I could never figure this out. Is this structure only for those who have recently passed?

The late Steve Jobs...

Or can I use it to refer to someone who died a long time ago?

The late George Washington...

  • 2
    Are you asking what the threshold is between being called 'late' and not having to bother?
    – Mitch
    May 29 '12 at 20:42
  • Yeah, pretty much.
    – esqew
    May 29 '12 at 20:47
  • Note for later readers: a very similar question was asked again here, and for some reason attracted a lot more detailed answers.
    – PLL
    Apr 24 '14 at 13:25

Yes it is most appropriate for use with those who were recently living.

For an explanation:

The sense of "deceased" (as in the late Mrs. Smith) is from late 15c., from an adverbial sense of "recently."

-From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=late&allowed_in_frame=0


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