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Brittany Murphy (32)
Brittany Murphy was an early success story in Hollywood culture. Her first big break was in Clueless, in which she played Tai Frasier. This eventually landed her many other roles, and a steady arc of moderate fame, too.
She’s more known for her acting ability, but she also tried out some music gigs, too. In the early ’90s, Murphy joined the band Blessed Soul and recorded a few singles during this time. She would later cover songs for the movie Happy Feet, including the Queen hit “Somebody to Love.”
Dana Plato (34)
Dana Plato is an example of yet another actress who had some smash-hit films throughout her short career. For all the horror-genre junkies, she appeared in Exorcist II: The Heretic and Return to Boggy Creek, along with lovable shows like Diff’rent Strokes and Growing Pains. But she also did some modeling on the side, too.
In addition, she did some voice-over work and appeared in some independent films along with her modeling career. Plato is alternatively somewhat known for being one of the first celebrities to appear in a video game in 1992, called Night Trap.
Another extremely talented celebrity, Aaliyah (born Aaliyah Dana Haughton) was a very successful singer who had her hand in the modeling and film industries, too. Her vocal range was very impressive, hitting the often-coveted high notes of the soprano.
She was initially considered to be cast in Honey, but the powers that be went with Jessica Alba instead. However, she did appear in Queen of the Damned, in which she played a vampire named Queen Akasha.
Jayne Mansfield (34)
Known for her roles in cinema in the ’50s and ’60s and her voluptuous female figure, Jayne Mansfield was an iconic and unforgettable symbol of her time. The height of her fame came during the ’50s, when her acting career was on a new level. Some of her bigger roles included Kiss Them for Me, It Takes a Thief, and The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw.
That said, Mansfield was certainly no stranger to controversy. She would go on to have several wardrobe malfunctions throughout her career and was frequently compared to Marilyn Monroe for her popularity and style.
Heath Ledger (28)
Once the darling child of Hollywood, Heath Ledger made appearances in many iconic movies, from A Knight’s Tale to Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight. Before passing away, Ledger was viewed as a rising star in Hollywood; and he was viewed this way even before he reached new heights of fame, too.
But what probably helped Ledger gain a major foothold on the acting scene was Brokeback Mountain, which became an iconic film and was where he met his eventual girlfriend Michelle Williams. She also played his wife in the film, and broke up with him both in real life and in the movie.
Sharon Tate (26)
Tate had it all: high-valued celebrity stardom, many acting roles, and a very successful modeling career. Suffice to say, she’s probably one of the more fascinating people on this list. Tate, who was married to controversial (to say the least) director Roman Polanski, was tragically murdered by devotees of the Manson Family cult.
What added to the tragedy was she was pregnant at the time, too, and was reportedly only two weeks away from giving birth. Prior to her passing, Tate also acted with Polanski on set; their relationship was one of the most visible in Hollywood.
Sammi Kane Kraft (20)
Perhaps most known for starring in the Bad News Bears remake in 2005, Sammi Kane Kraft was a very young and vibrant talent. In addition to participating in the Junior Olympics, Kraft landed a mention on ESPN for her raw athletic capabilities, too.
But she didn’t solely limit herself to sports. She was also in the process of starting her own band, called Scary Girls. Kraft was mainly cast in her role in Bad News Bears as Amanda Whurlitzer due to her howitzer of a throwing arm. Indeed, Kraft certainly had a bright future ahead of her.
Kobe Bryant (41)
When it comes to describing Kobe Bryant’s astonishing 20-year NBA legacy, the phrase “poetry in motion” on the basketball court immediately comes to mind. But he was more than just an athlete. Besides tallying 18 All-Star appearances, the 2008 MVP award, five championships, and rising to unprecedented heights of basketball greatness, he was an exemplary figure off the court as well.
After retiring in 2016, Bryant became vigorously involved with multiple initiatives. In 2014, he invested in BodyArmor Superdrink with a 10% stake of $6 million. About three years later, the valuation exploded to $200 million. In addition to launching lucrative investments, he also won an Oscar for his animated short Dear Basketball. But his legacy aside, he will always be remembered as an honorable human being. We’ll miss you, Kobe.
Bruce Lee (32)
Perhaps one of the most theatrical — and literal — martial artists of all time, Bruce Lee was truly a unique wonder. And unlike many other actors who used impressive choreography skills in movies, Lee was actually the real deal. He appeared in many unforgettable films, like Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, and Fist of Fury.
But Lee was also a legend outside the realm of cinema, and was larger than life in his own way. In fact, at one point, he did what became known as a “six-inch punch” and used it to send a man — a volunteer — flying a reported 16 feet backward. He died at the age of 32 due to cerebral edema.
Natina Reed (31)
In spite of her untimely passing, Natina Reed was a rare blend of artistic and raw talent. Before appearing in Bring It On and writing a single for Honey, she was an accomplished rapper and songwriter. In 1997, she started the girl band Blaque, which saw its rise and fall of success during its short lifespan.
Perhaps little known to even her fans, Reed was in a collaborative project for an album called Torch with Elektra. However, she felt her creative ideas were being restricted and ultimately it never saw release to the public.
Kurt Cobain (27)
Kurt Cobain certainly adds to the list of iconic rock musicians who died at the age of 27; and then there’s the fact that he’s from the Seattle area — a seemingly artistic mecca for aspiring musicians. Perhaps what was most memorable about Cobain was his grimy scream that basically embodied the grunge genre.
While he wasn’t happy about being labeled as the voice of a generation — specifically Generation X — he was certainly a cultural icon during the late ’80s and ’90s. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” and many more come to mind when thinking of his band, Nirvana.
Sage Stallone (36)
The eldest son of action-loving, crime-fighting actor Sylvester Stallone, Sage was only 36 when he tragically died of a heart attack which was caused by atherosclerosis. He looked much like his father and happened to star in films that were similar to Sylvester’s, too.
Some of these films included Rocky V as Rocky Balboa Jr., Daylight, and Moscow Zero. But Stallone was also in a great variety of other films, too. He appeared in dramas, horror films, and even comedy flicks. In this way, he avoided being typecast like his father, albeit landing much smaller roles overall.
Amy Winehouse (27)
Amy Winehouse was always busy turning into a rising singing sensation. But Winehouse was truly a unique musician, too, with the ability to synthesize a variety of different genres, including reggae, jazz, R&B, soul, and many more.
She also got into the entertainment industry at the young age at 19, which certainly adds to the idea her early exposure to fame is one of the reasons for her early demise. Winehouse was perhaps most known for infusing sorrow and despair into her music; and many fans mourned her passing.
Marilyn Monroe (36)
Monroe may have the quintessential rags-to-riches life story. She was raised in multiple foster homes and an orphanage before embarking on a modeling career. After achieving impressive success in that field, she turned to acting, which put her on a new path of stardom.
But her legacy still lives on. In fact, her reach in pop culture spans to the degree of Mickey Mouse and Elvis Presley, according to The Guide to United States Popular Culture. She also won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for her role in Some Like it Hot and made about $200 million from her films (which is about $2 billion after inflation).
Selena Quintanilla’s career was truly grand in scope: She tried her luck in the modeling industry (with moderate success), and became both a fashion designer and a singer, to name just a few of her career paths.
She came to prominence most notably in the ’90s, during which she released an album called Entre a Mi Mundo, which reached the top of the U.S. Billboard chart for Regional Mexican Albums for eight continuous months. Her birthday was even declared as “Selena Day” in Texas in her honor.
Carole Lombard (33)
Carole Lombard was by many standards the superstar actress of the 1930s. The main reason for this was probably due to the fact that she wasn’t the status-quo actress of the era. She was indeed a voice of her own, a lively actress in her own right.
But perhaps one of the smartest and most strategic moves of her career came when she married Hollywood star Clark Gable, who gave her much media exposure, and could have landed her more acting gigs, too. Suffice to say, she’s viewed as one of the most influential actresses of all time.
James Dean (24)
Perhaps mostly known for his rebellious angst which was reflected in his acting in what is probably his most popular flick, Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean was undoubtedly a unique cultural icon. He’s also arguably one of the most important actors in terms of his long-lasting legacy.
And while he passed away at a very early age, many say Dean was an iconic name in his own right. His story is certainly a unique one in that he dropped out of high school only to later appear in a Pepsi-Cola commercial after which his acting career took off.
Carole Landis (29)
Landis’ acting career really took off once she spring-boarded her career on A Star Is Born. But she had quite the odd life and career arc. In addition to having five failed marriages, she was the youngest of five children and tried her hand at other odd jobs, too, especially during WWII.
During the war, she became a popular pinup model for many of the soldiers because she would travel from base to base frequently entertaining them. She also made multiple appearances on Broadway, too. Suffice to say, she made quite a career for herself.
Jimi Hendrix (27)
Hendrix was yet another rock musician whose career was short-lived (it only lasted about four years), but who also made his indelible mark on the music world. He is by far one of the most iconic rock musicians of all time; he came out with gigantic hits like “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” and many others.
Many people think of him mainly as an extremely talented musician, but he also has a military background, too. When he was 19 years old, authorities caught him stealing a car, and he was given the choice to go to prison or enlist in the U.S. Army. He ended up choosing the second option and was given an honorable discharge about a year later.
Diana, princess of Wales (36)
Also known as Princess Diana, Diana Frances Spencer was a dynamic force for good in her community and the United Kingdom at large. She was involved in much charitable work, including help and relief work for AIDS, mental illness, and cancer patients.
As with many in past history who were born into royalty, Princess Diana felt it was extremely “difficult to cope with the pressures of being Princess of Wales … ” according to The Christian Science Monitor. The photogenic former princess was also no stranger to controversy in her personal life, as with many members of the royal family.
Patsy Cline (30)
Patsy was perhaps one of the first country music stars who successfully garnered more mainstream audiences, and was undoubtedly one of the most influential singers of the 20th century. Her success came at the early age of 15, when she landed singing gigs on the radio.
After she passed away, much of her music was released again — including an album that had many of her past releases. There have been many renderings tied to her legacy that have sold well, including numerous albums in the early ’60s and one in the ’80s.
Tupac Shakur (25)
It’s one of the most-used jokes in popular culture, one that has been a go-to for years: the notion that Tupac is still alive somewhere. Of course, if you’re one of the people who believes that, we won’t fault you. After all, he was a legend, almost by Elvis Presley standards. His rise to fame in the early ’90s was a different time, certainly controversial in its own right.
In terms of his most successful hits, “Dear Mama” and “Old School” come to mind. But when we think of Shakur, we like to remember him by his uncanny charisma and his ability to fuse and embody cultural movements that were the centerpiece during the era.
Chris Farley (33)
Boisterous comedian Chris Farley was probably most known for his shocking and loud personality, but he also went on to appear in multiple movies, including Coneheads and Beverly Hills Ninja, just to name a few. He was one of the most popular Saturday Night Live actors to have ever graced the show.
This seems to frequently happen with SNL actors because they receive much publicity over their careers. But considering his upbringing from a relatively unknown town to celebrity stardom, Farley was surely a legend in his own right.
Andy Kaufman (35)
Andy Kaufman was yet another comedian who shocked the comedy world due to his unorthodox performances. For example, he showed up to a routine where he read from TheGreat Gatsby, which came as a surprise to the audience, and they proceeded to boo him.
In this way, he was not much of a comedian but more of what he purported to be: “a song and dance man.” For our intents and purposes, however, we allege he perfected the art of being the “troll” before it was a trend. Regardless, he was surely one of the best and most unique entertainers of all time.
John Belushi (33)
John Belushi had a storied history when it comes to being a promising comic and film devotee. But he was also a true progenitor of comedy in the sense that he started his own comedic coalition. Belushi traveled the country with this troupe, often improving and fine-tuning their craft.
He later went on to join Saturday Night Live soon afterward, which served to give his career the springboard it needed. Subsequently, he would join the powers of John Landis and Jack Nicholson in huge hits like Animal House and Goin’ South.
Florence Griffith Joyner (38)
Perhaps one of the most contrasting celebrities on this list (and certainly the most athletic), Florence Griffith Joyner was an Olympian record-setter and athletic superstar. Aside from setting impressive records in the 100- and 200-meter events, she was quite talented in other areas as well.
She landed her fair share of endorsement deals; but she was also known for her unique fashion sense, too. However, much of her legacy was put into question when speculation arose that she was using performance-enhancing methods to improve her times.
Karen Carpenter (32)
Karen Carpenter certainly adds some genuine and intriguing differences in comparison to the rest of this list. In addition to being an accomplished musician for the Carpenters, she was in another league when it came to playing the drums — she was simply a menace on them and set a standard in the industry.
She grew up in the relatively small town of New Haven, Connecticut, but quickly became famous after joining up with the band, after forming her own trio in high school. Carpenter’s overall stamp on the industry has been most notably seen with other musicians like Paul McCartney and Shania Twain, to name a few.
Janis Joplin (27)
Janis Joplin was a force of her own, exerting a stage aura few other musicians could personify. She was perhaps most known for her blues hits intertwined with rock and soul tunes. Her legacy was certainly left cemented in the halls of musical fame, too, thanks in part to Rolling Stone.
In a 2004 issue, she was ranked in the top 50 on their list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Even after her passing, she remains an undeniable source of inspiration for artists like Florence and the Machine’s main singer, Florence Welch, who credited her with being one of the most “raw” artists ever.
River Phoenix (23)
The late older brother of Joaquin Phoenix, River was an acting talent of his own much like his brother. He appeared in numerous films, including Stand By Me, Running On Empty, and My Own Private Idaho. His family alleged, however, he felt his true calling was music.
In addition to writing new songs, Phoenix managed to form a band called Aleka’s Attic, which also had his sister as a bandmate. He was also very focused on animal and environmental rights, which became a focal point of his career.
Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. (24)
One of the more sought-after rappers of the ’90s, Christopher Wallace was also known as “Biggie Smalls” and “Frank White.” But his main nickname was “The Notorious B.I.G.,” and he definitely made the rest of the industry respect that name.
Wallace was certainly well-known for his part in the East Coast versus West Coast mentality when it came to hip-hop. Through his songs, he raised the pedestal for New York during a time when the West Coast had practically come to rule the genre. Sometimes, you have to give respect where respect is due.
Corey Haim (38)
Corey Haim’s acting career arc came in the ’80s, and Haim took on quite a number of roles. He was a Canadian-born actor and appeared in popular movies like The Lost Boys (his best-known role), and landed supporting roles in Secret Admirer and Murphy’s Romance.
He started acting at the early age of 10 and encountered much success early on. But his drug habits eventually caught up with him and caused his career to plummet. It goes to show it never hurts to stay healthy!
Mac Miller (26)
Rapper, Mac Miller, started his career in 2007 and signed his first record deal in 2010. He was a self-taught musician, paying the piano, guitar, drums, and bass by the time he was six years old. He claimed that his biggest influences were Big L, Lauryn Hill, Beastie Boys, Outkast, and A Tribe Called Quest.
He spoke openly about his personal struggles with both depression and substance abuse, bringing awareness to those suffering from a similar situation. His estate began releasing posthumous music of his in June of 2019. His album ‘Swimming’ saw a single that reached his peak on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 17.