The Quick 10: 10 Shocking Hollywood Deaths

atosan/iStock Editorial via Getty Images
atosan/iStock Editorial via Getty Images

Does it seem like only 15 years ago that we were all plastered to the screen, watching a white Bronco speed down Interstate 405? That's because it was. Although it's definitely up there in terms of media coverage, it's far from the first scandalous murder to befall Hollywood. Here are 10 others that stunned the world.

1. Virginia Rappe. In what was one of Hollywood's first big murder scandals, huge (literally and figuratively) film star Fatty Arbuckle was accused of raping actress Virginia Rappe, who then died, allegedly of injuries she sustained during the rape. Arbuckle and Rappe were both guests at a party at the St. Francis Hotel. Rappe, who had a reputation for such things, became rip-roaring drunk and started tearing her clothes off and screaming. She somehow managed to stumble into Arbuckle's bathroom; he walked in and very unexpectedly found her vomiting in the toilet. She swore she was dying and loudly told anyone within earshot as much. And she was right - the next day she died due to a ruptured bladder. The friend she had been at the party with told police that Fatty had raped Virginia and police concluded that her bladder had ruptured under Arbuckle's immense girth. The problem is that it seemed completely out of character for him - people testified that he was a very shy man, especially with women, and was probably one of the most chaste men in Hollywood. After three trials and more than seven months of sensational newspaper headlines, Fatty was unanimously acquitted by a jury who also issued a written apology to the actor. But the harm was done - his career was pretty much over, his marriage was ruined and he was too far in debt to his lawyers to recover. It was later thought that Virginia's ruptured bladder was the result of a recent abortion - one of many - gone wrong.

2. William Desmond Taylor. Taylor was well-known in Tinseltown, directing the likes of Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid and Mary Miles Minter. It was quite a shock when he was found shot to death inside his L.A. bungalow in 1922.

The crime scene was shockingly sloppy - people traipsed in and out, items were removed and Paramount's general manager went in and destroyed evidence. It's speculated that this was allowed because the police were highly influenced by Adolph Zukor, then head of Paramount. Because of all of the tampering, we don't know who shot Taylor to this day. Suspects include two of his lovers (Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter), Minter's mother, Taylor's valet and his former valet, and an actress named Margaret Gibson. The latter confessed to his murder on her deathbed in 1964.

3. Charles Lindbergh, Jr. It's every parent's worst nightmare: a kidnapping. The 20-month-old baby Lindbergh was discovered to be missing from his crib on March 1, 1932. A handwritten note demanded $50,000 and said that further instructions would come. Coming up with the money wasn't a problem - the government offered $25,000 on top of the $50,000 the Lindberghs were willing to give up. No less than Herbert Hoover said he would "move Heaven and Earth" to find the baby, but it was to no avail. On May 12, a truck driver pulled off to pee in the woods just 4.5 miles from the Lindbergh house and found the corpse of a toddler. It was badly decomposed and it was obvious that the kidnappers hadn't waited long to kill Charles, Jr. And yes, I know that the actual kidnapping didn't take place in Hollywood, but because of the elder Lindbergh's star status, I'm counting it.
4. Johnny Stompanato. Blonde bombshell Lana Turner had been dating mobster associate Johnny Stompanato for over a year when, learning of his crime ties, she decided to break things off. But he wasn't ready to break things off and followed her to England, where she was filming Another Time, Another Place with Sean Connery. The story goes that Stompanato thought that Lana was having an affair with Mr. Bond and stormed on to set with a gun; Sean Connery quickly dispatched him and punched him in the face. Whether that's true or not, Stompanato had a nasty habit of showing up on airplanes and in hotels where Lana was staying even after they broke up. He wouldn't let her break up with him, essentially, and even beat her pretty badly on at least one occasion. Finally, on April 4, 1958, it all came to a head. In the middle of a fight at her house, Stompanato threatened to ruin her face and, therefore, her career. Lana's 14-year-old daughter had been listening to the whole argument from her room, and, fearing that her mother was in danger, rushed in and stabbed him in the stomach. She sliced a kidney and punctured his aorta and it was basically all over for Stompanato. It was decided that the murder was justifiable homicide based on the fact that Lana's daughter thought she was protecting her mother and no one served any jail time.

5. Thelma Todd. This comedic actress of the late '20s and early '30s was found dead in her car in the garage of another actress. It appeared to be a suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning, but things didn't add up - she had no obvious motive to kill herself and had been in good spirits at a party just hours before her body was found. There are a few theories, including that she accidentally fell asleep in the garage, but since this post is about murders, we'll focus on that one. The first murder theory says that it was her ex-husband, whom she had had a public spat with earlier in the evening. The second says it was Lucky Luciano, because supposedly she wouldn't allow her club to participate in his illegal gambling schemes. And a third says that her current boyfriend locked her in the garage to keep her from going on to another party and accidentally killed her with carbon monoxide. Murder or not, the true reason behind Todd's death was never discovered because her body was very quickly cremated - another reason to suspect foul play, say conspiracy theorists. The reason listed on her death certificate is accidental poisoning.

6. Sharon Tate. Everyone knows this sad tale - young, beautiful and pregnant, Sharon Tate, along with Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, was brutally murdered by members of the Manson Family on August 8, 1969. The murders, along with the LaBianca murders that happened the following night, went unsolved for several months until Family member Susan Atkins bragged to a fellow inmate that the murders were her doing. The Hollywood community was shocked and scandalized, convinced that someone was hunting down celebrities. Dominick Dunne later reported that Steve McQueen was so concerned that he brought a gun to Jay Sebring's funeral.

7. Dominique Dunne. Speaking of Dominick Dunne, he endured tragedy in 1982 when his daughter, the actress who played the oldest daughter in the Poltergeist movie, was killed by her ex-boyfriend. He surprised her in the driveway of her home, and, after a short fight in which she refused to get back together with him, he strangled her. She was in a coma for five days before dying on November 4. The boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, was found guilty of manslaughter but served less than four years in prison.
8. Natalie Wood. Another "accident" that maybe wasn't so accidental. On November 29, 1981, Natalie was out on a yacht with husband Robert Wagner and family friend Christopher Walken (yep, that Christopher Walken). Not much is known about exactly what happened, except that Natalie apparently left the yacht in a small dinghy in the middle of the night when waters were quite choppy. Some reports say Walken and Wood had been getting quite chummy, even going ashore without him while he slept, and that Wagner made no bones about his displeasure. Over the years, Wagner and Walken have given contradictory statements to the media, so what really happened that night might not ever be known.

9. Bonnie Lee Bakley. E Tu, Baretta? Robert Blake started dating Bakley sometime in 1998. She got pregnant and told Blake he was the father - but she also told Christian Brando that he was the father, because she had been simultaneously dating him. She had a history of pursuing older celebrities - Bakley unsuccessfully tried to woo Frankie Valli and when that didn't work, set her sights on Jerry Lee Lewis. She even moved to Memphis to try to encounter him more often. Knowing her history, Blake insisted on a paternity test, which proved that the little girl was indeed his. He reluctantly married her in 2000. She moved into the guest house on his Studio City property, but things were less than peachy. On May 4, 2004, the two of them went out to dinner at Vitello's, one of Blake's favorite haunts. When dinner was over, they were just getting ready to pull away when Blake remembered he had left his handgun inside - he always carried one. He ran back inside to get it, and when he came back out, Bakley had been shot twice and was slumped over in the seat. She was dead before the paramedics got her to the hospital. Police reportedly suspected that he was involved just hours after her death. He wasn't arrested until nearly a year later. Two stuntmen came forward and said that Blake had tried to hire both of them, on separate occasions, to kill his wife. After standing trial, Blake was found not guilty on March 16, 2005. Bakley's children filed a wrongful death suit, however, and won $30 million. Blake filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

10. Lana Clarkson. Even if you don't know Phil Spector, you've almost certainly heard one of his albums - he produced everything from River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner to Imagine by John Lennon to End of the Century by the Ramones. That was all well and good until February 3, 2003, when the body of actress and nightclub owner Lana Clarkson was found in his house with wounds that suggested someone had put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. The two had first met on February 2. Spector insisted it was a suicide, but both his valet and his butler said that when he called them to report the death, he stated, "I think I killed somebody." Coroner's reports said that the bruising on her tongue indicated that someone had shoved a gun in her mouth pretty forcefully, and people testified that Spector was prone to pulling firearms when he was drunk. Spector's first trial was declared a mistrial; the second found him guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 19 years to life on May 29 of this year.

Whew! That's a lot of scandal. Let me know which ones I missed. And for scandals not necessarily involving death (some do and some don't), there's this old chestnut from last year.

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7 Massage Guns That Are on Sale Right Now

Jawku/Actigun
Jawku/Actigun

Outdoor exercise is a big focus leading into summer, but as you begin to really tone and strengthen your muscles, you might notice some tough knots and soreness that you just can’t kick. Enter the post-workout massage gun—these bad boys are like having a deep-tissue masseuse by your side whenever you want. If you're looking to pick one up for yourself, check out these brands while they’re on sale.

1. Actigun 2.0: Percussion Massager (Black); $128 (57 percent off)

Actigun massage gun.
Actigun

Don't assume you need a professional masseur to provide relief—this massage gun offers 20 variable speeds and can adjust the output power on its own according to pressure. Can your human massage therapist do that?

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2. JAWKU Muscle Blaster V2 Cordless Percussion Massage Gun; $260 (13 percent off)

Jawku massaging gun.
Jawku

This cordless, five-speed massager uses a design that's aimed to increase blood flow, release stored lactic acid, and relieve sore muscles through various vibrations.

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3. DEEP4s: Percussive Therapy Massage Gun for Athletes; $230 (23 percent off)

Re-Athlete massage gun.
Re-Athlete

Instant relief is an option with this massage tool, featuring five different attachments made to tackle any muscle group. You can squeeze in eight hours of massage time before you have to charge it again.

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4. Handheld Massage Gun for Deep Tissue Percussion; $75 (15 percent off)

Massage gun from Stackcommerce.
Stackcommerce

With five replaceable heads and six speed settings, this massage gun can easily adapt to the location and intensity of your soreness. And since it lasts up to three hours per charge, you won't have to worry about constantly plugging it in.

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5. The Backmate Power Massager; $120 (19 percent off)

Backmate massage gun.
Backmate

Speed is the name of the game here. The Backmate Power Massager is designed for fast, effective relief through its ergonomic design. Fast doesn’t need to mean short, either. After the instant relief, you can stimulate and distract your nervous system for lasting pain relief.

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6. ZTECH Percussion Massage Gun (Red); $80 (46 percent off)

ZTech massage gun.
ZTech

This massage gun looks a lot like a power drill, and, similarly, you can adjust its design for the perfect fit with six interchangeable heads that target different muscle areas.

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7. Aduro Sport Elite Recovery Massage Gun (Maroon); $80 (60 percent off)

Aduro massage gun.
Aduro

Tackle large muscle groups, the neck, Achilles tendon, joints, and small muscle areas with this single massage gun. Four massage heads and six intensity levels allow this tool to provide a highly customizable experience.

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.


17 Surprising Facts About Frida Kahlo

Guillermo Kahlo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Guillermo Kahlo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The life and work of Frida Kahlo—one of Mexico's greatest painters—were both defined by pain and perseverance. Getting to know how Kahlo lived provides greater insight into her masterful paintings, which are rich with detail and personal iconography.

1. Frida Kahlo was born in the same house she died.

Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in a building nicknamed “La Casa Azul” for its vivid blue exterior. There, she was raised by her mother, Matilde, and encouraged by her photographer father, Guillermo. Years later, she and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, made it their home as well. And on July 13, 1954, Kahlo died there at age 47.

2. Frida Kahlo's beloved home is now a museum.

Casa Azul is also known as The Frida Kahlo Museum. As a tribute to Kahlo, Rivera donated the house in 1958 as well as all of the artwork, created by both him and Kahlo, that it contained. Much of the interior has been preserved just the way Kahlo had it in the 1950s, making the space a popular tourist attraction that allows visitors a look at her work, life, and personal artifacts, including the urn that holds her ashes.

3. A third of Frida Kahlo's paintings were self-portraits.

Kahlo folded in symbols from her Mexican culture and allusions to her personal life in order to create a series of 55 surreal and uniquely revealing self-portraits. Of these, she famously declared, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

4. A surreal accident had a big impact on Frida Kahlo's life.

On September 17, 1925, an 18-year-old Kahlo boarded a bus with her boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias, only to be forever marred when it crossed a train's path. Recalling the tragedy, Arias described the bus as "burst(ing) into a thousand pieces," with a handrail ripping through Kahlo's torso.

He later recounted, "Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her, they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!’ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer."

5. Frida Kahlo’s path to painting began with that collision.

The accident broke Kahlo's spinal column, collarbone, ribs, and pelvis, fractured her right leg in 11 places, and dislocated her shoulder. Those severe injuries left her racked with pain for the rest of her life, and frequently bedbound. But during these times, Kahlo picked up her father's paintbrush. Her mother helped arrange a special easel that would allow her to work from bed. Of her life's hardships, Kahlo once proclaimed, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

6. Frida Kahlo once dreamed of being a doctor.

As a child, Kahlo contracted polio, which withered her right leg and sparked an interest in the healing power of medicine. Unfortunately, the injuries from the train accident forced the teenager to abandon her plans to study medicine.

7. Frida Kahlo’s poor health shaped her art.

In the course of her life, Kahlo would undergo 30 surgeries, including the eventual amputation of her foot due to a case of gangrene. She explored her frustrations with her body's frailty in paintings like The Broken Column, which centers on her shattered spine, and Without Hope, which dramatically depicted a period where her doctor prescribed force-feeding. On the back of the latter, she wrote, "Not the least hope remains to me ... Everything moves in time with what the belly contains."

8. Frida Kahlo didn’t view herself as a surrealist.

She rejected the label, saying, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

9. Frida Kahlo’s tumultuous marriage sparked more pain and paintings.

Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera and a pet dog, Mexico City, 1940s
Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera and a pet dog, Mexico City, 1940s
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Kahlo met Rivera, she was a student and he was already a father of four and on his way to his second divorce. Despite a 20-year age difference, the pair quickly fell for each other, spurring Rivera to leave his second wife and wed Kahlo in 1929.

From there, they were each other's greatest fans and supporters when it came to their art. But their 10-year marriage was wrought with fits of temper and infidelities on both sides. They divorced in 1939, only to remarry a year later. Paintings like Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, The Two Fridas, and The Love Embrace of the Universe boldly illustrated their relationship from Kahlo's perspective.

10. Frida Kahlo grieved privately and publicly for the children she never had.

Modern doctors believe that the bus accident had irreparably damaged Kahlo's uterus, which made pregnancies impossible to carry to term. In 1932, she painted Henry Ford Hospital, a provocative self-portrait that marks one of several devastating miscarriages she suffered.

The piece would be displayed to the world in a 1938 gallery show. But Kahlo kept private personal letters to her friend, Doctor Leo Eloesser, in which she wrote, "I had so looked forward to having a little Dieguito that I cried a lot, but it's over, there is nothing else that can be done except to bear it.'" This letter, along with others from their decades-long exchange, were released in 2007, having been hidden for almost 50 years by a patron worried about their contents.

11. Frida Kahlo once arrived to an art show in an ambulance.

In 1953, toward the end of her short life, the painter was overjoyed about her first solo exhibition in Mexico. But a hospital stay threatened her attendance. Against doctors' orders, Kahlo made an incredible entrance, pulling up in an ambulance as if in a limousine.

12. Frida Kahlo is rumored to have had several famous lovers.

When she wasn't recovering from surgery or confined to a recuperation bed, Kahlo was full of life, relishing the chance to dance, socialize, and flirt. While American sculptor Isamu Noguchi was in Mexico City for the creation of his History as Seen from Mexico in 1936, he and Kahlo began a passionate affair that evolved into a life-long friendship.

Three years later, while visiting Paris, the bisexual painter struck up a romance with the city's "Black Pearl" entertainer Josephine Baker. And many have speculated that the artist and activist also bedded Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, while he and his wife Natalia stayed in Kahlo's family home after they were granted asylum in Mexico in 1936.

13. Frida Kahlo was fiercely proud of her heritage.

Though she'd lived in New York, San Francisco, and Paris, Kahlo was always drawn back to her hometown, Mexico City. She favored traditional Mexican garb, the long colorful skirts she was known for, and the Huipile blouses of Mexico’s matriarchal Tehuantepec society. Perhaps most telling, she told the press she was born in 1910, cutting three years off her age so she could claim the same birth year as the Mexican Revolution.

14. Frida Kahlo had several exotic pets.

Casa Azul boasts a lovely garden where Kahlo had her own animal kingdom. Along with a few Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintli (a dog breed that dates back to the ancient Aztecs), Kahlo owned a pair of spider monkeys named Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal, which can be spotted in Self Portrait with Monkeys. She also cared for an Amazon parrot called Bonito, who would perform tricks if promised a pat of butter as a reward, a fawn named Granizo, and an eagle nicknamed Gertrudis Caca Blanca (a.k.a. Gertrude White Shit).

15. Frida Kahlo has emerged as a feminist icon.

Though in her time some dismissed this passionate painter as little more than "the wife of Master Mural Painter (Diego Rivera)," Kahlo's imaginative art drew acclaim from the likes of Pablo Picasso and film star Edward G. Robinson. After her death, the rise of feminism in the 1970s sparked a renewed interest in her work. Kahlo's reputation eclipsed Rivera's, and she grew to become one of the world's most famous painters.

Feminist theorists embrace Kahlo's deeply personal portraits for their insight into the female experience. Likewise, her refusal to be defined by others' definitions and the self-love shown in her proud capturing of her natural unibrow and mustache speak to modern feminist concerns over gender roles and body-positivity.

16. Frida Kahlo’s personal style has become a vibrant part of her legacy.

Frida's art and its influence were not simply spawned from the paint she put to canvas. Her distinctive personal style has proved influential in the world of fashion, inspiring designers like Raffaella Curiel, Maya Hansen, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Dolce & Gabbana. (In 2019, Vans even launched a collection of shoes featuring her work.)

17. Frida Kahlo's work is record-breaking.

On May 11, 2016, at the first auction to put a major Frida work up for sale in six years, her 1939 painting Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma) sold for over $8 million—the highest auction price then paid for any work by a Latin American artist.

This story was updated in 2020.