Brief lives – the tragedy and beauty

I recently compiled a new post – Famous people who died early.

Jimi_Hendrix_1967 These are a diverse selection of famous people who died tragically early, but at the same time achieved much in their short life-pan. It includes famous celebrities of the Twentieth Century – James Dean, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, but also poets and musicians, such as John Keat, Wilfred Owen and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

One thing that is hard not to notice. Famous film stars and musicians were much more liable to dye early. It was hard to find a scientist or famous author, who died early. But, famous celebrities, seem to have a higher likelihood of passing away early.

Part of this is simply a reflection of the nature of their area of influence. Perhaps several immensely talented scientists have died early. But, they never had the time to develop their theories. Scientific discovery can be a life-long process. It can takes years of studying and experimentation to make progress. Many great scientists have achieved much in the evening of their lives.

With the film and music industry, a star can be born over-night. By their early 20s, pop and film stars can be very famous.

Another issue is the lifestyle. Many tragically early deaths in the music industry are related to drug misuse. The entertainment industry seems to be more prone to encouraging unhealthy lifestyles where drug use is more common.

Sportsmen who died early are quite rare – unless they met with a tragic accident, such as Aryton Senna or they suffered from drug misuse themselves – such as the Italian cyclist Marco Pantani.

A brief candle that flickered brightly

Western culture is apt to see death only as a tragic waste, but it is worth bearing in mind the words of the Seer-poet. Jalaluddin Rumi, who gives a hint into the mystery of reincarnation and evolution.

A stone I died and rose again a plant;
A plant I died and rose an animal;
I died an animal and was born a man.
Why should I fear? What have I lost by death?

– Rumi

John Donne tells us:

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee.”



John Keats

On the one hand, the human in us feels grief at the loss of such talented people. What could Mozart have composed – if he had lived another five years? – What a tragedy, Keats was taken in the prime of his life. If Jesus Christ had lived longer, perhaps his teachings would have been even deeper, more comprehensive. Perhaps even more people could have been touched by his spirituality.

But, we will never know. Looking back in history, another part of us thinks – they came and did what they were fated to do and then left. Some people achieved so much in 30 years, it feels like they had several lifetimes of achievements in such a sport span of time.

The master Bard, William Shakespeare, gives us these lines from Macbeth, which just suggests it is hard to evaluate the real significance of  life and death.

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)



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