Even as the show biz world is reeling from the shocking report that 31-year-old “Glee” star Cory Monteith was found dead in a hotel room last week from mixed drug toxicity/heroin and alcohol overdose, trivia buffs recall the many other luminaries who unexpectedly passed away long before they turned 40:
One of the youngest, child actor Heather O’Rourke, died at only 12 years of age due to a medical complication. Rock ‘n’ roll singer, Ritchie Valens, perished in a plane crash when he was only 17 years old.
Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley’s similarly popular contemporary, died in a plane crash in 1959. Another fatal plane crash took the life of 22-year-old R‘n’B singing star, Aaliyah.
Many fans still fondly remember and miss outstanding young actor River Phoenix, who expired from drug overdose in 1993, tragically ending his very promising acting career.
For his part, James Dean was only 24 when he died in a car accident in 1955. His demise was truly tragic, because the young actor had already been exuberantly praised for his exceptional thespic promise, even if he had appeared in only a few films (“Rebel Without A Cause,” “East of Eden” and “Giant”).
Another tragic death was that of rock and soul exponent, Janis Joplin, a drug addict who died from heroin overdose. Joplin’s tormented songs and persona impacted strongly on young music fans, who mourned her loss with unusual pain and fervor.
Ditto for rockers, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, all only 27 years old when they died. Morrison’s death was medically attributed to a heart attack, possibly due to drug overdose; Hendrix was reported to have expired from asphyxiation from sleeping-pill overdose; Cobain was presumed to have killed himself.
Top martial arts star, Bruce Lee, was only 32 when he expired from possible allergic reaction to an undetermined substance, in 1973. Lee’s death was mourned by thousands of his fans, some of whom remember to this day his successful efforts to make the martial arts a key component in not just Asian action films, but also in Hollywood blockbusters.
Back to the music field: At age 32, singer Karen Carpenter died after cardiac arrest from anorexia nervosa, and rocker Keith Moon expired from an overdose in medication.
—So many young talents gone too soon, many of them, chillingly and instructively, from drugs and violent events! That’s the other, tragic side to the slap-happy mask of entertainment, and we can only pray that vital lessons have been learned—and the next generation is spared from the “curse” of show biz mortality.