Eclipsed in death: We remember JFK, but what about Aldous Huxley, or CS Lewis?

Coincidental deaths can raise awkward questions - who gets top billing?

Share
Related Topics

Poor old Aldous Huxley. In other circumstances, his name would be all over the place today, the 50th anniversary of his death. Yet, just moments after his demise, the Brave New World author had the misfortune, if that’s the right word, of becoming a key member of the “eclipsed celebrity death club”.

Huxley died at 5:20pm, London time, on 22 November 1963. About ten minutes later, CS Lewis died. Just under an hour after that, of course, JFK was shot and killed in Dallas. There may never have been a deadlier 70 minutes for celebrity, but others have been tied similarly by fatal coincidence (see below).

Of course, this is all trivial on the face of it - as meaningful as coincidental birthdays - but, aside from challenging obituarists, coincidental deaths can also raise awkward questions. Who is more important? Who deserves top billing in the press - and why? And what does it mean for their families?

I interviewed CS Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, for a story in today’s Independent. He recalled touchingly discovering that his only parent at the time had died just hours after he and his classmates had huddled around a TV to absorb the shock of JFK’s assassination. 

But for him, there was no sadness in being consumed by the President’s long shadow. If anything, Gresham said, Lewis would have enjoyed the posthumous privacy. It also made dealing with grief easier away from public glare - it took weeks for the world to realise the Narnia author was no more. 

The eclipsed celebrity death club

* Farrah Fawcett died on 25 June 2009 but no sooner had editors registered the news than Michael Jackson went into cardiac arrest.

* Mother Teresa died on 5 September 1997. Six days had passed since Princess Diana’s car crash - not enough time for Teresa to escape her shadow.

* Founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on 4 July 1826, the 50-year anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence.

Jean Cocteau wrote the 1940 play Le Bel Indifférent for and starring Édith Piaf. On 11 October 1963, he died hours after her.

* Yul Brynner and Orson Welles were contemporaries and co-stars. They both died on 10 October 1985

* Trio of funnymen Milton Berle, Dudley Moore & Billy Wilder all died on 27 March, 2002.

* Groucho Marx died on 19 August 1977, three days after Elvis met his end in a Memphis bathroom.

* Ray Charles died on 10 June 2004, five days after Ronald Reagan succumbed to pneumonia aged 93. In December 2006, two days separated the deaths of Gerald Ford and James Brown.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Green Party supporter holds a placard  

Labour should expose the Greens’ daftness – not flirt with them

Ian Birrell
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us