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John Milton Dies

johnmiltonOn November 8, 1674, English poet, scholar, and civil servant John Milton died. Milton is best known for writing the epic poem Paradise Lost and for his defense of uncensored publication.

Born in London in 1608, Milton was devoted to his studies and took an interest in poetry at a young age. His father, who was a legal scrivener and an amateur composer influenced Milton’s poetry style by helping him develop a love for music. Milton’s family’s financial status allowed him to be taught classical languages by private tutors and he became fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and obtained a familiarity with Old English and Dutch as well. He was admitted into Christ’s College in Cambridge at the age of 15, with aspirations of becoming a member of the clergy. He was expelled during his first year after having a dispute with his tutor, and upon his return decided he no longer wanted to pursue religious studies and received his M.A. in 1632.

Upon finishing school, Milton returned to one of his family’s homes in Buckinghamshire where he dedicated himself to six years of self-implemented private study. He composed sonnets, lyrics, and various other pieces of poetry during this time. In 1638, he went on a 13-month tour of France and Italy, in which he is suspected to have met many great minds and important people of the time including Galileo, Giovanni Batista, and the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Barberini. He returned to England when he learned of the religious and political turmoil taking place.

In 1642, after returning to England with a 16-year-old bride, Milton joined forces with Oliver Cromwell, an independent puritan political and military leader, as the English Civil War raged on. Milton began political pamphleteering, writing about his support of a variety of controversial topics like the freedom of the press, the morality of divorce, populism, and the judicial execution of King Charles I. He also composed official statements on behalf of the Commonwealth of England while serving as secretary of foreign languages in Cromwell’s government.

When Charles II regained power of the throne, Milton was imprisoned for his support of the downfall of the monarchy and many of his books were burned. He was released a short time later under a general pardon, and secluded himself in the English countryside, focusing on his writing. It was at this time that he composed his epic poem, Paradise Lost. He was completely blind at this point, and was forced to remember things he wanted to write and dictate them to hired aides. Paradise Lost chronicles the Biblical story of Creation, Satan’s rebellion against God and fall from heaven, and the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their eventual expulsion from paradise. It is considered Milton’s magnum opus and one of the greatest epic poems ever written. It is hailed for its theological themes, political commentary, and depiction of Satan as the story’s protagonist.

In 1674, Milton died peacefully from natural causes in a small house near Bunhill Fields in England. His work has inspired many other famous writers including Alexander Pope, John Keats, William Blake, and many more.

Sources: Encyclopedia of World Biography, Wikipedia,, Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature,,

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Walter Payton Dies

chicago_u_payton_300On November 1, 1999 famed American football running back, Walter Payton died. Payton played for the Chicago Bears from 1975-1987, and is known for being one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. During his 13 season career, he held records for the league’s most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, and many other categories. He also appeared in nine Pro Bowls and was selected as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player twice.

Payton was born in Mississipi in 1954 and began to draw attention to himself after he was placed on the starting line-up at Jackson State University in 1971 when he was merely a freshman. He rushed more than 3,500 yards and scored over 450 points while he was in school at Jackson State. In addition to these versatile feats, he was named Black College Player of the Year twice. He garnered the nickname “Sweetness” while he was in college which many say came about due to his off-the-field personality. He showed a great interest in helping others, and studied education with an emphasis on helping the deaf. Some also say this nickname stemmed from his athletic grace, or as a sarcastic commentary on his aggressive playing style on the field.

In the 1975 NFL draft, Payton was picked up in the first round by the Chicago Bears. Payton’s playing motto was “Never Die Easy,” which was also the name of his posthumous autobiography. The motto came from Payton’s refusal to run out-of-bounds at practice and how he always delivered some sort of punishment to his tacklers before going down.  He also invented a move he called the “stutter-step” which was a high-stepping, irregularly paced run he used to distract his opponents, especially those who were faster runners than him.

At the end of his football career in 1987, Payton held an NFL rushing record of 16,726 yards and a single game rushing record of 275 yards. In 1993, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he was put into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

After his retirement, he continued his humanitarian work and formed the Walter Payton Foundation to help youths in the state of Illinois. Payton announced in February of 1999 that he had been diagnosed with a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis, which lead to him later getting bile duct cancer. He spent the last part of his life being an advocate for organ donation, though at this point, it was too late for him to receive any sort of transplant because his illness was at an advanced stage.

He died on November 1, 1999 at the age of 45 due to complications arising from his illness. After his death, organ donations skyrocketed in Illinois, and he is credited with bringing the need for organ donors to national attention. The famed football player’s legacy lives on in several foundations set up in his name which raise money for underprivileged children, cancer, and other various humanitarian causes.

Sources: Wikipeidia,

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Jackie Robinson Dies

jackie_robinson0411Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era, died on October 24, 1972 at the age of 53.

Robinson’s athletic career started when he was in high school. Recognizing his athletic talent and passion, his brothers encouraged him to pursue sports. He played on the varsity team in several sports and lettered in  football, basketball, track, and baseball. He continued with all four of these sports while he attended Pasadena Junior College. He was elected to the All-Southland Junior College Team for baseball in 1938 and was also named the  region’s Most Valuable Player. During his time at PJC, he had a few run-ins with police officers he believed were being racist, and was suspended for two years. This combative attitude toward racism is something that reappeared several times later in his life.  Towards the end of his time at PJC, his brother Frank was killed in a motorcycle crash, and he moved closer to Frank’s family and decided to further pursue his athletic career at nearby University of California, Los Angeles.

At UCLA, Robinson became the first athlete in the school’s history to receive a varsity letter in four sports – football, basketball, track, and baseball once again. In 1939, he was one of only four black football players on the UCLA Bruins team, and out of all the sports he played, baseball was his “worst.” He left UCLA before he graduated, taking a job as the assistant athletic director to the government’s National Youth Administration. Robinson began to play semi-professional football for the Honolulu Bears in 1941 when NYA operations ceased. Following that, he became a running back for the Los Angeles Bulldogs until the United States entered World War II.

While serving in the military, Robinson once again was faced with racial discrimination and was arrested for his opposition. Due to his court proceedings for his insubordination charges, Robinson was never deployed overseas and therefore never participated in combat. He served as an army athletics coach in Kentucky until he was honorably discharged in 1944. He met a former player for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League while in Kentucky who encouraged Robinson to write a letter to the Monarchs requesting a tryout. He soon after did.

For a brief period after he was discharged, Robinson returned to the Los Angeles Bulldogs and was then offered a job as athletic director at Sam Huston College in Austin, Texas. While Robinson was working at Sam Huston College, he received a formal invitation to play for the Monarchs at a salary of $400 a month, which is now equivalent to a little over $5,000 a month. Robinson played 47 games as a shortstop for the Monarchs, but disliked his experience. The structured playing environment he was used to in college was very different from the disorganization present in the NAL. Robinson also disliked their approval of gambling and the extensive traveling required of him, keeping him from his future wife, Rachel Isam.

During the season, Robinson pursued major league interests and participated in a tryout for African American players for the Boston Red Sox. It turned out this was just a ploy to please a powerful desegregationist Boston city councilman. Other teams, such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, were more interested in signing black players. The general manager of the Dodgers offered Robinson a spot on their International League farm club, the Montreal Royals. In 1945, Robinson signed on with the Royals and became the first black baseball player in the International League since the 1880s.

Though he faced much more racial discrimination during his training and play time with the Royals, Robinson lead the International League with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage. He was also named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Because of his successful season, he was promoted to the Dodgers the next year and began his major league career. Robinson’s place on the Dodgers roster made him the first player to openly break the major league baseball color barrier since 1880. Black fans began to abandon the negro league teams to see Robinson and the Dodgers when they were in town.

His fans and mostly positive reception did not break racial tension, and many of his teammates threatened to sit out if Robinson played. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher back lashed on critical members of the team by telling them he believed Robinson could make them all rich, and if they didn’t need the money, he would see that they were all traded. Robinson received more discrimination from other teams and fans, but was still supported by many, including League President Ford Frick, Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler, Jewish baseball player Hank Greenberg and Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese. A statue was even made depicting a famous gesture between Robinson and Reese in which Reese put his arm around Robinson after receiving boos from the crowd.

Once again, prejudice did not stop Robinson and he hit 12 home runs, led the league in stolen bases, and helped the Dodgers win a National League pennant in his first year. For his amazing feats, he was named Rookie of the Year. He became the highest-paid player in Dodgers history and opened the door for many future African American players. In 1955, he helped the Dodgers win the World Series against the New York Yankees. He was later traded to the New York Giants, and retired soon after in 1957 with a remarkable career batting average of .311.

Throughout the rest of his life, Robinson was an activist for social change and an anti-drug crusader after losing his son, who struggled with drug problems, in an automobile accident. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and 10 years later on October 24, 1972, he died of a heart attack in Stamford, Connecticut. His uniform number, 42, was universally retired from baseball in 1997. He was the first pro athlete in any sport to be honored in this way. The day of his induction into the major leagues, April 15, is also known as “Jackie Robinson Day,” and every MLB player on every team wears the number 42 on this day.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Official Website of Jackie Robinson, NY Times,





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Marie Antoinette Beheaded

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette, who was the Queen of France from 1774-1792, was beheaded at the Place de la Révolution in Paris, France.

The future Queen of France was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna in 1755 in Austria to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa. As part of a plan to “unite” Austria and France after the Seven Years’ War, and due to the fact that several of Maria Antonia’s female relatives died during a smallpox outbreak, it was decided that she would marry Louis XVI, Dauphin of France. At the age of 14, Maria Antonia married Louis XVI by proxy and was renamed Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France.

At first, Marie Antoinette was considered to be very popular with the people of France. Her first official appearance at the Tuileries in Paris was reported to have 50,000 people crying out to see her. The general public at this time was swooned by her beauty and personality. The French Court had a different opinion of her due to the long-time tensions between France and Austria.

Since the beginning of her marriage and her move to Versailles, the Dauphine received letters from her mother which were often filled with criticism. These criticisms included how Marie Antoinette could not “inspire passion” in her husband who occupied himself with his hobbies, or that she was no longer pretty and had lost her grace. Because of the lack of attention she received from her husband and the incessant criticism of her mother, Marie Antoinette began to spend money extravagantly on clothing and gambling. This extravagant spending would later work against her and how the people of France viewed her.

Marie continued to perform her wifely duties and finally began to bear children with her husband after they were married for seven years. Her spending habits did not cease, and she became known for her over-the-top fashions in the French court. Louis XVI sent large amounts of money to America to aid the American Revolution, which pushed France into further debt and raised taxes, even further negatively affecting the poorer people of France. This combined with increasing unemployment across France and poor crops caused the French people to be filled with resentment for the French monarchy by the late 1780s. Marie became an obvious target for hatred because of her Austrian heritage and her spending habits while the people of France were starving.

On July 14, 1789, revolutionaries stormed the French prison of Bastille, marking a turning point in the French Revolution. That October, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their surviving two children were taken from the Palace of Versailles and put under house arrest at the Tuileries of Paris. In September of 1792, it was officially declared that the French monarchy had fallen. Louis XVI was separated from his family and was executed by guillotine in January of 1793.

Mourning the loss of her husband, Marie Antoinette became severely depressed, refused to eat, and suffered from tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer. She was charged with treason on the morning of October 16, 1793 after two days of court proceedings and was paraded around Paris for several hours in an open cart with her hair cut off. She was beheaded around noon that same day and her last words were, “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it,” after she stepped on her executioner’s foot.

Sources: Wikipedia,

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John Hancock Dies

John Hancock, statesman and outspoken patriot, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts on January 23, 1737. Hancock was one of the richest men in the colonies and used his wealth to support the colonial cause during a time of much political unrest against British rule.

John Hancock is most remembered as the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, especially because his signature was so large and extravagant on the document. For this reason, “John Hancock” has become a name synonymous with the word signature, specifically in the United States.

Hancock acted as president of the 2nd Continental Congress and served as the governor of Massachusetts for two non-consecutive terms. He died on October 8, 1793 at the age of 56.

Sources: Biography, Wikipedia

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Steve Jobs Dies

American inventor and entrepreneur Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011 at the age of 56. He is best known as the co-founder of Apple Inc. and having spearheaded development for much of the company’s innovative technology, such as the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Steve Jobs co-founded Pixar Animation Studios and was also a member of the board of directors for The Walt Disney Company. He founded NeXT, a computer platform development company, during his absence from Apple in 1985. Widely seen as a pioneer in the technology and electronic industries, Steve Jobs is recognized as the man behind the personal computer revolution.

In 2003, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor and in 2009 underwent a liver transplant. With his health declining in 2011, Jobs resigned from Apple Inc. to focus on his health and died of respiratory arrest due to his tumor on October 5, 2011.

Sources: Biography, Wikipedia

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Louis Pasteur Dies

French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822 in Dole, France. Pasteur is most known for his work in germ theory which led him to create the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax and for the invention of pasteurization. Pasteurization is a process by which you heat and cool liquids (like milk and wine) to prevent bacterial contamination.

Louis Pasteur is considered the father of microbiology and one of the three founders of Bacteriology. He suffered multiple strokes, from which he never fully recovered, and died on September 28, 1895 at the age of 72 in Marnes-la-Coquette, France. Pasteur’s breakthroughs in bacterial studies and vaccinations have saved countless lives all over the world.

Sources: Biography, Wikipedia

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Leonard Skinner Dies at 77

The namesake of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Leonard Skinner, died on September 20, 2010.

Leonard Skinner was an American high school gym teacher, coach, property realtor, and bar owner from Jacksonville, Florida. Born on January 11, 1933, Skinner attended Robert E. Lee High School before being drafted into the Army. Following his military discharge, he graduated from Florida State University in 1957.

After graduation, Skinner became a gym teacher at his alma mater, Robert E. Lee High School, where he taught band members Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, and Bob Burns. The boys butted heads with Mr. Skinner over their long hair, which was against school rules. After Skinner sent them to the principal’s office for breaking the rules, the boys resolved to pay tongue-in-cheek homage to Skinner by naming their band after him.

Although not a fan of the band name at first, Leonard Skinner eventually warmed up to the idea, even befriending the musicians during their rise to fame. He looked back on getting to know the band: “They were good, talented, hard-working boys”.
Sources: The New York Times, Wikipedia

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Grace Kelly Dies

Actress and Princess Consort of Monaco, Grace Kelly, died after suffering a stroke and crashing her motor vehicle on September 14, 1982.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 12, 1929, Grace Kelly showed a talent for the arts at a young age. She entered the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, much to her father’s disapproval, and embarked on an acting career, though short lived. Grace Kelly retired from acting at the age of 26 after appearing in 11 films and 60 television productions.

Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III on April 19, 1956 and officially withdrew from show business to focus on her duties in Monaco. She had three children with the Prince: Caroline, Albert, and Stephanie.

On September 13, 1982, Grace Kelly had a stroke while driving, lost control of her vehicle, and plunged down a 45-foot cliff. Her daughter Stephanie was in the car with her, and they were both rushed to the hospital. After being in a coma for 24 hours, Grace Kelly passed away on September 14, 1982.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography

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Last Passenger Pigeon Dies

The last known passenger pigeon, named “Martha” after George Washington’s wife, died on September 1, 1914. Martha spent the entirety of her life (29 years!) at the Cincinnati Zoo Gardens in Ohio.

The passenger pigeon is a now extinct North American bird that at one time was the most abundant bird in the world. Not to be confused with carrier pigeons who were domesticated and trained to carry massages, passenger pigeons lived in enormous migratory flocks.

Some estimate that during the 19th century, passenger pigeons numbered in the billions. Their demise occurred when the European settlers came to America leading to deforestation, hunting and disease.

Sources: Smithsonian, Wikipedia

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