New Jersey experienced losses in 2023.
We pay tribute to the stars who died this year who were born in New Jersey, made their home here, or represented our state in another, memorable way. Although they are gone, the legacies of these celebrities live on in their work and in our memories.
1962-December 11, 2023
The star of TV shows including “Homicide: Life on the Street” and, more recently, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was born in Chicago but lived in South Orange for more than two decades with his wife, the actress Ami Brabson. The Essex County town was where the couple raised their three sons, Michael, Isaiah and John Wesley. “After living in Harlem and Park Slope and Baltimore, we realized we liked this whole backyard thing,” he told New Jersey Monthly in 2019. He also said the Garden State “can be shockingly beautiful.” A graduate of Juilliard, Braugher died of lung cancer. He was 61.
1934-November 17, 2023
The actress had roles in two famed Mob projects: Goodfellas, where she played the mother of Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco), and The Sopranos, the iconic New Jersey show where she played the mother of Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco). Shepherd, who was born in Elizabeth, died peacefully at home in New York City at the age of 89, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “Suzanne Shepherd was a powerful actress and a force to act with…may she rest in peace,” Bracco, who starred in both Goodfellas and The Sopranos, wrote on Instagram when Shepherd died, sharing a photo of herself and Shepherd with Falco.
George ‘Funky’ Brown
1949-November 17, 2023
The drummer, songwriter and founding member of the Jersey City band Kool & the Gang died of lung cancer at the age of 74. He co-wrote the group’s 1980 hit “Celebration” and other iconic tunes. Brown and six other classmates formed the band (originally dubbed the Jazziacs before getting a new name) as teenagers in the 1960s in Jersey City. “In loving memory of our dear brother, cofounder and the funkiest drummer the world has ever seen,” Kool & the Gang wrote on social media at the time of Brown’s death. “His beautiful soul is now at rest. We love you George. Thank you for giving us the sound of happiness.”
Ron Cephas Jones
1957-August 19, 2023
The Emmy-winning star of “This Is Us” grew up in Paterson and, in 1978, graduated from Ramapo College, where he acted in productions including Cinderella Ever After. The actor spoke at the commencement of the Class of 2017 via video instead of in person because of his ongoing battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the school, a disease that would claim his life in August of 2023. He said to the graduating class, “Never stop learning…And never stop loving. It’s the thing that we need most in this life, is to love.” Cephas Jones moved to New York after graduation but an addiction to heroin halted his career in the arts, as he described to the New York Times in 2021. He got clean in 1986.
August 3, 1926-July 21, 2023
Bennett was born in Queens and is usually thought of as a New York singer, but he lived in the Garden State, Englewood specifically, from 1957-1971. He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2011, an honor presented to him by Nancy Sinatra, the daughter of Frank Sinatra, a Hoboken native. Bennett spoke highly of the Garden State at the time, saying in a speech at his induction: “I moved to Englewood, New Jersey, and I had the most wonderful time. I loved it so much, and I had so much optimism in those days. I still do.” He also spoke of his son Daegal’s life and recording studio in Englewood. Bennett died at the age of 96 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
[RELATED: NJ Celebrities Who Died in 2022]
Carol Higgins Clark
July 28, 1956-June 12, 2023
The mystery writer, who penned the popular Regan Reilly mysteries, died of appendix cancer at the age of 66. She was the daughter of famed novelist Mary Higgins Clark. Carol Higgins Clark grew up in Washington Township and graduated from Immaculate Heart Academy in Bergen County. She was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2016, and was introduced by her mother, a fellow Hall of Famer. At the induction event, Carol said she’d been told it helps to be Irish to be a good storyteller, but countered that thought by noting: “I say it helps to be from New Jersey” (via NJ.com).
August 25, 1933-March 2, 2023
The jazz icon and multiple Grammy winner from Newark graduated from Newark Arts High School in 1952. In 2017, the saxophonist and composer described Newark to WBGO as as a “a place that conjured up a lot of imagination.” He said of his childhood in the Ironbound section, “When we got our bicycles, we would go down to the marshes, where Newark Airport is now, and ride the bikes a little bit into the soft earth, and in those tall weeds. We’d go as far as we can—like, dare each other: ‘How far can you go?’” He died at the age of 89.