3Mozart Was Not Buried in a Pauper's Grave
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Everyone knows the name "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" now, but he was never appreciated in his own era. After all, isn't that the way it goes with most real geniuses? Mozart's operas failed, and he was hated in Vienna because his music was too ahead of its time. Consequently, he died a poor man and was buried as such -- in a ditch. In the film Amadeus, we see how they literally dump his corpse into an unmarked mass grave with other poverty-stricken nobodies.
"Let's just leave him over here with Da Vinci, Copernicus, and Pete the Hand Job Hobo."
But Actually ...
While it's more romantic to think of Mozart as some misunderstood genius, the truth is that he was by no means a starving artist. He got himself into quite a bit of debt, sure, but his income was around 10,000 florins a year, which put him in the top 5 percent of the population. Mozart's concerts and piano lessons gave him a steady source of wealth, and his last opera, The Magic Flute, was a huge success.
As was the actual "magic flute" it was based on (with the ladies).
As for his burial, several sources state that he was buried in a "communal grave," but this is apparently a mistranslation: He was actually buried in a common grave, which is to say, "not a fancy one." In 18th century Vienna, it was the custom for middle-class people to be buried in plots they didn't own, from which they were eventually dug up to make space for others, which is why his body's current whereabouts are unknown. Some biographer probably read about that, thought, "Holy shit, that's fucked up," and exaggerated it just a tiny bit ... so we ended up with "they threw him in a ditch."
In Amadeus, we see Mozart begging for money and unable to impress his father. In reality, Mozart's dad was bragging in letters about how much money his son was making. So he wasn't exactly an unappreciated artist who suffered all his life -- he was more like the Michael Bolton of the 1700s: a popular artist who had some huge hits, but wasn't a huge deal either.
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Who knows what legends will be told about this man, centuries from now?
2Oscar Wilde Did Not Die of Syphilis
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Oscar Wilde was more promiscuous than a whole army of former Disney Channel stars combined. In 1895, he was charged with butthole indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labor, and not even the fun kind.
"Oscar Wilde, this court finds you ... FABULOUS! No, but seriously, you're going to jail."
Wilde took it easy in his later years, but his promiscuous past caught up with him, and, according to several biographies (respectable ones, this time), he died of meningitis as a direct result of syphilis. His sexual debauchery cost him his life. A cautionary tale for sure, kids!
But Actually ...
True, saying that Oscar Wilde was killed by syphilis wasn't a huge stretch -- an estimated 25 percent of Victorian men had it at the time. Also, he was Oscar Wilde. He probably gave it to that 25 percent in the first place. However, Wilde's actual symptoms didn't match up with syphilis, or any seedy STD, for that matter. Today, medical experts agree that he most likely died of an ear infection.
A sexy ear infection?
When Wilde died, there was not much medical information on what caused his meningitis. Wilde's early biographers assumed that he got it from syphilis because, well, it made sense. "It made sense" was also the whole reason the syphilis story was included in Richard Ellman's "definitive" Oscar Wilde biography in 1987 -- Ellman wrote the entire book on the theory that Wilde had contracted the disease as a young man and that it somehow influenced his writing.
However, the truth is that there's no evidence that Wilde ever had syphilis in his life. His friend and lover Lord Alfred Douglas sued the writer of Wilde's first biography for libel, and as a result, the writer removed the syphilis claim from later editions (despite winning the lawsuit). But it was too late: The syphilis explanation became an accepted part of Wilde's persona and turned him into a cautionary tale against hard living. Wash your ears, kids!
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"Avoid my terrible faaaaaate!"