Gone too Soon: Books of Brief, Remarkable Livesby Beth Carswell
What do the names Jimi Hendrix, Sylvia Plath, and Terry Fox have in common? Two notable commonalities for which they are all remembered – bright, burning passion, and the fact that they died too young.
All too frequently, the most bright and brilliant stars burn out early, leaving the world grieving their youth and their talent. Whether by illness, accident, substance abuse, suicide or other means, death is a tremendously difficult loss to navigate, but it seems even more tragic when the death in question is someone remarkable, and someone young. We're left wondering what might have been.
In the world of music, it’s a refrain heard too often. Stuart Sutcliffe was one of the founding members of The Beatles, and credited with coming up with the band's name, along with John Lennon. However, he was also an artist whose paintings showed real talent, for which he was beginning to receive notice. He died at age 21 of a brain hemorrhage. In The Beatles' Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe and His Lonely Hearts Club, Sutcliffe's sister Pauline, an established psychologist, openly examines her brother's life, his death, his musical and artistic talents, and his place in one of history's most groundbreaking musical groups.
Born in the southern U.S. in Georgia, Otis Redding sang in his Baptist church choir and won numerous talent shows in his adolescence. However, he was only active in the professional music scene for seven years before his death at age 26, when his chartered plane crashed into a lake in Wisconsin, killing him, his manager, the pilot of the plane, and four members of Redding's band, the Bar-Kays. Journalist Scott Freeman, whose writing has earned him numerous awards and two Pulitzer nominations, tells us all about the king of soul in Otis! The Otis Redding Story.
Janis Joplin was famous for her throaty, occasionally gravelly, heart-rending voice. She has been called rock and roll's first female superstar, and while she collaborated and toured with many groups (Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band) she was often a solo artist, and a driving creative force behind everything she did. Love, Janis is a loving tribute to Joplin by her younger sister Laura, inspired by a collection of letters written by the singer, who was just 27 when she died from a heroin overdose.
The sports arena sees more than its fair share of young death, as well. Athletes push their bodies to amazing extents to achieve what they do, and despite seeming invincible, aren't. Some are so inspirational that they leave the world a better place than they found it, such as Canadian athlete and cancer activist Terry Fox, who died at age 22 from complications of Osteosarcoma. At age 18, Fox developed the cancer in his right knee, and had to have his lower leg amputated. Three years later, he decided to run from one coast of Canada to the other, a length of a marathon every day, raising money for cancer awareness along the way. Sadly, the cancer had metastasized to his lungs, and he was forced to abort his Marathon of Hope after 143 days. He had run 5,373 km or 3,339 miles. Fox died nine months later, one month before he would have turned 23. Read more about Fox and his journey in Terry Fox: His Story by Leslie Scrivener.
Stanislaw Kiecal (Stanley Ketchel) was a Polish-American boxing middleweight champ, who was well-known and beloved in the boxing community. He was nicknamed the 'Michigan Assassin', and was famous for taking on boxers who greatly outweighed him. He became obsessed with Jack Johnson, who was the first black heavyweight champion of the world, and challenged him for the heavyweight crown. While Johnson prevailed, many were astounded at how good a fight Ketchel put up. In 1910, when Ketchel was 24, he was robbed and shot to death while staying on a friend's ranch, a horrific crime detailed in The Killings of Stanley Ketchel by James Carlos Blake. Ketchel's killers were sentenced to life in prison.
Soccer player Duncan Edwards signed to Manchester United when he was just a teenager, and became England's youngest player since WWII. He had played all through his school years, and been captain of his team for two years running, before attracting the attention of a scout. Edwards played for less than five years professionally before his death, but helped Manchester United win two League Championships, and reach the semi-finals for the European Cup. He was a victim of the Munich air disaster, surviving the crash, but dying from his injuries 15 days later. Seven of his teammates were killed in the disaster as well. Their story and Edwards' is told in The Lost Babes: Manchester United Forgotten Victims of Munich.
And their stories, memorable as they are, are not so unusual. Musicians, actors, athletes, authors and more – the figures we admire and look up to are no more impervious than the rest of us, and the list of those who died in their prime – or before – is a lengthy one. Fortunately, there are tireless researchers, authors and biographers who make sure that the talent and life of these young people is never forgotten,
These are the books that remember some of the brightest brief stars we lost too soon.
Musicians Who Died Young
Jimi Hendrix: A Brotherís Story
by Leon Hendrix and Adam Mitchell
Hendrix was 27 when he asphyxiated in 1970, in part from prescription drugs. He remains one of the world’s most revered and imitated guitarists.
by Laura Joplin
Joplin died at age 27 from a heroin overdose in 1970. Fans of her unique voice and charismatic stage presence still mourn her.
by Cynthia Lennon
When Lennon was shot and killed in 1980, he was only 40 years old. His death was widely reported and shocked music fans worldwide.
Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter
by Randy L. Schmidt
Half of pop-folk duo The Carpenters (along with her brother), Karen Carpenter was 32 when she died from complications of anorexia nervosa in 1983.
Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker
by Beverly Mendheim
Richard Valenzuela (Ritchie Valens) was just 17 when he died in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper in 1959. He helped bring the Latino music community into the American mainstream.
Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson
by Joseph Vogel
Jackson died in 2009 of a prescription drug overdose at age 50. He was a pioneer of the 1980s and is remembered by his fans for his ingenuity, eccentricity, fashion and showmanship.
The Beatles' Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe and His Lonely Hearts Club
by Pauline Sutcliffe and Douglas Thompson
The original frontman for The Beatles, tragically Sutcliffe was only 21 when he died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962.
Otis! The Otis Redding Story
by Scott Freeman
Redding died in a plane crash at age 26 in 1967. Soul ballads such as “Try a Little Tenderness” are still among the most crooned songs in the world.
Wishing on the Moon: The Life and Times of Billie Holiday
by Donald Clarke
After struggling against poverty and racism all her life to become a singer, Holiday died at age 44 from complications of cirrhosis of the liver in 1959.
Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams
by Paul Hemphill
Williams, famous for country ballads such as The Lovesick Blues, died of heart failure at age 29 in 1953, as a result of mixing pills and alcohol.
To Athletes Dying Young
Terry Fox: His Story
by Leslie Scrivener
Fox died at age 22 after his cancer metastasized. He made it through 143 days on his Marathon of Hope.
The Killings of Stanley Ketchel
by James Carlos Blake
Ketchel was just 24 years old when a scheming criminal couple robbed and shot him in 1910.
The Lost Babes: Manchester United Forgotten Victims of Munich
by Jeff Connor
Duncan Edwards was just 21 years old when he succumbed to his injuries as a result of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.
Brian Piccolo: A Short Season
by Jeannie Morris
Piccolo was a star football player who died at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma in 1970.
Pre: The Story of America's Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine
by Tom Jordan
Prefontaine was a talented distance runner who died in a 1975 car accident when he was 24.
Put Me Back On My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson
by William Fotheringham
Simpson was a road racing cyclist who died at 29 of exhaustion and heat during the 1967 Tour de France.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
by Jon Krakauer
Pat Tillman was a star football player who left the NFL after September 11th to join the U.S. army. He was killed in a friendly fire incident at age 27 in 2004.
The Legend of Hobey Baker
by John Davies
Amateur hockey player killed in a plane crash at 26 in 1918. (F Scott Fitzgerald, who went to Princeton a few years after Baker, memorialized him by naming the main character in This Side of Paradise 'Amory Blaine' in reference to Baker's full name.)
The Pitch that Killed
by Mike Sowell
Ray Chapman was a baseball player who died of a pitch to the head at age 29 in 1920, resulting in the adoption of protective helmets for batters.
Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit
by Bruce Thomas
The legendary martial artist was just 32 when he died of an allergic reaction to a common painkiller in 1973.
Other People Gone Too Soon
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Poet Sylvia Plath had fought depression her whole life. She was just 30 when she took her own life in 1963.
Ryan White: My Own Story
Ryan White contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, and was consequently expelled from school. His case did much to promote awareness of HIV. He died as a result of his infection in 1990, at age 18.
by Luca Marenzi
Basquiat was an innovative artist whose blend of sophisticated skill and edgy graffiti style wowed the New York City art scene in the 1970s and 80s. He died of a heroin overdose in 1988 when he was 27.
Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management
“Mrs. Beeton” was a famous cookbook writer who died of puerperal fever at age 28 in 1865.
Into the Wild
by Jon Krakauer
Christopher McCandless was a young man who hiked into the Alaskan wilderness on his own. He died of starvation at age 24, in 1992.