The Top 10: Deaths of famous people eclipsed by deaths of even more famous people

<p>The funeral of John F Kennedy drew attention from two other significant departures</p> (Getty)

The funeral of John F Kennedy drew attention from two other significant departures


Andrew Graystone started this list off with the first, which is a remarkable fact.

1. CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley both died on 22 November 1963. No one noticed because John F Kennedy was assassinated the same day.

2. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third US presidents, died on 4 July 1826. Jefferson’s fame outranked that of Adams, according to Stewart Slater. Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence eclipsed both deaths, suggested David Sutherland. Also nominated by Jon Patience, Rob Fuller, Rob Stevens, George Eagle, Alexander Cochrane, James, Mitchell Stirling and Sir Michael Barber.

3. Sergei Prokofiev and Joseph Stalin, 5 March 1953. Nominated by Andy McSmith, Brendan Barnes, Graham Kirby, Jeremy Benson, Peter Cullen, Richard Williams, BiggestBear, Cancelled Dad, Hector Jenkins and Andrew Teale.

4. Rudyard Kipling and King George V, 20 January 1936. Next day, Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister, who was Kipling’s cousin, drew the “other” death to the attention of Edward VIII, the new king: a bad start to what was never a good relationship. Thanks to Alan Sommerstein and Philip Murphy.

5. Reginald Pole, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor, died the same day as she did, 17 November 1558. “This spared Elizabeth, the new, Protestant queen, the hassle and embarrassment of having the Church of England led by a man who regarded it as a heretical sect,” said Alan Sommerstein. Thanks also to Chris Skidmore, Christopher Anton and Lee Rotheram.

6. Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, 25 June 2009. Nominated by Faye Harland, Mrs Naureen Khalid, Max Williams, EMN, Ewan McQueen, Sarah Brown, Marcello Bertuccelli, Mark Worgan, Beatris Mouse, Jim Wessex, Rayn McCormack, Caroline Ost, Phil Riley, John Mullin, James, Jeeve, Mitchell Stirling, Print Mostly and Pippa Musgrave. Douglas Millan sent me the front page of the next day’s Times, with “Michael Jackson, the king of pop, dies at 50” the huge headline across the top, and a tiny line, “Farrah Fawcett: Charlie’s Angels star and pin-up for a generation dies,” at the bottom.

Those were all people who died on the same day as each other, but there are also some notable eclipsings a few days apart...

7. Mother Teresa and Diana Princess of Wales, 5 September and 31 August 1997. The Calcutta saint died the day before Diana’s funeral. She wasn’t the only one to be eclipsed. Jeffrey Bernard, the journalist, died on 4 September and Georg Solti, the conductor, died on the 5th. Bernard’s friend Keith Waterhouse wrote: “Jeff always said it would be just his luck to go on the same day as the Queen Mother ... But to die just in between Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, with Georg Solti as a kind of runner up – well, it’s ridiculous.” Thanks to Jake Kerridge and countless others.

8. Debbie Reynolds died the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, 28 and 27 December 2016. From Spinning Hugo and Quentin Bryar.

9. Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd, 20 and 19 April 1992. Howerd died first, and “Hill’s agent gave the press a quote saying Hill was ‘very upset’ and ‘We were great, great friends’, not knowing Hill was already dead (although worried that he’d been unable to reach him),” said Adrian Ogden. Also nominated by David Hill, Jon Patience, James Phillips and Jeremy Thomas.

10. Guangxu, nominally the Emperor of China (the penultimate one), died aged 38 on 14 November 1908, which did not matter much because China had actually been ruled for 42 years by the Dowager Empress Cixi. She died the following afternoon, having made sure that the succession passed to her two-year-old grandson. “When they examined Guangxu’s remains, on the centenary of his death, they discovered that his body was riddled with arsenic. It is widely assumed that she had him poisoned, to make sure he did not outlive her,” said Andy McSmith.

Honourable mention for Simon Gamble, who debunked another popular nomination: William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, who both died on 23 April 1616. But because England was still on the Julian calendar while Spain was on the Gregorian, their deaths were in fact 10 days apart.

Finally, I do recommend “Try Not To Die”, recorded by Mitch Benn, which includes the lyric: “Try not to die, whatever you do, the same time as someone more famous than you.” Thanks to Jem.

Next week: Words that don’t exist, after Ian Leslie pointed out in his new book, Conflicted, that “we don’t have a good word for engaging in a non-hostile disagreement with the shared aim of … a new understanding”.

Coming soon: Diminutive names that are most unlike their originals, such as Peggy for Margaret or Polly for Mary.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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