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Walt Whitman Dies

Whitman_at_about_fiftyOn March 26, 1892, American poet and journalist Walt Whitman died. Considered one of America’s most influential poets, Whitman was known as the “Bard of Democracy,” with a writing career that spanned 50 years.

Whitman was born to a family of modest means on Long Island in 1819. It is thought that Whitman’s love for democracy and Americana stemmed from the beliefs of his parents, who named his younger brothers respectively George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson Whitman, and Andrew Jackson Whitman. Thinking he could capitalize on the economic growth of New York City, Whitman’s father moved their family to Brooklyn when Whitman was only three. By age 11, Whitman was pulled out of school to work and help support his family by his father who had struggled to make ends meet.

He worked for several different newspapers learning about their printing presses and typesetting for many years. When he was 17, Whitman became a teacher on Long Island, a job he stayed at for a few years until founding his own newspaper, the Long Islander. He soon sold the newspaper and moved to New York City where he became editor of a few different newspapers including the Brooklyn Eagle. He was eventually fired from his job there for taking the “radical” or more liberal side on certain issues like women’s rights, immigration, and labor issues. He moved to New Orleans and became an editor of a paper there for a short time where he saw the horrific nature of slavery and the slave trade in the South.

In 1850, he began writing his most well-known work, Leaves of Grass. In the 12 unnamed poems, he finally began to find his true voice as a writer. Whitman paid for the first printing of the collection of poems himself, printing 795 copies. Poetic norms were let go in Leaves of Grass, and Whitman wrote using free verse and discarded traditional rhyming methods. No one paid much attention to Whitman’s first version of his now famous work, with the exception of fellow poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called the work “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom” to come from an American poet. Whitman would revise the work for the rest of his life, and the second edition was brought to the attention of writers Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott by Emerson, who both visited Whitman at his home.

When his third edition was ready to print, it seemed to be more commercially promising, but the beginning of the Civil War forced Whitman’s publisher to go out of business. Whitman then moved to Washington to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war. He began volunteering to visit wounded soldiers, which became a life-changing experience for the writer. He stayed in Washington for several years and found stable work with the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior.

The writer’s life took a turn for the worst in 1873 when he suffered the first of many strokes, which he called “whacks,” that left him partially paralyzed. That same year, he returned home to visit his sick mother, who died three days after his arrival. Feeling weak himself and unable to continue working his job in Washington, Whiman moved in with his brother in Camden, New Jersey. His 1882 edition of Leaves of Grass received good reviews and made Whitman enough money that he was able to purchase his own house in Camden.

In his last few years alive, Whitman began to receive much recognition for his work, but he was not happy with the state of American after the Civil War. Leaves of Grass had gone through seven editions and now contained around 300 poems. On March 26, 1892, Whitman died at his home in Camden at the age of 72. He was buried at Camden’s Harleigh Cemetery. Though Whitman is now known as one of the greatest poets in American history, he never felt he was accepted by his country. He once wrote, ”The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it. I have not gain’d the acceptance of my time.”

Sources: Biography.com, Shmoop, Wikipedia, PBS

 

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Elizabeth Taylor Dies

oTTo_WatsonOn March 23, 2011, actress Elizabeth Taylor died. Taylor was best known for her role in the Golden Era of Hollywood, starring in popular movies such as A Place in the Sun, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, BUtterfield 8 and Cleopatra. Later in her life, she became an advocate for HIV and AIDS awareness and research.

Taylor was born to two American parents in London, England in 1932. They soon returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles where people began to encourage Taylor’s mother, who was a former actress, to screen test her daughter because of her incredible beauty. The idea of a child star was something very foreign to Taylor’s mother, and she refused to allow her daughter to be a part of the industry until both Universal Pictures and MGM were offering Taylor contracts. After starring in a Lassie film, she was offered a long-term contract with MGM starting in 1943. Her breakout role came the next year when the 12-year-old starred in National Velvet.

As she grew older, instead of fading out of the spotlight like most child actors of the time, her star only began to shine brighter. Because of her incredible beauty, she became known as a sex symbol and a quintessential part of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She starred in many films during this time starting most notably with Father of the Bride alongside Spencer Tracy, and moving on to other big hits like Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Cleopatra (which cost around $37 million to make). She later starred in two movies which she received Academy Awards for – BUtterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

Taylor’s acting career was not the only thing that kept her in the spotlight. Ever since the age of 18, Taylor’s personal life had been a roller coaster, and in her lifetime she was married a total of eight times, with most of these marriages being short-lived. Her most well-known love affair was with Richard Burton, whom she first met on the set of Cleopatra and subsequently married and divorced twice. Their relationship was passionate and volatile, and Burton once said of it, ”You can’t keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up.”

Also known for her love of jewelry, Taylor’s jewelry collection was estimated to be worth $150 million at the time of her death. She owned some of the most famous jewelry pieces in the world, including the Krupp Diamond, and the Taylor-Burton Diamond – both bought for her by Richard Burton. She also possessed the La Peregrina Pearl, which has a history spanning 500 years.

In her later years, she took on acting roles less and instead focused more on her philanthropic efforts. When her lifelong friend, Rock Hudson, died in 1985 after battling HIV/AIDS, she started to bring the disease to national attention by helping to found the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. She also started her own jewelry and perfume lines as part of her own entrepreneurial efforts.

In the 1990s, she had mostly retired from the world of acting and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1993. In 2000, she was honored again, but this time by the country she was born in when she became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). By this time her health had begun to decline and she suffered from diabetes, congestive heart failure, had both hips replaced, and had a brain tumor removed. It is reported that she went through over 30 surgeries. She was admitted into Cedars-Sinai Hospital for congestive heart failure in February 2011, and died on March 23, 2011.

Years earlier, in an interview with Barbara Walters, the reporter asked Taylor how she would like to be remembered after she was gone. She said she would like her tombstone to read, “‘Here lies Liz. She lived,’” before admitting, “No, I don’t like ‘Liz.’ I hate that name. ‘Here lies Elizabeth. She hated being called Liz. But she lived.’”

Sources: Wikipedia, ABC News, Biography.com

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Julius Caesar Dies

On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar, Roman Consul, statesman, general, and Latin prose author was assassinated. He played a crucial role in the events leading up to the fall of the Roman Republic and the subsequent rise of the Roman Empire.

During Caesar’s time, Romans were reluctant to give praise to a king. Caesar was a powerful member of the Roman senate, and although he turned down the idea of kingship when it was presented to him, he held steady in the position of “dictator for life.” This action is what turned many against Caesar and plots for his assassination began to take hold. More disdainful feelings started to brew in the minds of many when Caesar’s face appeared on Roman coinage. This angered many because that honor was usually only given to deities.

The conspirators behind the attack on Caesar were called “the liberators.” At the head of this group was Marcus Brutus, who was somewhat torn with his relationship with Caesar. Caesar had spared the life of Brutus and promoted him in office even though Brutus had fought against Caesar in the Roman civil war. Brutus’s family, however, was known for defying those who were power hungry, and thus Brutus’s animosity towards Caesar grew.

Cassius Longinus was also a main conspirator and worked to get Brutus to join him in plotting against the “dictator for life.” Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome on March 18 to begin help fighting a battle, so the conspirators knew they had to work fast. Upon entering a Senate meeting, Caesar was apparently handed a note, warning him of his fate, but he failed to read it. He was soon surrounded by senators holding daggers, and was stabbed 23 times. In all, there were 60 conspirators involved in the attack.

The “Ides of March” has been marked in history as the famous day when Caesar met his demise.

Sources: Wikipedia, History.com, National Geographic

 

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Patsy Cline Dies

patsy clineOn March 5, 1963, American country singer Patsy Cline died. She is best known for hit songs like “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy.” Cline’s career was short, but she helped pave the trail for women in the then male-dominated country music scene.

Cline was born on September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia as Virginia Patterson Hensley. It wasn’t until she began performing professionally that she adopted the stage name “Patsy.” Her mother Hilda was only 16 when she married Cline’s father, Samuel, who was 25 years her senior. Her parents split when she was in high school, and Cline was forced to drop out of school to take on odd jobs to help support her family. Meanwhile, she had been nursing a passion for music since she was 8 years old. She had perfect pitch, and couldn’t read music, but taught herself how to play piano at this early age. On the side of her odd jobs, she began performing on several local radio programs as well as in variety and talent showcases. These small performances began to slowly attract a large following of fans who were drawn to her contralto voice and emotionally expressive singing style.

When she began performing with bandleader Bill Peer, who was also her second manager, he convinced her to go by the name “Patsy,” which was the shortened version of her middle name and her mother’s maiden name. The second half of her famous stage name came in 1953 when she married Gerald Cline. Facing lifestyle differences (Gerald wanted Patsy to become a housewife), they divorced in 1957. Peer helped Cline get her first recording contract with Four Star Records in 1955. She recorded a few honky tonk singles within the first two years of her contract, but they failed to mobilize her career.

Finally in 1957, Cline earned a spot performing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. She performed “Walkin’ After Midnight,” which she thought at the time to be ”just a little old pop song.” She was the unanimous winner of the competition, and after listeners began avidly requesting to hear the song on the radio, Cline released it as a single. She became one of the first country artists to have a crossover hit when the song reached No. 2 on the country chart and No. 16 on the pop chart. A short time after her success began to take hold, Cline married her second husband Charles Dick, with whom she had two children.

In 1960, Cline signed a new recording contract with Decca Records and began recording a series of hit singles, the first of which was “I Fall to Pieces,” which was her first No. 1 song on the country charts. Her successful crossover presence became concrete with this song, which also charted on the pop and adult contemporary charts. She began to positively influence other female singers in the male-dominated country music industry including  Loretta LynnDottie WestJan Howard, sixteen-year-old Brenda Lee and a thirteen-year-old Barbara Mandrell. Cline was known for “…giv[ing] anyone the skirt off her backside if they needed it,” according to Opry star Del Wood. Even when she didn’t have much money herself, she often paid expenses for these young female country singers to keep them in Nashville and help their careers thrive. Also in 1960, Cline’s request to join the Grand Ole Opry was accepted – she was the only performer in history to become part of the Opry in this way.

After giving birth to her son in 1961, Cline was involved in a head-on car collision with her brother which nearly took her life. This was the second near-fatal accident she had been in during her lifetime. She spent a month recovering in the hospital, with a broken wrist, dislocated hip, and a jagged cut across her forehead which required stitches and left a scar she later covered using make-up and wigs. Because the time she spent recovering, she wasn’t able to help publicize “I Fall to Pieces” as much as she would have liked and began searching for her next hit. A song written by Willie Nelson called “Crazy” was offered up to Cline, but at first she had a small amount of disdain for it due to its composition and Cline’s inability to hit the high notes in the song due to rib injuries she sustained from her accident. Initial tries at recording the song were unsuccessful. The next week, after Cline’s injuries had more time to heal, she was convinced to record the song again, using her own style and not trying to mimic Nelson’s original demo. Cline recorded the song in one take, hitting all the high notes she had previously been unable to. The song went on to become her greatest pop hit.

Cline’s fame only grew further from this point, and she became the first female artist to be billed above the male artists she performed with while touring. She befriended other country and pop music legends of the time including Johnny Cash, June Carter-Cash and Elvis, who she lovingly referred to as “Big Hoss.” Within the following year she became the first woman in country music to perform at Carnegie Hall, recorded and released more hits like “She’s Got You,” and began recording her fourth studio album.

In 1962 and 1963, many of Cline’s friends recalled her saying she felt a sense of impending doom and that she thought she might die soon. She began writing her will on Delta Airlines stationary, giving away personal belongings to friends, and asking those near her to take care of her children after she was gone. One night, as she was leaving the Grand Ole Opry, a fellow musician recalled her saying, “Honey, I’ve had two bad ones (accidents). The third one will either be a charm or it’ll kill me.”

On March 3, 1963, a benefit concert for disc jockey  ”Cactus” Jack Call, who had died in a car accident a year earlier, was held in Kansas City, Kansas. Cline was among the slew of other musicians who performed at the benefit, and she received a standing ovation after singing her last song, “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone.” Anxious to get back to her family in Nashville, she refused a 16-hour car ride with friend and fellow country singer Dottie West, and instead boarded a private jet the next day. Cline’s then manager, Randy Hughes, piloted the plane and they took off toward Nashville despite warnings of high winds and inclement weather.

When the plane did not arrive at the Nashville that night, friends and family began to worry. The next morning the plane was found 90 miles outside of Nashville. It had crashed nose down and all riders died instantly. Aside from Cline and her manager, two other country artists who had performed in the benefit, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, lost their lives. Soon after the bodies were recovered, looters scavenged the plane, and the remnants of Cline’s belongings, her wrist watch stopped at 6:20, her Confederate flag cigarette lighter, her studded belt and three pairs of her gold lamé slippers were donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She was buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia.

For her contributions to country music, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame 10 years after her death, making her the first female solo artist to be inducted. She received several other posthumous awards and her life has been recalled in several biographies and biopic movies. After her death, three of her singles, “Sweet Dreams,” “Leavin’ On Your Mind,” and “Faded Love” all reached top 10 success on the country music charts. She was buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia and her headstone reads, “Virginia H (Patsy) Cline ‘Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love’”.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, Citypages Blogs

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Mark Rothko Dies

rothko1On February 25, 1970, Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionist painter, died. As one of the most influential and definitive painters in this movement, he was known for his massive paintings featuring large rectangles of color which are meant to evoke emotion.

Born in Russia in 1903, Rothko immigrated to Portland, Oregon with his parents at the age of 10. A bright student who excelled in school, Rothko attended Yale University on scholarship after graduating early from high school, but thought the school to be too bourgeois and dropped out after his sophomore year. Little did he know he would receive an honorary degree from the school 46 years later.

Rothko moved his life to New York City in the early 1920s, and was inspired to take on artistic endeavors after viewing students sketching a model at the Art Students League of New York. He studied art briefly at both the New York School of Design and the Art Students League before he started teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center.

For his first public exhibit, Rothko returned to the West Coast, and had a one-man show featuring his work which he lined with the work of his students from Center Academy. Surrounded by other great modern artists of the time, he formed a group with some of them called, “The Ten,” and showed with them in New York City in the 1930s. His style up to this point had been more realistic, painting scenes urban life, but after being inspired by surrealists like Joan Miro, it began to evolve into something biomorphic and otherworldly.

rothko2“Art is an adventure into an unknown world,” Rothko and fellow artist Adolph Gottlieb wrote in their artistic manifesto in 1943. “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought.” Rothko, Gottlieb, and other artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Koonig became known as the Abstract Expressionists. Along with this manifesto came the work Rothko is now known for. He began producing his large color field paintings at this time. He soak-stained canvases to create abstract colorful cloud-like rectangles. These highly expressive and emotional pieces with no reference to the material world are what defined Abstract Expressionist paintings.

His work became so abstract that Rothko stopped giving his pieces descriptive names and chose to simply number each of his pieces. By the 1960s, his art took a dark turn. He used less bright expressive colors and began painting in mostly maroon, black, and brown. Rothko was commissioned to do several large pieces at this time, but left some unfinished. By the late ’60s, he was diagnosed with heart problems and it seemed that the emotion he expressed in his dark paintings was something that he was feeling on the inside as well. After battling with depression for some time, Rothko took his own life in his studio on February 25, 1970.

He produced over 800 works in his lifetime, most of which were subject to legal battles over ownership after his death. His unpublished manuscript was edited by his son after his death and was published in 2006. As one of the leading forces in modern and abstract art, his approach and technique has effected the development of modern art for decades.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, The Phillips Collection, MarkRothko.org

 

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Andy Warhol Dies

warholcalendarOn February 22, 1987, American artist and ’60s cultural icon Andy Warhol died. Warhol became widely known beginning in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s for being an influential leader in the pop art movement, which utilized recognizable mass-produced commercial items and cultural figures in art.

Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928 to Slovakian parents. His roots in his artistic passions can be traced back to the age of 8 when he contracted a nearly fatal condition called Chorea and was given drawing lessons by his artistic mother while he was bedridden. After recovering, he received a camera as a gift and began experimenting with photography, developing his photos in a makeshift darkroom in the basement of his childhood home.

When Warhol was only 14, his father died due to a jaundiced liver, but left his artistic son all of his life’s fortune to pay for his college education. After studying pictorial design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Warhol moved to New York City in 1949 to pursue a career as a commercial artist. His talent did not go unnoticed for long, and by the 1950s, Warhol was one of the most highly successful commercial artists in New York City, being assigned to do work for the likes of Vogue, Columbia Records, NBC, Tiffany & Co. and many more. His unique style included a blotted-line technique and the use of rubber stamps he made himself. His blotting technique often created welcomed imperfections in his work of which he said, ”When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”

Recognizing his own popularity, Warhol began to explore the world of fine art and started showing his fine art creations in galleries in the late ’50s and early ’60s. His introduction of pop art works began in 1962. At the Stable Gallery in New York City, he exhibited his iconic Marilyn Diptych and 100 Soup Cans which featured 100 Campbell’s Soup cans. The use of this mass-produced item as art challenged traditional views of what “fine art” was and caused controversy that skyrocketed Warhol to national and international fame. He said of the new pop art movement, “Once you ‘got’ pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought pop, you could never see America the same way again.”

His portraits of celebrities garnered him a large amount of attention, and he was commissioned to produce portraits for several high-profile clients, including royalty from other countries. Some of his celebrity portraits have sold for millions of dollars, and two of them (Eight Elvises and Turquoise Marilyn) are on the list of most expensive paintings ever sold.

warholbookIn 1964, Warhol opened his famous silver-painted, and foil-draped studio nicknamed “The Factory” which was trafficked by a number of wealthy socialites and celebrities who Warhol had befriended using his natural social networking skills. Musician Lou Reed wrote his song “Walk on the Wild Side” about The Factory and its high profile guests and prominent fixtures, most of whom were known as Warhols “Superstars.” The “Superstars” were stars of the hundreds of long and short form films Warhol produced in The Factory. In addition to adding film to his repertoire, Warhol also sculpted, took pictures, painted, and did screenprinting.

Fully aware of his celebrity status and coiner of the phrase “15 minutes of fame,” he took full advantage of it by appearing at high society parties and became a fixture at famous nightclubs like Studio 54. Some have even stated that you knew you were at a good party in New York City if Andy Warhol was there.

In 1968, Warhol was shot and almost killed by a marginal Factory figure and radical feminist, Valerie Solanas. The attack deeply affected him and he said of his life that “it’s like watching television – you don’t feel anything.” After this, Warhol stopped filming movies of his own, and most of the Warhol films were made by other Factory fixtures.

Warhol’s death came unexpectedly in the early hours of the morning on February 22, 1987. He was recovering from a routine gallbladder surgery when he suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack and died in his sleep. His body was buried back in his home of Pittsburgh, and he left his fortune to the development of a foundation dedicated to the “advancement of visual arts.” Thus, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was born.

It has been said that Warhol’s life often mirrored the materialism and celebrity satirized in his works. Some say it dictated his views on how the world is obsessed with money, objects, and fame, while others claim his life was an amalgamation of all these things. Despite the meaning, his works are still some of the most well-known pieces in the world and his 15 minutes of fame are eternal.

Sources: Biography.com, Warhol Foundation, Wikipedia

 

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Charles Schulz Dies

peanuts2014.plannercomp.inddOn February 12, 2000, cartoonist and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz died. He has come to be known as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time, with many famous cartoonists since then citing him as a major influence on their work.

Born in 1922 in Minnesota, Schulz had an interest early on in life in sketching and comics. His family owned a very unusual dog named Spike who was known to eat weird inanimate objects like tacks and pins. Using his strange family pet as inspiration, Schulz often drew cartoons of the dog, and submitted one to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, which they subsequently published. The drawing was captioned, “A hunting dog that eats pins, tacks and razor blades is owned by C. F. Schulz, St. Paul, Minn.” and “Drawn by ‘Sparky.’” ‘Sparky’ was a nickname given to Schulz by his uncle as a child. It was derived from Billy DeBeck‘s comic strip, Barney Googlein which there was a horse named ‘Spark Plug.’

Schulz was drafted during World War II, but during his service time, he never once shot his gun. When he returned from the war, he began cartooning regularly, and started a one-panel joke strip called L’il Folks. The series ran for three years in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and it was here that he first introduced a character named Charlie Brown, and a dog that closely resembled Snoopy. Charlie Brown was a somewhat autobiographical character for Schulz. In school, he was the youngest in his class, and thus very shy. He sold one of one-panel cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post in 1948, which was the first of 17 cartoons the publication would print of his. Schulz first attempted to syndicate his cartoon through the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1948 as well, but was not successful.

peanutsdtd2014boxmech.inddBy 1950, Schulz had developed his cartoon into a four-panel strip and approached the United Feature Syndicate. They were interested, and after renaming the strip Peanuts to avoid confusion with other strips with names similar to L’il Folks, the new strip made its first appearance in seven newspapers on October 2, 1950. Peanuts slowly turned in to one of the most popular comic strips of all time, and at the height of its fame, it was published in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, in 21 different languages. Schulz drew the comics for over 50 years, producing around 18,000 strips. He only took one vacation from drawing the strip for five weeks during his 75th birthday. During this time, reruns of his strip ran. It is estimated that Schulz earned around $40 million per year, accounting for the strips themselves, product endorsements, and other revenues.

He announced his retirement in late 1999, after finding out that his diagnosed colon cancer had metastasized. He died on February 12, 2000, after complications arose from his cancer. The last original Peanuts strip was published the day after his death, proving the late cartoonist’s prediction that the cartoon would outlive him. As well as being one of the most successful comic strips of all time, Peanuts was adapted for television and the stage, and his work inspired many great cartoonists who came after him. Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, said of Schulz’s creation, “Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip, so even now it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes. The clean, minimalist drawings, the sarcastic humor, the unflinching emotional honesty, the inner thoughts of a household pet, the serious treatment of children, the wild fantasies, the merchandising on an enormous scale — in countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, Huffington Post

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The Day the Music Died

The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens.

The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens.

February 3 is known as “The Day the Music Died.” The name was taken from the song “American Pie” by Don McLean, and is a reference to the deaths of musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The three were tragically killed on February 3, 1959 in a plane crash around Clear Lake, Iowa.

Holly, whose professional music career only lasted a year and a half before his death at the age of 22, is seen as one of the most influential pioneers of early rock ‘n’ roll music. He popularized the now traditional rock band line-up of two guitars, a bass, and drums, and he recorded in such abundance that “new” music of his was released for 10 years after his death. He has been cited as a significant influence by a plethora of famous musicians who followed him including the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Weezer, and many more. Valens’ life lasted even shorter than Holly’s – he was only 17 at the time of the crash. Valens is also noted for his impact on the world of rock ‘n’ roll, and was the leading figure in the Chicano rock movement with hits like “La Bamba” soaring him into fame at an early age. J.P. Richardson, more famously known as “The Big Bopper,” was well-known for his animated voice and personality, bringing hits like “Chantilly Lace” to #1. Though he was the oldest of the three (aged 28 at the time of the accident), Richardson’s career had just begun to take off when he agreed to tour with Holly.

After splitting from his manager and backing band, The Crickets, Holly formed a new band consisting of Carl Bunch, Tommy Allsup, and Waylon Jennings. They soon embarked on a 24-city Midwestern United States tour in late January of 1959 called “The Winter Dance Party.” They were also joined by other hit musicians of the time – Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts fame, Valens, and Richardson – for select performances. The travel logistics of the tour were not well thought out, causing there to be a great distance to trek between consecutive performance dates. The tour bus chartered for their long journeys was also ill-equipped to handle the cold weather of the Midwest and many members of the band caught the flu and suffered from frostbite due to a broken heater. Holly quickly became fed up with these travel conditions and chartered a plane after their show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa to take him to their next tour stop.

Originally, Jennings was going to ride on the plane, but gave his spot to Richardson, who had become sick with the flu. Upon hearing that Jennings had given up his space, Holly told Jennings, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings replied with, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Though said in complete jest, the remark is something that Jennings has been haunted by since the tragic crash. Allsup was also going to ride on the plane, but lost his seat to Valens in a coin toss. Dion was also asked if he would like a seat on the plane, but turned it down because of the $36 per seat fee, which at the time was the same amount he paid for rent at his apartment.

Once their performance at the Surf Ballroom was over, Holly, Valens, and Richardson boarded the small Beechcraft Bonanza plane and took off from the runway around 1 a.m. on February 3. Weather reports showed there to be a light amount of snow and 37 mph winds. There were deteriorating weather conditions on their flight path, but 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson was not relayed this information in his pre-flight weather briefing. The crash was investigated by the Civil Aeronautics Board who determined that the poor weather conditions combined with the pilot’s error caused spatial disorientation, and Peterson lost control of the plane leading to the crash. Peterson was not familiar with the way the attitude indicator in the plane functioned and was unable to find a visual point of reference because the sky was starless and the fields he was flying over had no lights. The tip of the right wing then hit the ground and the plane banked downward, hitting the ground at 170 mph.

The owner of the flight company had watched the plane take off and was unable to make a radio connection afterward. During the later hours of the morning, the airport in Fargo, North Dakota, where the plane was supposed to land, had not gotten word from the pilot. Troubled by his inability to make radio contact and the plane’s non-arrival, the flight company owner reported the aircraft missing to authorities. He then took off in his Cessna 180 plane and began to fly on Peterson’s route to search for the missing plane. He spotted the wreckage in a field six miles from the take-off spot mere minutes later, and dispatches from the Sheriff’s were sent to the site. The musician’s bodies were found outside of the plane and were identified by the Surf Ballroom manager who had driven them to the airport and witnessed the take off. Coroner reports stated that all three musicians and the pilot were killed instantly from “gross trauma” to the brain.

María Elena, Holly’s wife of only six months who was also pregnant with his child, heard the news of her husband’s death on the radio and miscarried the next day due to the psychological trauma she was effected by when hearing the news. Holly’s mother heard of her son’s death on the radio and immediately collapsed. A few months later, authorities implemented a strict rule of letting families know before releasing victims names due to the extremely adverse effects the news had on Holly’s family.

Several memorials have been constructed around the site of the crash, and all three musicians have received several posthumous awards and Hall of Fame inductions. Though their professional careers were all short-lived because of their untimely deaths, each of these three talented musicians have had an incredible impact and influence on the world of rock ‘n’ roll music.

Sources: Wikipedia, BreakingNews.ie, Legacy.com

 

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Thomas Crapper Dies

Sanitary pioneer Thomas Crapper died at the age of 73 on January 27, 1910.

It is a common misconception that Crapper developed the flushable toilet; it was actually invented by John Harrington in 1596. Crapper did, however, popularize the toilet, promote sanitary plumbing, and invent the ballcock, which is used to fill water tanks.

Thomas Crapper & Co. bathroom fixtures were considered the most luxurious of his time, so he was asked to outfit the palace of King Edward VII. This gained Thomas Crapper & Co. mass popularity and they went on to provide bathroom fittings to homes and buildings of all kinds.

Sources: Wikipedia, ThomasCrapper.com

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Audrey Hepburn Dies

Audrey Hepburn CalendarOn January 20, 1993, actress, fashion model, and humanitarian, Audrey Hepburn, died at the age of 63. Hepburn is best known for her roles in Hollywood classics like Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and for her work with humanitarian organization UNICEF.

Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. After living through World War II and spending years studying dance, Hepburn began to explore the world of acting. She took on several bit and minor film roles, as well as small roles in several theater and musical productions. While playing another small role in the French/English film Monte Carlo Baby, Hepburn was “discovered” by French novelist Collette, who was searching someone to play the lead role in Gigi, the play adaptation of one of her novels. Upon seeing Hepburn on set, Collette reportedly said, “Voilà, there’s your Gigi.”

The young actress traveled to New York to star in the Broadway show, which ran for 219 shows. Hollywood began to buzz with talk of the new waif-like actress, who was a welcome change from the buxom actresses who had begun to dominate the silver screen like Marilyn Monroe. Just two years later, in 1953, Hepburn starred alongside Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday which followed the story Princess Ann, who briefly escapes her royal duties and falls in love with an American journalist portrayed by Peck. She wooed audiences and won her only Academy Award for best actress for the role.

In the next year, she met her future husband Mel Ferrer, and starred with him as a water nymph who falls in love with a human in the Broadway production of Ondine. In 1954, she won a Tony Award for her performance and married her leading man, Ferrer, in September of that same year. Later that year, she also starred in the romantic comedy Sabrina alongside William Holden and Humphrey Bogart, and received her second Academy Award nomination for best actress. A few years later, Hepburn was able to showcase her many years of dance training in Funny Face, which she starred in with dance legend Fred Astaire. The movie was loosely based on the real-life relationship between Hepburn and fashion photographer Richard Avedon, who considered Hepburn a muse of his. The movie also showcased muse-like relationship between Hepburn and her lifelong friend, designer Hubert de Givenchy, who designed all of Hepburn’s wardrobe in the film.

In 1959, Hepburn starred in a more serious role as Sister Luke in The Nun’s Story, for which she received her third Academy Award nomination. Probably Hepburn’s most memorable role and one that instilled her as a fashion icon was as the free-spirited party girl Holly Golightly in 1961′s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For this role she received yet another Academy Award nomination, and the style and sophistication she brought to the role became synonymous with her name.

audreyhepburncalendarHepburn played a wide variety of characters throughout the rest of the 1960s, showcasing her enormous acting range. This string of films included romantic thriller Charade, which was the only movie she starred in alongside Hollywood leading man, Cary Grant. In 1964, she went through a huge transformation as cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of the popular musical My Fair Lady. Other projects included Paris When it Sizzles, Two for the Road, How to Steal a Million, and the suspenseful Wait Until Dark, for which she received her last Academy Award nomination for best actress.

Towards the end of the 1960s, her marriage with Ferrer ended, and she met and married her second husband, an Italian psychiatrist named Andrea Dotti. After having her second child, Luca, her acting career died down and she focused on raising her two sons. Her last starring role was in 1981′s They All Laughed. Her acting career ended with a cameo appearance in Steven Speilberg’s Always.

She became a global ambassador for UNICEF in the 1980s, and traveled extensively to Asia, Africa, Central and South America to raise awareness about impoverished children and families in need.

After a trip to Somalia, Hepburn began to complain of abdominal pains. Doctors found that Hepburn was suffering from abdominal cancer which had spread from her appendix. After undergoing several surgeries, operating doctors decided her cancer had spread to far and she was thus inoperable. She returned to her home in Switzerland in a private jet filled with flowers, arranged by her lifetime friend Hubert de Givenchy. She spent her final days under hospice care, often taking walks in her garden until she was put on full-time bed rest. On January 20, 1993, at the age of 63, Hepburn died in her sleep.

Hepburn received many posthumous awards for her career in acting as well as for her humanitarian work. After her death, her sons Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, and her companion until her death, Robert Wolders, established the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to continue her humanitarian work for children in need.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, IMDB

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