They all left their mark on the world in one form or another. But even though they seemed larger than life, in the end, they faced mortality just like the rest of us. Here’s a collection of last known photos of the most highly influential people.
That’s Jimi Hendrix with his “black beauty” guitar, posing for a photo taken near London by his girlfriend Monika Dannemann just one day before he died. You won’t find Hendrix in a dilapidated state prior to his death, as it was sudden, and he was only 27 years old.
Hendrix died on September 18, 1970, from complications related to drug use and alcohol. A friend claimed that it was his mixture of red wine and lager that led to him over drinking, but the fact that he took 18 times the recommended dosage of sleeping pills certainly also had something to do with it.
Princess Diana was of course famous for her marriage and divorce of Charles, the Prince of Wales, but also her charitable efforts around AIDS and land mine victims. The European paparazzi couldn’t get enough of the former Princess, and on August 31, 1997, they were at it again.
Diana had just finished dinner with her new boyfriend, Egyptian billionaire Dodi Al-Fayed, at the Ritz in Paris. Her driver sped away at over 60 mph to get away from the paparazzi, then promptly crashed into a pillar of the Pont d’Alma Bridge. Diana died later that night, while Al-Fayad and the driver Henri Paul, (who was drunk and on anti-depressants), died at the scene.
Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain
One of America’s best and most beloved authors was laid to rest on April 21, 1910. Twain’s health was declining, and death was very much on his mind before he went. The author of classics such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” worked right up until the moment he died, as his last completed work was entitled “Etiquette for the Afterlife: Advice to Paine.”
In his last instructions to his biographer, Twain had him transcribe the following: “Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in.” Coincidentally, Twain was born and died when Halley’s Comet was in the sky, saying: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet…” He wasn’t disappointed.
Actress Brittany Murphy left us all shocked when she passed away on Dec. 20, 2009, and there have been little in the way of answers since. Murphy was suffering from an apparent cold when she loaded her body up with over-the-counter medications, and later collapsed in her bathroom.
The coroner’s report tells us that Murphy, very oddly, died of pneumonia. What’s especially odd about that cause of death is that her widowed husband died of the same thing just months later. Speculation amongst the family has endured, as they suspect everything from foul play to poisoning from toxic mold in the house.
James Dean loved his cars and was actually a race car driver between films. After purchasing his new Porsche 550 Spyder, the “Rebel Without a Cause” star showed it to British Actor, Alec Guiness, who took one look at it and ominously said, “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
One week later, on September 30, 1955, James Dean was behind the wheel and headed to a race in California. He rode with a Porsche mechanic named Rolf Wütherich, who encouraged him to drive the new car to the race to break it in. According to reports, right before Dean flipped the car into a horrifying wreck, he said: “That guy’s gotta stop… he’ll see us.”
The man, the myth, the legend: Burt Reynolds was the ultimate macho male icon in the 1970s and 1980s. The charismatic actor starred in several major blockbusters such as Deliverance, The Longest Yard, and Smokey and the Bandit, but as he aged his health began to take a turn for the worse.
Reynolds was largely out of the public eye until he made a public appearance in March 2018 at the Build Studio, at which the media immediately seized on his declining health. He also gave a very strange interview around the same time. Six months later he died of a heart attack at the age of 82.
All but one of the other photos in this collection were taken within days or months of the subject dying, but in this case, the photograph was taken years before Anne Frank was killed. It was taken sometime in early to mid-1942, which would’ve been a few months before the Frank family went into hiding to escape the Gestapo and the Holocaust.
This means that this photograph was taken just before Anne received an empty diary from her father. She had no way of knowing it (and sadly, she’ll never know it), but in the ensuing months and years, she would create one of the most important written works in history that would sell 30 million copies in 70 different languages.
The downward spiral of Amy Winehouse was a difficult thing to watch, as the talented young singer could not harness her demons. She died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, and these photos were taken during her last public performance one month before she died. On July 23, 2011, the singer was found dead in her apartment after a relapse overwhelmed her body.
Winehouse won five Grammys, including the 2008 award for best album. “Rehab” had some telling lyrics that help explain why Winehouse was unable to kick her bad habits: “They tried to make me go to rehab. I said, no, no, no… Yes, I been black, but when I come back, you’ll know, know, know…”
If you think today’s news cycle is crazy and full of sensational stories, then consider the events leading up to President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. After Lincoln was inaugurated as president for the second time one month earlier, Commander of the Confederate Army Robert E. Lee, surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War.
Lincoln was looking forward to post-war life, but just one day later on April 14, 1865, a Southern actor named John Wilkes Booth, who was supremely loyal to the Confederacy, entered Ford’s Theater and shot the president in the back of the head. He would officially die the next morning. The Great Emancipator never really got the chance to experience the presidency without war.
On January 28, 1986, the unthinkable happened. Seventy-three seconds into the tenth flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger, it broke apart after an O-ring in the right booster failed, and exploded like a nuclear bomb in the sky. None of the passengers survived the televised tragedy.
An investigation by NASA revealed that the crew may have been alive for several minutes after the explosion and made efforts to recover control. Part of that crew was astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who was going to be America’s first teacher in space after the elementary school educator won a contest with over 11,000 other applicants.
Aretha Franklin was such a fighter during her life it’s a surprise that death was even able to claim her. The singer of A Natural Woman and Respect made her final public appearance during a show hosted by Elton John to raise money to fight AIDS.
Franklin would succumb to pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 within nine months of the performance, but evidently she sill brought the house down. Elton John later said, “She was obviously unwell, and I wasn’t sure she could perform. But Aretha did and she raised the roof. She sang and played magnificently, and we all wept… God bless her.”
Despite the fact that Elvis received a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs by President Nixon a few years earlier, Elvis died with a varied mixture of dangerous substances in his system. Despite his declining health and physical appearance, fans were shocked to read the headlines on August 16, 1977, that the King was dead.
Headlines the next day read: “ELVIS PRESLEY DIES OF HEART ATTACK,” despite the fact that the autopsy didn’t reveal any failures of vital organs. A decades-long drug addiction, diabetes, and constipation are what took the King down in his Memphis Mansion, Graceland.
Given how the image of singer Whitney Houston was perceived when she started her career, it’s a marvel that her life ended the way it did. Houston looks to be on a good one below, as she participates in her last public performance of her career, alongside Kelly Price, after a pre-Grammy Awards party.
Two days later, Houston’s addiction to narcotics and pills led to her drowning in her own bathtub. On February 11, 2012 her downward spiral that started roughly 20 years earlier finally took her life. The autopsy and analysis from the scene of the crime revealed no foul play, and that the singer’s body was full of illegal substances.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
This photograph of Philip Seymour Hoffman shows a somewhat happy Hoffman during a very troubling part of his life. His appearance at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 happened to be his last one in public, as he secluded into darkness shortly after.
Fans of the “Hunger Games” were certainly sad that the writers were forced to write him out of “Mockingjay,” as he died during filming. Production slowed on the set after Hoffman died of an accidental overdose just a week before finishing his part. Lead actress Jennifer Lawrence said, “It took a week when I wasn’t waking up and having to remember (Hoffman) was gone. We all suffered that together.”
The first female pilot to cross the Atlantic (and the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the US mainland), posed for this photo before she attempted to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane. On July 2, 1937, her Lockheed 10E Electra crashed near Gardner Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Recently, final radio transmissions believed to have been sent by Earhart have been transcribed by a 15-year-old girl in Florida whose radio randomly picked up: “waters high… waters knee-deep… let me out… help us quick.” There was also a housewife in Toronto that heard: “…we have taken in water… we can’t hold on much longer.”
Sharon Tate was only 26 when her life was taken by the infamous Manson Family. At the time, she was married to director, Roman Polanski, and eight and a half months pregnant with their son. Polanski was off in London filming ‘The Day of the Dolphins’, so he had three friends stay with her who would also become tragic victims. Tate was recently portrayed by actress Margot Robbie in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
As one of Hollywood’s most horrifying incidents, her story recently made it’s way back into the limelight with Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ showcasing the land of luxury in the late 60s.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This photograph was taken just moments before an assassin’s bullet strikes Martin Luther King in the jaw on April 4, 1968. There is also a photograph of the aftermath that shows King after he had been shot with Reverend Jesse Jackson and company pointing at the shooter, James Earl Ray.
Ray fled the country but was later arrested in London and died in prison. As for King: He kind of foreshadowed his demise in a speech when he said, “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
The photo in the middle is the last one taken of John Lennon, and what’s creepy about this photo is the fact that his assassin is pictured with him hours before he pulled the trigger. That’s Mark David Chapman getting Lennon’s autograph as he headed to the studio to record some music.
Chapman waited for Lennon in front his Manhattan apartment and read through pages of “Catcher in the Rye.” When Lennon came back home, Chapman shot him in the back four times killing him on Dec. 8, 1980. In August 2018, Chapman was denied parole for the tenth time and still rots away in prison.
Whether or not one agrees with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policies as president, it should be noted that he gave his life for his country. The 12-year president basically worked himself to death, succumbing to a brain hemorrhage on April 12, 1944, after uttering the words, “I have a terrific headache.”
Harry Truman was sworn into office that evening, and the next day, he gave a press conference. A shocked and overwhelmed President Truman confessed: “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
There may not be any assassination in history that was more consequential than that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. His murder sparked a European powder keg that exploded into the most massive, bloody conflict the world had ever known.
On June 28, 1914, Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were visiting Sarajevo when a bomb exploded near their car (pictured above), causing them to flee. The driver got away and eventually made a wrong turn. One of the assassins, a man named Gavrilo Princip, just happened to be in a cafe when the car pulled in front of him. He shot and killed them both, and the rest is history.
If Lenin looks a little freaked out, it’s because he’s in a near catatonic state after suffering a number of strokes in his final years. The man who masterminded the Bolshevik Revolution and became the first Premier of the Soviet Union paid a heavy price for years of stirring the Russian masses.
Lenin rose to power in Russia, but only held onto it for a couple of years. Lenin was only 54 years old when he died, but by the time this photograph was taken, he had already suffered three strokes in two years that had him mute. A final one would finish him off on January 21, 1924.
That’s Ulysses S. Grant writing his memoirs, which he barely completed right before he succumbed to throat cancer on July 23, 1885. Boredom always led Grant to drink, but it was his habit of chain-smoking cigars that he developed during the Civil War that ended up killing him.
In fact, he liked cigars so much that after he captured two forts in Tennessee and defeated the Confederate Army at the Battle of Shiloh, the citizens in the area gifted General Grant 10,000 boxes of cigars. Then he went on to win the Civil War and become president of the United States, in that order.
Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” fame, and so much more, was last seen in public during the 1989 Academy Awards. It was her friend Bob Hope that convinced her to come. It didn’t sound like she had a great time though, as she reportedly said: “No one cares what the hell he looks like, but everybody cares what I look like — God, I’m so tired of myself.”
Ball had been unhappy ever since her late husband, Dezi Arnaz, passed three years earlier. In April 1989, she experienced chest pains and was forced to have open heart surgery. She was then confined to the first floor in house and complained that she was living like an invalid. On April 26, 1989, one of her arteries ruptured and she died. But friends say she died of a broken heart.
Dale Earnhardt, pictured below with wife Teresa before the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, was such an aggressive NASCAR driver that he was given the nickname “The Intimidator.” On the final lap of the race, he was in third place, right behind his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While many drivers were jockeying for position, Earnhardt’s famous #3 black Chevrolet was clipped by another car, catapulting Earnhardt into the wall on turn four. A faulty seat belt that was incorrectly installed at Earnhardt’s insistence (for comfort reasons), snapped, causing him to hit his head on the steering wheel, which was the blunt force trauma that ended up taking his life.
Freddie Mercury wanted nothing more than to be left alone by the media in his final days, but because they came so abruptly, he never really had the chance. The King of Queen shocked the world on Nov. 23, 1991, when he announced (amid heavy speculation) that he had AIDS.
Mercury did everything he could to keep working and have his life remain as normal as possible (for a rock star anyway). However, when he couldn’t conceal his illness any longer, he made the announcement and added, “My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.” The very next day, Mercury passed away.
We’re not saying that Tupac is dead, but this is the last known photograph of the hip-hop legend. That man to the right of Tupac is Suge Knight, and when they met, Tupac expounded on some bad habits. After a fight broke out in a Vegas casino on Sept. 8, 1996, Suge and Tupac took off and were shot by still-unknown assassins.
According to the first officer on the scene, he brought Tupac out of the car and placed him on the ground while he was bleeding. Tupac was trying to call for Suge, and the officer was asking Tupac who shot him. In true Tupac form, right before serenity took hold of him, he looked the officer in the eye and replied, “F you.” Then he closed his eyes for the last time.
Biggie Smalls was on top of the world in early 1997 and had just released his second album. That man to the right is Bad Boy Records Founder Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, as the two men attend a party hosted by Vibe Magazine and Quest Records held at The Petersen Automotive Museum on March 8, 1997.
The two attended an after-party that included guests such as Faith Evans and Aaliyah. They left the event in the early morning hours of March 9th. Biggie was sitting in the front passenger seat of his SUV when a black Impala pulled up next to him and fired four shots into the car. Perhaps most well-known about his murder is the fact that it has never been solved, despite several eyewitnesses at the scene.
It’s nice to see that the last known photograph of Marilyn Monroe shows her in a happy moment. This photo was taken in August 1962 during a weekend retreat with jazz pianist Buddy Greco (pictured) and Frank Sinatra (not pictured).
On Aug. 5, 1962, her issues with substance abuse got the better of her. Her death was officially ruled a suicide, though conspiracy theories claim that she was murdered. Either way, the sex icon was a special kind of woman, inspiring her ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, to say on his deathbed almost 37-years later, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”
This article was originally published on History 101: Last Known Photographs of Highly Influential People
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