Agatha Christie, 1957 (Associated Press)
Agatha Christie found unparalleled success as a writer in the modern world. Her novels have sold around 4 billion copies in more than 100 languages, following the exploits of such detectives as Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. Christie authored short stories and the world's longest-running stage play, The Mousetrap. She also penned romances, using a pseudonym. We remember her remarkable life today and the lives of other notable people who died on this day in history.
2012: Bill Janklow, four-term governor of South Dakota who also represented the state in Congress, dies of brain cancer at 72.
As South Dakota's attorney general, governor and congressman, the colorful politician dominated the state's political landscape for more than a quarter century, changing the face of the state's economy, education system and tax structure. Even his enemies - and there were many - admitted that the Republican had a talent for getting things done, even as they complained that he ran roughshod over his opponents. Read more
2009: Claude Berri, French director whose films were international hits and whose Le Poulet won the Oscar for the best live action short film, dies at 74.
2007: Alice Coltrane, U.S. jazz musician who was one of the few harpists in jazz history and who was the second wife of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, dies at 69.
Alice met John while playing in Terry Gibbs' band in the early 1960s. Within a few years, the two were married; soon after that, in early 1966, Alice replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist for John's band. It proved a short-lived partnership – John died just a year and a half after Alice joined the band – but a musically fruitful one. Read more
2004: Randy VanWarmer, U.S. singer-songwriter whose biggest success was the 1979 pop hit "Just When I Needed You Most," dies of leukemia at 48.
2003: Maurice Gibb, British singer, songwriter and musician who was the twin brother of Robin and younger brother of Barry, who formed the Bee Gees pop music band and had numerous hit songs during their career, dies of a heart attack at 53.
Maurice Gibb was known as "the quiet one" among the Bee Gees – he was much less of a frontman than his brothers Robin and Barry. But don't write off his contributions to the group just because he wasn't front and center as a lead singer. He played bass guitar, guitar, keyboards and harmonica, and he was a key part of the Bee Gees' songwriting, arranging and recording. Read more
2002: Cyrus Vance, U.S. secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter, dies at 84.
2000: Bobby Phills, U.S. basketball player in the National Basketball Association for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets, dies in a car accident at 30.
1999: Betty Lou Gerson, U.S. actress who appeared in film, television and radio shows and also voiced animated characters for Walt Disney movies, dies at 84.
1995: George Price, cartoonist for The New Yorker, dies at 93.
1992: Walt Morey, U.S. author of children's fiction books including Gentle Ben, dies at 84.
1991: Keye Luke, Chinese-American actor who played Kato in the Green Hornet film series and Master Po in the television series Kung Fu, dies following a stroke at 86.
1990: Laurence J. Peter, Canadian author best known for creating the Peter Principle, dies at 70.
1976: Agatha Christie, English mystery writer who is the best-selling novelist of all time according to the Guinness Book of Records, dies at 85.
In addition to using poison to dispatch her characters, Christie’s fictional victims were: strangled by a raincoat belt, strangled by a ukulele string, jabbed in the neck with a venom-tipped dart, stabbed with a corn knife, stabbed with an ornamental Tunisian dagger, drowned in an apple tub, crushed by a bear-shaped marble clock and electrocuted by a chessboard rigged to deliver the fatal charge upon completion of the third move of the Ruy Lopez opening. Read more
1965: Lorraine Hansberry, U.S. African-American playwright best known for A Raisin in the Sun, dies of cancer at 34.
One of the central conflicts of A Raisin in the Sun was loosely based on an event from Hansberry's own childhood. In 1938 her family bought a house in a white neighborhood, in violation of a restrictive covenant – which was legal at the time – prohibiting a black buyer from purchasing the house. The fight that ensued, against both the legal system and the hostile neighbors, deeply affected young Hansberry. Twenty years later, she channeled her memories of the struggle into one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Read more
1956: Norman Kerry, U.S. actor who appeared in many films including The Phantom of the Opera, dies at 61.
1944: Lance C. Wade, U.S. pilot who was a distinguished World War II flying ace with the British Royal Air Force, dies in a flying accident at 29.
1928: Ruth Snyder, U.S. woman convicted of murderering her husband and the first woman to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison since 1899, is executed at 32.
1899: Hiram Walker, U.S. distiller known for creating Canadian Club whiskey, dies at 82.
1897: Isaac Pitman, English inventor who created the most widely used form of shorthand, dies at 84.