Of all the memorable moments that took place during this year’s ceremony, the 2020 Oscars tribute to late stars such as Kobe Bryant and Kirk Douglas may just be the one that sticks with us the most. Each year — through a solemn and respectful In Memoriam segment — the Academy honors stars who’ve lost their lives. But this year’s touching nod seemed somehow even more heartbreaking and poignant than year’s past.
Maybe the In Memoriam segment felt even more heartrending because Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas performed a haunting cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Or maybe it was because the slide show of stars who passed away in 2020 started with Bryant’s smiling face. The NBA legend, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers, died in a tragic helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
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While Bryant wasn’t a part of the Academy, he did have a special connection to it. In 2018, he won an Oscar for the best animated short Dear Basketball. Bryant wrote and narrated the short, which was directed by Glen Keane, as sort of a love letter to the beloved sport he’d retired from in 2015. When asked at the time what it was like being nominated for such a prestigious award, Bryant humbly responded, “It’s a little surreal, to be honest with you. It’s starting to sink in just how crazy this evening is. It’s unbelievable. Never in my wildest dreams did I feel we’d be here at the Oscars nominated for an Oscar. That’s insane.”
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On Wednesday, producers from the show confirmed they would be spotlighting Bryant within the greater scope of their traditional tribute segment. “I think the In Memoriam segment has always been an important part of the show and this year is no different in that we’re honoring all of our community that we’ve lost,” producer Stephanie Allain told Entertainment Tonight. “I think what’s really appropriate is that Kobe was part of the film community, and as such, he will be embraced within the In Memoriam segment.
The addition of Douglas was unexpected, as the screen veteran passed away earlier this week at the age of 103. As tributes to the Spartacus star have continued to find their way to social media, the Academy reportedly scrambled to include Douglas in Sunday’s montage. Ultimately, he served as the final slide in the fitting tribute.
The passing of both Bryant and Douglas clearly made an impact on the Academy. Tom Hanks kicked off the Douglas mentions by quoting one of his beloved films, Spartacus: “We’ll see you there,” he said of an upcoming Academy museum. “And I am Spartacus.”
While accepting the Oscar for best animated short for Hair Love, former NFL player Matthew Cherry — just the second professional athlete, after Bryant, to win an Oscar — dedicated the award to Bryant. “May we all have a second act as great as his,” Cherry said.
Director Spike Lee also showed his respect for Bryant by showing up in a custom purple-and-gold suit with Bryant’s No. 24 on the lapels and back. He also wore a pair of Bryant’s Nike sneakers.
John Singleton, Doris Day, Peter Fonda, Anna Karina, Rip Torn and more were among those mentioned alongside Bryant and Douglas during this year’s Oscars In Memoriam segment. But the tribute did not include Luke Perry who was the biggest of names causing disappointment across social media.
Perry, best known for his role in Beverly Hills 90210, passed away in March 2019 after suffering a stroke. The last film he appeared in was Quentin Tarantino’s a film that received multiple Oscar nominations and took home two Academy Awards including Brad Pitt for Best Supporting Actor.
Other stars who went unmentioned in the tribute included Bonnie and Clyde Oscar nominee Michael J. Pollard, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Tim Conway. However, all four men were included as part of the photo slideshow on the official Oscar website.
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