"Death comes in threes" is a popular maxim. In the world of fame and celebrity, however, it seems that death usually 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. A few months ago, I looked at some uncanny celebrity birth twins. Here are some of those who were linked by death.
1. 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 protÃ©gÃ© 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.)
2. 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.
3. 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 IndiffÃ©rent (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.)
4. 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.
5. 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."
6. Diana Kraft & Kent Kraft (February 9, 2008)
Unlike most people on this list, these two were not celebrities. However, few lives have been so intertwined as in the curious case of Kent Kraft and Diana Schroder. Both born on September 2, 1941 (in different parts of South Dakota), they married in Sioux Falls in 1964. Diana had been suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease for some time when she passed away in 2008. Kent, who had been briefly ill, died the same day, right next to her "“ ensuring that, when they died, they were the same age to the day.
7. Michelangelo Antonioni & Ingmar Bergman (July 30, 2007)
These two directors, giants of European arthouse cinema, were often mentioned in the same breath during their lifetimes. They both directed their first features in 1950, became commercially successful with "difficult" films, and were noticed in the US through university film societies (in which many students worshipped Antonioni and despised Bergman, or vice versa). When they died on the same day (Bergman at 89, Antonioni at 94), New York Times film reviewer A.O. Scott wrote that: "In their prime, Mr Antonioni and Mr Bergman were seen as the twin embodiments of the idea that a filmmaker could be, without qualification or compromise, a great artist."
8. Tom Hanson & Richard Nicholas (March 10, 2009)
Canadians are probably familiar with at least one photo from the impressive portfolio of award-winning Canadian Press photojournalist Tom Hanson. In 1990, during a tense standoff with police in Quebec, Hanson snapped a masked Mohawk warrior "“ arm raised, rifle in hand "“ standing atop an overturned police van. This was land rights campaigner Richard Nicholas, and the photo became a famous symbol of the campaign. Less than 20 years later, both men died on the same day "“ and both at the young age of 41. Hanson collapsed playing hockey and died a few hours later. Meanwhile, Nicholas (whom he never actually met) was killed in a car crash. "To think that the very man who took that picture died on the same day at the same age — how miraculous is it that something like that would happen?" said Nicholas' cousin Sonya Gagnier. "At that pinnacle moment in 1990 they crossed paths, and then they crossed paths again. It's another pinnacle point."