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11 Great Historical Figures Who Died Before Their Time

When you hear about great people who died young or before their time it’s usually either rock stars or actors, to the point where you might wrongly assume that the only significant people who died young belonged exclusively to those categories. The infamous 27 Club, for example, refers to all the popular musicians who died at age twenty-seven, with Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and Kurt Cobain being some of the most notable “members” of the club. But deeper research into the annals of those who died young, however, will convince you that there have been many important historical figures—with more lasting influence and longer legacies than any contemporary musician and actor of our times—who died either way before their time or simply before they managed to see the fruits of their labors. Written by Theodoros II


According to most historians, the Greek king was the greatest general in history and one of the very few who never felt the taste of defeat on the battlefield. Within the fifteen years that his campaign lasted (from age eighteen to thirty-three, when he died) he managed to conquer most of the then-known world, and his empire spread from Greece all the way to India. Many contemporary historians believe that had Alexander lived longer, the Roman Empire might never have emerged and a united kingdom of Greece would have retained a more dominant role in the West and East.


Even though he’s widely considered one of the greatest painters who ever lived and his works are some of the most famous and viewed today, he sold only one painting in his lifetime, The Red Vineyard near Arles (The Vigne Rouge), now located in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. He committed suicide at age thirty-seven after suffering for too long from mental illness. 


Joan of Arc, also known as “the Maid of Orléans,” was a legendary French heroine who played an extremely significant role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, and was later canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. She was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction that was allied with the English, and she was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, at age nineteen, though her legacy still lives on to this day. 


Christopher Marlowe was an English playwright, poet, and translator of the Elizabethan era. He is considered one of the two greatest playwrights of his age, the other being the Bard himself, Shakespeare, on whom he had a strong influence. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he was stabbed to death in a bar brawl over a bill. He was only twenty-nine, and most modern scholars believe the literary world never got the opportunity to see or read masterpieces by his hand of the magnitude of Shakespeare’s works. 


The original boy wonder and one of the most significant and influential musicians of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s impact on the modern world can be traced to this day in operas, athletic events, films, plays, political campaigns, and numerous other areas where his music accompanies the events. It might sound unbelievable, especially after taking into account how Mozart composed more than six hundred works during his lifetime, but the truth is he left this world quite young, at thirty-five, and every historian out there considers it a sure thing that had he lived longer the world of classical music would be even richer thanks to his creations. 


The son of a carpenter, Yuri Gagarin was born in a small village in the Soviet Union in 1934 and was meant to become one of the most recognized and admired personalities of the twentieth century and the first man in history to make it to space in 1961. Only seven years after his unique accomplishment, he died while on a routine training flight in a MiG-15UTI crash near Kirzhach. He was only thirty-four and had so many stories to share with the world about his experiences in outer space. 


Lungtok Gyatso was the ninth Dalai Lama of Tibet. He was the only Dalai Lama to die in childhood, on March 6, 1815. As local historians report, the pain was so deep among the people of Tibet that the nation was plunged in sorrow, which lasted until the recognition of the new reincarnation of the Lama eight years later.


Henry Moseley was an incredibly skilled experimental physicist. In 1913 he used self-built equipment to prove that every element’s identity is uniquely determined by the number of protons it has. His discovery enabled him to confidently predict the existence of four new elements, all of which were found. When World War I broke out, Moseley left his research work at the University of Oxford behind to volunteer for the Royal Engineers of the British army. Unfortunately, he was shot and killed during the Battle of Gallipoli on August 10, 1915, at age twenty-seven. Historians and experts in his field have claimed that Moseley could have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1916 had he not been killed. 


Henry the Young King was the only king of England crowned in his father’s lifetime. He was so loved by the people of England that they called him “Henry the Young King,” and many families saw him as their own son. He died aged twenty-eight, in the summer of 1183, while fighting against his father and his brother Richard. He had just finished pillaging local monasteries to raise money to pay his mercenaries. He contracted dysentery in early June.


Princess Diana was one of the most beloved people and the most photographed woman in the world at the time she was killed with her billionaire boyfriend in a high-speed car crash in Paris in 1997. She was only thirty-six at the time and many people felt as though she left her philanthropy and charity work unfinished and with it two sons, William and Harry.


Franz Schubert is considered the last of the classical composers and one of the first romantic ones. Schubert’s music is notable for its melody and harmony. A feeling of regret for the loss of potential masterpieces caused by his early death at age thirty-one was expressed in the epitaph on his tombstone written by his friend the poet Franz Grillparzer, even though many experts have disagreed with this early view, arguing that Schubert did produce enough masterpieces not to be limited to the image of an unfulfilled promise.

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