Throughout history there have been many remarkable people who have died young. Ever wonder who they were? The list that follows presents 25 Legendary Historical Figures Who Died Before Their Time and intends to make you think about how much more some of these legends could have achieved if they had lived to a ripe old age.
Sylvia Plath was an American poet best known for her novel The Bell Jar, and for her poetry collections The Colossus and Ariel. She wrote poetry from age eight, and her first poem appeared in the Boston Traveler. By the time she arrived at Smith College, she had written over fifty short stories and been published in a number of magazines. Unfortunately, she committed suicide at age thirty, and her bright career was cut short.
Ralph Marvin Steinman was a brilliant Canadian immunologist and cell biologist at Rockefeller University. He was one of the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded three months after his death, even though the Nobel Prize is not typically awarded after someone dies.
Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a very important chief of the Algonquian Indians who lived in the Virginia region. She is most famous for reportedly saving the life of Captain John Smith and assisting English colonists during their first years in Virginia. She died, possibly of pneumonia or tuberculosis, at around age twenty. Her story has been romanticized throughout the years, and she has been the subject of art, literature, and film.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Known for his lyrical and long-form verse, Shelley is one of the most highly regarded English Romantic poets of the nineteenth century, even though he died less than a month before his thirtieth birthday, when he drowned in a storm near Italy. His works include The Masque of Anarchy and Queen Mab. Experts and historians believe he would have had much more to give to the world of poetry had he lived longer.
Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey, also known as the Nine-Day Queen, was an English noblewoman and monarch of England and Ireland from July 10 to July 19, 1553. She had an excellent humanist education and a reputation as one of the kindest and most helpful women of her period (like Lady Diana), but her life was cut short at age seventeen when she was sentenced to death by her political adversaries.
Henry the Young King
Henry the Young King was the only king of England crowned in his father’s lifetime. He was so loved by the people of England that they called him “Henry the Young King,” and many families saw him as their own son. He died the age of twenty-eight from dysentery in the summer of 1183, while fighting against his father and his brother Richard.
Henry Moseley was an incredibly skilled experimental physicist. In 1913, he used self-built equipment to prove that every element’s identity is uniquely determined by the number of protons it has. His discovery enabled him to confidently predict the existence of four new elements, all of which were found. When World War I broke out, Moseley left his research work at the University of Oxford behind to volunteer for the Royal Engineers of the British army. Unfortunately, he was shot and killed during the Battle of Gallipoli on August 10, 1915 at age twenty-seven. Historians and experts in his field have claimed that Moseley could have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1916 had he not been killed.
Franz Schubert is considered the last of the classical composers and one of the first romantic ones. Schubert’s music is notable for its melody and harmony. A feeling of regret for the loss of potential masterpieces caused by his early death at age thirty-one was expressed in the epitaph on his tombstone written by his friend the poet Franz Grillparzer. However, many experts have disagreed with this early view, arguing that Schubert did produce enough masterpieces not to be limited to the image of an unfulfilled promise.
Egon Schiele was a very talented Austrian painter whose work has been noted for its intensity and raw sexuality. The artist was viewed as one of the most significant proponents of Expressionism. His life and career were cut short when he became ill with the Spanish flu in 1918 at age twenty-eight. Schiele died only three days after his wife, Edith, and in those three days he drew a few sketches of her that are now considered classic pieces of art.
American physicist Harry Daghlian was part of the Manhattan Project at the remote Omega Site facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. On August 21, 1945, during a critical-mass experiment, he accidentally dropped a tungsten carbide brick onto a plutonium bomb core. Although he stopped the reaction, he had already been exposed to massive amounts of radiation and died twenty-five days later at age twenty-four. Experts had predicted that he had a bright career ahead of him.
Baron Manfred von Richthofen
Arguably the most decorated and famous fighter pilot of all time, the Red Baron was a German trooper who has officially been credited with eighty air combat victories during World War I. Despite losing his life in battle at age twenty-five, he achieved so much that he has been the subject of many books, films, and other media.
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Anne Frank was a teenager who went into hiding during the Holocaust, journaling her experiences in the renowned work The Diary of Anne Frank. Unfortunately, she died (probably of typhus) in February or March 1945, in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, just a few months before it was liberated by the Allies. She was only fifteen when she died. Her diaries were first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl and have since been translated into over sixty languages.
Lungtok Gyatso was the ninth Dalai Lama of Tibet. He was the only Dalai Lama to die in childhood, on March 6, 1815. As local historians report, the pain was so deep among the people of Tibet that the nation was plunged in sorrow, which lasted until the recognition of the new reincarnation of the Lama eight years later.
Hypatia was a female Greek astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher. She was the head of the Neoplatonic School in Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy. Even though we don’t know exactly at what age she died, we know she was murdered by Bishop Cyril and his followers on March 8, 415 CE. She was one of the many victims of Christianity at the time, and her death is symbolic for historians today. For example, Kathleen Wider proposes that Hypatia’s murder marked the end of classical antiquity, while Stephen Greenblatt says that her murder “effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life.”
James Crichton, known as the Admirable Crichton, was a Scottish gentleman celebrated for his incredible accomplishments in several areas, such as in languages, the arts, and sciences. This fact has led many historians to compare him with Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, we will never know Crichton’s true capabilities since he was killed in a sword fight at age twenty-one.
The son of a carpenter, Yuri Gagarin was born in a small village in the Soviet Union in 1934 and was meant to become one of the most recognized and admired personalities of the twentieth century when he became the first man in history to make it to space in 1961. Only seven years after his unique accomplishment, he died while on a routine training flight in a MiG-15UTI crash near Kirzhach. He was only thirty-four and had so many stories to share with the world about his experiences in outer space.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The original boy wonder and one of the most significant and influential musicians of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s impact on the modern world can be traced to this day in operas, athletic events, films, plays, political campaigns, and numerous other areas where his music accompanies the events. It might sound unbelievable, especially after taking into account how Mozart composed more than six hundred works during his lifetime, but the truth is he left this world quite young, at thirty-five, and every historian out there considers it a sure thing that had he lived longer, the world of classical music would be even richer thanks to his creations.
Vincent van Gogh
Even though he’s widely considered one of the greatest painters who ever lived, the Dutch legend sold only one painting in his lifetime, The Red Vineyard near Arles (The Vigne Rouge), now located in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. He committed suicide at age thirty-seven after suffering for too long from mental illness.
Tutankhamun’s tomb is probably the most important archaeological discovery in history, and the boy-king is widely considered one of the most famous historical figures ever. His face—more specifically, his golden death mask—has given us one of the most iconic images anywhere, even though he never made it to adulthood. A DNA study recently revealed that the young king died of complications from a broken leg that was exacerbated by malaria, at the age of only nineteen.
Christopher Marlowe was an English playwright, poet, and translator of the Elizabethan era. He is considered one of the two greatest playwrights of his age, the other being Shakespeare, on whom he had a strong influence. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he was stabbed to death in a bar brawl over a bill. He was only twenty-nine, and most modern scholars believe the literary world never got the opportunity to see or read masterpieces by his hand of the magnitude of Shakespeare’s works.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc, also known as “the Maid of Orléans,” was a legendary French heroine who played an extremely significant role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War. She was later canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. She was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction that was allied with the English and was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, at age nineteen, though her legacy still lives on to this day.
Diana, Princess of Wales
Princess Diana was one of the most beloved people and the most photographed woman in the world at the time she was killed along side her billionaire boyfriend in a high-speed car crash in Paris in 1997. She was only thirty-six at the time, and many people felt as though she left her philanthropy and charity work unfinished and with it two sons, William and Harry.
The son of Napoleon Bonaparte, who named him as his successor, Napoleon II never actually ruled France; however, he was seen by the French as a savior and the one who would rebuild his father’s empire. In 1832, he caught pneumonia and was bedridden for several months. His poor health eventually overtook him and on July 22, 1832, Napoleon II died of tuberculosis at age twenty-one.
Amelia Earhart made history when she became the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic. She was also a decorated member of the National Woman’s Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment when she mysteriously disappeared while flying over the Pacific in 1937. She was forty-one, which may not be young by some people’s standards, but she was in her prime and had much to contribute to the struggle of women for equal rights.
Alexander the Great
According to most historians, the Greek king was the greatest general in history and one of the very few who never felt the taste of defeat on the battlefield. Within the fifteen years that his campaign lasted (from age eighteen to thirty-three, when he died), he managed to conquer most of the then-known world, and his empire spread from Greece all the way to India. Many contemporary historians believe that had Alexander lived longer, the Roman Empire might never have emerged, and a united kingdom of Greece would have retained a more dominant role in the West and East.
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