Gone Too Soon: 10 Celebrities Who Died Young

The movie stars and performers who gave us so much and left us too soon

They didn’t stay for long, but their lights continue to shine bright.

Whether they were rock Gods or screen Goddesses, the world has been graced by supreme talents who left us too soon.

From Heath Ledger, whose tragic death in 2008 shocked the world, to Kurt Cobain who joined the tragic fraternity of stars who died at the age of 27 (including Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix and Brian Jones), many famous celebrities remain forever young through their premature deaths.

Here are ten of the most famous musicians and actors who died tragically young.

10. Brittany Murphy

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From her breakthrough role in 1995’s Clueless, Brittany Murphy’s star rose steadily as she appeared in films such as Girl, Interrupted and 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous. And she had the acting chops to tread the boards in Broadway’s A View from the Bridge in 1997. In the next decade, she appeared in more films, and won critical acclaim in her role as a disturbed woman in the Michael Douglas thriller Don’t Say A Word. And then in 2009 she was suddenly gone at the age of 32. The L.A. Country coroner said the star died as a result of pneumonia combined with anemia and drug intoxication from both prescription and over-the-counter medication. No trace of illegal drugs were found in her system.

9. Jeff Buckley

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Mystery still surrounds how this sublime musical talent died in 1997. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Buckley, who only released one studio album while he was alive (1994’s Grace), drowned in the Mississippi River in Memphis in 1997. He had been working on material for a new album, which he was going to record in Memphis. According to witness, roadie Keith Foti, on the evening of May 29, 1997, Buckley went swimming in the river fully clothed. He vanished under the water and his body was found on June 4. No traces of drugs or alcohol were found in his system. While many speculated he had committed suicide, this was refuted by a statement on Buckley’s website: “Mr. Buckley was in a good frame of mind prior to the accident.”

8. Janice Joplin

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She was another brilliant talent who died at the age of 27. The singer-songwriter, who hailed from Texas, joined the band Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966 and their album, Cheap Thrills, was a huge hit. After going solo, she released her first effort, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, in 1969, but it was not a huge success. The singer died of an accidental heroin overdose before the release of her second album Pearl (1971). When it was released posthumously, it was a huge, worldwide hit.

7. Sharon Tate

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Call it a Hollywood horror story, except it was shockingly real. Sharon Tate, a stunning model and rising actress, was pregnant with her and husband Roman Polanksi’s first child, when she was stabbed to death by members of the Manson Family cult in 1969. She was 26 years old. She had appeared in the films Barabbas (1961), Eye of the Devil and is best remembered for her role in the classic 1967 film Valley of the Dolls, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. Tate, and four other people, were murdered in her and film director Polanski’s home.

6. Heath Ledger

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He had just finished shooting his memorable role as the Joker in Chrisopher Nolan’s classic The Dark Knight and was looking for further ways to challenge himself in an already impressive career. But on Jan. 22, 2008, Heath Ledger, the boy from Rockingham, WA who became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars through films such as The Patriot, A Knight’s Tale and Brokeback Mountain, died at the age of 28 in his rented New York loft. His official cause of death was as a result of “the abuse of prescribed medications.” He is survived by his daughter Matilda, now 14.

5. Amy Winehouse

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For many, the early death of the troubled singer seemed inevitable due to her wild ways, but it still came as a tragic shock. Blessed with stunning musical talents, the Londoner scored her first record deal as a teenager. With a gifted voice that could sing jazz, soul and R&B, Winehouse won five Grammys for her 2006 album Back to Black and its single “Rehab”. The singer died in 2011 – at the age of 27 – from accidental alcohol poisoning.

4. River Phoenix

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It is one of Hollywood’s most tragic stories. At the time of his death, River Phoenix had ditched his child-star tag through roles such as My Own Private Idaho and Sneakers. Born in 1970, Phoenix won TV roles, including in Family Ties, before scoring his film breakthrough in Rob Reiner’s classic Stand By Me. In 1989, he played a young Indiana in Steven Speilberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He died of a drug overdose during a night out at L.A.’s Viper Room nightclub. His younger brother, Joaquin Phoenix, desperately called 911 that night, to report his brother was having seizures. He was pronounced dead at hospital. The Coroner’s report revealed that the 23 year old died from “acute multiple drug intoxication”, with amounts of cocaine and morphine found in his system.

3. Kurt Cobain

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His band had become a world phenomenon, but inside Kurt Cobain was struggling more than anyone could know. On April 4, 1994, the Nirvana frontman, guitarist and songwriter wrote a suicide note, injected himself with heroin and shot himself in his Seattle home. He was 27 years old. Nirvana, who became a world power with their 1992 album Nevermind and its single Smells Like Teen Spirit”had recently released their third album In Utero. Cobain, who was married to Courtney Love with whom he shared baby girl Frances (now 27), had long struggled with drug addiction.

2. James Dean

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He starred in just three films but his legacy is everlasting. Born in 1931 in Indiana, James Dean moved to New York City where he studied at the revered Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg. He picked up TV roles before landing his breakthrough film role in East of Eden. This was followed by his iconic turn in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. Away from the film set, Dean was a professional car racer. He was on his way to a weekend race in Salinas, California in his new Porsche on September 30, 1955, when he collided with another car, killing him almost instantly. He was 24. His final film, Giant, for which he received a posthumous Oscar nomination, was released after his death.

1. Marilyn Monroe

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Has there ever been a bigger star than Marilyn Monroe or a more enduring Hollywood legend? After suffering a troubled childhood, which included living in foster homers and an orphanage, Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, went on to become a Hollywood icon. She first worked as a model before her movie career took off, starring in such classics as The Seven Year Itch, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic Some Like It Hot. She married three times, including to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and writer Arthur Miller. She was rumoured to have had an affair with US President John Kennedy. On August 5, 1962, Monroe died at her L.A. home. The cause of death was a drug overdose. She was 36.

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