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9 Classic Hollywood Stars Who Didn’t Make it to 40 (and What Happened to Them)

I turn 40 next week and this milestone got me thinking about all the Hollywood stars who died tragically young and didn’t even make it this far. Their deaths ranged from suicide, to murder, car and plane crashes and even an allergic reaction to a headache tablet. Did I miss anyone out of this list who should be there?

Marilyn Monroe: died aged 36

Marilyn died on August 5, 1962 from ‘acute barbiturate poisoning’, or in other words an overdose of prescription sleeping tablets. Whether this was suicide or murder is still a hot topic today, but the coroner listed her death as “probable suicide”.  As you can see (below), the newspapers had a field day with her death and treated the news with real compassion:

Marilyn Monroe death headlines

Marilyn Monroe death headlines in the New York Mirror

Bruce Lee: died aged 32

Martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee died suddenly on 20th July 1973 aged just 32 after complaining of a headache. He took a painkiller which contained asprin and a muscle relaxant and went for a nap. He never woke up.

His death was ruled ‘death by misadventure’ due to an allergic reaction to the muscle relaxant meprobamate.

Bruce Lee

James Dean: died aged 24

James Dean died at the terribly early age of just 24 on September 30th 1955. He was killed when his Porsche 550 Spyder crashed, resulting in a broken neck and both internal and external injuries. He was due to race the car in California on 1st October and had decided to drive it to the race instead of trailering it behind his car as previously planned. His death was ruled as due to ‘reckless speeding’.

James Dean

James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause

Carole Lombard: died aged 33

Carole Lombard was an American movie star of the 1930s. She died on January 16, 1942 in an aircraft crash on her way back from a WW2 War Bonds tour in Indiana. Ironically the decision whether or not to take the ill-fated flight was decided by the flip a coin. The plane crashed into Potosi Mountain near Las Vegas killing all on board. Read more about Lombard’s life and death in this article.

Carole Lombard

Jayne Mansfield: died aged 34

A master of self-publicity, blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield was know as the ‘working man’s Monroe’ and sadly she died at an even younger age than Marilyn. She was killed in a car accident on June 29th, 1967 when her car struck the rear of a tractor-trailer and went underneath it.  The newspapers had a field-day with the rumour that she had been decapitated.  Read more about Jayne Mansfield’s life and death here.

Jayne Mansfield

Jean Harlow: died aged 26

Jean Harlow was the woman who brought blonde to Hollywood. She insisted that her platinum hair colour was natural, a myth that was debunked by her hairdresser who delighted in revealing the horrifying list of chemicals used to create her unique hair colour. She died at the very early age of 26 from kidney failure on June 7, 1937 as a result of the chemicals and an excessive drinking and partying lifestyle. Read more about Harlow’s life and death here.

Jean_Harlow.JPG

Rudolph Valentino: died aged 31

A sex-symbol and huge movie star of the 1920s Rudolph Valentino died on August 23, 1926 aged just 31. His death was a result of Peritonitis following an operation for appendicitis and gastric ulcers. His stricken fans went crazy at the news of his death. Suicides were reported and over 10,000 people lined the streets of New York for his funeral.

Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik

Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik

Sharon Tate: died aged 26

Sharon Tate was perhaps more famous in death than in life. Despite being a successful actress and sex symbol and being married to Roman Polanski, it is the tragic circumstances of her death which people are most aware of.

She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she was brutally murdered by Charles Manson and his ‘family’ on August 9, 1969.

Sharon Tate

Of course there were many other Hollywood stars who died far too young. Grace Kelly died in a car accident aged 52, and Elvis famously died on the toiled aged 42 either from drugs or a heart-attack (or a combination of both).

Have I missed anyone out?


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3 thoughts on “9 Classic Hollywood Stars Who Didn’t Make it to 40 (and What Happened to Them)

  1. April

    Just thought you might want to read this:

    For years rumors circulated about Harlow’s death. Some claimed that her mother had refused to call a doctor because she was a Christian Scientist or that Harlow herself had declined hospital treatment or surgery. There were also rumors that Harlow had died because of alcoholism, a botched abortion, over-dieting, sunstroke, poisoning due to platinum hair dye or various venereal diseases. However medical bulletins, hospital records and testimony of her relatives and friends prove it was kidney disease. From the onset of her illness, resting at home, Harlow had been attended by a doctor: two nurses visited her house and various equipment was brought from a nearby hospital. However, Harlow’s mother had barred some visitors, such as the MGM doctor, who later stated that she did so because she was a Christian Scientist. It has been suggested that she still wanted to control her daughter but there is no evidence to support the allegation that she refused medical care for Harlow.

    Harlow’s kidney failure could not have been cured in the 1930s. The death rate from acute kidney failure has decreased to 25% only after the advent of antibiotics, dialysis, and kidney transplantation. Harlow’s grey complexion, recurring illnesses, and severe sunburn were signs of the disease as her kidneys had been slowly failing and toxins accumulated in her body, exposing her to other illnesses and causing symptoms including swelling, fatigue, and lack of appetite. Toxins also adversely affected her brain and central nervous system. Speculation has suggested that Harlow suffered a post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, following scarlet fever when she was young, which may have caused high blood pressure and ultimately kidney failure. Her death certificate can be viewed here: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-29381-31521-32?cc=2001287

    Reply
  2. Angie

    Sharon Tate’s death was unreal. Apparently she begged the people who killed her to just let her have her baby first, and then they could kill her later if they wanted, just let her baby live.

    Reply

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