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.
6. Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse began playing guitar at age 13 and began writing music material a year later. She began working for a living, and at one time worked as an entertainment journalist for the World Entertainment News Network, in addition to singing with local group the Bolsha Band. Winehouse’s boyfriend at the time, soul singer, Tyler James, sent Amy’s demo tape to Simon Feuller, and she was signed to his record production. When Darcus Breese heard Winehouse’s voice, he became interested in signing her. But because Winehouse was kept a secret, he was not allowed to be told who the woman with the beautiful voice was. It took him several months to find Amy Winehouse’s identity, and when he did, he signed her to his record label.
Amy Winehouse became a star in 2003 when she came out with her first album, “Frank”. She won over her fans with her deep voice and music of Jazz, Blues and R&B generic music. Every song except for two on the album were co-written by Winehouse. The album was a critical success. Next came her second album “Back To Black”. Winehouse was nominated for six Grammy nominations, and won five. This made her the first British artist to win five Grammys, including three of the “Big Four”: Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The album was produced by Mark Ronson, and included songs, “You Know I’m No Good”, Rehab”, and “Love Is A Losing Game”.
Winehouse’s troubles came when she began dating her on and off again boyfriend and future husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. It was him that introduced her to drugs and gave her the first drug she ever tried.I n a June 2007 interview, Winehouse admitted she could sometimes be violent toward him after she had been drinking, saying “if he says one thing I don’t like then I’ll chin him”. That year, photos surfaced the internet showing the couple bruised and bloodied after an alleged fight. Winehouse’s parents and in laws became concerned and at one point, her father in law encouraged fans to boycott her music. While visiting Blake in prison, Blake admitted to Winehouse’s father that they would cut themselves to ease the pain.
Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil divorced in 2009, and Winehouse decided to stop using drugs and once said that the whole marriage was based on doing drugs. Soon after, Winehouse began dating Reg Traviss. Although she tried hard to improve her daily living, it proved wrong when Winehouse died on July 23, 2011. It was reported that Traviss was about to propose to her a few weeks later during a vacation. Winehouse’s parents decided to open a rehab centre for those who are suffering from drugs. Winehouse’s third album, “Lioness”, which included recordings of unreleased materials, came out on December 5, 2011, and all proceedings went to the rehab centre her parents opened. Winehouse won another Grammy in 2012 for her duet, “Body and Soul” with Tony Bennett.
7. Brittany Murphy
Brittany Murphy’s parents divorced when she was only two years old. She was raised by her mother, and was completely estranged from her father. Brittany and her mother decided to move to California so that Brittany could pursue her acting career. “When I asked my mom to move to California, she sold everything and moved out here for me. … She always believed in me.” Murphy always credited her mother for her success. Before moving to California though, Murphy discovered her dreams at the age of four when she started singing lessons, dancing and acting.
Right after she moved, Murphy saw herself on Television having roles on such TV shows as “Frasier”, “Party of Five” and “Boy Meets World”. Murphy then landed roles in films. Her first movie was the teen comedy “Clueless”, which co-starred Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd. She also starred in “Girl, Interrupted”, “Just Married”, “8 Mile” and “Don’t Say a Word”. Murphy also had a chance of showing her singing abilities when she starred in “Happy Feet”, singing Queen’s classic, “Somebody to Love”. What people might have forgotten is that Murphy was in a bad in the early 1990s with Eric Balfour called Blessed Soul.
Murphy had several relationships, such as with Ashton Kutcher and Eminem, as well as several engagements. In 2007, she married Simon Monjack in a Jewish ceremony. Murphy knew her husband for 17 years prior to marrying him. Murphy seemed to be on top of the world with a good career and personal life. But all of it ended on December 20, 2009 when Murphy suddenly died of cardiac arrest at only 32 years old. Her husband died only 5 months later.
8. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston was born to be a musician. She was born to an entertainment family. Her parents are John Russell Houston, an entertainment executive, and Cissy Houston. Her cousins are Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick, and her honorary aunt is the legendary Aretha Franklin. Houston began following her mother’s footsteps at the mere age of 11, when started performing as a soloist in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she also learned to play the piano. In her teen years, Houston spent performing at nightclubs where her mother would perform.
Houston was offered a record deal in 1980, but her parents insisted that she finish high school. In 1983, however, Gerry Griffith saw her perform, and advised Clive Davis to sign her to Arista Records. Davis agreed without hesitation. Houston’s self titled debut album was released in 1985. It was a great success. Rolling Stone stated Houston was “one of the most exciting new voices in years”, and New York Times called the album “an impressive, musically conservative showcase for an exceptional vocal talent”. All together, Houston released 7 albums throughout her life.
Houston also started her acting career in 1992 with the film “The Bodyguard” co-starring Kevin Costner. The soundtrack for the movie included the hit, “I Will Always Love you”, sung by Houston. It was written and previously performed by the legendary Dolly Parton. Houston’s version was an overnight hit, and it was even reported by Newscast that the song was overplayed on the radio. That was the first time that there was a report on a song being overplayed. Even though the song was a success, Houston won a Razzie Award for her role in the film. The Washington Post stated that Houston was “doing nothing more than playing Houston, comes out largely unscathed if that is possible in so cockamamie an undertaking”.
During that time, Houston married her boyfriend of 3 years, Bobby Brown. They had their daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, in 1993. The marriage proved to be turbulent, as drug abuse had started. Houston said that the drug use was light before “The Bodyguard” and started to get heavy after the movie. In 2003, Brown was on trial for hitting Houston, but she still stood by his side. The couple finally decided to divorce in 2006, after 14 years of marriage. They still, however, stayed on good terms after their divorce.
In 2009, Whitney Houston released her first album in 6 years, “I Look To You”. The album was a success, but Houston’s voice proved to be weaker due to drug and alcohol use. Her performances were weak, and she faced some unappreciative audiences who criticized her. Yet Whitney Houston always put a brave face, despite the challenges.
Houston was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. It was a two day interview, and Houston was very open to Oprah about her challenges and demons. She said she was through the drugs and alcohol, and even performed her song, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”. But the statement proved to be wrong when Houston died on February 11, 2012, after being found in a bathtub. She was 48. That same day, Houston was scheduled to attend Clive Davis’ Pre Grammy Awards Party, and talked to her mother and cousin only hours prior to her death. Nothing seemed to be wrong.
9. Jett Travolta
Jett Travolta was never in the entertainment business, but was the son was John Travolta and Kelly Preston. He had autism and suffered seizure attacks from time to time. But he was always a bright, happy, and active person nonetheless. January 2, 2009 was a painful day for the Travolta family. While vacationing at the Bahamas, Jett suffered a deadly seizure attack while he was in the shower, and hit his head while he was in the care of his nanny. He was only sixteen years old. John Travolta and Kelly Preston, along with their daughter, had a hard time getting through the suffering, but had a second son, Benjamin, in November 2010. Kelly Preston was 48 when she gave birth to her third child.
10. Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate was a well known actress, discovered in 1969. She was a beautiful blonde with an amazing figure. After a few television performances, Tate was hailed for her comedic ways, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in “Valley of the Dolls”. In addition to acting, Tate did some modeling for fashion magazines.
When she met her future husband, director, Roman Polanski, neither of them was happy with the other. During a casting for his movie, “The Fearless Vampire Kills”, Polanski originally wanted Jill St. John for the lead part, but agreed to cast Tate only if she wore a red wig. Because Polanski was a perfectionist, and Tate was inexperience, filming proved to be difficult for him. But later, Polanski praised Tate for her growing confidence.
Tate and Polanski began a romantic relationship, and Tate was being very untraditional, for those times anyway, by saying that couples were to live together before marriage. The couple got married in January 1968. Once the two married, Tate began to have less interest I her career, but changed her mind when Polanski said he wanted to be married to a hippie, not a housewife. From then on, she continued to have a continuous career in acting.
The marriage of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski proved to be short lived when Tate was stabbed to death in her home while Polanski was in London, filming a movie. Her hairstylist, Jay Sebring, tried to defend her during the attack, but died instantly. Sharon Tate was only 26 years old and 8 months pregnant at the time of her death.