Famous athletes and sports figures are often treated like royalty – not just in the sports community, but in society as a whole. Some are richer than others, more popular than others, and even more beloved than others, but they all share a similar passion and are all driven by similar principles that make them great.
They have a way of influencing, inspiring, and emboldening younger generations to not only be the best version of themselves, but to reciprocate that same energy to those they surround themselves with. When athletes and sports figures use their platform for the greater good, amazing things can and will happen.
We see it on a daily basis. Whether they do something incredible in sport or do something charitable in their community, athletes and sports figures are constantly making a difference in this world – ultimately creating a legacy that will be remembered forever, even when their time on Earth comes to an end.
RELATED: Athletes Who Have Sadly Passed in 2022
Which Famous Athletes and Sports Figures Have Passed Away in 2023?
There comes a time when we must say goodbye to the athletes and sports figures we’ve grown to love and support – it’s the harsh reality we’re all dealt with in life. Some of them lived a life full of glory and accomplishments, while others were just getting started and hadn’t quite reached their full potential yet.
Either way, it’s a tragedy every single time. For example, some of the famous athletes and sports figures we had to say goodbye to in 2022 are Bill Russell, Pelé, Franco Harris, Paul Silas, Mike Leach, Vin Scully, Len Dawson, Guy Lafleur, Bob Lanier, Shirley Spork, Joan Joyce, John Clayton, and more.
While 2023 is far from over, we’ve already had to say goodbye to some lovable and talented athletes and sports figures – and unfortunately, we’ll have to extend those goodbyes to many more athletes and sports figures in the coming months. Below, we remember those that might be gone, but are never forgotten.
1. Art McNally
Art McNally was born on July 1, 1925 and passed away on January 1, 2023 – he was 97 years old at the time of his death. His son, Tom McNally, confirmed his death and revealed that he died of natural causes at a hospice facility in Yardley, Pennsylvania – he was surrounded by his wife, kids, and grandkids.
McNally served as a field judge and referee for the NFL between 1959 and 1967 before being named the Supervisor of Officials and later the Director of Officiating – he continued to work with the NFL up until 2015. Last year, McNally became the first game official to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Ken Block
Ken Block was born on November 21, 1967 and passed away on January 2, 2023 – he was just 55 years old at the time of his death. He was snowmobiling up a steep slope in the Mill Hollow area when his snowmobile was upended, ultimately landing on top of him. He was declared dead at the scene.
Block was a professional rally driver for the Hoonigan Racing Division. He competed in theFIA ERX Supercar Championship, World Rallycross Championship, Global Rallycross Championship, World Rally Championship, and Rally America – totaling 23 wins across all formats. His number 43 was retired.
3. Rosi Mittermaier
Rosi Mittermaier was born on August 5, 1950 and passed away on January 4, 2023 – she was 72 years old at the time of her death. Her cause of death is being attributed to a long battle with cancer. She was a talented German alpine skier between 1967 and 1976 and often went by the nickname ‘Gold-Rosi.’
Mittermaier made her World Cup debut in 1967 at the age of 16 and retired in 1976 at the age of 25 – the same year she was named overall World Cup champion. She also represented Germany in the 1976 Winter Olympics, winning a gold medal in the Downhill and Slalom, as well as a silver in the Giant Slalom.
4. Nate Colbert
Nate Colbert was born on April 9, 1946 and passed away on January 5, 2023 – he was 76 years old at the time of his death. According to his obituary, he died in his Las Vegas home and was surrounded by his wife and children – they had nine children together. An official cause of death wasn’t revealed.
Colbert made his MLB debut on April 14, 1966 and played in his final game on October 1, 1976. He spent 10 years in the majors, mostly with the San Diego Padres. He retired with a .243 batting average, 833 hits, 141 doubles, 25 triples, 173 home runs, 520 RBIs, 481 runs, and three All-Star appearances.
5. Gianluca Vialli
Gianluca Vialli was born on July 9, 1964 and passed away on January 6, 2023 – he was just 58 years old at the time of his death. He was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2018, but was cleared of it in April 2020. Unfortunately, the disease returned in December 2021 up until his death.
Vialli was an Italian footballer and manager who played for Cremonese, Sampdoria, Juventus, and Chelsea between 1980 and 1999 – scoring 259 goals at the club level. He also made 59 appearances for Italy’s national team and scored 16 international goals. He was also the manager of Chelsea and Watford.
6. Jorge Ballesteros
Jorge Ballesteros was born on May 27, 1983 and passed away on January 10, 2023 – he was just 39 years old at the time of his death. He was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head in an apparent suicide. He was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Ballesteros was a Spanish sharpshooter who competed in the IPSC Handgun World Shoot, IPS European Handgun Championship, and IPSC Spanish Handgun Championship. He won 15 gold medals across all three formats, including a gold medal at the 2017 IPSC Handgun World Shoot in Châteauroux.
7. Charles White
Charles White was born on January 22, 1958 and passed away on January 11, 2023 – he was 64 years old at the time of his death. He struggled with dementia in recent years – as a result of his football career – and was living in an assisted living facility as of 2022. His cause of death was attributed to liver cancer.
White was a running back who spent four years with the USC Trojans – rushing for 6,245 yards and 49 touchdowns in 49 games played. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1979, he was drafted into the NFL and spent 8 years in the league. In 1987, he rushed for 1,374 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Rams.
8. Hunter Brown
Hunter Brown is a name many people might not recognize, but he’s a name everyone should remember. He was an offensive lineman for the Air Force Academy football team and was excited to represent his country in the Air Force – assigned to Cadet Squadron 16 while he pursued a major in management.
He tragically passed away on January 9, 2023 while on his way to class at the academy. His autopsy report revealed his cause of death was a blood clot in the lungs, which followed a blood clot in his legs that developed after football practice. He was beloved by his squadron, coaches, and teammates.
9. Gino Odjick
Gino Odjick was born on September 7, 1970 and passed away on January 15, 2023 – he was just 52 years old at the time of his death. His cause of death was attributed to a heart attack, which was confirmed by his sister. He left behind eight children and five sisters, who all loved him dearly.
Odjick was a Canadian hockey player who was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the 5th round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. He spent 12 years in the league and retired with 64 goals, 73 assists, and 137 assists in 605 games played. He recorded a career-high 16 goals, 13 assists, and 29 points in 1993-94.
10. Chris Ford
Chris Ford was born on January 11, 1949 and passed away on January 17, 2023 – less than a week after celebrating his 74th birthday. He had suffered a heart attack earlier in the month and later died in the hospital from heart failure. He’s best known for scoring the first ever three-point shot in NBA history.
Ford was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 2nd round of the 1972 NBA Draft and spent 10 years in the league between 1972 and 1982. He averaged 9.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game (794 games played). He won a title with the Boston Celtics in 1981 before retiring a year later.
11. Sal Bando
Sal Bando was born on February 13, 1944 and passed away on January 20, 2023 – he was 78 years old at the time of his death. His family announced his death in a statement and confirmed he had succumbed to cancer after a five-year battle. He is survived by his wife of 54 years and the couple’s three sons.
Bando was an American third baseman who made his MLB debut on September 3, 1966 and spent 16 seasons in the major leagues. He retired with a .254 batting average, 1,790 hits, 242 home runs, 1,039 RBIs, and 982 runs. He was a four-time All-Star and won three World Series titles with the Oakland A’s.
12. Jay Briscoe
Jamin Dale Pugh, known professionally as Jay Briscoe was born on January 25, 1984 and passed away on January 17, 2023 – just one week before his 39th birthday. He died in a car crash when a Chevrolet Silverado 1500 unexpectedly changed lines and hit his Chevrolet Silverado 2500 head-on.
Briscoe was an American professional wrestler who teamed up with his brother, Mark Briscoe – known as the Briscoe Brothers – in Ring of Honor. Together, they won two ROH World Championships, a World Six-Man Tag Team Championship, and a record 13 World Tag Team Championships in the promotion.
13. Anton Walkes
Anton Walkes was born on February 8, 1997 and passed away on January 19, 2023 – he was just 25 years old at the time of his death. He was involved in a boating collision near Miami Marine Stadium on January 18 and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries the following day.
Walkes was an English professional footballer who began his senior career with Tottenham Hotspur in 2016 and also played for Portsmouth, Atlanta United, and Charlotte FC. He spent the last three seasons of his career in the MLS. He made 23 appearances for Charlotte FC during their inaugural MLS season.
14. Bill Schonely
Bill Schonely was born on June 1, 1929 and passed away on January 21, 2023 – he was 93 years old at the time of his death. A cause of death wasn’t released at the time. He’s remembered as a United States Marine Corps veteran and legendary broadcaster with a unique baritone voice – nicknamed ‘The Schonz.’
Schonely spent 28 years as the Portland Trail Blazers’ broadcaster – beginning with the team’s inaugural year. He also spent time as a broadcaster for the MLB, NHL, college sports, and amateur sports. He’s best known for his unique voice and coining the term ‘Rip City’ – a popular nickname for the Trail Blazers.
15. Jessie Lemonier
Jessie Lemonier was born on January 31, 1997 and passed away on January 26, 2023 – he was just 25 years old at the time of his death. A cause of death wasn’t released at the time and has yet to be revealed to this day. He left behind a girlfriend, who was expecting their first child at the time of his sudden death.
Lemonier played college football at Liberty University and went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was eventually signed by the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent. He only played 13 games in the NFL and had 1.5 sacks with the Lions in 2021. He was scheduled to play in the USFL in 2023.
16. Billy Packer
Billy Packer was born on February 25, 1940 and passed away on January 26, 2023 – he was 82 years old at the time of his death. His cause of death was attributed to kidney failure. He and his wife, who passed away in 2022, left behind three children – two of whom now work in the sports media industry.
Packer is a legendary play-by-play announcer who spent more than three decades with NBC Sports and CBS Sports. He’s best known as a play-by-play announcer for March Madness (including the Final Four) between 1975 and 2008. In 1993, he won an Emmy in 1993 for Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst.
17. Kyle Smaine
Kyle Smaine was born on June 27, 1991 and passed away on January 29, 2023 – he was just 31 years old when he died. He was skiing in an avalanche at Mount Norikura, a potentially active volcano in Japan and part of the Hida Mountains. He died alongside Adam Ü, who was also buried in the avalanche.
Smaine was an American freestyle skier who represented the United States in the 2015 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in Kreischberg, Austria – where he won a gold medal in the halfpipe discipline. He’s being remembered as someone who loved to have fun and live life on the edge.
18. Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull was born on January 3, 1939 and passed away on January 30, 2023 – just a few weeks after celebrating his 84th birthday. A cause of death wasn’t released at the time, but he died in his Wheaton, Illinois home and his death was confirmed by his son, Brett Hull, via the St. Louis Blues’ Twitter account.
Hull spent 7 years in the WHA before embarking on a legendary 16-year career in the NHL with the Jets, Whalers, and Blackhawks. He scored 610 goals, 560 assists, and 1,170 points in 1,063 career games in the NHL. The Hall of Famer was a 12-time All-Star who won a Stanley Cup and two WHA championships.
19. Stanley Wilson Jr.
Stanley Wilson Jr. was born on November 5, 1982 and passed away on February 1, 2023 – he was just 40 years old at the time of his death. Reports initially indicated that he collapsed inside the Metropolitan State Hospital, but it was later reported that he was beaten by law enforcement through excessive force.
Wilson Jr. was a standout cornerback for Stanford University between 2001 and 2004 after redshirting in 2000 – he earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2004. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 3rd round in 2005 and spent three years with the team before a career-ending injury.
20. Christian Atsu
Christian Atsu was born January 10, 1992 and passed away on February 6, 2023 – he was just 31 years old at the time of his death. He disappeared following the massive earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey – he was in Turkey. On February 14, his body was found among the rubble of a building he resided in.
Atsu was a Ghanaian soccer player who was playing for Hatayspor in Turkey at the time of his death. He joined the team before the 2022-23 season and played in three league games and one Turkish Cup game. On February 5, the day before he died, Atsu scored his first goal with the team – a game-winner.
21. Volkan Kahraman
Volkan Kahraman was born on October 10, 1979 and passed away on February 8, 2023 – he was just 43 years old at the time of his death. He was involved in an argument with a former friend, Orhan, in Vienna, Austria. Ohran ended up shooting and killing Kahraman before shooting and killing himself.
Kahraman was an Austrian footballer and football manager. He played for numerous teams across Austria between 1997 and 2009 – he was a bit of a journeyman. He also played three international games for Austria’s national team in 2002. He coached youth football and was involved in politics prior to his death.
22. Elena Fanchini
Elena Fanchini was born on April 30, 1985 and passed away on February 8, 2023 – she was just 37 years old at the time of her death. She was diagnosed with cancer ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, forcing her to withdraw. Her cause of death was attributed to colon cancer nearly five years later.
Fanchini was an Italian alpine ski racer who competed in three Winter Olympics (2006, 2010, and 2014), 13 seasons of the World Cup (2005-2008, 2010-2018), and six World Championships (2005-2007, 2011-2017). She finished her World Cup career with two wins in the downhill discipline in 2006 and 2015.
23. Conrad Dobler
Conrad Dobler was born on October 1, 1950 and passed away on February 13, 2023 – he was 72 years old at the time of his death. A cause of death wasn’t revealed, but his daughter confirmed he struggled with memory loss and decision making in his later years. His brain was donated for CTE research.
Dobler was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 5th round of the 1972 NFL Draft. He spent 10 seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals, Saints, and Bills. He’s best known as being one of the NFL’s dirtiest players of all-time – many people said he didn’t want to just tackle you, he wanted to hurt you.
24. Tim McCarver
Tim McCarver was born on October 16, 1941 and passed away on February 16, 2023 – he was 81 years old at the time of his death. The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced his death and it was later confirmed that he died of congestive heart failure – he was surrounded by family in his final moments.
McCarver was an American catcher who made his MLB debut on September 10, 1959 and spent 21 years in the major leagues. He retired with a .271 batting average, 1,501 hits, 97 home runs, 645 home runs, and 590 runs. He was a two-time All-Star and won two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
25. Ryan Keeler
Ryan Keeler was born in mid-February 2003 and passed away on February 20, 2023 – a week after celebrating his 20th birthday. Police reports indicate that he was battling an illness the week leading up to his death and was prescribed medication a few days before being found dead in a studio apartment.
Keeler was a 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive lineman who hadn’t yet received his opportunity at the college level. He spent the 2021 season with Rutgers, but didn’t see any game action. He transferred to UNLV after the season and played in seven games last season, totaling eight tackles for the Rebels.
26. Jerry Richardson
Jerry Richardson was born on July 18, 1936 and passed away on March 1, 2023 – he was 86 years old at the time of his death. A cause of death wasn’t revealed, but it was reported that he died peacefully in his sleep at his home. The news comes six years after he was forced to sell the Carolina Panthers.
Richardson was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL Draft, but only spent two years in the NFL as a player. More than three decades after he retired, Richardson became the owner of the Panthers after they were awarded an expansion team. During his 23 years as owner, the Panthers were 183-184-1.
27. Otis Taylor
Otis Taylor was born on August 11, 1942 and passed away on March 9, 2023 – he was 80 years old at the time of his death. He began experiencing seizures in 1969 and had been bedridden the past few years after a 30-year battle with Parkinson’s disease – he was first diagnosed in 1990 – and dementia.
Taylor was a wide receiver who spent 11 seasons in the NFL – all of which with the Kansas City Chiefs. He recorded 410 catches, 7,306 yards, and 57 touchdowns in 130 games played – he surpassed 1,000 yards twice and led the league in yards in 1971, while also leading the league in touchdowns in 1967.
28. Dick Haley
Dick Haley was born on October 2, 1937 and passed away on March 10, 2023 – he was 85 years old at the time of his death. His son, former NFL head coach Todd Haley, announced his death after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Todd is now the coach of the USFL’s Memphis Showboats.
As for Dick Haley, he spent six seasons as a player in the NFL between 1959 and 1964 before embarking on a legendary career as an executive. He served as the director of player personnel for the Steelers and Jets between 1971 and 2002, and was a personnel analyst for the Jets and Dolphins in his later years.
29. Bud Grant
Bud Grant was born on May 20, 1927 and passed away on March 11, 2023 – he was 95 years old at the time of his death. An exact cause of death wasn’t revealed, but it was reported that he died at his home in Bloomington, Minnesota. He’s survived by his two daughters, three sons, 21 grandchildren, and brother.
Grant had a short playing career in the NBA (2 seasons) and NFL (2 seasons) before embarking on a legendary coaching career. He led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) to a 102-56-2 record between 1957 and 1966, and then led the Minnesota Vikings (NFL) to a 158-96-5 record between 1967 and 1985.
30. Felton Spencer
Felton Spencer was born on January 15, 1968 and passed away on March 12, 2023 – he was just 55 years old at the time of his death. His sister, Tammy Pollock, announced his death later that day and revealed that he ‘passed away peacefully’ in a hospital bed at the University of Louisville Hospital.
Spencer was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 6 overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. He spent 12 seasons in the NBA with six different teams and averaged 5.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game over his career. He was a member of the 1990-91 All-Rookie Team with Minnesota.
31. Joe Pepitone
Joe Pepitone was born on October 9, 1940 and passed away on March 13, 2023 – he was 82 years old and living with his daughter, Cara Pepitone, at the time of his death. His son, BJ Pepitone, announced his death and, while an exact cause of death was unknown, the family believes he suffered a heart attack.
Pepitone was an American baseball player who spent 12 seasons in the MLB between 1962 and 1973 – most of which with the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs. He retired with a .258 batting average, 1,315 hits, 219 home runs, 721 runs batted in, and 606 runs scored – he was a three-time All-Star.
32. Willis Reed
Willis Reed was born on June 25, 1942 and passed away on March 21, 2023 – he was 80 years old at the time of his death, which was confirmed by his teammate, Bill Bradley, and later by his former team, the New York Knicks. Reports indicate that he was struggling with congestive heart problems for years.
Reed is a Hall of Fame basketball player who spent 10 seasons with the Knicks between 1964 and 1974. During that time, he averaged 18.7 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 650 career games played. He was a two-time champion, 7-time All-Star, two-time Finals MVP, and one-time regular season MVP.
33. Bill Leavy
Bill Levy was born on March 25, 1947 and passed away on March 28, 2023 – he was 76 years old at the time of his death, which came just three days after celebrating his birthday. An official cause of death wasn’t revealed and nothing has been released since, but reports suggest he died from a heart attack.
Leavy was a police officer and firefighter in San Jose, California for 27 years before embarking on a legendary officiating career. He spent 11 years as an official in Division I college football and another 20 years as an official in the NFL – appearing in 15 playoff games and two Super Bowls in his career.
34. Robert Miller
Robert Miller, better known by his ring name Bushwhacker Butch, was born on October 21, 1944 and passed away on April 2, 2023 – he was 78 years old at the time of his death. He died in a hospital in Los Angeles with an undisclosed illness – he was visiting LA to take part in the festivities for WrestleMania 39.
Bushwhacker Butch was best known for teaming up with Bushwhacker Luke in the WWF – they called themselves The Bushwhackers. They won numerous championships during their time together, which lasted between 1983 and 1988, and were eventually inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015.
35. Hobie Landrith
Hobie Landrith was born on March 16, 1930 and passed away on April 6, 2023 – he was 93 years old at the time of his death. While no official cause of death was released at the time and nothing has been released since, several reports suggest he died of natural causes inside his home, surrounded by family.
Landrith was an American catcher who made his MLB debut on July 30, 1950 and spent the next 14 years in the major leagues. He retired with a .233 batting average, 450 hits, 34 home runs, 203 RBIs, and 179 runs. He spent most of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, but played for six other teams in his career.
36. Raymond Sawada
Raymond Sawada was born on February 19, 1985 and passed away on April 10, 2023 – he was just 38 years old at the time of his death. His family created a GoFundMe account in his honor, revealing in the description that he died of a heart attack doing what he loved – playing a recreational game of hockey.
Sawada was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the second round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and he made his NHL debut with the team during the 2008-09 season. He only played in 11 games during his three years in the NHL and only had one career goal before playing in various leagues around the world.
37. Craig Breen
Craig Breen was born on February 2, 1990 and passed away on April 13, 2023 – he was just 33 years old at the time of his death. He died doing what he loved, but in the most tragic way possible – he was driving his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car during a testing session for the 2023 Croatia Rally when he crashed.
Breen made his World Rally Championship debut in 2009 and has competed every year since, with the exception of 2013. He raced in 82 rallies and, while he had no wins or championships, he did have nine podium finishes, 35 stage wins, and 405 career points. His last rally was the 2023 Rally Sweden.
38. Chris Smith
Chris Smith was born on February 11, 1992 and passed away on April 17, 2023 – he was just 31 years old at the time of his death. He was killed in a shooting at an apartment complex in Meridian, Mississippi, but no further details were released at the time. His death comes just two months after he turned 31.
Smith played college football at Arkansas before being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent eight seasons in the NFL and last played for the Houston Texans during the 2021 season. In 72 games played, he had 80 tackles, 11.0 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss.
39. Tori Bowie
Tori Bowie was born on August 27, 1990 and passed away on April 23, 2023 – she was just 32 years old and 7-9 months pregnant at the time of her death. She was found dead in her home in Orlando, Florida by police officers, who were conducting a welfare check after her family hadn’t heard from her in a while.
Bowie represented the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, winning a gold medal in the 4×100-meter relay, a silver medal in the 100-meter dash, and a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash. She also won two gold medals and one silver medal at the World Championships.
40. Dick Groat
Dick Groat was born on November 4, 1930 and passed away on April 27, 2023 – he was 92 years old at the time of his death. His family revealed that he died of complications from a stroke he suffered a week prior and was being treated in the UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh – a city he called home for a while.
Groat was an American shortstop who made his MLB debut in 1952 and went on to spend 14 years in the major leagues between 1952 and 1967. He retired with a .286 batting average, 2,138 hits, 39 home runs, 707 RBIs, and 829 runs. He was an 8-time All-Star, 1960 MVP, and a two-time World Series champion.
These Famous Athletes and Sports Figures Are Gone, But Never Forgotten
Saying goodbye is never easy and, unfortunately, will never get easier as time passes. Whether it’s a friend, family, loved one, colleague, role model, or anyone who has ever had an impact on your life – saying goodbye sucks. Unfortunately, it’s something we all have to learn to do in our own unique way.
When trying to cope with the death of an athlete or sports figure that inspired you to be the best you can be, it’s important to remember the legacy they leave behind and celebrate their life for what it was – no matter how long or short their life was. There’s beauty in all life, so long as you can open up to it.
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Just because someone is gone, doesn’t mean they have to be forgotten. In fact, it’s even more reason for them to be remembered and revered for all they gave to themselves, their family, their loved ones, their teammates, and their community – and that’s exactly what we shall do for those that are listed above!
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