The “Hollywood sign” started as an advertisement for a housing development in the 1920s, but a deeper symbolism soon became clear.
In 1932, actress Peg Entwistle committed suicide by jumping to her death from the letter “H”.
Actors who appeared in The Conqueror (1956) and subsequently died of cancer:
- John Wayne
- Susan Hayward
- Agnes Moorehead
- Pedro Armendáriz
- Chief Tahachee
- Dick Powell
The movie, in which Wayne played Genghis Khan, was shot in St. George, Utah, downwind of Nevada open-air nuclear testing, and producer Howard Hughes had 60 tons of dirt shipped back to Hollywood for use in reshoots.
By 1981, 91 of the 220 cast and crew had developed some form of cancer, and more than half of them were already dead.
“With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic,” said University of Utah biologist Robert Pendleton. “In a group this size you’d expect only 30-some cancers to develop. … I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up in a court of law.”
Franz Reichelt dreamed big. In 1911 the Austrian tailor designed a garment that he hoped would serve as a combination overcoat/parachute. Never one for half measures, he tested it by leaping from the Eiffel Tower.
The sad/romantic results were caught on film, including Reichelt’s long hesitation on the brink, his fatal fall and a measurement of the hole he left behind.
“If you’re not failing every now and again,” said Woody Allen, “it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
The first known serial killer was actually a woman, known as Locusta, a professional poisoner who lived in Rome during the first century A.D.
In 54, she killed the Emperor Claudius with a poisoned dish of mushrooms, and the following year she was convicted of a separate poisoning. Hearing of this, Nero rescued her from execution — so she could poison Britannicus for him.
They made a good partnership, Nero guaranteeing her safety during his lifetime, but when he died the Romans took an awful revenge. According to legend, Locusta was publicly raped by a specially trained giraffe, then torn apart by wild animals. Talk about cruel and unusual.
Poet Charles Bukowski’s gravestone reads “Don’t Try.”
Writers who committed suicide:
- John Berryman
- Hart Crane
- Will Cuppy
- William Inge
- Arthur Koestler
- Jerzy Kosinski
- Primo Levi
- Vachel Lindsay
- Sylvia Plath
- Anne Sexton
- Hunter S. Thompson
- John Kennedy Toole
- Virginia Woolf
“The real reason for not committing suicide,” wrote Hemingway, “is because you always know how swell life gets again after the hell is over.” He killed himself in 1961.
A young boy who drowned on the Titanic. Despite the frightful loss of life, the evacuating passengers generally behaved honorably — giving women first place in the lifeboats, for instance, regardless of their class. 55 percent of third-class women survived, compared to 33 percent of first-class men.
When singer Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London”) was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, he said he just hoped to live long enough to see the next James Bond movie.
The film was called Die Another Day.
“… six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearance dead, huddled in a corner, their sole covering what seemed to be a ragged horse cloth, and their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees. I approached in horror and found by a low moaning that they were alive, they were in fever — four children, a woman and what had once been a man. … In a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 of such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe. By far the greater number were delirious either from famine or fever. … Within 500 yards of the Cavalry Station at Skibbereen, the dispensary doctor found seven wretches lying, unable to move, under the same cloak — one had been dead many hours, but the others were unable to move, either themselves or the corpse.”
– From a letter by a Mr. O’Brien to the Duke of Wellington describing a visit to Skibbereen during the Irish potato famine, Dec. 17, 1846
In May 2005, someone delivered a box of ashes to the council chambers of Queanbeyan, a city in New South Wales, Australia. It was engraved with the words “Elizabeth Clarke Cunningham, Aged 59 years, Died 13 June 1997.”
The box was passed on to the New South Wales police, but no one has been able to discover who Cunningham was, whether she had any relatives, or who delivered her ashes.
How frail is man–how short life’s longest day!
Here lies the worthy Potter, turned to clay!
Whose forming hand, and whose reforming care,
Has left us full of flaws. Vile earthenware!
– The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Jan. 15, 1831
In China you can send money to your dead relatives. “Hell banknotes” are burned in a traditional ceremony, after which dead ancestors can use them to bribe the king of hell for a shorter stay.
They’re starting to use credit cards.
Kermit the Frog spoke at ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s funeral.
In western Namibia, there’s a deadly strip of beach where the Namib Desert runs right up against the South Atlantic Ocean. Shipwrecked sailors who landed there found themselves trapped between heavy surf on one side and hundreds of miles of desert on the other. Many starved to death right there on the beach.
It’s called the Skeleton Coast.
When he wasn’t escaping straitjackets, Harry Houdini spent a lot of time debunking spiritualists.
Shortly before his death, he made a pact with his wife, Bess: If possible, he would contact her from the other side and deliver a prearranged coded message.
When he died, Bess lit a candle beside his photograph and kept it burning for 10 years, holding séances every Halloween to test the pact. Harry never spoke.
In 1936, after a final attempt on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Bess put out the candle.
“Ten years is long enough to wait for any man,” she said.
Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz is looking remarkably fit for his age. The Prussian knight died in 1702 and his body hasn’t decayed.
No one knows why. He wasn’t embalmed. A legend says it’s God’s punishment for an oath he broke while living. Scientists think he lost a lot of blood before dying and that the local soil lacked materials that would promote decay. But that doesn’t explain why other bodies nearby did rot.
Tupac Shakur died on Friday the 13th.
The Belgian village of Passchendaele before and after the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917. Aerial photography showed 1 million shell holes in one square mile.
After the battle, the following notice was found in a dugout full of dead British soldiers. It was signed by their Australian commander:
- This position will be held and section will remain here until relieved.
- The enemy cannot be allowed to interfere with this program.
- If the section cannot remain here alive it will remain here dead.
- Should any man through shell shock or such cause attempt to surrender he will remain here dead.
- Finally the position, as stated, will be held.
Clemenceau said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”
National Geographic photographer Reid Blackburn’s car after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980. The lava would have been about 680°F when it reached him.
In all, the eruption equaled 27,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. It killed 57 people, 1,500 elk, 5,000 deer, and 11 million fish.
When a film crew was dropped by helicopter on the mountain five days later, its compasses spun in circles.
Sam Patch (1799-1829), “The Yankee Leaper,” earned his epithet — in his 30-year lifetime he jumped from the following points:
- Mill dam, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
- Passaic Falls, New Jersey
- Miscellaneous bridges, factory walls, ships’ masts
- Niagara Falls, New York
- Upper Falls, New York
That last one attracted a crowd of 8,000 — Upper Falls is 99 feet high. The first attempt went fine, but on the followup he dislocated both shoulders and drowned. His grave marker says “Sam Patch — Such Is Fame.”
The crypt next to Marilyn Monroe’s belongs to Hugh Hefner.
He paid $85,000 for it.
A dyer born, a dyer bred,
Lies numbered here among the dead;
Dyers, like mortals doomed to die,
Alike fit food for worms supply.
Josephus Dyer was his name;
By dyeing he acquired fame;
‘Twas in his forty-second year
His neighbours kind did him inter.
Josephus Dyer, his first son,
Doth also lie beneath this stone;
So likewise doth his second boy,
Who was his parents’ hope and joy.
His handywork all did admire,
For never was a better dyer.
Both youths were in their fairest prime,
Ripe fruitage of a healthful clime;
But nought can check Death’s lawless aim,
Whosoever’ life he choose to claim:
It was God’s edict from his throne,
“My will shall upon earth be done.”
Then did the active mother’s skill
The vacancy with credit fill
Till she grew old, and weak, and blind,
And this last wish dwelt on her mind–
That she, when dead, should buried be
With her loved spouse and family.
At last Death’s arm her strength defied;
Thus all the dyeing Dyers died!
– Epitaph, Truro, Cornwall, England
Nurse: Is anything bothering you?
Buddy Rich: Yes … country music!
Those were his last words.
Epitaphs, proposed by their owners:
Mel Blanc: “That’s all, folks!”
Jack Lemmon: “In”
Jackie Gleason: “And away we go!”
Spike Milligan: “I told you I was ill.”
Peter Ustinov: “Do not walk on the grass.”