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12 Most Shocking Celebrity Deaths of All Time

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Celebrity deaths are always relevant no matter how disinterested a person may appear. People seem to be naturally curious about the death of a legend, especially when it is quite scandalous, even when they are not necessarily fans.

Most of us will agree that the unforeseen death of an award-winning actor, a royalty, a famous athlete, or a multi-platinum recording artist always hits differently. Their stories are almost always made into films, being shared with the world, as if we need more reasons to mourn. 

Here, we’ll list down some of the most shocking celebrity deaths of all time and the controversies surrounding them. 

12. James Dean (1931-1955)

Photo from jamesdean.com

James Byron Dean has been a youth icon in the ‘50s. Along with his sullen character, swagger and style, and overall aura, he was tagged as a symbol of restlessness, rebellion, and idealism for many. 

His Hollywood stardom, albeit short, is all thanks to three major films where he played defiant roles. He was also the first actor to be nominated posthumously in the Oscars.

Dean died at the age of 24 from a car crash. The other driver, who was at fault, went away with minor injuries.

11. Selena Quintanilla (1971-1955)

Photo from mcadvocate.com

With her popularity, Selena Quintanilla-PĂ©rez has been a household name back in the day (a mononym, at that — she was known only as Selena). She was also named the “Queen of Tejano Music” and the “Tejano Madonna.”

Selena performed a record-breaking, sold-out concert for 60,000 people at the Houston Astrodome before her death in March 1995; she was 23. What’s worse is that she was cruelly shot by her friend and president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar. Saldívar was accused of embezzling $30,000 via forged checks and from Selena’s boutiques.

Her story has been made into a film starring no less than Jennifer Lopez. It is also now a Netflix series.

10. Elvis Presley (1935-1977)

Photo from salon.com

King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley won three Grammy awards for his gospel recordings. Among his numerous successes were his 18 No.1 singles, chart-topping songs, and countless gold and platinum albums. He inspired countless musicians as he paved the way for American rock ‘n’ roll. 

Presley is also popular for his contributions in other musical genres such as gospel and country. Among his most well-known hits were “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Good Luck Charm,” and “Suspicious Minds.” From 1956-to 1958, he completely dominated the hit charts.

He died of heart failure at the age of 42. Thousands of fans flocked to his Memphis residence and lit a candle on August 16, 2012, his 35th death anniversary. 

9. Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)

Photo from time.com

Marilyn Monroe was an American actress-comedienne, model, and singer. One of Hollywood’s sex symbols, she was undeniably world-famous with her stunning great looks and paradoxically, her tragic life story.

She’s well-known for her breathy, throaty voice (which as it turns out, was actually a way to overcome her childhood stutter) as she sang “Happy Birthday” to the then-president of the United States. She was also consistently linked to the most dashing men of her time.

Monroe’s life was filled with controversies up to the point of her death at only 36 years old. The cause of her death was deemed a “probable suicide” through a drug overdose.

8. Princess Diana (1961-1997)

Photo from sheknows.com

The late Diana became Lady Diana when her father inherited his earldom in 1975. She, later on, married the Prince of Wales, the British heir to the throne in 1981 (whom she later on divorced) earning her the title “Princess Diana.”

During her marriage, she produced two sons: Prince William and Prince Harry.

Princess Diana was well-known for her charity work and her public roles. She worked with over a hundred organizations helping the homeless, youth, and the elderly.

Princess Diana died in 1997 following a car accident in Paris, France. She and her then-rumored boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, was getting away from the paparazzi which resulted in the accident. 

7. Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)

Photo from thethings.com

Queen’s legendary front man, Freddie Mercury, is worldwide famous thanks to his spectacular showmanship and powerful vocals.

His family moved to Middlesex where he joined a blues band called Wreckage. Thereafter, he was introduced to the founder members of the band Smile, subsequently called Queen, and the rest is history.

Mercury suffered from AIDS which he kept a secret due to the sad misconceptions about the disease. 24 hours after he publicly announced his illness, the rock icon died at the age of 45.

6. Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Photo from scientificamerican.com

The beloved American actor and comedian Robin Williams was known for his diverse remarkable performances in movies, television, and stand-up. One of the most popular is Dead Poets Society and his voice behind Genie in the original Disney movie Aladdin. 

Williams was nominated in various successful roles from different film genres ranging from comedy to drama. Along with several nominations, he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie Good Will Hunting

Meanwhile, it was not a secret that he went through a great deal of personal battles. He had problems in his relationships, drug and alcohol addiction coupled with rehab and relapse.

In August 2014, the 63-year-old comedian was found dead in his home in California. The cause of death was asphyxia due to hanging.

5. Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

Photo from cnn.com

Whitney Houston was (and still is) undeniably one of the biggest pop stars of all time. With multimillion-selling hits topping the charts for years, her songs have been part of every household in the world.

Houston’s career went off track with drug use and problems in her marriage. Despite her situation, her music career continued to progress. She starred in the movie The Bodyguard opposite Kevin Costner wherein her ultimate hit song “I Will Always Love You” made its debut.

Threats in her career remain until early 2012 when rumors about her financial problems came up. At a pre-Grammy party, she stayed at the Beverly Hilton Hotel where she was found dead in the bathtub. She was 48.

4. Paul Walker (1973-2013)

Photo from cinemablend.com

Paul Walker, although mostly known for his portrayal of Brian O’Conner in the Fast & Furious franchise, already gained attention in the ‘90s from film and television shows.

His death came as a huge surprise (also seemingly ironic) when he got into a car crash in California. He was on his way to a charity event for Typhoon Haiyan victims in the Philippines. His friend who was driving a Porsche lost control and slammed into a tree.

3. Heath Ledger (1979-2008)

Photo from mtv.com

A hugely talented and well-loved actor from Australia, Heath Ledger played many breakthrough roles in his time. He played a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain which earned him an Oscar nomination.

Starting from smaller Australian feature films, Ledger showed huge potential as he went into the Hollywood scene with the classic film 10 Things I Hate About You. But arguably, one of his best performances is perhaps the Joker from The Dark Knight leaving a huge impact on the viewers years down the line.

In January 2008, Ledger was found dead due to an accidental drug overdose. Police who found his body suspected no foul play.

2. Kobe Bryant

Photo from sportingnews.com

NBA and non-NBA fans alike do know Kobe Bryant. Surely a household name, the professional basketball player worked his way through a legendary career.

In 2008, he was named the NBA league’s Most Valuable Player for the first time. In the same year, he also won two Gold Medals as a member of the U.S. men’s basketball team playing at the Beijing and London Olympics.

In January 2020, Bryant died in a helicopter crash together with his 13-year-old daughter while on their way to a girls’ basketball game in California. Seven other people died in the crash. A few months later, Bryant was one of the inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

1. Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Photo from independent.co.uk

The King of Pop, and is regarded as one of the most influential singers of all time, Michael Jackson was a symbol of culture who transcended generations.

His immersive performances and showmanship are simply unbeatable. He was the youngest among the sensational Jackson 5. He topped the charts as a solo performer later on with his hit singles “Ben” and “Rockin’ Robin.”

Jackson’s first solo album Off the Wall (1979) was the best-selling album of the year with over 20 million copies sold. Massive international hit singles followed.

Thriller was a tour de force with a record-breaking 8 Grammys. It was the best-selling album in history for quite a long while. His success persisted like a storm; the rest is history as his follow-up hit singles brought him up to superstardom.

Jackson’s was one of the most shocking celebrity deaths that many still mourn today. He died of cardiac arrest at the age of 50 in 2009.

His case was reportedly caused by a combination of sedatives and the anesthetic propofol administered by his physician Conrad Murray. It was concluded a homicide and the latter was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2011.

In whatever sphere of influence, whether sports, music, or culture, a legend’s demise brings about truly valid grief and mourning. Curiously, prestige, wealth, and fame — things that most of these celebrities have in common are not exactly redeeming graces.

For many, what matters is that their legacy lives on.

*Cover Photo/Thumbnail Photo from Reuters taken by Lucy Nicholson

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