Died Today in History ›
Photo by John Rodgers/Redferns
Published: 9 months ago
On Feb. 2, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, aka the Big Bopper, were on the 11th night of their Winter Dance Party tour through the snow-covered Midwest. It was a Monday, but 1,100 teenagers crowded into the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, for two sold-out shows. The musicians' bus had broken down a couple times, so Holly chartered a plane to go to the next gig in Minnesota. Waylon Jennings, who was Holly's bass player on tour, gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, as he had a cold. Valens and Holly's guitarist, Tommy Allsup, agreed to flip a coin for the last seat, and Valens won the toss. The plane took off after midnight and crashed in a blizzard, killing the three rockers along with the pilot. That day became known as the Day the Music Died, but their music lives on. We remember their lives today as well as other notable people who died this day in history.
2016: Joe Alaskey, U.S. voice actor who provided the voices for many Loony Tune characters such as Bugs Bunny after Mel Blanc's death, dies at 63.
2015: Charlie Sifford, U.S. professional golfer who was the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour, dies at 92.
The Illinois-born character actor appeared on a wide range of TV shows, from "Perry Mason" in the 1950s to "Mannix" in the 1960s to Kelsey Grammer's "Boss" in 2011. Bull played opposite his wife of 65 years, actress Barbara Collentine, in several projects. Among the movies he appeared in were "High Plains Drifter" and "Executive Action," both in 1973. Read more
2014: Joan Mondale, U.S. artist and author who was second lady of the U.S. as the wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, dies at 83.
An arts lover and an avid potter, Mondale was given a grand platform to promote the arts when Walter, then a Democratic senator, was elected Jimmy Carter's vice president in 1976. Carter named her honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, and in that role she frequently traveled to museums, theaters, and artist studios on the administration's behalf. She lobbied Congress and states to boost public arts programs and funding. Read more
2013: Cardiss Collins, U.S. congresswoman for Illinois from 1973 to 1997, dies at 81.
According to Chicago Democratic U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, who succeeded Collins, during her more than 24 years in Congress, Collins led efforts to curtail credit fraud against women, advocated gender equity in college sports, and worked to reform federal child care facilities. She chaired the Government Activities and Transportation Subcommittee, according to her obituary by The Associated Press. Read more
2012: Zalman King, U.S. actor and director known for his movies "Wild Orchid" and "Red Shoe Diaries," dies of cancer at 70.
Born Zalman King Lefkovitz in 1941, King began his career as an actor in the 1960s, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. He and wife, Patricia Louisianna Knop, collaborated on the screenplay for "9 ½ Weeks," which became a cult hit starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. King's other credits include "Wild Orchid" and "Two Moon Junction," which he wrote and directed. Read more
2012: Ben Gazzara, U.S. actor known for his starring role on the television series "Run for Your Life," dies at 81.
Gazzara was a proponent of method acting, in which the performer attempts to take on the thoughts and emotions of the character he's playing, and it helped him achieve stardom early in his career with two stirring Broadway performances, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. In 1955, he originated the role of Brick Pollitt, the disturbed alcoholic son and failed football star in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He left the show after only seven months to take on an equally challenging role, Johnny Pope, the drug addict in "A Hatful of Rain." It earned him his first of three Tony Award nominations. Read more
2011: Maria Schneider, French actress known for her role as Jeanne in "Last Tango in Paris," dies of cancer at 58.
Schneider was 19 when she starred opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's racy "Last Tango in Paris." In it, she played Jeanne, a young Parisian woman who takes up with a middle-aged American businessman, played by Brando, according to her obituary by The Associated Press. Read more
2007: Pedro Knight, Cuban musician who was an accomplished trumpeter and the husband of legendary singer Celia Cruz, dies at 85.
2006: Al Lewis, U.S. character actor well-known for his role as Grandpa Munster on the TV series "The Munsters," dies at 82.
Many actors dread being typecast. The idea of one successful role leading to a career full of rehashes can be, understandably, depressing. The majority work to avoid it, seeking out roles that showcase their diverse talents. Not so Al Lewis. Read more
2003: Lana Clarkson, U.S. actress who appeared in many B-movies, is killed by famous record producer Phil Spector at 40.
1996: Audrey Meadows, U.S. actress well-known for her role as Alice Kramden on the classic sitcom "The Honeymooners," dies at 73.
Nancy Kulp no longer may be a household name, but it only takes watching a couple of episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" to understand her appeal as a comic actress. Often cast as a prim, frustrated spinster, she perfected the role on "Hillbillies" – which aired from 1962 to 1971 – as the flirtatious, bird-watching Miss Jane Hathaway. She received an Emmy nomination for the understated-but-overheated role in 1967. Read more
1989: John Cassavetes, U.S. actor, director, and screenwriter who was in the movies "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Dirty Dozen," dies at 59.
Compelling, quirkily complex characters. Use of nonprofessional actors. Emphasis on improvisation. Shooting on location. Handheld cameras, shoestring budgets, nonformulaic stories. If this looks like a checklist for getting your film into Sundance, consider that Cassavetes was making films with these characteristics way back in 1957. Little wonder that he is considered the Godfather of American Independent Cinema. Read more
1977: Pauline Starke, U.S. film actress who had a prominent career during the silent era, dies at 76.
1972: John Litel, U.S. actor who appeared in more than 200 films including "Nevada Smith," dies at 79.
1961: Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, who was featured in "The Thief of Baghdad," dies at 56.
When Wong broke into pictures in 1919, Asian people in America were still very much seen as outsiders, perpetual foreigners – even those born in the U.S. as Wong was. And similar to early African-American actors like Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Asian-Americans were relegated to portraying stereotypes. In Wong's case, that meant either the "dragon lady" or the "butterfly." Read more
1959: Buddy Holly, U.S. rock 'n' roll star who had hits such as "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue," dies in a plane crash at 22.
Holly's music didn't spring from a void, fully formed and perfect. Before Holly influenced rock 'n' roll's greats, he himself was influenced by some of the pioneers of rock, as well as musicians from other genres. Bluegrass and blues, rockabilly and early rock 'n' roll percolated together in Holly's imagination and emerged as the unmatchable music that he made with the Crickets. Read more
1959: Ritchie Valens, U.S. rock 'n' roll singer-songwriter and guitarist whose hits included "La Bamba," dies in a plane crash at 17.
Though Valens was young when he died, he was already an accomplished musician, one who would become legendary for his pioneering mix of Latin sounds and rock 'n' roll music. He was the first Latino musician to achieve true mainstream success, and his hit songs influenced generations of musicians who followed him, from Carlos Santana to Los Lobos to Selena and more. And he left behind a string of singles that are still beloved today. Read more
1959: Jiles Perry Richardson Jr., aka the Big Bopper, U.S. rocker who had the hit song "Chantilly Lace," dies in a plane crash at 28.
Only 19 of the Big Bopper's recordings survive, and though "Chantilly Lace" went gold during his lifetime, he had less than $100 in his bank account and never even had a chance to pick up his gold record plaque when he died at 28. He would have three No. 1 hits posthumously, two more than Buddy Holly and three more than Ritchie Valens during their lifetimes. Read more
1924: Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States from 1913 to 1921, dies at 67.