“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” —Neil Young
Whether or not you agree with Young’s words, it’s hard to deny that a eeot of famous people seem to die young. However short their life spans, these actors, writers, musicians, and leaders all managed to make their mark on history in a big way.
Born c. 1341 BCE, died c. 1323 BCE, age 19.
King Tutankhamun was a pharaoh in the 18th Egyptian dynasty more than 3,000 years ago. His tomb was found by archaeologists in 1922, and since then he’s become one of the most famous ancient Egyptian kings. However, his reign didn’t last long: He died at 19 years old. From what we know, the cause of death was likely an infected leg.
42. Alexander the Great
Born July 20, 356 BCE, died June 13, 323 BCE, age 32.
Known as one of the greatest military leaders in human history, Alexander of Macedonia led his armies across Persia on a campaign that lasted over a decade. He was never defeated in battle, and the empire he created was the largest that the world had ever seen at that time. However, his life of unending conquest and battle took its toll: He died of malaria at age 32.
Born August 31, 12 AD, died January 24, 41 AD, age 28.
Emperor of Rome for a little over three years, Caligula (real name Gaius Caesar) was known as one of the Empire’s more cruel leaders. He eliminated political rivals and forced parents to watch their own sons be executed. Eventually, he declared himself to be a god, and the people of Rome had had enough. He was assassinated by a group of guards in 41 AD well before his 29th birthday.
40. Joan of Arc
Born c. 1412, died May 30, 1431, age 19.
Jeanne D’Arc, or “The Maid of Orléans,” was a young French woman who, after having visions of God, helped lead the French to victory over the English at Orléans during the Hundred Years war. Captured by the English a year later, she was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake.
39. Christopher Marlowe
Baptized February 26, 1564, died May 30, 1593, age 29.
Though he’s second fiddle to Shakespeare today, in his time, Christopher Marlowe was a hugely successful and influential playwright. His play The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus was by far his most popular and enduring. He was killed in 1593 in a fight with three men over the bill at an inn.
38. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756, died December 5, 1791, age 35.
The name Mozart is up there with names like Einstein and Michelangelo as someone who represents the very peak of their field. But while his career was successful and prolific, it didn’t last long. In his early thirties, his mental and physical health began deteriorating, and he died at age 35 of uncertain causes.
37. John Keats
Born October 31, 1795, died February 23, 1821, age 25.
British poet John Keats’ poetry was met with a lukewarm response in his lifetime, but has since become revered for its imagery and philosophy. Keats contracted tuberculosis in 1819, and died just two years later.
36. Emily Brontë
Born July 30, 1818, died December 19, 1848, age 30.
One of the Brontë sisters, along with Charlotte and Anne, Emily was made famous by her novel Wuthering Heights, which is still considered a classic of English literature. It would be her only successful work before she died of tuberculosis in 1848.
Born November 23, 1859, died July 14, 1881, age 21.
An icon of the Old West, Billy the Kid was an infamous outlaw and gunfighter. Born in New York City, he headed west at a young age and began his career of violence and bloodshed. He was said to have killed 21 men, one for each year of his life. He was hunted down and shot by Sheriff Patrick Garrett in 1881.
Billy the Kid, left
34. Stephen Crane
Born November 1, 1871, died June 5, 1900, age 28.
Though less popular today, Crane’s work in literary realism was hugely popular and influential in his time. His novels The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets are both considered to be classics. He died of tuberculosis in 1900.
33 and 32. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker
Born March 24, 1909 and October 1, 1910, respectively, died May 23, 1934, age 25 and 24, respectively.
Bonnie and Clyde were a famous gangster couple who operated at the height of the Great Depression. Through newspaper coverage and a Hollywood movie, they’ve become known as folk heroes, but during their spree they killed at least 13 people. Eventually, they were betrayed by a friend and killed in a shootout with police in 1934.
31. James Dean
Born February 8, 1931, died September 30, 1955, age 24.
Dean is the embodiment of the phrase “Live fast and die young.” He is credited in only three films, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant, but in a short span, Dean became a cultural icon and a symbol for 1950s youth. He died in a car crash in 1955.
30. Buddy Holly
Born September 7, 1936, died February 3, 1959, age 22.
If you like rock and roll in any of its forms, Buddy Holly might be to thank. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were all influenced by his music. His career was cut short, though, when he and two other young musicians were killed in a plane crash on February 3rd, 1959, an event that would go down as “The Day the Music Died” in Don McLean’s hit song “American Pie.”
29. The Big Bopper
Born October 24, 1930, died February 3, 1959, age 28.
J.P. Richardson Jr., known as “The Big Bopper,” was a former DJ who recorded songs in his spare time. His hit single “Chantilly Lace” brought him fame but he died shortly afterwards in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly.
Born, May 13, 1941, died February 3rd, 1959, age 17.
Another young star taken too soon on “The Day the Music Died.” The first hispanic rock star, Valens quit high school at 16 years old to tour as a rock musician. Valens was just 17 when he died along with Holly and The Big Bopper.
27. Stuart Sutcliffe
Born June 23, 1940, died April 10, 1962, age 21.
Sometimes called “The Fifth Beatle,” Sutcliffe was a close friend of John Lennon’s and the original bass player for the group. However, he would leave the band in 1961, never even recording in studio with them and seeing none of their success. He died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1962, before the Beatles had even charted a single hit.
The guy with sunglasses
26. Marilyn Monroe
Born June 1, 1926, died August 5, 1962, age 36.
In her lifetime, Monroe was one of the biggest stars in the world, and she’s still considered a sex symbol today. She starred in films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot, and had high-profile marriages with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller. Monroe died of a drug overdose in 1962. According to the coroner’s report, Marilyn Monroe overdosed on at least 40 Nembutal pills, but there wasn’t a single pill found in Marilyn’s stomach. The coroner explained that this was likely because she was an addict, and as such, her body would have digested the pills faster. This explanation hasn’t satisfied conspiracy theorists who maintain the there was foul play.
25. Sylvia Plath
Born October 27, 1932, died February 11, 1963, age 30.
Plath’s novel The Bell Jar and her poetry collections The Colossus and Ariel are all still popular today, and her Collected Poems won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982. Plath is also remembered for her troubled marriage to poet Ted Hughes and her struggles with depression; she committed suicide in 1963.
24. Brian Epstein
Born September 19, 1934, died August 27, 1967, age 32.
Stu Sutcliffe and many other people were called “The Fifth Beatle” over the years, but Paul McCartney himself said “If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian.” The band’s manager, Epstein influenced the Fab Four in terms of dress and performance, and played a major role in their meteoric success. In 1966, the Beatles retired from live performances, and Epstein’s influence waned. He died from a drug overdose a year later.
23. Otis Redding
Born September 9, 1941, died December 10, 1967, age 26.
Known as the King of Southern Soul, Otis Redding was an early legend of rock and roll, popular with both black and white audiences. He died in a plane crash, along with four members of his backup band, in 1967.
22. Yuri Gagarin
Born March 9, 1934, died March 27, 1968, age 34.
Gagarin was the Russian cosmonaut who famously became the first person to travel to space in 1961. His flight lasted just 108 minutes, and he travelled around the Earth at 27,400 kilometers per hour. He died in 1968 in a plane crash before he could return to space again.
Born November 27, 1940, died July 20, 1973, age 32.
Maybe the most popular martial artist ever, Lee brought Chinese martial arts to Hollywood cinema with movies like Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon. Lee died in 1973 from an unexpected reaction to pain killers.
20. Nick Drake
Born June 19, 1948, died November 25, 1974, age 26.
Almost entirely unknown in his lifetime, Nick Drake’s music has since become beloved by fans all over the world. Unfortunately, Drake never lived to see his music appreciated. He died from an overdose of his antidepressants in 1974, which most people believe to have been a suicide.
19. Sid Vicious
Born May 10, 1957, died February 2, 1979, age 21.
The Sex Pistols were one of the world’s first and most influential punk rock bands. Perhaps nobody embodied the band more than Vicious, their troubled bass player. In late 1978, his girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead of a stab wound on the floor of their hotel room. Vicious, in a drug-fueled haze, at times said he couldn’t remember what happened, and at others confessed to killing her. Though released on bail shortly after, he entered a downward spiral, and was found dead from a drug overdose a few months later.
18. Ian Curtis
Born July 15, 1956, died May 18, 1980, age 23.
The lead singer and songwriter of the band Joy Division, Curtis’ music was dark, moody, and likely inspired in part by the intense depression Curtis suffered from his entire life. He committed suicide by hanging in 1980. His story was dramatized in the 2007 movie Control.
17. Bob Marley
Born February 6, 1945, died May 11, 1981, age 36.
Undoubtedly the world’s most influential reggae musician, Bob Marley’s music is still hugely popular world wide. He helped introduce the world to the genre, and was perhaps the first international superstar to come from outside the developed world. He died of cancer in 1981 at just 36 years old.
16. Terry Fox
Born July 28, 1958, died June 28, 1981, age 22.
Diagnosed with cancer at age 18, Fox had his right leg amputated as a result. He was then inspired to undertake his “Marathon of Hope,” in which he would run, artificial leg and all, from one side of Canada to the other to raise money for cancer research. He made it thousands of miles, but unfortunately before he could make it through the province of Ontario, his cancer returned and he was forced to stop. He died in hospital a little over a year later, and has since become a Canadian national hero.
15. Brandon Lee
Born February 1, 1965, died March 31, 1993, age 28.
The son of Bruce Lee, Brandon became an actor like his father, starring in kung fu films like Legacy of Rage and Kung Fu: The Movie. In 1993, he was cast in the film adaptation The Crow comic books, and during filming he was meant to be shot at by a gun with blanks. However, due to a complication with the prop gun, Lee was accidentally shot with a bullet. He died from his injuries shortly after.
Born August 23, 1970, died October 31, 1993, age 23.
Older brother to Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix was a teen idol whose roles ranged from the troubled Chris Chambers in Stand By Me to young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He died from a drug overdose outside the famous Viper Room in West Hollywood in 1993.
13. Tupac Shakur
Born June 16, 1971, died September 13, 1996, age 25.
Tupac was one of biggest names in the gangsta rap scene of the nineties. He was closely involved in gangs in his early life, which inspired his music but which also created tensions for him as his fame grew. He was shot and killed by an unknown person in 1996, likely because of the growing East Coast/West Coast rap feud.
12. The Notorious B.I.G.
Born May 21, 1972, died March 9, 1997, age 24.
If Tupac was the face of West Coast gangsta rap, Biggie was the same for the East Coast. He was discovered by Puff Daddy in the early nineties, and would go on to record some of the most popular rap music ever created. He was killed in 1997 by another unknown gunman, potentially again in connection to the East Coast/West Coast feud.
11. Princess Diana
Born July 1, 1961, died August 31, 1997, age 36.
The mother of Prince William and Prince Harry and the onetime wife of Prince Charles, Princess Diana was a hugely popular figure in the British Commonwealth in her lifetime, and was known for her humanitarian efforts. Her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996 shocked the world but she remained popular. She was killed in a car crash, along with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, in 1997. Twenty years after the fatal car crash, a firefighter named Xavier Gourmelon revealed Princess Diana’s last words, spoken before she as she was pulled from the wreckage: “My God, what’s happened?” She suffered cardiac arrest shortly after being loaded onto a stretcher. She was resuscitated, but died later in hospital of her injuries.
The same firefighter also spoke about how how Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, tried to reach the princess from the front seat of the car, but his substantial injuries prevented him from doing so. “He kept asking for the princess, saying, ‘Where is she? Where is she?'” Xavier said. “But my team told him to keep calm and not speak. I told him that none of my men spoke English so it was better for him to keep still and not move. I told him not to worry we were looking after everyone.”
Born January 16, 1979, died August 25, 2001, age 22.
Aaliyah became a star early in her life, signing a recording contract at age 12 and releasing her first hit album at age 15. She was killed in a plane crash at 22 years old, just shortly after she had starred in her first film and released her third album.
9. Heath Ledger
Born April 4, 1979, died January 22, 2008, age 28.
Beginning his career with movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, Ledger quickly became known as a talented actor. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Brokeback Mountain, becoming one of the youngest people ever nominated for the award. Shortly after portraying the Joker in The Dark Knight, Ledger died from an accidental drug overdose. He would posthumously receive the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role.
The “27 Club”
You might have noticed there were a few names missing from this list. Well, here’s a special section devoted to the unfortunate members of the 27 Club, the surprisingly long list of incredible people who all happened to die at age 27.
8. Robert Johnson
Born May 8, 1911, died August 16, 1938, age 27.
You maybe haven’t heard of Robert Johnson, perhaps the greatest blues guitarist of all time, but you’ve definitely heard his story. Johnson was a hugely influential early blues musician who was said to have sold his soul to the devil to learn how to play the guitar. At age 27, Johnson was poisoned and died a few days later, and was one of the first famous musicians to join the infamous “27 Club.”
Born November 27, 1942, died September 18, 1970, age 27.
Jimi Hendrix is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest and most influential guitarists of all time. He was entirely self taught. In his short career, he had an enormous effect on rock music. He died in 1970 from drug-related causes.
6. Janis Joplin
Born, January 19, 1943, died October 4, 1970, age 27.
Janis Joplin’s powerful voice echoed throughout rock and roll in the late sixties. She released iconic singles like “Piece of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” before tragically dying from a drug overdose in 1970.
5. Jim Morrison
Born December 8, 1943, died July 3, 1971, age 27.
Jim Morrison was the lead singer of The Doors. Morrison’s reputation for songwriting was only rivaled by his reputation as a sex symbol. In 1971, he left the band and moved to Paris to write poetry. He was found dead in his bathtub shortly after from what is believed to be heart failure related to his substance abuse problems.
4. Jean-Michel Basquiat
Born December 22, 1960, died August 12, 1988, age 27.
Beginning as a street artist who made graffiti under the name SAMO, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art would eventually become world-renowned. As he became more popular, he began to struggle more and more with drug use. He died of an overdose in 1988.
3. Kurt Cobain
Born February 20, 1967, died April 5, 1994, age 27.
As the lead singer and songwriter for Nirvana, Kurt Cobain pioneered grunge music, creating extremely unique and influential music in the early nineties. The albums Nevermind and In Utero enjoy popularity and acclaim to this day. However, Cobain struggled with depression and anxiety his entire life, and struggled to deal with the fame that his music brought. He committed suicide in 1994.
2. Amy Winehouse
Born September 14, 1983, died July 23, 2011, age 27.
Amy Winehouse’s music was a mix of jazz, blues, soul, R&B and many others. Sadly, though, her amazing talents were often overshadowed by her personal life, which was filled with addiction and erratic behavior. She died of accidental alcohol poisoning in 2011.
1. Anton Yelchin
Born March 11, 1989, died June 19, 2016, age 27.
Yelchin was an actor and musician who starred in films like Alpha Dog and the 2009 Star Trek reboot. He died in 2016 when his parked car rolled down his steep driveway and pinned him against a security fence, making him the latest tragic member of the 27 club.
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