Part of what makes some legends a legend is the fact that they tend to die too early. Whether it’s the singer of a rock and roll band, a rapper or an actor, for some reason people who utilize the creative parts of their brain end up dabbling in drugs and alcohol more often than “normal” people. Because of that, the death rate for many creative folks is a lot higher than the average rate (hence, for example, the 27 club which is comprised of famous people who died at the age of 27). So, we at BabbleTop decided to put together a list of the Top 15 Famous People Who Died Too Young. Whether it be music, sport or film, there’s sadly plenty to choose from in each industry.
15. Michael Jackson
Some may argue that the King of Pop should be much higher on this list but considering the fact that he lived until the age of 50 and that he hadn’t been making a lot of music in his later years, it only makes sense to have him 15th on this list. Considering the state of the music industry today, Michael Jackson was probably the last mega-pop star out there, despite the runs that singers like Adele have made for his crown as of late. If you weren’t alive and cognizant in the early 80’s to mid-90’s you don’t really know what it was like to live in the time of Michael Jackson. He was responsible for countless hit songs, amazing music videos and physics shattering dance moves, and it’s because of that that he makes this list despite not being relevant for the last 10 or so years of his life.
14. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Another entry on this list that would be much higher had he not died in his 40’s, Philip Seymour Hoffman was probably the best actor of his generation. He was an actors’ actor and an amazing character actor who was sober for most of his adult life before a brief and deadly drug relapse claimed his life in 2014. While some may say that younger actors or musicians should take his place considering he was 46 years old, the real measuring stick here is how much work the person left on the table and considering the fact that Hoffman specialized in playing offbeat characters you’d think that he’d get better and more prolific with age. His death was an awful shock to the industry and showed how evil drug addiction truly is as he was found dead with a needle in his arm.
13. Buddy Holly
Perhaps the poster child for untapped potential and dying too early, one of three early Rock ‘N Rollers who perished on “The Day the Music Died”, Buddy Holly was responsible for the early Rock and Roll sound that influenced bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Alongside Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, Holly died in a plan crash in the dead of winter after leaving a concert in Clear Lake, Iowa. Considering the fact that he was only 22 years old and Rock and Roll was a new art form, it’s hard not to think that he would’ve accomplished so much more than he did even at the tender age of 22. While his music will help him live forever, it was just such a devastating blow to Rock ‘N Roll and music in general when his plane went down in 1959.
12. James Dean
The other poster child of dying young is James Dean who only starred in three movies in his short but impactful career before dying at the age of 24 in 1955. He was driving his silver Porsche and apparently because of the angle of the sun and the reflectiveness of his paint job, the truck that pulled out in front of him never saw him coming. His two seater convertible plowed into the truck full speed after Dean apparently said something to the effect of: “He has to see us” to his passenger. The irony of his death was that he had just recorded some driving safety PSA’s about maintaining the speed-limit and while it was determined that he was actually going the speed limit, it’s hard not to watch those clips and feel spooked. A superstar after only three films, it’s hard not to think that he would’ve taken Hollywood by storm (even more than he did) and lived to be and even bigger icon had he not passed away.
11. Jim Morrison
There are countless theories as to the death of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison, and because of that he’s the first entry on this list that people have started faked death rumors about. After essentially being run out of Florida by the “man” for his on-stage antics, Morrison was living in Paris with his girlfriend when he was found dead in their bathtub at the age of 27. While the coroner stated that he died of natural causes (heart failure) the one theory that makes the most sense is that he accidentally snorted his girlfriend’s heroin, to which he had no tolerance, thinking that it was his cocaine (you know that old chestnut). Either way, his grave has become one of the larger tourist spots in all of Paris and his death helped usher in the idea of the “27 Club” alongside fellow 60’s rocker Janis Joplin.
10. Phil Hartman
Another member of this list that was actually well into middle age, Phil Hartman’s death was one of the more traumatic nonetheless. While he was 49 years old, his career was actually still only beginning as he had joined Saturday Night Live in his late 30’s and he was only really cast in a handful of movies and was still working on his first sitcom gig News Radio at the time of his death. Unfortunately for Phil, his wife was a complete nut-job and she ended up shooting and killing him while he slept. Three hours later, with the police breaking down her bedroom door, she ended up shooting and killing herself as well. Her family ended up having the nerve to sue the pharmaceutical company behind her anti-depressant because… Get this… It didn’t mix well with cocaine. With his death coming only six months after his SNL castmate Chris Farley’s, it was easily the darkest period in the history of the show, and while Farley’s death was seen coming from a mile away, Hartman’s wasn’t and that’s what made it all the more sad.
9. Bruce Lee
Easily one of the top three most famous deaths on this list, many people still don’t understand what killed Bruce Lee. It’s thought that he, a man who prided himself on essentially being straight edge his entire life, took a pill given to him by a friend to fix a head-ache. That pill was strong enough to kill him. The confusion stems from the fact that he had collapsed on the set of Return of the Dragon, suffering seizures thanks to cerebral edema (something that apparently returned on the day of his death). So, while it was probably a mixture of the drugs his body couldn’t handle and the the health problem(s) he was experiencing, the fact that he originally got sick on the set of a movie mirrored the untimely death of his son Brandon Lee, who was accidentally shot to death on the set of The Crow in the 90’s. Like father, like son.
8. Chris Farley
Saturday Night Live has had a few cast members die before their time and none was more expected than the death of Chris Farley in 1997. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t still extremely sad, as he was one of the most beloved cast members on the show ever, or really in Hollywood history. Norm MacDonald tells a great story about the fact that Chris Farley was the only physical comedian he’d ever met who could fall face first and not instinctively put his hands up to protect himself. It was that lack of self preservation that made him so great but also made him unable to tackle his demons. The saddest part of his story is the fact that he never understood how funny he was and that was something that haunted him even up until his death which occurred after a four day bender in Chicago. It also came only days before he was set to return to rehab for nearly the 20th time in his short life on this earth.
7. The Notorious BIG
The main component of the East Coast part of the East Coast/West Coast rap beef in the 90’s, the Notorious BIG had only recorded two albums before his death in a drive by shooting in March of 1997 (while promoting his last album on the West Coast). While Tupac is the more well known of the two, one could argue that Biggie’s contribution to rap was more long lasting as he introduced the Mafioso-style of rap that still permeates the culture today. Larger than life and perhaps the best lyricist of all time, the one time good friend of Jay Z would definitely still be releasing classic albums today had he not been drawn into a beef that actually had very little to do with him (Puff Daddy is a different story). Considering the success and insane amount of money that Jay Z continues to make, it’s sad that Biggie died whilst being taken advantage of by Puff Daddy and over something he had no control over.
6. Elvis Presley
Now, this entry may be controversial to some as it’s common knowledge that Elvis didn’t actually die in 1977. Or, he actually really, really did. The King himself was responsible for the beginning of Rock and Roll and influenced Buddy Holly and the Beatles, to name a few. Despite that, he was an extremely unhealthy person who was on enough pharmaceuticals to put a Walgreen’s out of business. Beyond that he ate extremely unhealthy combinations of foods, like deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. While he didn’t die on the toilet like many people originally thought, he did die in the bathroom after leaving the toilet. Because that’s one of the least dignified ways to die, it’s not hard to see why people wanted to believe that he actually faked his own death to get away… From that toilet.
5. Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger’s death was initially thought to be tied to one of the last roles that he played as an actor, The Joker. It was said that he essentially entered a state of depression after spending a month in isolation, leading up to the filming of The Dark Knight, scribbling demented thoughts in his “Joker Diary”. While he did do both of those things, he wasn’t depressed (at least according to his family). But, people like to find closure and it is a lot scarier to the general public to think that someone as young, talented and rich as Heath Ledger could randomly die for no reason. They prefer associating some sort of meaning to it, especially when one of his last roles was as iconic as The Joker. The saddest part is that he apparently argued with his sister, the night before he died of multiple drug intoxication, telling her that he could handle the pills that he had received from one of the Olson Twins. Had he listened to her, he’d probably still be around and we’d have gotten a much better final movie in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which makes his death all the more terrible.
4. Marilyn Monroe
Another death that is still surrounded in mystery and controversy fifty years after it happened is that of Marilyn Monroe who’s official cause of death was suicide. She apparently swallowed a handful of pills and died in her sleep. However, many people think that she was killed because of her relationship with one or both of the Kennedy brothers. While that may have something to do with it, the rumor that she was depressed because JFK wasn’t going to leave Jackie Kennedy for her isn’t true. Apparently the last person to speak with her was the son of Yankee great, Joe DiMaggio, who apparently was set to remarry Monroe in the near future. So whether she committed suicide or just got drunk and lost count of the pills she was ingesting or was murdered, it helped solidify her as a legend and that’s the one silver lining you can find in cases like these.
3. Kurt Cobain
Like many other members of this list and even members of the dreaded 27 club, Kurt Cobain’s death brought a ton of different rumors with it. The main rumor, that has gained a lot more steam as of late thanks to documentary’s like the one that’s currently available on Netflix titled Soaked in Bleach, essentially blames his then wife Courtney Love for the murder of the then 27-year- old Cobain in 1994. There’s actually a decent amount of compelling evidence behind that theory, most of which stems from the fact that Love made a ton of inconsistent statements about the death of her husband before and after his disappearance and death. Either way, Cobain had attempted suicide multiple times and was essentially missing at the time of his death. So, as much as one wants to believe that he didn’t put a shotgun in his mouth, it’s what makes the most sense. Perhaps, had he quit the band that was bringing him so much unhappiness and gotten himself sober, he probably would’ve been able to live a long life. But, apparently that was too hard for him so he ended up taking the “easy way out” by finding a permanent solution to a set of temporary problems.
2. Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur is the most iconic rapper of all time and because of that he gets a higher spot on this list than perhaps many people would’ve otherwise assumed. Only 25 at the time of his death, Tupac’s life and death have been the subject of many books and theories. His death, while still technically unsolved, basically amounts to payback for the beat down of a gang member that Tupac and company ran across after the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight in Las Vegas. While he was initially thought to have yet again survived a brush with death, he ended up succumbing to his injuries six days after being shot four times. It’s because of all the uncertainties and the fact that the hospital staff initially announced that he was going to survive that have lead people to believe that Tupac pulled an Elvis and faked his own death. While he actually had a lot more reasons to do so than Elvis did, the sad truth is that had Tupac not died in September of 1996 he probably would’ve died the next year as he was a magnet for trouble and thus would’ve ended up shot a third time or in prison for the rest of his youth. Thanks to his amazingly prolific worth ethic, we’re still hearing “new” songs of his to this day, and while that also lends itself to the theory that he’s still alive, he is in fact dead. And it sucks.
1. John Lennon
The most surprising and gut wrenching death on this list of surprising and gut wrenching deaths belongs to John Lennon, who was shot multiple times in the back by Mark David Chapman as he entered his apartment building in December of 1980. There’s an eerie picture of Lennon politely signing Chapman’s copy of his album, Double Fantasy, which makes this situation even more infuriating as Lennon was kind enough to not only sign his album but also ask “Is that all you need?” after doing so. After a five year hiatus spent raising his son Sean, Lennon had just returned to music with arguably his best album. His death sent shock waves through the music world and the world at large. Considering how active (and alive) fellow Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are to this day, one has to think that Lennon would still be alive and as vocal as ever if not for that dirt-bag from Hawaii whose name shouldn’t be repeated (as that just gives him the fame, or infamy, that he wanted when he waited outside The Dakota building for Lennon to return that fateful December night).