For Anyone Who Has Lost a Dad, Let’s Celebrate Their Legacy This Father's Day

While it’s crushing to think about all the dads we’ve said goodbye to, we have to celebrate the countless memories and immeasurable wisdom they taught us along the way.

By Jamie Blynn Jun 20, 2021 11:00 AMTags
Celebs Pay Tribute to Their Late Fathers FeatureGetty Images; Shutterstock/E! Illustration

I haven't watched an episode of Jeopardy! since March 2019. 
Though a 7 p.m. staple in my house growing up, I said goodbye to Alex Trebek and his devotion to all things trivia long before the world did in November 2020. Because, 24 days after Trebek shared his devastating stage four cancer battle, my dad lost his own.
What you don't expect about mourning such a monumental loss is how it creeps up on you, ready to attack during the most mundane of times. There's the sucker punch to the gut when you're not sure which cable package to buy for your new apartment and your immediate reaction is to ask dad. Then there are the inside jokes that no one else will laugh at but him. Or when you just want to shout out the correct response to the daily double to impress your dad who, like Trebek, always had the answers. 
What is grief for $2,000?

First-Time Dads: Father's Day 2021

It's a question Trebek's oldest daughter Nicky knows all too well. After her dad passed, she stepped away from her role as the show's production coordinator—and can't bear to look back. "To be honest," she told CBS This Morning's Gayle King in March, "my family, we haven't watched any [episodes] at all…To me, it was his show. It was his show and it's difficult for me to carry on on the show."

And while I've learned it's impossible to predict those everyday moments that might spark pain, there are some you can prepare for: Anniversaries, birthdays, milestones that you frankly know are just going to suck. And, for me, Father's Day. Tributes are splashed across my Instagram feed, my inbox is filled with last minute reminders to buy a gift and every restaurant is packed with families saying cheers to their patriarch. The overwhelming joy is inescapable. 

But in planning our Father's Day coverage here at E!, I made the decision that I'm not going to sit today out anymore. I am going to celebrate—and you should too. 

Because while it's crushing to think about all the fathers we've had to say goodbye to, we've gained countless memories and immeasurable wisdom along the way. Trebek taught us to stay curious while Kobe Bryant taught us to work harder than ever before. Robin Williams reminded us to smile and Steve Irwin showed us how to seek adventure. When I asked my friends what they learned from my dad, they said laughing makes life easier—and a good meal makes everything better. 

Watch: Remembering Kobe Bryant's Journey: E! News Rewind

So today, join me in grabbing a pastrami sandwich—an Ethan Blynn favorite—and let's celebrate these everlasting legacies. In the words of their kids, here are how these dads are remembered… 

Paul Walker (1973-2013)

For Meadow Walker, her mission is simple: Do good. With that in mind, the 22-year-old launched The Paul Walker Foundation in 2015 to carry on her dad's fast and furious passion for the world, the ocean and wildlife. "I love so much about him," she shared on Instagram. "I wanted to start this foundation because I want to share that piece of him with others...I can't think of a better way to celebrate my father."

James Gandolfini (1961-2013)

At the request of his dad, Michael Gandolfini wasn't going to go Hollywood. But after the Sopranos star suddenly died from a heart attack during a family vacation, Michael signed up for acting lessons to help him heal. And that's all it took to realize this was how he'd carry on his father's dream. Now, as fate would have it, he's set to star as a young Tony Soprano in the HBO drama's prequel, The Many Saints on Newark.

Yet, having never seen an episode—Michael was born the year The Sopranos debuted in 1999—his preparation meant sitting down and studying his dad, a painful yet cathartic experience. In one scene, "he sits by his son's bed and says, ‘I couldn't ask for a better son,'" Michael, 22, recalled to Esquire. "I just knew he was talking to me."

Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)

Since the NBA icon's tragic death in January 2020, his oldest daughter Natalia Bryant has learned that his Mamba mentality—tackling challenges with purpose—applies to everything, including grief.

"I genuinely think that it is so important to find your close circle of trusted people and be able to vocalize your feelings to them when you are down or not feeling like yourself," the 18-year-old explained. "This is also a lot easier said than done but just know that you are never alone. This is something I have learned throughout this year and still continue to work at with the help of close family and friends."

Steve Irwin (1962-2006)

At just 8 years old, Bindi Irwin made a vow. "I don't want Daddy's passion to ever end," she said in her eulogy. "I want to help endangered wildlife just like he did."

She's done just that—and then some. Fifteen years after a freak encounter with a stingray killed her the Crocodile Hunter, Bindi has become a passionate leader in the fight for animal conservation, picking up right where her dad left off at their Australia Zoo. "I care about the planet and my destiny is to make a difference," she told Stellar magazine. "We're doing it our own way, but you can feel Dad's spirit in everything we do. I've found such comfort in being able to follow in his footsteps."

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Zelda Williams knows that when you think of her dad, you instantly hear him shrieking "Hellooooo!" Or maybe you picture him wearing a big red clown nose. Perhaps you see him as alien Mork or the Genie granting your wish. As she told NBC, people will remember him for "the characters that he had so much fun being and that's what's important."
But the writer-director also wants her dad's death to ignite open conversations about mental health. "If you have things that make you sad, I do take from him that you should turn them into something that you can, at least, either express to other people or, in his case, you would make jokes out of it because it helped him not hide it," the 31-year-old said. "He didn't like people feeling like the things that were hard for them they should go through alone. I think that's the big legacy for him and for me and for my brothers is that he somehow had an enormous number of people in this world who felt that he made them feel a little less alone."

Bernie Mac (1957-2008)

Je'Niece McCullough wasn't just mourning the present when her comedian dad died at 50 in 2008—she was also mourning the future. "One of the biggest triggers for my grief after my dad's death was seeing older fathers with their daughters," she shared on Instagram. "It would sting my soul and I would become so jealous. Why did they get to enjoy their father's golden years and my dad didn't even get to become a junior senior citizen? It didn't seem fair."

Today, however, she's found the silver lining: She was given a front row seat to his masterclass on life for 30 years. "I see things differently than I once did," Je'Niece, 43, wrote. "I can truly put myself in his shoes and understand him in ways I couldn't before. I'm so much like him, and once upon a time the knowledge of that bothered me so much. Now all it does is make me swell with pride. He's never not in my mind and heart."

Luke Perry (1966-2019)

"He was a lot of things to a lot of people," Jack Perry, 24, wrote on Instagram after the actor's March 2019 death. "To me, he was always Dad. He loved and supported me in everything and inspired me to be the best that I could possibly be. I've learned so much from you, and my heart is broken thinking about everything you won't be here for. I'll miss you every day that I walk this earth. I'll do whatever I can to carry on your legacy and make you proud."

Alex Trebek (1940-2020)

What is…a kind spirit? "When I think of my dad, I think of the word gracious," mused Nicky Trebek. "And I want everybody to know how gracious he was and how each and every letter meant something to him. I swear to you, there is not one of those things where there is a copy of his signature."

Rather, the legendary game show host diligently read through his seemingly endless boxes of fan mail on the regular. "He'd unpack them. He'd sign everything. That's what made him feel good," she continued to Entertainment Tonight. "At his desk, signing everything and making sure each person got an answer to their question, to their hope, to their plea. And that is his legacy—the way he treated his fans."