A pioneering Twitter user who had enough of 2016’s non-stop parade of depressing celebrity deaths started refashioning the Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover a month ago to honor the memories of the many icons we’ve lost this year. Among the faces on the cover were: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Sir George Martin and Gene Wilder.
But with the trail of fallen stars seemingly at no end, creator @christhebarker (Chris Barker) — an art director at a British publication — has continued to update the project, with the most recent face added that of American astronaut John Glenn on Thursday (Dec. 8). In a Tumblr describing the origin of the idea, Barker said he began putting it together the night of the U.S. presidential election when he had a bit of time off from work and was feeling reflective about this difficult year.
— christhebarker (@christhebarker) December 9, 2016
“What a year, I was thinking, David Bowie, Brexit and now this,” he wrote in the post about unexpectedly going viral. “A lot of people speculate that Bowie was actually the glue that was holding the universe together. It’s certainly been a bit different since he tragically passed away. So I thought that since I was going to be up for hours anyway, and Mrs Chris and the kids were fast asleep, I might do a montage that summed up how weird a year it’s been. It wasn’t going to be a montage of dead celebrities in the style of Sgt Peppers at first. In fact the Sgt Pepper element came quite late.”
But once he posted the initial image it very quickly blew up and a number of updates have rolled out since, including Thursday’s latest edition with Glenn. “I didn’t intend to update it but the avalanche of tweets every time somebody died eventually swayed me,” Barker told Billboard on Friday morning (Dec. 9), noting that he’s gotten two million impressions in the past month, contrasted with the 45 he had before the American election. (Since he doesn’t own the copyright on the image, did not create it for profit and hasn’t earned anything from his creation, Barker suggested that anyone who reposts credit him and, if inclined, make a payment to the Jo Cox Memorial Fund.) “It’s a shame everyone keeps dying and everything, but I’ve actually met some really nice people as a result of it,” he said.
The amazing effort also pays homage to boxer Muhammad Ali, actor Anton Yelchin, late ELP member Keith Emerson, comedian Garry Shandling, reggae icon Prince Buster, golf legend Arnold Palmer, author Harper Lee, French composer Pierre Boulez, actor George Kennedy, singer Leon Russell (who Barker was admittedly not familiar with but who was added at the urging of a music critic from the Telegraph), Kenny Baker (the actor who played R2D2 in the original Star Wars), architect Zaha Hadid, actor Robert Vaughn, Dead or Alive’s Pete Burns and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, among others.
“A lot of people have asked me for permission for them to include their own relatives who have passed away this year so that’s been kind of poignant, too,” Barker said of the continuing impact of the image.