PEOPLE's Top 20 Stories of 2020

We are just days away from finally saying goodbye to 2020, a year that brought immense sadness with the COVID-19 pandemic, losses of innocent Black lives and the shocking deaths of many celebrities gone too soon, among other major moments. Though there were some bright spots, it was a year dominated by dark headlines, many of which are reflected in PEOPLE's most-read stories of the year. Here, a look back at the often heavy news we were all captivated by.

1. Kobe Bryant’s Daughter Gianna, 13, Dead Alongside Father in Calabasas Helicopter Crash

Just 26 days into the new year, the world was shocked by the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with seven others, in a helicopter crash in California. The group was heading to a travel basketball game when their helicopter allegedly encountered foggy conditions. Kobe and his daughter — who left behind wife and mother Vanessa and daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri — were remembered at touching tributes throughout the year, including at that night's Grammy Awards, where host Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men performed "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye."

 “He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words," Vanessa said weeks later at a memorial service in L.A. “Kobe was the MVP of girl dads, or MVD. He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are. He taught them how to be brave.”

2. Kelly Preston Dies of Breast Cancer at 57: ‘She Was a Bright, Beautiful and Loving Soul’

Another shocking loss came when actress Kelly Preston died on July 12 after being diagnosed with breast cancer two years prior. The wife of John Travolta and mom of three chose "to keep her fight private," a family representative told PEOPLE. "She had been undergoing medical treatment for some time, supported by her closest family and friends."

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"She fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many," Travolta shared one day later on Instagram. "Kelly's love and life will always be remembered."

3. Regis Philbin, Legendary Television Host, Dies at 88

The longtime television host died on July 24 at age 88.

"We are deeply saddened to share that our beloved Regis Philbin passed away last night of natural causes, one month shy of his 89th birthday," his family shared with PEOPLE. "His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him – for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about. We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss."

4. Katherine Schwarzenegger, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo Defend Chris Pratt After Actor Is Dubbed ‘Worst Hollywood Chris’

After an October Internet challenge deemed Chris Pratt the "worst" Hollywood Chris, the actor's wife Katherine Schwarzenegger came to his defense, along with some of his Marvel costars.

Responding to an Instagram post by E! News that asked followers which Hollywood Chris "has to go," Schwarzenegger wrote, "Is this really what we need? There’s so much going on in the world and people are struggling in so many ways," she continued. "Being mean is so yesterday. There’s enough room to love all these guys. Love is what we all need not meanness and bullying. Let’s try that."

5. Jenna Bush Hager Says Dad George W. Bush ‘Worried’ About Sister Barbara’s Reaction to Pregnancy

In September, Bush Hager got candid about motherhood in her book Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss — specifically, how surprised she was by her third pregnancy, describing it as "an immaculate conception."

The former first daughter also wrote about feeling a wave of "survivor's guilt" because she wondered how her newly married twin, Barbara Pierce Bush, and costar Hoda Kotb, who pursued adoption to become a mother, would respond to the news. Her parents, former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, shared the same concerns for their other daughter, given that infertility runs in the family. Hager Bush needn't have worried, though: "Three kids? Holy s—!" Pierce Bush said when she congratulated her sister on the news, per the book.

6. Brad Garrett Claims Mistreatment by Ellen DeGeneres Is ‘Common Knowledge’ After Host’s Apology

In late July, the daytime talk show host issued an apology to the staff members of The Ellen DeGeneres Show after reports from former employees described the workplace environment as "toxic." The show underwent an internal investigation by WarnerMedia, and DeGeneres sent a lengthy memo, in which she said she is "glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention" and that they are "taking steps … to correct" them.

After reports of the comedian's apology made headlines, however, Everybody Loves Raymond alumnus Garrett claimed on Twitter that DeGeneres bears responsibility for the workplace culture. "Sorry but it comes from the top ⁦@TheEllenShow," he wrote, tagging DeGeneres. "Know more than one who were treated horribly by her.⁩ Common knowledge."

7. Richie Sambora Has ‘No Regrets’ About Leaving Bon Jovi to Care for Daughter Ava, Who Just Turned 23

Sambora, who was the lead guitarist for Bon Jovi for 30 years before stepping away in 2013, was "happy" to take a break from the stage and touring life in order to spend more time with his daughter Ava, whom he shares with ex-wife Heather Locklear.

"Richie sacrificed a lot to be there for his daughter when she was still very young and needed him the most, and he's so proud to see how well she's doing now," a source told PEOPLE in October of Sambora's relationship with Ava, 23, who graduated with honors from Loyola Marymount University in May. "It was the right decision to step off the stage to be a full-time father. Richie has no regrets about leaving the band."

8. Anderson Cooper’s Son Wyatt Morgan Is PEOPLE’s Cutest Baby Alive 2020!

The cutest baby alive of 2020 was … Cooper's son Wyatt! In November, little Wyatt took over the title of Cutest Baby Alive from his playdate companion: One of Cooper's best friends — and fellow "playground dads" — Andy Cohen had his son Benjamin Allen crowned the cutest by PEOPLE in 2019.

The CNN anchor welcomed his baby boy, his first child, on Monday, April 27, and he has been enjoying every minute of fatherhood ever since. "It feels like my life has actually begun," Cooper told PEOPLE in June about entering parenthood.

9. Kirk Douglas, Hollywood Icon and Spartacus Star, Dies at 103

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” Michael Douglas said in a Feb. 5 statement to PEOPLE. “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

The Spartacus acting legend, who had been in good health since suffering a stroke in 1996, is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne, and his sons Michael, Joel, and Peter.

10. Carole Baskin Granted Control of Joe Exotic’s Former Zoo as Jeff Lowe Has 120 Days to Vacate Property

A June 1 court ruling marked yet another twist in the complicated world of big cats in captivity in the United States depicted in the Netflix docuseries Tiger King.

Carole Baskin and her Big Cat Rescue corporation — the nemesis of Joe Exotic and his  G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma — were granted control of the Oklahoma zoo property by a judge who found that the property was fraudulently transferred to Exotic's mother years ago, Fox 25 reported. The park had been under the control of Jeff Lowe in recent years, but is now being handed over to Baskin — the very woman whom Exotic was convicted of plotting to kill.

11. Ryan Reynolds Jokingly Apologizes to Wife Blake Lively After Selling Aviation Gin in a $610 Million Deal

Reynolds had a very cheeky response to the August sale of his Aviation American Gin to European beverage company Diageo as part of a deal worth an estimated $610 million.

In the wake of news of the massive acquisition, the Deadpool star set up his email at the alcohol brand with a hilarious out of office message in which he apologized to a long list of people —including wife Blake Lively — for jokingly telling them "to go f— themselves in the last 24 hours" after learning how much money he would make in the sale. "My lawyers just explained how long it takes to achieve an ‘earn out’… so… turns out I’m not as George Clooney as I thought," he joked.

12. Gwyneth Paltrow Posts Rare Pics of Daughter Apple Posing for Her 16th Birthday: ‘You Are Pure Joy’

Paltrow and ex-husband Chris Martin's daughter celebrated her 16th birthday on May 14, and Paltrow honored her mini-me with a beautiful tribute on social media.

"I can't believe I’m actually writing these words but… happy sweet sixteen my darling girl," Paltrow wrote alongside the photos. "You are the light of my heart, you are pure joy. You are wickedly intelligent and you have the best, most dry, most brilliant sense of humor. I have the best time being your mom. I love our nightly evening chats when I really get to hear what’s on your mind. You work hard to get whatever it is you want to achieve, and you have grit and responsibility in spades. I am so damn lucky to be your mother, you beautiful, kind young woman. Thank you for choosing me. I adore you to the moon and back a zillion times."

13. Adele Looks ‘Almost Unrecognizable’ in Waist-Cinching Leopard Dress at Oscars Afterparty

While Adele didn’t hit the 2020 Oscars red carpet, the powerhouse singer did dazzle on the afterparty circuit wearing a beaded leopard dress to Guy Oseary’s Oscars bash, which was also attended by Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and more A-listers.

“She looked like herself but also so different — beautiful but almost unrecognizable,” a source told PEOPLE of the superstar, who has been following a strict diet and fitness routine as part of living a healthy lifestyle.

14. All My Children Alum John Callahan Dies at 66

Callahan, best known for his role as Edmund Grey on the daytime soap opera All My Children, died on March 28 at age 66 following a massive stroke.

The Daytime Emmys announced the news. “We’re devastated to share that John Callahan passed away earlier today. Sending our deepest condolences to Eva La Rue and all his loved one,” the tweet read. Callahan was married to LaRue from 1996 to 2005; together they had one child.

15. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, His Wife and Daughters, 4 and 2, Test Positive for COVID-19

In early September the actor shared that he and his wife, Lauren Hashian, and their daughters Jasmine, 4, and Tiana, 2, all had been sick with the virus, with the actor and his wife being particularly unwell. Thankfully they all recovered.

"I could tell you that this has been one of the most challenging and difficult things we have ever had to endure as a family, and for me, too, personally as well," the Jumanji star continued. "And I've gone through some doozies in the past."

16. Jill Duggar Dillard Opens Up About Distancing from Her Family: ‘I Never Expected This to Happen’

After being a prominent fixture on the Duggar family's first TLC series, 19 Kids and Counting, which documented the highly-religious, ultra-conservative Duggar household from 2008 until its cancellation in 2015, Jill went on to star in the subsequent spinoff, Counting On. But in 2017, she made the surprising decision to quietly quit the show. The reason? Jill told PEOPLE in October she and her husband Derick Dillard realized they'd lost the power to dictate their own lives.

"Our control to choose what jobs we were allowed to accept and even where we were allowed to live was taken away from us," Jill says, adding that goals they'd had as a couple were squashed if they conflicted with the network or family's plans. "By that point we'd had enough. We knew we had to pull out completely to reevaluate and get our bearings."

17. Selena Gomez Puts Her Kidney Transplant Scar on Display in Blue Swimsuit: ‘I Feel Confident’

In September, the singer posted an Instagram photo of herself modeling a blue one-piece with a front-zip closure from her longtime friend Theresa Marie Mingus's new swimwear line, La'Mariette. In the caption, Gomez shared that she finally felt confident enough to show the scar she received from an emergency follow-up procedure after her kidney transplant in 2017. She posed with one leg propped up on a rock, putting her inner thigh scar (which she first revealed in March 2018) and her prayer hands tattoo on full display.

“When I got my kidney transplant, I remember it being very difficult at first showing my scar. I didn’t want it to be in photos, so I wore things that would cover it up,” she captioned the post. “Now, more than ever, I feel confident in who I am and what I went through…and I’m proud of that."

18. Rebel Wilson Says She’s About 18 Pounds Away from Her Weight Loss Goal in Her ‘Year of Health’

The Pitch Perfect star gave an August update about her "Year of Health" in an Instagram post, sharing two photos of herself wearing a navy blue wrap dress as she thanked followers for their continual support.

"When I was reaching for the candies last night after dinner I thought to myself 'hmmmm…better not' and had a bottle of water instead," she shared in the caption. Wilson also revealed that she was 17.64 lbs. away from hitting her goal weight, writing, "8kg’s to go until I hit my goal – hopefully I can do it by the end of the year x." (Spoiler alert: she did.)

19. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Announce Shocking Move to ‘Step Back as Senior Members of Royal Family’

The royal couple announced on Jan. 8 that they intend to “step back as senior members of the Royal Family,” and they are making plans to split their time between the U.K. and North America.

“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” the Duke and Duchess of Sussex wrote on Instagram. “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment."

The couple ended up in several conversations with the Queen about what their future would look like, ultimately giving up royal duties, military appointments, their HRH titles and public funding. They then moved to Canada before relocating to Santa Barbara, California, later in the year; they've since been spotted at several charitable events in the Los Angeles area and in late December, launched a Spotify podcast (with a cameo from their young son, Archie).

20. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Had an Affair and Just Discovered He Has an Adult Daughter

Robertson and his children Al, Jase, Jep and Willie revealed during a May episode of the Unashamed podcast that the family had recently discovered the deeply religious patriarch has an adult daughter.

During the podcast, Al explained that he received a letter from a woman named Phyllis, who was 45 and claiming to be his sister.

"So basically, it was from a woman who said that by a DNA search, she thinks that dad might be her dad," Al said, adding that he had "dismissed" the letter at first because the woman's birthday was after the time Phil had become a Christian in the 1970s.

Phil has previously admitted to being a philanderer prior to finding Jesus, however, it appears his daughter was conceived just before he devoted himself to the church. "Well once we get into that and start looking at it a little more deeply, I'm like, 'Oh woah, woah… there might be something to this,'" Al said. Al finally approached his parents, and Phil agreed to take a DNA test — which ended up being a "99.9 percent match." Phil said that the family had already met Phyllis and in June, brought her on the podcast for a chat.

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