Ric Ocasek, Juice WRLD, Keith Flint, Luke Perry, Chewbacca & More in 2019 'Sgt. Pepper's' Cover Tribute

Chris Barker/@christhebarker


British artist Chris Barker's latest tribute to lost celebs also honors Peter Tork, Scott Walker and Big Bird.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. As he has every December since 2016, British artist Christ Barker is back with his touching tribute to the celebrities and pop culture icons we lost over the past year, celebrated in Barker's inimitable style: a re-imagining of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. As in past editions, this one is overstuffed with beloved singers, actors, athletes, public figures and other notables who we lost in the calendar year, including Monkees member Peter Tork, Cars singer Ric Ocasek, the actors who played Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Big Bird, the Prodigy's Keith Flint, Dr. John, Peter Fonda, Doris Day, Rip Torn, Toni Morrison and many more.   

In a statement to Billboard explaining his motivation for the annual project, Barker says, "When I first did the Sgt. Pepper-style montage in 2016 it was partly to cope with the shock really. The shock of so many legends passing in such a short space of time - Bowie, Prince, Carrie [Fisher], George [Martin] - and shock at the outcomes of the Trump election and the Brexit referendum. It was a shocking year and I think the world was going through a kind of collective grief." 

The need to constantly update the image made him swear he'd never do it again, but, alas, he was talked into it because he thought it might be a good avenue to talk about some worthy issues. So, in 2017, when we lost Batman actor Adam West, 007 Roger Moore and rock icon Chuck Berry, he focused on his worries about climate change. 

When some criticized him for focusing on celebrities who died when there is so much going on in the world Barker says he decided to use this year's montage to "focus on the perils of plastic pollution and using the Sumatran rhino to highlight the plight of many endangered species around the world. I love the effect of the giant rhino poking in to the group and being ignored like the elephant in the room. The image is kind of a meme of itself now. It has very little relation to the original album cover in a way. The drum is really the only thing that’s survived."

Among the other faces in this year's edition: enigmatic singer Scott Walker, Cream drummer Ginger Baker, classical musican André Previn, Sumatran rhinos, the Mars Opportunity rover, opera singer Jessye Norman, musicians Daniel Johnston, James Ingram, Ranking Roger (The English Beat), Jake Black (Alabama 3), Lorna Doom (The Germs), Sugar Hill Gang's Big Bank Hank, Kim Shattuck (The Muffs), Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), K-pop singers Goo Hara and Sulli, Juice WRLD and Roxette co-vocalist Marie Fredriksson, actors Albert Finney, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Rip Torn, Valerie Harper, Jan-Michael Vincent, Grumpy Cat, American congressman and civil rights icon Elijah Cummings and, ominously, Hope.

Chris Barker/@christhebarker

"I’ve historically always worried most about who the central four are going to be. They have to encapsulate the mood of the whole piece," says Barker. "I feel there has to be a mixture of elements to qualify for the front four. They have to have legendary status, ideally there should be a musical focus to bring it back to Sgt. Pepper and there has to be a vintage feel to it. I nearly put Rutger Hauer on the front row but I didn’t feel he echoed back to the sixties enough. I also nearly put Scott Walker on there but didn’t feel he had the visual recognition and iconography of Peter Fonda. I made sure they both had prominent positions because: 'tears in rain' and 'sun ain’t gonna shine any more.'

"So initially I had Scott Walker on one side with the sun not shining any more and then 'the sun shining brighter than Doris Day' on the other. And in between them was a Monkee and a member of the Prodigy," he said. "It just looked so split, so dark and light that I thought I’d go with that as the theme for the whole image. The world is very divided now. All around the world we are seeing the rise of populism and people splitting into their own tribes so it seemed fitting to have the group divided into dark and light too. Have all the punks and the rockers on one side, and the TV presenters and chat show hosts on the other. I don’t know if it came across like that in the finished piece but it was supposed to show that, in the words of the British MP Jo Cox - who was murdered by an extremist in 2016 - 'we have more in common than that which divides us.'"

As always, a number of the inclusions are UK-focused figures who might not have first-name recognition as well with an American audience, but for Barker there was really just one critieria. "I want to try to focus on people who did good things or made a positive difference wherever possible so when people started asking me if I was going to include Jeffrey Epstein I had to have a really long think about it," he said of the late billionaire sex offender. So instead he placed a pizza box near the front that he says represents disgraced Prince Andrew’s "unverified alibi for where he says he was on the night numerous people say they saw him partying with Epstein and an underage girl."

As for the strange question he often gets asked about who he mourns the most, Barker says one of those people is undoubtedly outsider musician Johnston. "If anyone can prove that you should just go for it, that talent will shine through, that anyone can be a success it’s Daniel Johnston. His poetic, melodic, slapdash style of songwriting was a massive inspiration to me in my late teens and encouraged me to get on and do what I wanted to do," he says. He also gave props to Big Bird for teaching himi the alphabet, Doctor Who novelist Terrence Dicks for teaching him to read, as well as Chewbacca and "all the musicians from getting me through to adulthood."

If you like the piece, Barker encourages you to contribute to a charity, this year's being one that was close to his late friend Spencer's heart: Just Giving, a youth choir organization that helps men share their feelings. 

Check out the image and the key below.