Pulling together his annual tribute to the celebrities we’ve lost in the past calendar year via the Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover is always a fraught prospect for British artist Chris Barker. Over the past few years as December rolls around and he feels the pressure to blast out this year’s model, Barker frets over whether he can do it, who to include/leave out and whether the whole thing is even a good idea.
“I’ve been doing this since 2016. That was the year anyone who was nice or kind or creative or special decided it was time to leave before the bad stuff started,” Barker tells Billboard in an exclusive note about the year we lost Prince and David Bowie, among many others. “Or at least that’s how it felt at the time. I’ve become a little bit desensitised to it over the years. I mean, I still try and keep the star’s dignity and think of their loved ones and how it would make them feel to see it, but – let’s face it – I make notes over the course of the year now rather than just waiting til November. It’s a thing.”
That explains the inspiration behind his 2022 image, which contains a whopping 151 faces, including late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who sits front and center next to an image of Queen Elizabeth II, and just below a Grease-era Olivia Newton-John, who is flanked by actors Ray Liotta and Harry Potter actor Robbie “Hagrid” Coltrane.
Also added last minute was Fleetwood Mac singer/songwriter Christine McVie, who passed away this week, as well as a raft of other music stars, including “Bat Out of Hell” singer Meat Loaf, Migos’ Takeoff, Aaron Carter, Irene Cara, Loretta Lynn, Coolio, the Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan, rock godfather Jerry Lee Lewis, Low’s Mimi Parker, Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, The Wanted’s Tom Parker, composer Vangelis, the Ronettes’ Ronnie Spector, mysterious singer Q Lazzarus, Yes drummer Alan White and famed rock member memorialist Cynthia Plaster Caster.
“But this year, I had to put them all the previous ones side by side for some reason (Someone asked me to do it or something) and it really hit me how many great people we’ve lost forever. It’s a real sea of amazing talents laid out in front of your eyes,” Barker says of the lengthy list of musicians, actors and comedians who’ve shone a bit of light into the darkness. By now an expert on such things, Barker says that he noticed early on in 2022 that it was going to be an “exceptional year” of bold-faced losses, with his list so long that by mid-year he’d already surpassed the final total from year one.
“It was almost enough to make me think maybe this isn’t the right thing to do any more. But people really like it and they’ve grown to expect it,” he says. “I have been shuffling the characters around quite a lot but I think my front four is valid. Nichelle Nichols’ (Star Trek) career was groundbreaking, Meat Loaf was iconic, Robbie Coltrane was heartbreaking and Olivia Newton-John defined an era. There are plenty of others on the list who are also huge losses and massive icons but I’m satisfied with my decision here. I have made life difficult by going so early on this. I know in previous years I have had to make late editions and updates but this year it will be a really difficult job as there just aren’t any gaps.”
The list, as usual, is a mix of mostly American and British luminaries of stage, screen, music, comedy and politics, including actors Sidney Poitier, Angela Lansbury, James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Julee Cruise, Anne Heche, William Hurt, Yvette Mimieux, Bob Saget and Leslie Jordan, as well as a mix of directors and sports and fashion figures.
“Every year I ask that if people like the montage, they could consider making a donation to charity,” he says. “This year, please consider making a donation to a charity helping the children and the people of Ukraine. This shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century.”
Check out this year’s image and the numbered key.