On April 17, 1955, the great mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein was admitted to Princeton Hospital complaining of chest pains. He died early the next morning (April 18) of a burst aortic aneurysm. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in an undisclosed location. Before the cremation, however, his brain was removed by Dr. Thomas Harvey, a pathologist at the hospital who wanted to know what it was that made Einstein a genius. Harvey did not have permission to remove the brain, and when the fact came to light and he refused to return the specimen, he was dismissed from the hospital. For almost three decades, Harvey kept Einstein's brain in his home, constantly on the lookout for researchers willing to study it. Most, however, dismissed the idea that Einstein's brain was physiologically different in any meaningful way. In the early 1980s, however, Harvey was contacted by Marian Diamond, a neuroscientist from UCLA who proposed to count certain cells in the scientist's brain and compare them with normal specimens. Although other scientists questioned the validity of her methods, she found that Einstein did indeed have an unusual neuron-to-glial-cell ratio in one key area of his brain. Finally, in 1997, Harvey embarked on a cross-country road trip to return the brain to Einstein's granddaughter in California. Ironically, she didn't want it and the great scientist's brain was eventually returned to the same pathology lab at Princeton Hospital where it's strange journey had begun more than forty years earlier.
On August 5, 1962, Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles home. She was discovered lying face down on her bed, with a telephone in one hand. Empty bottles of pills, prescribed to treat her depression, were littered around the room, and the toxicology report concluded that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning. Despite the coroner's verdict, several conspiracy theories have been proposed, suggesting she was murdered by the Kennedys, the Mob, the Communists, or even by her own psychiatrist. Due to persistence of these theories, the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney reviewed the case in 1982, but found no evidence of foul play.
After shooting John Lennon four times in the back outside The Dakota apartment building in New York City, Mark David Chapman remained at the crime scene and read J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye until the police arrived and arrested him. He repeatedly said that the novel was "his statement."
Walt Disney died of complications from lung cancer on December 15, 1966 at St. Joseph's Hospital across the street from his studio. He was 65 years old. Best known for building Walt Disney Studios into one of the largest media and entertainment corporations in the world, Walt Disney was responsible for the creation of such memorable characters as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, as well as a string if award-winning animated movies. Another product of his imagination is the popular theme park Disneyland which features characters and attractions from many of his films. Since the time of Disney's death, rumors have persisted that he had his body cryogenically frozen until a cure for his particular kind of cancer was developed, so that he could then be "re-animated" and cured. An urban legend even developed that his body had been stored under the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. These rumors were fueled, perhaps, by the fact that both his family and the Disney Studio refused to comment on his death. However, the fact is that Walt Disney was cremated, and his ashes were placed in a family crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His Death Certificate can be obtained from the County of Los Angeles.
On November 29, 1981, actress Natalie Wood drowned in the waters off Catalina Island under somewhat mysterious circumstances. She had been aboard a yacht, the Splendour, with her husband Robert Wagner and the actor Christopher Walken. Reportedly, the three friends spent several hours drinking and arguing before Wood and Walken finally retired to their rooms. Wagner, however, remained on the deck with the pilot. Later, when he went to check on his wife, he found that she wasn't in her room. He also discovered that the dinghy, which had been tied to the side of the boat, was missing. The authorities were notified and a search began. Eventually, Natalie Wood's body was found floating face down in the open sea. The dinghy was found nearby in a Catalina cove. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that the actress had died accidentally, probably falling and hitting her head while attempting to board the dinghy. There were several conflicting reports, however, and the tabloids immediately erupted in headlines hinting at foul play. A woman on shore claimed to have heard cries for help from the water that night along with other voices saying they were coming. Wagner and Walken, however, dispute this claim. Los Angeles coroner Thomas Noguchi, who pushed for a more in-depth investigation, also pointed out that there were unexplained marks and bruises on Wood's body. She was buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles on December 2, 1981. During her career, Wood was nominated for three Academy Awards; however, she is perhaps best remembered for the role of Maria in Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story. At the time of her death, she was in the process of filming Brainstorm, a movie in which she was starring with Christopher Walken.
River Phoenix died outside of Johnny Depp's L.A. nightclub, The Viper Room, on Halloween night, 1993. He went into cardiac arrest after overdosing on heroine and cocaine. He was only 23 and on the verge of transitioning into a successful adult acting career at the time of his death. His films include Stand by Me (1986), Little Nikita (1988), Running on Empty (1988), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), My Own Private Idaho (1991), and Sneakers (1992). River's surviving siblings, Joaquin, Summer, Rain and Liberty are also actors.
According to some accounts, William Shakespeare caught a fever and died after a night of heavy drinking with fellow playwright Ben Jonson. Other historians dispute this fact, arguing that he must have had a long illness which gave him time to get his affairs in order as he made changes to his will a few months prior to his death. Still others argue that these changes were due to the wedding of his daughter Judith to Tomas Quiney. At any rate, Shakespeare is believed to have died on the twenty-third of April, 1616, the same day of the same month in which he is supposed to have been born. Two days later, he was buried in the Chancel of the Church of the Holy Trinity at Stratford where he had been baptised 52 years earlier. On his tomb are carved the now famous lines:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Singer/songwriter John Denver died on October 12, 1997, at the age of 53, when a small plane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay on the California Coast. There were conflicting reports as to the cause of the crash. Investigators believe that Denver had forgotten to refuel his tank. However, an eyewitness reportedly heard a pop and saw a puff of smoke. Over 2000 people attended his funeral on October 17th at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Colorado. John Denver's Greatest Hits (1973) is one of the biggest-selling albums in the history of RCA Records.
At the time of his death on January 14, 1957, Humphrey Bogart weighed only 80 pounds. A longtime smoker, he died in his sleep at his Hollywood home following an operation for throat cancer. He was 57 years old. His remains were cremated and interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. His wife, Lauren Bacall, had a small gold whistle buried with him, inscribed with a reference to the first movie they filmed together: "If you want anything, just whistle." One of the most celebrated actors of the twentieth century, Bogart was nominated for three Academy Awards and won a Best Actor Oscar for The African Queen (1951).
Stage and Screen legend Katharine Hepburn died on June 29, 2003, at the ripe old age of 96. She passed away at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and was buried in her family's plot at the nearby Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford. Hepburn's acting career spanned seven decades, and she was by far the most decorated actor of her generation with 12 Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and four wins in the category. She was also nominated for four Emmys and won for Love Among the Ruins (1975). The American Film Institute ranked Hepburn as the top female star in its "50 Greatest Movie Legends." However, Hepburn was known as much for her larger-than-life personality as for her acting prowess. She was once quoted as saying, "I'm a personality as well as an actress. Show me an actress who isn't a personality and you'll show me a woman who isn't a star."