Posted on 25 July 2010.
While many people enter and leave this world with little notice, there are those among us whose death—especially if untimely—captures headlines and our hearts. Hollywood deaths are not only top news but can, in some cases, create an industry of itself dedicated to keeping alive the memory of those we deem worthy of our affections. So who are these people? How has there death changed our worldview and the way we see things? Why are their deaths so tragic?: Let’s find out in this exclusive top 10 list of untimely Hollywood tragedies.
1. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was not born with this name. Her real name was Norma Jean. She had a very difficult childhood not knowing her father, and her mother developing psychiatric problems and eventually being placed in a mental institution. Norma Jean was placed in foster care and an orphanage home. A family friend and her husband took care of Norma Jean for a few years, but could not afford to continue to take care of her when they moved to the East Coast for a job opportunity.
To avoid living in foster care, Norma Jean married her boyfriend, Jimmy Dougherty. While Dougherty was working as marine in the South Pacific, Norma Jean worked in a factory where she was discovered by a photographer. That was how she became a model, and her next dream was to become an actress.
In 1946, Norma Jean signed her first movie contact and divorced her husband as she was concentrating more on her career rather than her marriage. That was when she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and dyed her hair blonde, being a natural brunette. However, the success did not come until the 1950s. Monroe was typecast as “the dumb blonde”. She was tired of the stereotype, and moved to New York to study acting. She returned to star in a movie in 1956, in the dramatic comedy “Bus Stop”.
The 1950s seemed to be golden for Marilyn Monroe, but the 1960s went downhill for her. Monroe was dismissed from the filming of “Something’s Got To Give” because of too many missed work days. Monroe claimed it was because of an illness. Her last two completed films were box office disappointments, and she had several failed relationships and marriages. One affair to recall is with John F. Kennedy, and her marriage with John DiMaggio, which lasted only nine months.
Marilyn Monroe was found dead on August 5, 1962, at the mere age of 36. She was found dead in her room, where an empty bottle of sleeping pills were found by her bed. It was also speculated that Monroe was murdered, but her death was ruled as drug overdose.
2. Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger was born in Perth, Australia. Perth, according to Ledger, is the most “isolated city in the world”. Ledger never liked what other boys enjoyed doing, such as sports. Instead, Ledger had great interests in Chess and acting. Having acted in several school plays, Ledger developed a dream of being a professional role. First, he had stints in the Australian soap opera, “Home and Away.” Then came a role of playing a gay character. Next was a starring role in “Roar”, where he met his girlfriend, Liza Zang, who was 18 years his senior.
Ledger and Zang moved to the U.S together to find acting jobs. Ledger got his first major American Film role in “10 Things I Hate About You”, a teen comedy where he plays the boy who always gets the girl. The movie was a success, and Ledger found himself typecast for these sorts of roles. Ledger did not want to be in a teen movie anymore and waited for an opportunity to play Mel Gibson’s son in “The Patriot.” Ledger then was offered the part of Spider Man, but he declined to play a small part in “Monster’s Ball”.
Ledger’s next big role was “Brokeback Mountain” playing a homosexual cowboy. His girlfriend at the time, Naomi Watts, encouraged him to accept the role, saying it was “an opportunity of a lifetime”. It was there that he met Michelle Williams. They began a relationship and had a daughter together, Matilda, born in 2005.
But then Ledger was offered the part of the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. That’s when all the troubles began. Ledger’s part was so intense, and he was always a perfectionist. To get into character, Ledger stayed in a hotel room for six weeks in complete solitude. Ledger became stressed and couldn’t sleep. On January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger died of accidental drug overdose. He took 6 different sets of pills at once that were not dangerous, but if taken at the same time, they are lethal. A year later, Ledger won an Oscar for his supporting role as the Joker. His parents and sister accepted the award on his behalf proudly.
3. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson might as well be the most successful artists of our generation. He started out as a member of the band, Jackson 5, which included his brothers. He also has a sister, Janet, who is also a successful artist. Both Michael and Janet were open throughout their careers they were very close. They even collaborated on the song “Scream” together.
When Jackson 5 faded, Michael had an even more successful solo career with songs such as “Thriller”, “Beat it”, “Bad”, and “Black or White”. In 1984, Jackson won a record of eight Grammys. That same year, Jackson was invited to the White House by then president Ronald Reagan to award him for his charity work. This helped fans overcome the drug and alcohol abuse that overshadowed Jackson after an incident during filming of a Pepsi commercial when his head went on fire that same year. In 1988, Jackson wrote his first Autobiography, Moonwalker. He touched on subjects like his appearance and the abuse he suffered from his father during his childhood. In 1988, Elizabeth Taylor declared Michael Jackson to be “The King of Pop.”
In the mid-80s, Jackson’s skin started to change. Tabloids stated that it was due to plastic surgeries, but Jackson stated that it was due to a disease that he had called Vitiligo. By the 1990s, Jackson was completely white. In 1993, Michael Jackson was interviewed by Oprah on one of the most anticipated episodes of her show. This was his second interview since 1979. While being interviewed, Jackson talked about his surgeries, his abuse, and loneliness. The interview had an audience of 90 million in the U.S alone.
In the summer of 1993, Jackson was accused of sexually abusing a child, Jordan Chandler. Chandler described Jackson’s body parts in great detail. However, no charges were filed, and Jackson paid $22 million in settlement. Michael Jackson never truly recovered of that part of his life. At the time, Jackson was with Lisa Marie Presley. She stood by him and was a support system for him. The two got married in May 1994. The couple divorced in 1996, though they spent four more years of on and off dating. In 1995, Jackson married his second wife, Debbie Rowe. Together they had two children together, Prince and Paris. The couple divorced in 1999, and Jackson got full custody of the children. Jackson had a third child in 2002 named Blanket through a surrogate mother.
In 2001, Michael Jackson released the album, “Invincible”, and his first in six years. It did not do as well as his other albums, but still managed to get $3 million in sales revenue. Later that year, Jackson performed at a concert dedicated to him for the 30th anniversary of his career. The concert also included performances by artists such as Whitney Huston and Britney Spears. It aired on September 10, 2001
In 2003, Jackson was accused of sexual child abuse for a second time after the documentary, “Living with Michael Jackson” aired. In one scene, Jackson was seen holding hands with a young boy, and discussing sleeping arrangements. Jackson was arrested in November 2003, and was charged with seven counts of child molestation and two other counts in relation to the 13 year old boy shown in the film. The trial began in 2005 and went on for 5 months. In June, Jackson was acquitted of all counts.
In 2009 Jackson was planning a comeback tour, which would be his last. It was named “This Is It.” However, before he could even start performing, Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. He was 50 years old.
4. Elvis Presley
Elvis was the most popular American icon of the 20th century, known as “The King of Rock N Roll” or simply as “The King”. He began his singing career in 1954, working with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. Elvis got his contract deal with RCA victor by Colonel Tom Parker, who managed Elvis for two decades. Elvis’s first sing, “Heartbreak Hotel” was released in 1956, and it became a number 1 hit. Another hit of Elvis was “Hound Dog”. In the 50s Elvis would always be filmed from the waist up due to his “sexy” moves, which were inappropriate at the time. He also made numerous television appearances to perform his songs. His performances made Elvis a star. Elvis also made his film acting debut in “Love Me Tender”.
While being on military duties in 1958, Elvis took a hiatus from music, but returned to the scene two years later. During that time, his mother passed away. Much of the 1960s was devoted to film making and several soundtrack albums. But in 1968, after seven years away from music, Elvis made his comeback performance that led to several extended tours. The first concert was broadcast by Elvis in 1973 via satellite. Also in 1968, Elvis welcomed his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, with wife, Priscilla Presley. Lisa Marie was born exactly 9 months after the couple made it official.
Priscilla and Elvis became very distant during the 1970s. In 1979, Elvis had an affair with Joyce Bova, which resulted in a pregnancy and an abortion. Priscilla and Elvis separated in September 1972. Five months later, Elvis began a relationship with Linda Thompson.
Elvis and Priscilla divorce took a toll on Elvis. He started being unwell, and started using drugs. He overdosed on drugs twice. Keyboardist Tony Brown remembers the singer’s arrival at a University of Maryland concert: “He fell out of the limousine, to his knees. People jumped to help, and he pushed them away like, ‘Don’t help me.’ He walked on stage and held onto the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody’s looking at each other like, is the tour gonna happen?” Guitarist John Wilkinson recalled, “He was all gut. He was slurring. It was obvious he was drugged. It was obvious there was something terribly wrong with his body. It was so bad the words to the songs were barely intelligible. … I remember crying. He could barely get through the introductions”. Wilkinson recounted that a few nights later in Detroit, “I watched him in his dressing room, just draped over a chair, unable to move. So often I thought, ‘Boss, why don’t you just cancel this tour and take a year off…?’ I mentioned something once in a guarded moment. He patted me on the back and said, ‘It’ll be all right. Don’t you worry about it.’
Between 1973 and 1976, Elvis recorded material that was enough to put on six albums. But his health declined more and more that it was surprising to everyone he survived that long. Journalist Tony Scherman writes that by early 1977, “Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self. Hugely overweight, his mind dulled by the pharmacopoeia he daily ingested, he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts.”
Sadly, Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. He was found in the bathroom, and died of drug overdose. His daughter was 9 years old at the time. He was 44.
5. Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of the well known band, Nirvana. He formed the band alongside Krist Novoselic. When he was only 7 years old, Cobain’s parents divorced, and it affected him greatly only for the worst. In a 1993, interview Cobain said, “I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn’t face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that.”
Kurt’s father promised not to get married after the divorce, however, much to Kurt’s dismay, he remarried when he met Jenny Westeby. Kurt moved to a new household with his sister, his father, stepmother, and step siblings. Kurt liked Jenny because she gave him the motherly attention he desired until she and Kurt’s father had a baby boy. Kurt’s mother began dating a man who was abusive and Cobain was a witness to one incident, which resulted in a hospitalization.
Kurt began bullying a boy at school, which forced him to go to a therapist. In 1979, Kurt’s mother granted full custody to Kurt’s father. Cobain’s teenage years proved difficult for his father, and Kurt lived with relatives and friends.
Cobain always had an interest in art, and when he was assigned work in art class, Cobain drew a posing of Michael Jackson. Cobain also found peace in music and began to attend rock concerts regularly. In 1986, Cobain moved out of his house, and formed a relationship with Tracy Marander. The couple lived a very on and off life. Their relationship was strained due to Cobain’s touring and Tracey having to support the couple by working in a cafeteria. An argument that they once had inspired Cobain to write the song, “About a Girl”.
Cobain formed the group “Nirvana” along with Krist Novoselic, and Chad Channing would later join them. Channing was featured in Nirvana’s 1989 album “Bleach”, but after not liking Channing’s sound, Cobain replaced Channing with Dave Grohl. In 1991, Nirvana released their album,” Nevermind”, which sold over 25 million albums.
While Nirvana was at the top of the charts, Cobain found love in 1990 with Courtney Love. The couple married in 1992 when they discovered they were going to have a baby together. Their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain was born on August 18, 1992.
Kurt Cobain had a long history of depression, as well as a undiagnosed disease, chronic stomach condition. His first experience with drugs came at the age of 13, and continued using during adult life. Cobain was also prone to alcoholism and solvent abuse. Cobain’s cousin Beverly, a nurse, claimed Cobain was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child, and bipolar disorder as an adult. She also brought attention to the history of suicide, mental illness and alcoholism in the Cobain family, noting two of her uncles who had committed suicide with guns. His addiction to drugs worsened, and one point overdosed while performing on stage. Rather than calling for an ambulance, Love injected Cobain with Narcan to bring him out of his unconscious state.
Cobain’s addiction with drugs took a toll when he was found dead on April 8, 1994. It was reported that he was dead for 3 days prior to being found. His death was ruled a suicide, and a note was left by Cobain saying Goodbye to his fans, his wife and young daughter. He was only 27.