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.