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Deaths of Famous People

Blaze Starr’s Flaming Couch

On June 15, 2015, 83-year-old Blaze Starr, probably the most famous burlesque stripper in North America, died of heart failure. She was famous because she: • had a 38DD bra size, a 24 inch waist and flaming red hair • was the prime tourist attraction of "The Block" in Baltimore in the...

Charlotte Rae and Pancreatic Cancer

Charlotte Rae was a stage, television and film actress and singer who, at age 52, became widely known and loved as Mrs. Edna Garrett in the TV shows "Diff’rent Strokes" and its spinoff "The Facts of Life" (1978-1987). As Mrs. Garrett, she was the cheerful, wise and strong housemother at a prestigious boarding school, where she always made the right decisions in dealing with issues facing teenager girls: dating, depression, weight control, alcohol and drugs. However, in real life, she was an alcoholic who suffered greatly from her affliction.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, Math Prodigy

Perhaps the most amazing mathematician of all time was Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan (1887-1920). He worked out incredibly complicated problems and expanded our knowledge of elliptic functions, continued fractions and infinite series. During his 32 years of life, he wrote about nearly 4000 math problems and almost all of his solutions have proven to be...

John Brinkley, Goat Testicle Entrepreneur

Medical fraud is as rampant today as it has always been, but John Brinkley was among the greatest medical frauds of all time. From the 1920s onward, between World War I and World War II, he became fabulously wealthy by surgically implanting the testicles of goats into the scrotums of men to "cure" impotence and into the bellies of women "so they could become pregnant." He charged $750 per operation (equal to about $20,000 today).

Franco Columbu, Mr. Olympia

Franco Columbu was considered to be one of the strongest men in the world. He was a bodybuilder, powerlifter, actor, and author who won the Mr. Olympia contest twice and also Mr. Universe, Mr. World, Mr. International, Mr. Europe and Mr. Italy contests. He held several world powerlifting records, and his website states that he achieved a bench press of 525 pounds, a squat of 655 pounds, and dead lift of 750 pounds. These are incredible lifts for a man who was only 5'5" tall and weighed only 185 pounds.

Gustav Mahler and the Strep Throat that Killed Him

Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) to German-Jewish parents who were children of street peddlers. By age five, Gustav was an accomplished piano player and at 10 he played many public performances. By age 15, he was such a good pianist that the famous piano virtuoso, Julius Epstein, accepted him as a pupil at the Vienna Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky’s Death: Cholera, Suicide or Murder?

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to become known throughout the world. He conducted major classical orchestras in Europe and the United States, and was elevated from commoner to nobility by Czar Alexander III. How He Became One of the Greatest Composers He was born in 1840 to a successful engineer father and a...

Ray Charles, The Genius

Ray Charles was an incredibly talented singer and composer of jazz, blues, gospel, and country music.

Mal Whitfield, Olympian and Tuskegee Airman

Mal Whitfield was twice Olympic champion at 800 meters and one of America's greatest track and field athletes ever. Whitfield set six world records, won eight United States national titles, was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1988.

Phyllis George and Polycythemia Rubra Vera

Phyllis George was named “Miss Texas” at age 21 in 1970, quickly followed by winning "Miss America." At age 25, She became famous as the most prominent woman is sports broadcasting, co-hosting the National Football league’s weekly pregame show with Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy the Greek.

Did Chopin Have Cystic Fibrosis?

Frederic Chopin was one of the greatest composers of solo piano music and a gifted pianist whose incredible techniques are still copied by concert pianists. He had a disease that made him sick from early childhood, and he died at the tragically young age of 39. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but instead, he probably suffered from cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that was not even described until 1938.

Waylon Jennings’ Years of Pain

Waylon Jennings was a country singer and songwriter who rose from poverty to great wealth and fame, with 54 albums and 96 singles listed among the top sellers between 1966 and 2002. He gave concerts and recorded with most of the popular artists of his time including Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bobby...

Sinead O’Connor’s Fibromyalgia

Sinead O'Connor is an Irish singer and songwriter who became famous in the late 1980s and has been a strong moralist, speaking out against war and against the abuse of women and children. Her career has been interrupted by bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia. In the spring of 2012, she appeared on...

Leon Russell, A Song For You

Famous pianist, singer and songwriter Leon Russell died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Nashville, Tennessee on November 13, 2016. While I consider that dying at age 74 is way too young, the real tragedy is not how long he lived but how much he suffered during the last 10 years of his life.

Hal Connolly, from Disabled Child to Olympic Gold

Harold Connolly was born with only one functioning arm. Because of that he had to fight to be accepted, so he worked harder than everyone else. He became such a fierce competitor in the hammer throw that he won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He was the first...

Carol Purdie (Diana’s Mother) and The Fall of Singapore

February 15th is the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore in 1942. Many families have stories of their war heroes, and this is the story of Diana's mother, Carol Brown Purdie, who survived on both fronts of World War II: The Blitz in England and the Japanese capture of Singapore. She never fully recovered from the trauma.

Christopher Reeve: Heart Failure from Muscle Loss

Christopher Reeve was a BAFTA-award-winning movie actor best known as the 6'4" athletic Superman and his bumbling counterpart, Clark Kent.

Rachel Carson: Is Breast Cancer an Environmental Disease?

Rachel Carson was an environmental scientist and writer who alerted the world to the health dangers of pesticides and fertilizers. Her best-selling book, Silent Spring, led to formation of a presidential commission that recommended banning DDT, and to creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 1964, she died of breast cancer.

Johnny Cash, the Man in Black

Johnny Cash wrote more than 1500 country songs and became America's most famous country singer. His fans included every president in his lifetime from Richard Nixon on, and almost everyone recognizes his voice.

Julian Schwinger and Pancreatic Cancer

Julian Seymour Schwinger (February 12, 1918 – July 16, 1994) was one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century. He shared a Nobel Prize in theoretical physics with another genius, Richard Feynman, for his re-normalization theory of quantum electrodynamics. Today, he is far less famous than Feynman, even though he had...

John Kerry: Hip Replacements and Fractures

On May 31, Secretary of State John Kerry fell while cycling in France and broke his right femur (upper leg bone). He was riding slowly on level ground and struck a curb with the front wheel of his bicycle. His long history of competing in sports means that he probably has strong...

Mel Tillis, Stuttering Country Singer

In spite of stuttering from age three onward, Mel Tillis became a world-famous singer and songwriter, movie actor and television host. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Jean Harlow, the Blonde Bombshell

Jean Harlow was voted one of the greatest actresses of the 1930s Golden Age by the American Film Institute and was the first movie actress to be on the cover of Life Magazine, even though she was a film actress for only 10 years and appeared in only 41 movies. She died...

Bob Hayes, World’s Fastest Human

For many years the world’s fastest human was Bob Hayes, the only man to win Olympic gold medals and a Super Bowl ring, and hold world records in the 60-, 100-, and 220-yard dashes and the Olympic 100-meter dash at the same time.

Barry Marshall, from Quack to Nobel Prize

In 1983, Barry Marshall and John Warren presented a paper to the Australian Gastroenterological Society claiming that stomach ulcers are caused by infection. They never finished their paper because they were laughed off the stage. Barry Marshall became so upset that he swallowed a vial of the bacteria taken from a patient who had stomach ulcers, went into shock and almost died.

Eva Szekely: Holocaust Survivor to Olympic Champion

Eva Szekely was brought up in Nazi-occupied Hungary in the 1930s and 1940s. During her swimming career from 1940 to 1958, she broke ten world swimming records and five Olympic swimming records, won 44 national titles, Olympic gold in world record time in the 200m breaststroke in 1952 and a silver in the same event at Melbourne in 1956.

Linus Pauling and Prostate Cancer

Linus Pauling died at age 93 of prostate cancer, a disease that affects virtually 100 percent of North American men over age 90. He was one of the most influential chemists of all time, and also a peace activist, author, and educator. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and the...

John Nash: A Beautiful Mind Dies

On May 23, 2015, John Nash and his wife were killed while riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike. The driver hit a guardrail and another car, and the Nashes, who were not wearing seatbelts, were thrown from the taxi. John Nash was 86 and Alicia Nash was 83. Nash...

Fausto Coppi’s Mysterious Death

Fausto Coppi was the best international cyclist in the years before and after World War II because he was the best climber, time trialer and sprinter. He won the Giro d'Italia five times (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953), the Tour de France twice (1949 and 1952), and the World Championship in 1953. ...

Gerhard Hansen and Leprosy

Diana and I just returned from a riverboat/cycling trip with almost 400 other bicyclists from Memphis to New Orleans. We visited the National Hansen's Disease (leprosy) Museum in Carville, Louisiana and learned about Dr. Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian physician who discovered the bacteria that cause leprosy in 1873. This was the first bacterium to...