Wednesday, July 1, 2009

“Death Comes In Threes”

“Death comes in threes” is a popular maxim. With the recent deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson it seemed that the maxim was once again making an appearance. Then Billy Mays died. Ooops!

In the world of fame and celebrity, however, it seems that death occasionally comes in twos. Some unusual duos have died on the same day: Mahatma Gandhi and Orville Wright, Jayne Mansfield and Primo Carnera, Luis Bunuel and David Niven. So I looked to see if I could find any other pairs that stood out. I was a liitle shocked at what I found. Here are some famous names linked by death.

John Adams & Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1826)

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, of course, were among the greatest of America’s founding fathers. They worked together on the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and would become the second and third Presidents of the United States. Over the next few decades they would have a changing relationship, in which they frequently switched between close friendship and bitter political rivalry, before keeping an affable correspondence in their final years. In 1826, as he lay dying, 90-year-old Adams’ final words were: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” In fact, Jefferson had died, aged 83, only hours earlier. Significantly, it was July 4 – exactly 50 years since the Declaration of Independence was approved. (Another former president, Jefferson protégé James Monroe, would died on the same date in 1831 – suggesting that “died on the fourth of the July” might be a more fitting motto for patriots.)

Aldous Huxley, President John Kennedy & CS Lewis (November 22, 1963)

Despite all the tributes that are bestowed the newly departed, death can occasionally be very humbling. On any other day, the deaths of British authors like the beloved fantasy writer CS Lewis (best-known for the Narnia series) and novelist Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) would have been big news. However, the deaths of the two gentlemen were upstaged, like anything else that happened that week (or that year), by the shocking assassination of President Kennedy.

Jean Cocteau & Edith Piaf (October 11, 1963)

Of all modern French artistes, probably none have the same legendary status as songbird Edith Piaf and multifaceted genius (poet, novelist, artist, filmmaker, actor, singer, stage and fashion designer) Jean Cocteau. Fittingly, the two legends converged on a few occasions. In 1940 Cocteau wrote the play Le Bel Indifférent (The Beautiful Indifferent) for Piaf and her then husband, Paul Meurisse. (The play was credited with the end of their marriage, which perhaps was Cocteau’s plan.) In the early 1950s, after Piaf’s career had faded, Cocteau saw her singing in a Parisian dive, and wrote an article about her talents that revived her career. According to legend, Cocteau found out about Piaf’s death on the morning of October 11, said “Ah, la Piaf est morte. Je peux mourir aussi” [“Ah, Piaf’s dead. I can die too”], and promptly died of a heart attack. This might not have been his smartest move, as Piaf upstaged him, closing down the streets of Paris as 40,000 fans mobbed her funeral. Cocteau’s own passing could not compete with that. (He was 74, while she was a tragically young 47.)

Orson Welles & Yul Brynner (October 11, 1985)

The great actor and filmmaker Orson Welles was known for his mammoth ego – something he had no trouble admitting. “I wouldn’t act a role if it was not felt as dominating the whole story,” he once said. Chances are, he wouldn’t have been happy that his death didn’t take up the entire obituary sections, sharing them with another great Hollywood scene-stealer, Yul Brynner. To make things worse, Brynner continued to appear regularly on television, reminding everyone of his death. As he was dying of smoking-related cancer, he had recorded a public service announcement with a simple message: “Don’t smoke. Whatever you do, just don’t smoke.” As Welles famously enjoyed puffing on cigars, this would have annoyed him even more.

Milton Berle, Dudley Moore & Billy Wilder (March 27, 2002)

When legendary comedian Milton Berle died in 2002, it was a double bill with another theatre and television comedy star, British musician and actor Dudley Moore. To add even more misery for comedy fans, film director and writer Billy Wilder – not exclusively a humorist, but also known for great comedies like "Some Like It Hot" and "The Apartment" also died that day. “I hear you, Milton,” said comedy writer Larry Gelbart at Berle’s funeral. “Sorry, I know you work alone.”

1 comment:

  1. Hey, thanks for your research....Now I can say I know where I was and what I was doing when C.S. Lewis died!