North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is the latest in a long list of deaths this year of important public figures. From Osama bin Laden to Steve Jobs, each death felt momentous. Here's GlobalPost's list of top 10 key deaths of 2011.
1. Kim Jong Il
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died Dec. 17 of a heart attack while traveling on a train in the country. Kim, who was 69, led North Korea with a tight fist since 1994, when he took over from his father.
See GlobalPost's in-depth series: After Kim Jong Il
President Obama led a Navy SEALS operation that captured and killed former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2.
See GlobalPost's in-depth series: Osama bin Laden dead: the world reacts
Former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was captured shortly after his hometown of Sirte was captured by National Transition Council forces. Gaddafi was pulled out of a drain pipe, beaten, sexually assaulted and then killed.
4. Vaclav Havel
Vaclav Havel, the playwright and activist, died Dec. 18 at age 75. Havel was the last president of Czechoslovakia, and then the Czech Republic's first president. He led his country in its transition to a democracy.
5. Steve Jobs
Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs died Oct. 5 after battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Jobs was responsible for introducing the global community to desktop publishing and computer animated movies and creating the first commercially successful computer. His death led to an outpouring of tributes.
6. Andy Rooney
Andy Rooney, longtime “60 Minutes” commentator known for his wry humor, died Nov. 4 in New York City at age 92.
Actress Elizabeth Taylor died March 23 in Los Angeles at age 79. Taylor was known for being one of America's greatest actresses, and for marrying eight times.
Writer Christopher Hitchens died Dec. 16 in Texas at age 62. Hitchens, who had been battling esophageal cancer, was known as a controversial writer who took on Mother Teresa, angered both liberals and conservatives and supported the Iraq War.
A US drone strike reportedly killed US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was one of America's most wanted Al Qaeda operatives.
10. Happy Feet
And last but not least: Happy Feet. This young emperor penguin managed to swim 2,000 miles from Antarctica to New Zealand, only to find himself stranded on a beach with nothing but sand and debris to eat. But he was not alone. After Happy Feet became an international celebrity, zoo officials took him in and nursed him back to life. Happy Feet was soon released back into the ocean with a tracker to follow his movements. But then, in September, the tracker fell silent.