4 People Who Died at the Worst Possible Moment
I think pretty much any living person you’d pose the question to would agree that there’s never a “good” time to die, and if we were capable of communicating with the dead, I don’t think there’s too many who thought they went right when they should have. Of course, there’s still a hierarchy as far as best and worst moments to go, one that of course inspired the famous joke, “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”
Sometimes, though, whether it’s where it happens, when it happens or even what happens directly afterwards, some people seem to get the absolute shortest end of the stick. Remaining on this mortal coil is obviously the preferred option, but the manner of passage they were dealt was particularly brutal for an unlucky few. You can imagine that every single one of these passings had some strong words for whoever greeted them on the other side. Passings such as…
Charley Havlat is not a name you likely know, but he has a horrendously unfortunate fate tied in with a historical event that I sure hope you are familiar with: World War II. The late Havlat has the horrible honor of being the last American combat death of World War II. Even worse, Havlat’s death actually occurred nine minutes after the ceasefire between German and Allied forces went into effect.
Havlat and his platoon were traveling down a dirt road in Czechoslovakia when they were ambushed by Czech forces. The soldiers stopped movement and took cover, but in the opening exchanges, Havlat was unfortunately, while momentarily leaving cover behind a Jeep, shot in the head and killed instantly. The two sides continued to exchange fire for only a couple minutes afterwards before news of the ceasefire reached over radio, at which point the fighting stopped, and with it, the saga of American death in World War II. Havlat was the only casualty. The Czech commander on the other side of the battle later apologized for his death, not knowing the ceasefire had yet taken place.
Stieg Larsson was the author of the “Millennium Trilogy,” the series of books following a certain dragon-tattooed girl that held a stranglehold on the world’s airport bookstores for years at a time. There was a good amount of time when you couldn’t walk through a hotel lobby, coffee shop or series of beach towels without seeing at least one copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo poking out from among them. Unfortunately, their author never had a chance to witness their wholesale capture of the world’s mind.
Artists who never see their work achieve the heights of fame aren’t rare, but the timeframe is especially brutal in Larsson’s case. He died of a heart attack, thought to be caused by a combination of a tall flight of stairs, a broken elevator and a prodigious smoking habit, only months after turning in the final manuscripts for the entire trilogy. He’d never get to see them become a phenomenon that turned into multiple movie adaptations. Adding to the misery is that, due to the unexpected manner of his death, he had no will, making the distribution of his posthumous gains a nightmare in themselves.
Tommy Cooper was a Welsh comedian known for his massive stature of 6-foot-5 and his act consisting of magic tricks designed to fail, quick wit and physical comedy. His death in 1984 wasn’t exactly a stretch beyond prediction, given that he was a heavy drinker and smoker and not particularly the image of health. Still, the actual moment that he died was a fate hard to wish on anyone, and seems more like the climax of a black comedy than a real-life intersection of some highly unpleasant variables.
The phrase “dying doing what they loved” always feels like bullshit, as most people love living. I think Cooper’s ghost would agree. Tommy Cooper, while performing live on television in a show called Live at Her Majesty’s, after receiving a cloak from his assistant, suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed on stage. Unfortunately, given that a pratfall wasn’t far out of the Welshman’s wheelhouse, not only did no one step in to help, but the audience loved it, and laughed heartily as he died on stage. There’s video of the moment in question on YouTube (because of course there is), but I’ll warn you, it’s an upsetting watch.
J.I. Rodale was, well, it’s a bit hard to explain exactly what he was. One of the world’s foremost quacks? He was known for espousing all sorts of advice on how to stay healthy and live a long life. Some of them were things we would probably have to begrudgingly agree on now, like his focus on organic food. Others, like questioning the polio vaccine and suggesting that saltwater causes cancer, are firmly in the realm of bullshit. Despite his middling medical accuracy, he became famous for his strange accusations, which landed him on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, the last place he’d ever be seen alive.
After his interview with Cavett, as he sat on the couch with another guest, journalist Pete Hamill, Rodale let out a sound that would turn out to be his dying breath, having suffered a heart attack. Unlike Cooper’s death, the show, at the very least, wasn’t being broadcast live, and the footage, understandably, has been either thoroughly buried — if not destroyed. He did suffer one indignity Cooper didn’t, however — he died directly after being interviewed as a “health expert,” an interview in which he reportedly claimed that he’d “decided to live to be a hundred” and had “never felt better in his life.”