Famous Auto Endings
Without further ado, here are some famous people who died in auto mishaps.
Like Princess Grace, Britain’s PRINCESS DIANA
became a favorite with her subjects after marrying into a royal family. Diana and Charles, Prince of Wales
, were wed in a much-publicized wedding in 1981. The marriage was rocky, and the couple obtained an equally-publicized divorce in 1996. In August 1997, Diana visited Paris with her new boyfriend, billionaire playboy Dodi Fayed. While speeding to escape paparazzi, the car carrying Diana, Fayed, her bodyguard and a driver crashed in a Paris tunnel, killing all but the bodyguard.
The former Grace Kelly was a successful Hollywood actress before abandoning that career to marry Prince Rainier
of Monaco in 1956, making her PRINCESS GRACE OF MONACO
. While driving on a hilly Monaco road 26 years later, she lost control of her car. It veered off the road and rolled down a cliffside, injuring the princess and her daughter Stephanie
. Stephanie recovered, but Princess Grace died the next day. It was later determined that the princess probably suffered a minor stroke while driving, causing the accident.
: The popular singer for the R&B group TLC was killed on 25 April 2002 while vacationing in Honduras. Lopes was at the wheel of a rented red Mitsubishi SUV when the accident happened near the tiny village of Roma, Honduras. According to reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
Lopes was “trying to pass a car on the highway when a truck approached from the other lane, forcing her to veer the car sharply to the left, striking two trees before flipping several times, ending upside down.” Lopes was killed but several other passengers, including her sister, survived.
A trailblazer of 20th-century dance, ISADORA DUNCAN
also had a reputation for eccentric flair in her wardrobe. In the autumn of 1927 she climbed into her sporty new Bugatti automobile while wearing a long flowing scarf. As the driver put the car in motion, Duncan’s scarf got tangled in the car’s rear wheel and jerked tight, snapping her neck and killing her. According to Clifton Fadiman’s The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes
, just before the accident Duncan “waved gaily to her friends, crying ‘Adieu, mes amis! Je vais a la gloire!'” (‘Goodbye, my friends! I go to glory!’)
In 1957 ALBERT CAMUS
was at the top of his game: his novels The Stranger
, The Plague
and The Rebel
were internationally recognized as great writing and serious thinking, and he became the youngest person ever to win literature’s Nobel Prize. In 1960 he was working on another novel, a semi-autobiography about his young life in Algiers. On January 4, 1960 Camus was riding in a Facel-Vega sports car with publisher Michel Gallimard and Gallimard’s wife and daughter, travelling from Provence to Paris. Outside the village of Petit Villemomble, the car slid off the wet road and hit a tree, breaking Camus’ neck and killing him instantly (Gallimard died a few days later). The incomplete manuscript he was working on, Le Premier Homme
(The First Man
), was finally published in 1995.
Author MARGARET MITCHELL lived nearly all her life in Atlanta, the setting of a famous scene from her novel Gone With the Wind. On August 11 of 1949 she was crossing an Atlanta street on her way to the theater when she was hit by a speeding cab. She died of her injuries five days later.
Actor JAMES DEAN
was a race-car afficianado who actually drove in a few auto races in 1955. He was killed in a 30 September 1955 highway wipeout in his new car, a Porsche Spyder, while travelling to a race in Salinas, California. Dean and a passenger crashed head-on into a second car; the passenger was thrown clear and survived, but Dean died almost immediately. Dean was just 24 years old, and his untimely death helped make him into a pop-culture legend.
Loud, brash comedian SAM KINISON
fueled his comedy routines with stories of his full-speed-ahead lifestyle, including tales of driving while drunk. Just prior to his death, Kinison had managed to rein in some of his manic tendencies: he had quit drinking, was newly married and was about to embark on a new phase of his career. His fans and friends say a breakthrough into mainstream success was on the horizon. On the night of 10 April 1992 Kinison and his new bride, Malika, were driving from Los Angeles to a gig in Laughlin, Nevada. Outside of Needles, California a pick-up truck driven by an intoxicated teenager crossed the center lane and hit Kinison’s car head-on. Kinison emerged from the vehicle with what appeared to be minor injuries, but he collapsed and died at the scene before a medical team could arrive. His wife and a passenger of the pick-up truck sustained minor injuries and were hospitalized.
was — like James Dean
— 24 years old and at the wheel of a sports car when he died in 1975. The record-setting runner from the University of Oregon flipped his MGB in the early morning of 30 May after attending a post-race party in Eugene, Oregon. Prefontaine was alone in the car when it crashed. Although the exact cause of the crash has never been determined, postmortem tests placed Prefontaine’s blood-alcohol level at 0.16 per cent, well above Oregon’s legal limit. Defenders say “Pre” had 4 or 5 beers over a period of several hours. Whatever happened, he died and it was a sad day for fans of racing.
(Photo from the State of Oregon’s Oregon Blue Book.)
Another early-morning accident killed actress JAYNE MANSFIELD
. The bleached-blonde celebrity was driving from Biloxi, Mississippi to New Orleans around 2:00 am on 29 June 1967, rushing to make a talk show appearance in New Orleans the next morning. Mansfield was in the front seat with her lawyer Sam Brody and a chauffeur when their car ran into the back of a truck that was spraying for mosquitos. Mansfield, Brody and the chauffeur were killed; her three children, riding in the back seat, survived.
NANCY CRUZAN became famous only after the accident which led to her death. Her one-car crash on a Missouri road on 11 January 1983 left Cruzan face-down in a ditch and without oxygen for more than 10 minutes. Paramedics restored her breathing, but Cruzan remained in a coma-like “persistent vegetative state.” Her family’s court battle to remove her feeding tube became a famous case in medical and legal ethics. The Cruzan family was successful, and Nancy Cruzan died in December of 1990.
MARY JO KOPECHNE died in an infamous late-night incident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Kopechne was in the passenger seat on 18 July 1969 when a car driven by Senator Edward Kennedy flipped off the Dike Bridge and into a large pond. Kopechne was trapped in the car and died at the scene. Kennedy escaped, but his failure to report the accident until the next morning led to a public scandal that scuttled his plans to run for president in 1972.
Silent film star TOM MIX
was killed in a freak auto accident on 12 October 1940. Famous for his high-living ways — including his love of fast cars — Mix was speeding across Arizona in his roadster when he unexpectedly encountered a bridge under construction. Braking and swerving sharply, Mix dislodged a heavy suitcase from the luggage rack behind him. The suitcase crashed forward into Mix’s head, killing him.
was known as the Empress of the Blues, a larger-than-life stage and recording star of the 1920s. When the blues craze subsided and the Great Depression hit, Smith’s career began to lag. Still popular in the southern United States, she toured extensively during the 1930s. While on tour in 1937, she was killed in a car accident in Mississippi. For years the story was that Bessie, an African-American, was refused admittance to a whites-only hospital and as a result bled to death. Now it’s believed that she died of her injuries at the scene of the crash.
Another freak auto casualty: STEVE ALLEN. The comedian and TV personality died in his sleep on 30 October 2000, apparently of a heart attack. But an autopsy revealed that Allen died due to a “hemopericardium” — a hole in the heart that leaked blood into the surrounding sac. Earlier on the day of his death Allen had been in a minor traffic accident when another driver backed his SUV into Allen’s car. The fender-bender bruised Allen’s chest and ruptured heart tissues, which caused the leakage that led to his death.
Comedian ERNIE KOVACS filled in for Steve Allen as host of The Tonight Show during parts of 1956. Six short years later Kovacs was dead, killed when his Chevrolet Corvair skidded out of control and rammed a utility pole in Los Angeles. (The Corvair was the car later highlighted in Ralph Nader‘s 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed.) 20 years later, in 1982, Kovacs’s daughter Mia also was killed in an auto wreck.
Folk singer HARRY CHAPIN died in a bizarre 1981 accident on New York’s Long Island Expressway. Chapin, famous for his hit song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” had turned on his emergency flashers and was slowing and changing lanes when his car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer rig. Sparks from the collision set Chapin’s car on fire. According to the New York Times obituary, the truck driver “cut Mr. Chapin from his seatbelt and dragged him from the flaming wreckage,” but Chapin was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Further examination showed that Chapin had suffered a fatal heart attack — though whether the heart attack led to the accident or vice-versa was never determined.
Guitarist and one-third of the influential punk band The Minutemen, D. BOON
was killed in a car crash in 1985. Boon was riding in the back of a van while on tour in Arizona when the driver fell asleep at the wheel. He was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene.
Another victim of bad luck in a car was “Old Blood and Guts” himself, GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON, JR.
, who commanded the mighty United States Third Army in the closing days of World War II. Patton was an honest-to-goodness tough guy, an athlete who broke both arms in school, was wounded in World War I and had several brushes with death as a soldier. After World War II was over, Patton was in a car accident in Germany. As a result of his injuries, Patton died December 21, 1945, and is buried in Luxembourg.
NASCAR legend DALE EARNHARDT died on the job in stock car racing’s most famous event, the Daytona 500. In the 2001 race Earnhardt’s car went nose-first into the wall heading into the final turn on the final lap. He was killed instantly. An investigation revealed that the lap belt of Earnhardt’s safety harness had failed, perhaps contributing to his death. Earnhardt’s teammate Michael Waltrip won the race, and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second.