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The Entertainers & Inspirations We Lost In May

Updated on June 1, 2017
Alec Zander profile image

Alec is an up-and-coming film critic with a true passion for the film industry & hopes his reviews and articles will help launch his career.

Prologue

It's sad to think of all the powerful minds and incredible people that we have lost throughout history. Here are some of the most notable deaths in the month of May.

May 3, 1940 - Henry Ossian Flipper

Although Henry Ossian Flipper was born into slavery in 1856, he was able to attend Atlanta University during the Reconstruction Era, which was basically the attempt to reconstruct the south from 1863 to 1877 at the end and the following years after the Civil War. Flipper was appointed to West Point Military Academy where four other black cadets were also in attendance. The five young men were rejected by white students and were given a hard time during the course of their stay. Flipper was determined to overcome his obstacles, persevered, and became the first black man in history to graduate, even earning a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army cavalry. Flipper was assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment, one of only four all-black "buffalo soldier" regiments in the Army. The term "buffalo soldier" was a term given to the black soldiers by Native Americans. Flipper went on to become the first black officer to command regular troops in the US Army.

In 1881, Colonel Shafter assumed command at Fort Davis where Henry Flipper was stationed. Shafter didn't mind working with black soldiers but he despised black officers. He decided to come up with a plan to get Flipper discharged. Shafter asked Flipper to keep the quartermaster's safe in Flipper's quarters. Being a good officer, Flipper complied. One day, he noticed a shortage of $2,000. Flipper tried to cover it up but his lie was eventually found out. Even though Flipper didn't steal the money, he was still charged with theft of government funds. Within four days, the soldiers came up with enough money to cover what was missing in the hopes that Flipper would be released. Shafter accepted the money but still convened a court martial where Flipper was dishonorably discharged from service.

Years later, he volunteered to serve in the Spanish-American War, however his pleads to have his commission restored were ignored by Congress. Flipper spent time in Mexico and upon his return, he became an informant to Senator Albert Fall of Mexican politics. When Fall became Secretary of the Interior, he made Flipper his personal assistant. Two years later, Flipper moved to Venezuela to work as an engineer, then retired in Atlanta in 1931 and died in 1940.

H.H. Holmes - May 7, 1896

H.H. Holmes may not have been an entertainer, or an inspiration for that matter, but his story is quite interesting. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, Holmes' life at first seemed rather ordinary. He was born to a farming family, took good care of the animals and had a loving family. He graduated high school and took teaching jobs around New Hampshire. In 1878 at age 17, he married Clara Lovering and they had a son two years later in 1880.

In 1882, Holmes entered the University of Michigan's Department of Medicine and Surgery and graduated in 1884 after passing all of his examinations. While enrolled, he worked in the anatomy lab. It wasn't long before rumors started swirling that not all the cadavers were acquired legally. At home, his married life was falling apart. People close to them described him as violent toward his wife and it wasn't long before she took off to New Hampshire with their son.

Holmes moved to New York and then later to Philadelphia, where in both places rumors began circling that he was involved in the deaths of two boys. He denied having any involvement and quickly left town both times. There's never been any solid proof that he killed them, but there's never been any proof that he didn't either. He changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes to avoid anyone from his past finding him.

He married Myrta Belknap in 1886 in Illinois, technically illegally since his other marriage had not been ended, and had a daughter with Myrta in 1889. He again married illegally in 1894 to Georgiana Yoke in Colorado.

While in Illinois, in 1886, he began working at a drugstore and eventually saved up the money needed to buy the place. Holmes also purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore and began construction in 1887 for a two-story mixed use building. He intended to have apartments along with retail spaces on the second floor and a second drug store on the first floor. In 1892, he added a third floor which he would use as hotel rooms during the upcoming World's Fair. The hotel portion was never completed. The suppliers had caught wind of multiple scams Holmes was attempting to pull over on them. Holmes would hide tools and materials in hidden passages and trapdoors throughout the building so that he wouldn't have to pay for them. He soon lost his suppliers and investors because of his scandalous activities.

While working at the Chemical Bank building, Holmes met an ex-con named Benjamin Pitezel. The two went into business together, planning and pulling off several criminal schemes. Over the next few years, women who began working in Holmes' building all mysteriously disappeared. Holmes always had an excuse but the public widely believed he was killing them. Holmes would often seduce women into turning their property over to him, have them move into his building, then he'd allegedly kill them.

Holmes and Pitezel came up with a scheme to swindle an insurance company out of a $10,000 life insurance policy. Pitezel set up an alias, set up a policy with Holmes as his benefactor, then he and Holmes schemed to have him fake his death by way of a lab explosion. Holmes was supposed to find a cadaver that matched Pitezel's body but Holmes instead knocked Pitezel unconscious with chloroform and then set his body on fire. Holmes received the payout.

The police finally caught up to him in 1894, finding decomposed bodies on all the properties that Holmes had swindled from his mistresses. It was also found out that several of the people he had killed had been skinned and cleaned until only their skeletons remained and he then sold the skeletons to biology labs and universities. At his trial he confessed to 27 murders. He was hanged at the Philadelphia County Prison. Before his death, Holmes claimed that he was possessed by Satan, saying, "I was born with The Devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing. I was born with the 'Evil One' standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world and he has been with me since."

Joan Crawford - May 10, 1977

Joan Crawford was born into a broken family, her father having left a few months before she was born and her sister dying before she was born as well. Joan lived with her mother, stepfather, and brother in Oklahoma. Joan's stepfather, Henry J. Cassin, ran the Ramsey Opera House. Joan aspired to be a dancer and she thought she'd try out at her stepfather's theatre. Things got tense really quick though when her stepfather began sexually abusing her when she was 11. Joan's schooling never progressed beyond elementary school because of the negativity her family received from the rumors surrounding her stepfather.

Joan's mother began signing her up for activities to get her away from him. She signed her up for piano lessons, but Joan wasn't really interested. One day she attempted to escape, leapt from the porch, and severely cut her foot on a broken milk bottle. She had to have three surgeries and couldn't dance or attend school for 18 months.

Joan's stepfather was accused of embezzlement so the family had to relocate to Kansas City. When her mother and stepfather finally separated, Joan attended St. Agnes Catholic Academy as a work student, spending more time cleaning and cooking than studying. She later attended Rockingham Academy where she met and had her first serious relationship with a man. His name was Ray Sterling and he inspired her to challenge herself academically. She registered at Stephens College but withdrew after a few months, stating she was not ready for college.

Joan began dancing with traveling revues and was spotted in Detroit by producer Jacob Shubert. Shubert put her on the chorus line for his Broadway show Innocent Eyes. As fun as that was, she desired more work. She approached Loews Theaters' publicist Nils Granlund who secured a position for her with Harry Richman's act.

MGM soon offered Crawford a contract for $75 a week. MGM quickly realized she had the potential to become a huge star. She began getting bigger roles and made a huge positive impression on the audiences. Crawford's success lasted for years until the 1930s. She remained a respected actress but her popularity declined and was dubbed "box office poison" along with many other former popular actresses and actors. She made a comeback in 1939 with The Women.

She moved to Warner Brothers in 1943 where her movie career was revived. By the time her career ended, she had garnered three Academy Award nominations. In the latter half of the '60s, Crawford starred alongside Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? In front of the cameras the two acted professionally but behind the scenes, they detested each other, a feud that inspired the first season of the current TV show Feud.

In her final years, Crawford slipped into a sad state. She eventually required around-the-clock care for three years due to dental issues including surgeries. She took up drinking but gave it up after she was so drunk one night that she slipped and hit her face. Joan died in 1977 of a heart attack.

Bob Marley - May 11, 1981

Bob Marley was born in Nine Mile, Jamaica on his maternal grandfather's farm. His father was a white Jamaican, originally from England, who was a plantation overseer. He was often away and never really saw his wife or children. He eventually died of a heart attack at age 70. Bob's mother Cedella remarried an American civil servant named Edward Booker. This relationship brought Bob two American brothers.

While in Primary and Junior High School, Bob and childhood friend Neville Livingston (who would later be known as Bunny Wailer) began playing music together. Bob and his mother left Nine Mile and moved to Trenchtown. Cedella moved in with Thaddeus Livingston and they had a daughter together. The move to Trenchtown proved to be fortuitous for Bob as he soon found himself joining a vocal group. Joe Higgs, who was a successful musician, discovered Marley and his band and helped them to learn to play instruments and helped them get a studio deal.

In 1962, Bob recorded four songs. In 1963, Bob and his group were called The Teenagers. They changed their name several times, from The Wailing Rudeboys to The Wailing Wailers then finally to The Wailers.

In 1966 Bob married Rita Anderson and moved to Delaware. He worked temporarily as a DuPont lab assistant at a Chrysler plant. Bob eventually discovered Rastafarianism, which is very difficult to generalize so if you'd like to learn more feel free to research it. He returned to Jamaica and began to grow dreadlocks. Part of his beliefs was not cutting his hair, based on the story of Samson in the Christian Bible.

Bob Marley and The Wailers transitioned their music into the new reggae style which would soon make them incredibly popular. The band eventually broke up in the 70s, but Bob continued recording under the name Bob Marley and The Wailers. During a free concert which was an attempt to ease tensions between two warring political parties, Bob Marley was shot and several others were wounded. Two days after the attempt on his life, Bob performed as scheduled and, when asked why, he said, "The people trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?"

In 1977, it was found that Bob had a type of melanoma. He refused to have the toe removed due to his religious beliefs. He continued touring but months later his cancer had spread throughout his body including his lungs and brain. He died at the age of 36.

Chris Cornell - May 18, 2017

Born Christopher John Boyle, Chris was raised in Seattle, Washington by alcoholic parents. At age 9, Chris found a bunch of Beatles records abandoned in the basement of his neighbor's house and spent the next two years listening solely to them. He was a loner, only able to deal with his anxiety problems through rock music. During his teen years, he spiraled into a severe depression, dropped out of school, and hardly ever left the house. He was drinking alcohol and using acid, marijuana, and mushrooms daily while he was 13. He stopped for a year but by the time he was 15 he was hooked again. This only lasted for a year before he finally turned to music.

In 1984, Chris formed the band Soundgarden. Chris concentrated on vocals while Scott Sundquist took over drums. The band released their first three songs and, by the time 1986 rolled around, Sundquist quit the band to spend time with his family and was replaced by Matt Cameron. In 1988, they signed to SST Records and released their debut album Ultramega OK for which they won a Grammy Award Nomination for Best Metal Performance. They signed with A&M Records, becoming the first alternative rock band to sign with a major label. Following the release of Louder Than Love, the band went through a few personal setbacks. Yamamoto left to finish his master's degree in physical chemistry and his replacement was later fired and new bassist Ben Shepherd took the job.

Soundgarden was quickly becoming one of the most popular alternative rock bands alongside such rivals as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Following the release of Badmotorfinger, the band elevated to a whole new commercial success. Radio stations and even MTV began airing their music and music videos. They did receive some controversy in 1991 from their single "Jesus Christ Pose" and it was soon removed from MTV's playlist. Their song "Rusty Cage" was covered by Johnny Cash and it even appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. They received yet another Grammy nomination in 1992 and Badmotorfinger was ranked #45 on Guitar World magazine's list of top 100 greatest guitar albums of all time.

In 1994, their breakthrough album Superunknown debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. They released another album but, due to creative differences, the band broke up in 1997. Over the next few years, Cornell would go solo. Cornell got a Grammy nomination for "Can't Change Me" and made a few songs for various film soundtracks including Great Expectations and Mission: Impossible 2.

In 2001, Audioslave was formed by the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine after their vocalist left. Chris was one of the vocalists they approached. He was eventually hired. Their debut album was released in 2002 and reached triple platinum status. The band nearly hit an end when Cornell was having issues with alcohol and had checked himself into a drug rehab facility. He explained in an interview that he went through a personal crisis after separating from his wife. He got clean and the band continued touring throughout 2003 and recorded their second album in 2004 which debuted #1 on the US charts. Critics stated that Cornell had stronger vocals on this album, most likely a result from him quitting smoking and drinking. Cornell departed the band in 2006 to once again pursue a solo career.

Cornell recorded "You Know My Name" for the James Bond reboot film Casino Royale which won a 2006 Satellite Award for Best Original Song and a 2007 World Soundtrack Award. Cornell released a new album where he collaborated with several other solo artists. During 2007, Cornell was involved in a motorcycle accident. A truck rear-ended him which launched him 20 feet into the air. He walked away from the accident with only minor cuts and bruises.

During Cornell's solo tour, he appeared twice with Aerosmith, collaborated with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington, and performed with Street Drum Corps. On April 2, 2009, Chris took over Atlanta Rock Station and for 24 hours, the station was called "Chris-FM". He continued touring through 2012 and reunited with Soundgarden to record "Live to Rise" for the film The Avengers and released a new album. In 2013, Chris recorded the songs "Seasons" for Man of Steel and "Misery Chain" for the Oscar-Winning film 12 Years a Slave. He recorded one final solo song before his death titled "The Promise" which was included in the credits for the film also titled The Promise.

On May 18, 2017, Chris was found dead by his bodyguard in the bathroom of his hotel room at the MGM Grand in Detroit. He had just performed a show with Soundgarden. Chris was found lying on the floor with an exercise band around his neck. His family believes that his increased dosage of Ativan had caused him to develop suicidal ideation. A medicine having such strong side effects on an already troubled mind could only lead to fatal consequences. He was cremated on the 23rd and a funeral was held on the 26th. Many people came to speak at his funeral including former band members Kim Thayil, Tom Morello and Matt Cameron, along with James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Dave Grohl, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, James Franco, Pharrell, and Josh Brolin.

Other Notable Deaths

  • Richard Thorpe - May 1, 1991
  • Steve Reeves - May 1, 2000
  • Grace Lee Whitney - May 1, 2015
  • Leonardo da Vinci - May 2, 1519
  • J. Edgar Hoover - May 2, 1972
  • Alan Carney - May 2, 1973
  • David Rappaport - May 2, 1990
  • William Beale - May 3, 1854
  • Bruce Cabot - May 3, 1972
  • Jackie Cooper - May 3, 2011
  • Moe Howard - May 4, 1975
  • Kay Hammond - May 4, 1980
  • Dennis Crosby - May 4, 1991
  • Dom DeLuise - May 4, 2009
  • Napoleon Bonaparte - May 5, 1821
  • Henry David Thoreau - May 6, 1862
  • Marlene Dietrich - May 6, 1992
  • Barbara Payton - May 8, 1967
  • Graham Bond - May 8, 1974
  • Ronnie Brody - May 8, 1991
  • George Peppard - May 8, 1994
  • William Schallert - May 8, 2016
  • Marion Lorne - May 9, 1968
  • Paul Revere - May 10, 1818
  • Gary Cooper - May 13, 1961
  • Billie Burke - May 14, 1970
  • Hugh Griffith - May 14, 1980
  • Hugh Beaumont - May 14, 1982
  • Rita Hayworth - May 14, 1987
  • Frank Sinatra - May 14, 1998
  • B.B. King - May 14, 2015
  • Powers Boothe - May 14, 2017
  • Emily Dickinson - May 15, 1886
  • Ronald Lacey - May 15, 1991
  • June Carter Cash - May 15, 2003
  • Margaret Hamilton - May 16, 1985
  • Jim Henson - May 16, 1990
  • Sammy Davis Jr - May 16, 1990
  • Johann Michael Bach - May 17, 1694
  • John Deere - May 17, 1886
  • Tony Randall - May 17, 2004
  • Donna Summer - May 17, 2012
  • Elizabeth Montgomery - May 18, 1995
  • T.E. Lawrence - May 19, 1935
  • Robert Webber - May 19, 1989
  • Jackie Kennedy - May 19, 1994
  • Margaret Rawlings - May 19, 1996
  • Christopher Columbus - May 20, 1506
  • Martha Washington - May 22, 1802
  • Victor Hugo - May 22, 1885
  • Dina Merrill - May 22, 2017
  • William Kidd - May 23, 1701
  • Bonnie & Clyde - May 23, 1934
  • Roger Moore - May 23, 2017
  • Madam C.J. Walker - May 25, 1919
  • Charles Nelson Reilly - May 25, 2007
  • Anne Haney - May 26, 2001
  • Eddie Albert - May 26, 2005
  • Sydney Pollack - May 26, 2008
  • Kay Campbell - May 27, 1985
  • Paul Gleason - May 27, 2006
  • Jeff Conaway - May 27, 2011
  • Greg Allman - May 27, 2017
  • Roy Roberts - May 28, 1975
  • Lurene Tuttle - May 28, 1986
  • Charles Ludlam - May 28, 1987
  • Phil Hartman - May 28, 1990
  • Maya Angelou - May 28, 2014
  • John Barrymore - May 29, 1942
  • Dennis Hopper - May 29, 2010
  • Joan of Arc - May 30, 1431
  • Wilbur Wright - May 30, 1912
  • Elizabeth Blackwell - May 31, 1910
  • Jack Dempsey - May 31, 1983
  • Jean Stapleton - May 31, 2013

Conclusion

It's sad to look at this list and see all these wonderful people (well, all except HH Holmes) having been taken from us so soon. Many were good people who went through traumas, who had troubled lives and seeked love, who found solace in music and film, and some who found solace in their loved ones. May has been a truly heartbreaking month.

© 2017 Alec Zander

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