmom to three boys, on the iconic ABC series, which ran from 1969 to 1974.
Peter Vaughan, star of "Game of Thrones," died Dec. 6 at age 93. Vaughan is best known for playing Maester Aemon Targaryen, mentor to Jon Snow and advisor to the Commander of the Night's Watch. Before "Game of Thrones," Vaughan had a successful career in England collaborating with actors like Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
Alan Thicke, star of "Growing Pains," died Dec. 13 at age 69. Thicke became one of the most famous sitcom dad on TV during his seven-year band as Dr. Jason Seaver. His son, Robin, became a star in his own right with the song "Blurred Lines."
Craig Sager, NBA sideline reporter, died Dec. 15 at age 65. Sager was popular among NBA fans and players for his colorful, garish outfits during his tenure at TNT. Sager received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at this year's ESPYs in honor of his long struggle with leukemia.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, actress and Hollywood socialite, died Dec. 18 at age 99. After appearing in several musicals and popular TV shows in the 50s and 60s, Gabor became known as one of Hollywood's most famous and outspoken socialites, appearing frequently on talk shows and the original "Hollywood Squares."
Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt died in a hospital in Marbella, Spain on December 23 at age 68. The band best known for hits “Rockin’ All Over The World” and “Whatever You Want."
George Michael, the British singer-songwriter who emerged as half of the pop duo Wham! in the 1980s, died on December 25 at age 53. He became a true pop icon after going solo in 1987, when his album “Faith” sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. In the span of his career, he sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
Carrie Fisher, a.k.a. Leia Organa of "Star Wars," died Dec. 27 at age 60. Fisher rose to stardom as the Alderaan princess turned rebellion leader who fought alongside Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Fisher returned to the role in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and will appear posthumously in the film's 2017 sequel.
Richard Adams, author of "Watership Down," died Dec. 27 at age 96. Published in 1972, "Watership Down" and its tale of a society of rabbits became an international success and was adapted in 1978 into an equally successful animated film that carried over the source material's dark and violent subject matter.
Debbie Reynolds, star of "Singin' in the Rain," died Dec. 28 at age 84, one day after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and in 2016 won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
1 of 85
A look back at the stars of movies, TV, media and music we lost this year