Mortality frequently interferes with longevity, unfortunately. And celebrity and early death often go together, seemingly. Buddy Holly was only 22 when he died in a plane crash in 1959, astonishing when you consider the musical legacy he left behind. Not Fade Away, indeed.
Eddie Cochran was even younger — 21 — when he was killed in a road accident at the end of a British tour in 1960. He was trying to shield his fiancee at the time. “Sweet Gene Vincent,” a passenger in the same car, escaped with a broken collarbone. And Hollywood icon James Dean, who also died in a car crash, aged 24, became the first actor to receive two posthumous Academy Award nominations, not that he would care too much by then.
Compared to those tragic young men, Mozart was an old man, although he had been the original Boy Wonder long before Batman’s sidekick Robin usurped that title. He was 35 on the day the music died, Mozart I mean. Robin is a fictitious character. I was sad too when I found that out.
An early death is generally equated with unfulfilled promise, but that can’t be said of Alexander the Great — the clue is in the name — who had conquered most of the known world by the time he left the planet at 33. Likewise, the 31-year-old Schubert managed to write 7 complete symphonies, operas, piano and chamber music and more than 600 vocal works. If only I had learned to read music…
Sadness for a truncated career can sometimes merge with a mid-life crisis. Tony Hancock, a comedian whose radio show ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ cleared the streets as whole families tuned in to listen, was the first British comedian to earn a thousand pounds a week, at a time when the average wage was twelve pounds. He committed suicide in an Australian hotel room in 1968. He was just 44.
Tommy Cooper — he of the fez and bumbling magic tricks — died in the middle of his act on live TV in 1984, to the sounds of laughter that he never got to hear. At the height of his popularity he tried on a fez in a market in Cairo, and the trader told him, “Every Englishman who tries on one of those red fezzes always says, “Just like that!” You’re the first one not to say it.”
Of all things, the world’s first spaceman, Yuri Gagarin, died on a routine training flight, aged 34. I hope he didn’t fall asleep at the wheel and die of boredom. It seems he wasn’t accustomed to weather conditions on earth. Neither am I, sometimes.
The Admirable Crichton, a Scottish gentleman celebrated for his many accomplishments — comparisons are sometimes odious — was killed in a sword fight when he was 21. I’m guessing swordsmanship wasn’t one of his accomplishments.
It is claimed that a premature death ‘tears away the pages of your future,’ although The Jackal in Frederick Forsyth’s novel resurrected a dead child in the form of a fake passport in its name. (‘Paul Duggan’) And the Boy King Tutankhamun has certainly enjoyed a long afterlife of international fame.
As I said at the start, celebrity and early death often go together. Except for the poor mayfly, which lives only for 1 day. So let’s all try to outlive the mayfly every day, what do you say? And never forget the immortal words of Del Boy Trotter in Only Fools and Horses: “Not farewell — just bonjour.” To which James Bond might add, “Die another day, if you can.”