A picture can tell a thousand stories, so they say. This is never truer, nor more tragic than when it manages to capture the moments leading up to the end of a life. The vast majority of people will never have their final moments on Earth captured for posterity on camera, but, for the ten celebrities we are about to discuss here, that is exactly the case.
The more famous you are, the more lenses are pointed at you; it’s a simple fact of life. Though this is part of the package that celebrities sign up for, it can often mean that they are captured in unguarded moments that they would rather not share with the world – not least their final moments. Here, we shall look at ten instances where beloved celebs were captured on camera for the final time before their untimely demises. It goes without saying that some of the pictures are tragic and upsetting, while others perfectly encapsulate the raw horror of a life extinguished without warning. Truly, we never know when the bell tolls, no matter how large we live or how many lives we’ve touched.
From the moments leading up to a death to the innocent pictures captured before the subject’s passing shook the world, each picture is powerful in its own right. Here are ten haunting pictures that prove that all life is transient: if there is one lesson to be learned from the collection as a whole, surely it’s that we should make each day count as if it’s our last.
10. Robin Williams
The last social event that the late Robin Williams attended was a function at an art gallery local to his Bay Area home in LA. It was the last time that the comedian would be seen in public; his depression and anxiety exacerbated by the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, he committed suicide the day after these pictures were taken. In the pictures, Williams appears to be struggling to keep a smile painted on for his fellow guests as he mingles alongside his wife, Susan Schneider. The right-hand picture speaks volumes about Williams’ mental condition. He stands isolated in a room full of people, his coat in his hand to act as a subconscious barrier against the offer of handshakes. That his final tragedy would play out in full the very next day only makes this picture all the more haunting.
9. Steve Jobs
The visionary Apple CEO stepped down from his job in June 2011, after an eight-year battle against a rare form of pancreatic cancer had taken a turn towards inevitability. He was pictured for the last time in public on August 28th of the same year, his frame gaunt and wasted by the disease. Jobs remained determined to work until he was no longer capable of reaching the high standards he had set for himself and even when facing death, insisted on doing as much for himself as possible. Six weeks after the photo was taken, he succumbed to respiratory failure, having changed the way we consume music and media forever. Fittingly for a man obsessed with the beauty of possibility, his last words were a simple ode to wonder: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow”.
8. Heath Ledger
The death of Heath Ledger in 2008 was a River Phoenix moment for Generation Y, a ferociously talented actor cut down in his prime just as he was on the cusp of realizing the depth of his own talent. Industry insiders were already beginning to talk up his performance as The Joker in the then-unreleased The Dark Knight, when Ledger was found dead in his apartment bedroom by his cleaner. He had overdosed on a cocktail of prescription drugs aimed at relieving his chronic insomnia.
Ledger had died at the tragically young age of 28, leaving only one uncompleted film still to be added to his body of work. The actor had been snapped travelling to the set of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus on the morning of the day he died, looking in good health and reasonably untroubled. Nobody could have predicted the turn of events later that same day.
7. Princess Diana
The death of Princess Diana in a Paris underpass in the early hours of September 1, 1997, was a collective jolt to the British psyche. The nation had been celebrating a cultural revival, nicknamed Cool Britannia and the end of 18 years of Tory rule when Diana was killed in a car crash while fleeing the pursuing paparazzi. Britain mourned their lost Princess openly on the streets of the nation, shocking the monarchy and leading to one of the greatest political speeches of modern times, where her younger brother, Earl Spencer used his eulogy to directly challenge the Crown to open themselves more to the people they serve.
The final image of Diana, captured by one of the paparazzi, is of the Princess in the car, staring out of the back window at her pursuers. The knowledge that this most hunted of women would imminently meet her death while trying to evade the flashbulbs makes this picture incredibly haunting.
6. Bob Marley
As one of the most famous musicians on the planet, Bob Marley lived out his illness in his final years in the full view of the world’s cameras. Marley had been diagnosed with a malignant melanoma under his toenail in 1977, but refused doctors’ advice to have his toe amputated due to his Rastafarian beliefs. He continued to record and tour for the next 3 years and was in the process of booking a world tour in 1980, when the cancer spread and his health deteriorated. Marley refused conventional treatment, instead relying on controversial detox methods to cure the disease. By the time he was captured on film for the final time, the cancer had spread to his brain, stomach and lungs. His usually sharp features were haggard and gaunt, the pain of the disease writ large across his face. Within weeks of the picture being taken, he had died of multi-organ failure caused by his cancer.
5. Robert F. Kennedy
The United States was a country soaked with blood by the time Senator Robert F Kennedy gave his final speech of a Presidential Primary campaign at the Ambassador’s Hotel in LA, on June 5th, 1968. Race riots were tearing the country apart after the assassination of Martin Luther King, while the murder of Bobby’s older brother, President John F. Kennedy, and the escalating Vietnam war had cast long shadows over the country. Bobby had won two vital primaries in his bid to stand against Richard Nixon when he was fatally shot three times by Palestinian Christian Sirhan Sirhan.
He was photographed directly after the shooting as he lay dying in a pool of blood, comforted by busboy Juan Romero, whose hand he had just shaken. Kennedy’s ashen face and stricken posture perfectly encapsulate the horrors of death. Tragically for a man who could well have gone on to become President of the United States, his final words spoke volumes about his character; he asked Romero, “Is everybody else okay?”.
4. Paul Walker
The actor most famous for his role in the Fast And Furious franchise was a real-life petrol-head, and spent a lot of his free time and money on his cars. His love of powerful cars was to indirectly claim his life. On November 30, 2013 at approximately 3.30 pm, Walker was pictured leaving an event held by his personal charity as a passenger in a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, driven by his friend, Roger Rodas. He would never reach his destination. Only minutes after the picture was taken, a few miles away Rodas lost control of the vehicle, which was allegedly being driven at speeds up to 100mph. The car hit a lamppost and two trees before bursting into flames. Both men suffered extensive head, neck and chest injuries upon impact and were, mercifully, likely already dead before the flames consumed the cockpit.
3. John Lennon
One of the most famous images of ex-Beatle legend John Lennon, is also the final one ever taken of him, on December 8, 1980. He is pictured at the steps of his home at the Dakota Building, New York City, as he signs an autograph for a fan. That fan was Mark David Chapman, caught on the right-hand side of the frame. Hours after the picture was taken, Lennon returned to the Dakota after a recording session, whereupon Chapman fired three bullets into the singer. Two of the bullets hit Lennon in the shoulder and spun him around, but the first shot had been fatal. The bullet ripped through his back and tore an artery, leaving the Beatle to die shortly afterwards from shock and massive blood loss. His killer remains in jail, having been denied parole on multiple occasions.
2. Tupac Shakur
One of rap’s totemic figures during the 1990’s Golden Period, Tupac Shakur was infamous for his contradictory nature. He spat rhymes about social injustice and the need for greater tolerance while living the life of a thug, always on the periphery of violence. On the night of his death, he left a Mike Tyson title fight in Las Vegas in 1996, with label boss and mentor ‘Suge’ Knight, stopping to deliver a vicious beating to rumored rival gang member Sonny Anderson, outside the venue. He was pictured in a black BMW, driven by Knight as he left for an after-party. This is the last known image of ‘Pac. Moments later, a convertible drew up beside the BMW at traffic lights and pumped bullets into the car, hitting Shakur numerous times. The rapper fought for life in hospital for several days before dying, his killer never found by police.
1. Chris Benoit
The last known picture of former professional wrestler Chris Benoit, was taken on Saturday, June 25, 2007. What makes the picture especially haunting is not only that Benoit would be dead soon afterwards, but that he had already murdered his wife by the time the snap was taken. Over a three-day period between the Friday and the Sunday, Benoit strangled his wife and son and then hung himself using his weights machine to form a noose. It’s likely that he killed his wife first and drugged his son with Xanex, before strangling the latter at some point on the Saturday. Benoit spent much of the Saturday leaving voicemails and calls for family and close friends, claiming he couldn’t attend a WWE commitment due to the whole family being in hospital with food poisoning, before committing suicide on the Sunday.
While steroid abuse was mooted as a factor in the tragedy, Benoit’s autopsy report failed to support this. His father postulated that he had suffered extensive brain damage due to concussions throughout his career and that this, along with the strain of his crumbling marriage led to his murderous rampage.