Los Angeles, California is the home of make-believe, fairytales, and creativity. Pomp and circumstance rule all in the land of Hollywood, but not everything ends as cute and clean as the scripts that are drawn up by Hollywood screen writers. Hollywood legends have come and gone over the course of almost a century of movie-making. Some of them make a quick impression but fail to impress long-term, while others turn out memorable moments like it’s as easy as flipping a switch.
Then there are those who grace us with their presence for just a few years before they are lost to tragedy and their works become instant favorites for their nostalgic value. Over nearly a century Hollywood has lost a number of celebrities before their time, leaving the rest of us to wonder, what if?
1. Jayne Mansfield
Photo: classic film scans
Jayne Mansfield was one of the first, and most popular, Hollywood blonde bombshells. An hourglass figure, beautiful natural looks, and platinum blonde hair made Mansfield a star in Hollywood. She soared to fame in the 1950s working with 20th Century Fox, but when her contract ended she struggled to find work. Mansfield appeared in low-budget European films and television shows in the U.S. to get by until her tragic death.
On a foggy Louisiana night in June 1967, Mansfield was killed in a car crash when her convertible went clear under the trailer of a semi. By some stroke of luck, three of her children were in the vehicle and escaped unharmed. Mansfield was not as lucky as the tractor-trailer scalped her head.
2. Judy Garland
Photo: classic film scans
Judy Garland was the epitome of a talent in Hollywood. A shy, quiet girl by nature, she was pushed into singing, dancing, and performing to support her family as a young child. Born into a musical family that traveled America doing vaudeville performances, Garland was a standout talent. As a teenage she was pushed into an acting career by her mother and signed with MGM. Garland would go on to star in one of the greatest movies in Hollywood history, “The Wizard of Oz.”
It was the pressure she faced from her mother and MGM, combined with the torment of childhood memories, which led to her downfall. Studio doctors prescribed pills for Garland to combat depression and as she aged her insecurities pushed her further into drug use in an attempt to escape. After failing to take her own life numerous times, Garland was finally successful in 1969 when she overdosed on barbiturates.
3. Bob Crane
Bob Crane’s star rose fast and fell just as quickly. Crane was a famous radio personality for years, but he shot to fame in the role of Colonel Robert E. Hogan on the television series “Hogan’s Heroes.” The show ran from 1968 to 1971 and was immensely popular. After the series was cancelled he went on to star in his own short-lived talk show as well as numerous Disney television and film efforts.
His private life eventually led to his premature departure from the world. Crane had a love of photography; through his friend John Henry Carpenter he gained access to rare photographic equipment. Crane, and at times Carpenter, used the equipment to document sexual encounters with random women. One morning in 1978 Crane was found dead in an apartment in Arizona where he had been beaten to death. His passing remains a mystery, though some believe Carpenter is responsible for Crane’s death.
4. Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate’s death is tragic for a number of reasons. A minor celebrity in her own right, she was more famous as the wife of director Roman Polanski. The manner of Tate’s death was shocking and undoubtedly increased her popularity, leaving many to wonder what could have been. As Tate hosted four friends at her home in Los Angeles on the evening of August 8, 1969, members of Charles Manson’s gang burst into the home and brutally murdered everyone in the home, including Tate.
The individuals murdered that evening were bludgeoned and/or strangled and stabbed numerous times. Tate was just 26 years old and was eight months pregnant when she was killed.
5. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston is unquestionably one of the greatest female recording artists of all-time. She rose to fame during the 1980s and possessed mesmerizing singing abilities to go along with radiant beauty. During her career she released numerous hit records, appeared consistently on MTV, and landed a hit Hollywood film role in “The Bodyguard.” Unlike others on this list who had torturous childhoods or truly bad luck that led to their death, Houston’s is slightly different though no less tragic.
Her marriage to Bobby Brown is believed to have led to her alleged addiction to crack cocaine and by the early 2000s the effects of years of drug abuse could be seen in her appearance and heard in her voice. Houston died on February 9, 2012 in Beverly Hills, CA while preparing for an appearance at the Grammy Awards. While her death was ruled an accidental drowning, it was noted that the drowning was the result of the effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.
6. Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly was a pioneer of Rock n Roll music and was an up-and-comer during the 1950s. Holly was just 22 years old when he and several other artists were touring in Iowa in 1959. After deciding not to remain in Iowa on their unheated tour bus for another night, Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson chartered a plane to fly out of Iowa.
With a young, inexperienced pilot and white out conditions the stage was set for a tragedy and fate delivered. The pilot made a fateful decision shortly after takeoff to turn back to the field, but in the white out conditions he could not distinguish ground from sky and crashed the plane into the ground killing Holly, Valens, and Richardson on February 2, 1959.
7. James Dean
James Dean was one of the first of a new breed of rebellious, Hollywood heartthrobs. Young boys idolized the young actor and girls and women alike admired his handsome looks. Dean’s star rose fast and his full talent was never realized because he starred in just three major movies before his death. Those movies included “Rebel Without a Cause,” “East of Eden,” and “Giant.”
A few weeks after filming a public service announcement encouraging young drivers to “take it easy out there,” Dean was killed in his Porsche Spyder when he collided head on with Ford Tour Coupe. Dean’s left foot was crushed beneath the brake pedal, his neck broken, and several internal organs damaged. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the nearest hospital on September 30, 1955.
8. Marilyn Monroe
Jayne Mansfield may have been one of Hollywood’s greatest blonde bombshells, but Marilyn Monroe was the blonde bombshell from Hollywood’s history. Monroe had unmatched beauty that made her an icon in Hollywood and possessed childlike attributes that gave her an appearance as being vulnerable. Beautiful and confident on the outside, Monroe was anxious and depressed on the inside. A string of high profile, failed relationships led to depression and drug abuse.
Monroe placed high value on her relationships, but their failure crushed her. She was famously married to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and famed playwright Arthur Miller. The loss of those relationships, combined with the stain of rumored affairs with President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, pushed her over the edge. Monroe was found dead of a barbiturate overdose in Brentwood, CA on August 5, 1962 at the age of 36.
9. Michael Jackson
The world has seen few musical talents that changed the course of the industry like Michael Jackson. A supremely talented signer from a family of talent singers, Jackson was the unquestioned star of the Jackson Five. When he struck out on his own with his debut album in 1975, the world saw his talent on its own for the first time.
Jackson went on to become the “King of Pop,” wowing fans with his dance moves and unbelievable singing talent. But on the inside there was a tormented man. He was pushed around physically and emotionally by an abusive father, forced to perform at a young age, and traumatized by seeing his older brothers have sex with groupies while touring with the Jackson Five. Jackson was tormented by insecurities and underwent numerous surgeries to change his own perceived short-comings. The abuse his mind and body took eventually led to his death. In 2009 Jackson was found unresponsive in his home and later determined to have died from an overdose of numerous drugs administered by his personal physician in a “drug cocktail.”
10. Elvis Presley
Photo: kevin dooley
Only one person could surpass all the others on this list in terms of popularity, success, and status as an icon. The greatest Hollywood tragedy was the loss of singer Elvis Presley. Before he was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis made the rounds on the Gospel circuit in the south as a Southern momma’s boy who had a rich voice and energetic performances.
When his first album was released, Elvis was on the course to become the biggest recording artist in America. Despite the fame and success, including stints in Hollywood films to augment his income at the urging of his manager Colonel Tom Parker, Presley remained a loyal family man. He provided for his mother throughout her life, married, and had a daughter.
His frustrations with life in Hollywood began to show up in his daily habits. Elvis turned to food, drugs, and alcohol to soothe his woes. When his mother died he seemingly quit living. He continued to abuse food, drugs, and alcohol and became an overweight shadow of his former self. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was found dead at his Graceland home on August 16, 1977 as a result of a massive drug overdose.
Famous people often ruin their lives. Maybe it’s just a cruel twist of fate or unknown circumstances, we don’t know, but we will never forget these ten celebrities and their tragedies.