Achieving fame is easier said than done, as is evidenced by these tales of celebrities who didn’t become known to the general public until after their untimely deaths. From Vincent van Gogh to Anne Frank, join Facts Verse as we take a look at celebrities who only became famous after they died.
Vincent van Gogh
One of the figureheads of not becoming famous until after an untimely death would have to be the artist Vincent van Gogh. In today’s cultural landscape, there are few artists that are quite as ubiquitous as Vincent. However, the painter barely saw any recognition whatsoever over the course of his own life. Vincent had a lot of trouble making ends meet during his life, and this is a big part of why the artist decided to commit suicide. Vincent was only 37 years old when he shot himself in his chest twice, ending his life on July 28, 1980.
When Vincent van Gogh killed himself, the artist likely imagined that nothing was ever going to come of his life’s work. However, this didn’t end up being the case. All of Vincent’s paintings were left to his brother, Theo. After Vincent’s death, Theo married a woman by the name of Jo. Theo himself died two years after the wedding, leaving his wife to take care of their kid on his own. A kid wasn’t the only thing that Theo left his wife with, though. Theo also left behind all of the paintings his brother had left to him.
Follow husband Theo van Gogh’s death, Jo found herself with a starving child and a bunch of worthless paintings. Not wanting to succumb, the woman tried her absolute best to make a living selling the left behind works of her former brother-in-law. Miraculously, Jo ended up making Vincent van Gogh’s paintings famous all on her own. Jo is credited with turning her late son-in-law into the famous artist that he’s known as today, so art history owes her quite a bit!
As compared to Vincent van Gogh, James Dean is a figure that at least managed to find a modicum of success during his short life. However, James wouldn’t come to be known as the icon he is considered to be today until after his untimely death. James was an up-and-coming film star that only appeared in three films before his untimely death at the age of 24. The death occurred as a result of a fatal car crash, and most blamed the actor’s penchant for speeding.
By the time that James Dean died on September 30, 1955, he had only appeared in three films. Still, those three films brought a lot of attention to the young man, and audiences were anxiously waiting for whatever he was going to do next. James was born in 1931, and had dreamt of becoming an actor all his life. He caught his big break when he was given a role in the 1952 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. East of Eden became the first of the three films that James performed in, with the other two being Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Rebel Without a Cause was released in 1955, and it was the last film of James’ to be released before his death that September. The next year, Giant was released posthumously, bringing the deceased actor lots of fame.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, also known as Iz, was a Hawaiian legend throughout much of his life. However, the ukulele player didn’t end up finding worldwide fame until after his tragic and untimely death at the age of 38. Iz died in 1997, and his death made such waves in his home state of Hawaii that around 10,000 mourners were said to have shown up for his Honolulu-based memorial service. Many people thought that this was the end of Iz’s story. In many respects, though, it was only the beginning. After his death, Iz would go on to find fame the world over thanks to his beautiful music.
The song that would make Iz into a global phenomenon after his 1997 death was his rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Of course, Judy Garland popularized the song when she appeared in The Wizard of Oz. Judy’s rendition of the song still remains beloved, but Iz’s rendition has grown to surpass it in the eyes of many. Despite how big Iz’s take on the song has become, the recording had humble origins. Iz recorded his rendition of the song with one simple take, and didn’t do any overdubs. During the same recording session, he also recorded a version of “What a Wonderful World”.
Iz’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was recorded all the way back in 1988, and the recording session apparently occurred on a whim. The track wasn’t released until 1993, when Iz unveiled his solo album Facing Future to the public. Today, Iz’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is recognized as the best-selling piece of music to ever come out of Hawaii. Iz was born in 1959, and he became known for his work with a band by the name of the Makaha Sons before becoming known as a solo artist.
It was during Iz’s days with his band the Makaha Sons that hints of the recording artist’s dark future began to emerge. Iz always suffered from obesity, and his suffering only grew worse as he grew older. His health caused him to have to skip out on several performances with the Makaha Sons, and this eventually caused the band to break up. Once Iz managed to find success a solo artist, it wouldn’t be long before his obesity would get in the way once again. In the years leading up to his untimely death, Iz weight upwards of 700 pounds. Beyond his penchant for overeating, the musician was also addicted to drugs during his lifetime.
Edgar Allan Poe
Like Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe is another classical figurehead when it comes to not finding fame until after death. Edgar was born in 1809, and the strange-fiction author had a troubled life. Edgar’s birth father abandoned him and his mother died of tuberculosis. This meant that Edgar spent his childhood between foster homes. As an adult, Edgar headed out to New York to become an author.
The time when Edgar Allan Poe was trying to make a name for himself as an author just so happened to coincide with a historical event by the name of the Panic of 1837. The Panic of 1837 was a finical crisis that led to a depression. This greatly affected the market for writers, with Edgar only barely managing to find work as a critic. During this period of time, 26-year-old Edgar married his 13-year-old first cousin. Her name was Virginia Clemm. She would later die an untimely death, inspiring her husband to write the poem The Raven.
After his wife died from tuberculosis, just as his mother had, Edgar Allan Poe started drinking excessively. The final years of his life were as strange as his writing. Shortly before his death, he was found wandering the streets in confusion. Some believed that Edgar had fully made the transformation into one of the cursed protagonists from his strange-fiction stories. More practical people assumed that the struggling writer had been drugged as apart of a voter-fraud scheme.
Regardless of the truth that lies behind the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s last days, the fact of the matter stands that the author died penniless in October of 1949 and didn’t find fame until after his death. Not only would Edgar Allan Poe grow to be a famous figure, but he would also grow to be an incredibly influential one. The horror scene of today would not be the same if it weren’t for this 19th century writer.
Bruce Lee is another figure that managed to find a modicum of fame over the course of his life proper but didn’t find legendary status until after his untimely death. Before his death, Bruce was perhaps best known to the public for portraying the sidekick character of Kato on the television series The Green Hornet. However, in the years leading up to his death, Bruce was starting to draw attention as a film star. Bruce was a very hard-working martial artist who made a name for himself in Hollywood teaching other stars his skills before becoming a leading man of his own. Bruce is credited with teaching Steve McQueen karate. Before passing away at the age of 32, Bruce appeared in the films The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon. Both films would go on to be considered some of the best of their kind.
If finding fame proves too tricky for you, then one thing that you can always fall back on is selling your soul to the Devil! This is exactly what legendary blues musician Robert Johnson was said to have done. Robert was alleged to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his guitar-playing abilities. The deal worked, but it came with a caveat. Robert Johnson would become famous for playing the guitar, but not until after his death! The blues musicians didn’t become widely known until the 1960s, when figures like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page began paying homage to him in their own works. Today, Robert Johnson is a true blues legend.
Finally, let’s finish this video off by looking at Anne Frank. Anne Frank is undeniably the most tragic figure on this list. She became known to the public after her diary was published posthumously. That diary contained the story of the Jewish girl and her family trying to evade capture in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Of course, they weren’t successful. After Anne and her family were captured, they were sent to concentration camps. Everyone in the family besides Anne’s father passed away by the end of World War II. After the war, Anne’s father took it upon himself to make sure that the story of his daughter lived on via publication.
All of these figures didn’t achieve fame until after their tragic and untimely deaths. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that a local Hawaiian musical legend became a global sensation after his tragic death, and that Edgar Allan Poe died insane and penniless? Comment down below!