Tag Archives: deaths

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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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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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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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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Bobby Fischer Dies

bobbyfischerOn January 17, 2008, chess legend Bobby Fischer died at the age of 64. He is regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time.

Fischer was born in Chicago in 1943, but grew up in Brooklyn with his mother and sister, Joan. He began playing chess at age 6 after his sister and he bought a chess set from the candy store below their apartment. Both Joan and Fischer’s mother lost interest in the game, and Bobby began playing against himself and soaking up any chess literature he got his hands on. After playing in his first exhibition and losing within 15 minutes, a spectator and president of the Brooklyn Chess Club, Carmine Nigro, introduced Fischer to the club and began to mentor him. His skill level and love for the game increased rapidly and at age 12 he joined the Manhattan Chess Club which was the strongest chess club in the U.S.

After mentoring under chess grandmaster William Lombardy and learning total immersion in the game, Fischer made his first noticeable imprint in the chess community. At age 13, he won a “brilliancy” game, featuring sacrificial attacks and unexpected moves, against a leading chess master who was twice his age. The press dubbed it The Game of the Century.

He began playing in United States Chess Championships the next year, and would play in eight total during his lifetime. Fischer won every U.S. championship he played in, winning all of them by at least one point. He became the youngest chess grandmaster and the youngest person invited to play in a World Championship at age 15. He dropped out of high school when he was 16 to devote his life to pursuing chess full-time. In the sixth U.S. Championship he played at age 20, he scored a perfect 11/11 score, the only perfect score in the history of the tournament.

One of the most notable games in chess history was played between Fischer and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. Known as the “Cold War Confrontation,” this highly publicized 1972 match in Reykjavík, Iceland, is still credited with bringing worldwide attention and popularity to the game, and it gained more attention than any chess match before or since then. Fischer defeated Spassky and became the first American-born World Champion of chess.

chessgameAfter refusing to defend his World Champion title in 1975, his opponent Anatoly Karpov was declared the champion by default, and Fischer disappeared from the chess world for nearly 20 years. He spent time in the Phillipines and Hungary, sometimes appearing on radio shows and making outlandish comments attacking the United States. In 1992, he reappeared in the chess world to play a private unofficial rematch against Spassky. He once again defeated his opponent, but had violated U.S. sanctions by playing the match in Yugoslavia, which was under a United Nations embargo. Because of the criminal charges against him, his U.S. passport was revoked and he was detained in a Tokyo airport in 2004 and fought against his deportation. The chess-loving country of Iceland granted Fischer full citizenship, and he moved there in 2005. He remained there the rest of his life, becoming a U.S. fugitive.

Over the years, his reputation had drawn both fandom and hatred for his intense game play and outspoken nature. He died in Reykjavík, home of his most famous match, due to kidney failure in 2008 at the age of 64. Spoken of him by French chess expert Olivier Tridon, “Bobby Fischer has died at age 64. Like the 64 squares of a chess board.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, ESPN, USA Today

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Coco Chanel Dies

Coco-Chanel-3On January 10, 1971, famed French fashion designer Coco Chanel died. Coco Chanel was the founder and original designer of the Chanel brand, most well-known for liberating women’s fashion from the “corseted silhouette,” and creating designs that were both stylish and comfortable. Some of her most celebrated works were her collarless fitted suits, the little black dress, and her iconic fragrance, Chanel No. 5.

The future designer was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. Her mother was a laundrywoman and her father was a peddler, who traveled from town to town selling goods. At age 12, her mother died of bronchitis, and Chanel’s father sent her and her sisters to live in a convent which took in abandoned and orphaned girls. Later in her life, after her fame grew, Chanel tried to keep her past an enigma by starting rumors about her childhood. The most prominent rumor being that her father sailed to America to seek fortune after the death of her mother and she was sent to live with her two spinster aunts. It was in her real life at the convent, however, that she was taught to sew by the nuns who raised her. Little did she know that this skill would help her develop her life’s work.

Chanel stayed at the convent until the age of 18, and then moved to a Catholic boarding house in Moulins. She found work as a seamstress using the skills she had learned in the convent, but on the side, began singing at cabarets in Moulin and Vichy. She adopted the name “Coco” during her time performing, though the origin of her name remains somewhat of a mystery. It is speculated that she was given the nickname because of two songs she often performed and was thus associated with – “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco.” Some say she began calling herself this as a nod to the french word for “kept woman,” cocotte. Whatever the reason, from then on, she was “Coco.” She clung to the idea of finding success through performing, and auditioned for stage shows frequently. Though people were drawn to her youthful beauty and her charming demeanor, her singing voice was lacking and she found difficulty booking gigs. Soon she realized her dreams of becoming a stage star would never pan out.

While living in Moulins, Chanel met Étienne Balsan, a young French ex-cavalry officer and wealthy textile heir. She became his mistress and lived in his chateau for three years, where he gave her a luxurious lifestyle filled with expensive jewelry and clothing and a lavish social life. While living with him, she began to dabble in millinery. Soon, she began having an affair with Balsan’s friend, Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. The two men began trying to outbid each other for Chanel’s affection. Also part of the wealthy upper-class, Capel offered Chanel an apartment in Paris and offered to finance her fashion ventures by helping her open her first shop in the city. Although her love affair with Capel never became official because he never stayed faithful to Chanel, and eventually married an English aristocrat, Chanel was heavily influenced by the sartorial style of Capel, which was reflected in her designs. Eleven years after the beginning of their affair, Capel was killed in a car accident, and Chanel later in her life told a close friend, “His death was a terrible blow to me. In losing Capel, I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness, I have to say.”

In Chanel’s first shop, on Paris’s Rue Cambon, she started out selling hats, and began producing clothing after she opened two more shops in Deauville and Biarritz in the early 1900s. Producing clothing for the chilly weather out of jersey and tricot, which were typically only used to make men’s underwear, her fashions began to get noticed.

As the 1920s began, so did Chanel’s exploration into new fashion territories. With the success of her clothing line, she moved on to making accessories and fragrances. Perhaps one of her greatest legacies was the introduction of Chanel No. 5, the first perfume to include the designer’s name. She was once quoted in saying that perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . .that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.” Chanel No. 5 has certainly kept Chanel’s name alive even after her departure, remaining one of the most popular perfumes in the world to this day.

littleblackdressIn 1925 came the invention of Chanel’s signature suit, featuring a menswear inspired look with a collarless jacket and fitted skirt. She was escaping the era of corsets and uncomfortable fashions and exploring a world where women could dress stylishly and comfortably. The 1920s also saw another iconic invention of Chanel’s – the little black dress. Turning a color that had always been associated with death and mourning into a new chic insert into the fashion world became a legacy of Chanel’s. Friends with several culturally important artists and literary minds like Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, Chanel began designing costumes for ballets, plays, and movies.

Economic depression and the beginning of World War II, however, had a negative effect on Chanel’s business. She closed her business and her shops, claiming it was not a time for fashion. Thousands of workers who had found jobs under her growing fashion empire were fired. During the war, when Germany occupied France, Chanel began a relationship with a Nazi officer, through which she gained permission to continue living in her apartment in the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Looked down upon for her involvement with the German military officer and seen as betraying her country, she fled to Switzerland and lived there for several years, exiling herself from her home in France.

She eventually returned to Paris in 1954, and reignited her Chanel line after a 15 year absence. She thought the current fashion world which was being overtaken by male designers like Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga were creating “illogical” designs that women would soon rebel against. The new collection she created received unfavorable reviews from the French who believed her reputation had been tainted by her wartime actions, but British and American audiences soon became her loyal customers.

At 87 years old, Chanel died in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz where she had resided for 30 years on January 10, 1971. Her influence on women’s fashion has had a lasting impression on the designers who followed her. After her death, her company was taken over by designer Karl Lagerfeld, who has continued the Chanel legacy. The thriving business which retains her namesake accrues hundreds of millions in sales every year.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com, Telegraph UK

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Hank Williams, Sr. Dies

hank williamsOn January 1, 1953, Hank Williams, Sr. was found dead in the back of his Cadillac. He is regarded as one of the most prolific country music singers of all time, known for hit songs like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Hey, Good Lookin’.”

Born Hiram King Williams in Alabama in 1923, he began playing guitar after learning from a black street performer named Rufus Payne, who would trade him guitar lessons for meals. Thinking his name was unfit for a career in country music, he soon changed it to “Hank.” He started to pursue his career in 1937 when he moved to Montgomery. Here he scored a gig performing on and hosting his own 15-minute radio show for WSFA radio station. While he was here, he formed the Drifting Cowboy band and dropped out of school to further pursue his musical career.

Williams was born with an undiagnosed case of  spina bifida occulta, which caused him lifelong pain in his spinal column. This led Williams to the abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol to ease his pain. Williams’ alcoholism and his inability to replace several of his band members who left to serve in World War II caused him to be fired by the radio station. In 1944, Williams married Audrey Sheppard, who managed his career and helped him get back on track to success. He again started working for WSFA and auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry, but was rejected. After his first recording session with Sterling Records, his songs “Never Again” and “Honky Tonkin’” became popular and he was signed by MGM in 1947. He eventually joined the Grand Ole Opry and recorded 11 Billboard number one songs between 1948 and 1953.

In 1951, after falling during a hunting trip in Tennessee, Williams old back pains worsened, and his abuse of drugs and alcohol grew. Because of his unstable state and frequent drunkeness, Williams was eventually dismissed from the Grand Ole Opry and divorced from Audrey. Physically, Williams began to look older and more tired, and his performances began to suffer as well.

Williams was scheduled to perform in Charleston, West Virginia, but had to skip the performance due to a severe ice storm. His next performance was scheduled in Canton, Ohio for New Year’s, and he hired a college student named Charles Carr to drive him to this appearance. The two stopped at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee on their way to Canton from Montgomery. While at the hotel, Carr called a doctor for Williams who was not feeling well after the combination of  chloral hydrate and alcohol he had consumed along the way. The doctor gave Williams two shots of B12 which also contained morphine.

Carr again stopped in Bristol, Virginia at a restaurant where he asked Williams if he was hungry. Williams replied that he was not hungry – words that would be his last. Carr’s last stop was in Oak Hill, Virginia, where he stopped at a gas station for fuel. The young driver soon discovered that Williams’ unresponsiveness was not due to him being asleep in the backseat, but dead. The police were called to the scene where they found several empty beer cans and unfinished song lyrics in the backseat. An autopsy concluded that Williams had died due to ”insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart.” At the place where Williams was to perform in Canton, the audience at first did not believe the news of his death and began to laugh, thinking it was just another excuse for his recent poor performances. It wasn’t until other performers started singing “I Saw The Light” in his memory that the news sunk in, and the crowd joined in singing.

Though he only lived for a very short 29 years, Williams recorded 35 Top 10 hits, 11 of which went to number one. A legend in the world of country music, perhaps more so because of his young untimely death, Williams has been inducted into several hall of fames and his songs are covered often by other artists who were inspired by the music he created.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography.com

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Harry Truman Dies

Harry S. Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the incorrect headline after the won the presidential election.

Harry S. Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the incorrect headline after the won the presidential election.

On December 26, 1972, Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, died.

Truman was born in Missouri on May 8, 1884. He grew up on a farm, and worked a variety of jobs after high school from railroad timekeeper to bank bookkeeper, and never attended college. He went back to farming before volunteering for duty during World War I. This was an interesting move for Truman because he was already 33 years old (two years older than the draft age limit), and eligible for exemption due to his status as a farmer. During his service, he helped organized the National Guard regiment and was promoted to captain. He gained the respect of his men and led them through heavy fighting.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace, after returning from the war and unsuccessfully opened a hat shop in Kansas City with an associate. The Great Depression caused the business venture to fail, and Truman owed $20,000 to creditors, which he slowly paid back over the course of 15 years. During this time, Truman was approached by Thomas Pendergast or “Boss Tom,” who was a Democratic political boss in Kansas City. Pendergast’s nephew had served in the war with Truman, and Pendergast appointed Truman to be overseer of highways for Kansas City. He was soon after chosen by Pendergast to run for a few different county judge positions. He was finally elected as a presiding judge in 1926 and kept this position until he ran for senator.

In 1934, Truman was elected to the United States Senate and began paving his way to the presidency. He helped allocate tax money for railroads, shipping, and interstate transport under Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s New Deal project. As the chair of a special committee investigating the National Defense Program, he helped to prevent unnecessary defense spending and war profiteering. This gained him much respect from his peers as well as from the general public.

For the 1944 presidential campaign, FDR chose Truman to run alongside him for Vice President over Henry Wallace, who was FDR’s Vice President during his first term. Speculation abounded that FDR would not survive this term, so the choice of the responsible and socially accepted Truman as his running mate was an important one. They won the election in 1944, and just 82 days after they took office together, FDR died of a stroke and Truman was sworn in as President of the United States on April 12, 1945.

In the midst of World War II, Truman started his term. His first six months of presidency were a whirlwind – he announced the German surrender from the war, dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and signed a charter sanctioning the United Nations. Though this war had come to an end, soon after tensions with the Soviet Union flared and the Cold War began.

After Republicans took control of the House and the Senate in 1946, reelection of Truman for a second term seemed unlikely. This unlikely reelection caused the Chicago Tribune to famously go to print with a headline reading “Dewey Defeats Truman,” stating that New York governor Thomas Dewey had won the election before all of the results were in. In a surprising turn of events, Truman won a second term.

His second term proved to be a challenging one. Initially, he set up a domestic policy called the Fair Deal to increase minimum wage, set up universal health care, provide more funding for education, and give equal rights under law to all citizens. Many had mixed feelings about the policy and parts of it were rejected. 1950 saw the beginning of the Korean War, and Truman sent in troops because he believed the invasion of South Korea by North Korea was effected by the Soviets and could potentially start another world war. This move was soon met with criticism and Truman changed his tactics to focus on preserving the independence of South Korea rather than trying to eliminate communism in North Korea.

Truman’s reputation was damaged further at home due to a labor dispute between the major steel mills and the United Steel Workers of America. A wage increase was requested by union workers, but mill owners did not want to provide more money to the workers unless the government allowed them to increase the prices of their consumer goods. Truman was not able to come to an agreement with mill owners and refused to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act which would have kept union workers from striking. He then seized the mills in the name of the government and was met with the companies filing a suit against the government which went to the Supreme Court. The steel mills won the case and Truman was once again viewed in an unfavorable way by the American public.

Since he no longer was seen in a positive light by Americans, Truman announced that he would not be running for reelection and returned to his home of Independence, Missouri. He spent his remaining years writing his memoirs and overseeing the construction of his presidential library. He died on December 26, 1972 after suffering from organ failure.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia

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