While researching my previous blog "Curses! (Foiled Again)" I came across vast number of supposed curses. So many of them play such a big role in Americana culture I felt the need to give you a look at a few more famous curses.
Before we jump in, I want to include a quick follow up to the curse of Little Bastard and James Dean. Dean's short career took off after he starred in "Rebel Without A Cause." All three of the principle cast members went on to meet untimely deaths. Dean was killed in the car crash in 1955. His co-star Natalie Wood drowned in 1981 under mysteriouss circumstances. She reportedly fell off the boat she was on with her husband, Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken. Sal Mineo, who played Plato, rumored to have been the first gay film character, was stabbed to death in a West Hollywood alley in 1976.
THE 27 CLUB
Pop culture has witnessed the deaths of what seems to be an unusually large number of musicians at the age of 27. Whether it is statistically significant or not, the idea has taken root and grown in the minds of music fans for decades.
Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones is often cited as the founding member of the modern 27 Club. He was found dead in his swimming pool in 1969. From then until 1971 the rock world saw the deaths of three more of it's most popular musicians. In September of 1970 guitar legend Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose in London. The following month blues singer Janis Joplin died of an overdose in Los Angeles. Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors and self-proclaimed Lizard King, was found dead in his bathtub in Paris in July of 1971.
The 27 Club gained attention again in 1994 when Curt Cobain of Nirvana was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. His mother was quoted as saying, "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club."
Things get strange from here. Cobain was married to Courtney Love, lead singer of the band Hole. Months after losing her husband, she also lost her bass player, Kristen Pfaff, to a heroine overdose. Pfaff was 27 years old. Digging a little further, we find that at age five Courtney appeared on the cover of the Grateful Dead album Aoxomoxoa, with several others and the band members, which included Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKerna, who joined the 27 Club on 8 March 1973.
As I said earlier, Jones' death is considered the first of the modern 27 Club, but the large number of deaths of musicians at the age of 27 goes back much further. An official list found here goes back to include classical composers in the 19th century. The death toll is said to be 41. The legend of the 27 Club usually credits guitarist Robert Johnson as it's founding member. Johnson achieved more fame after his death than he ever saw in life. Legend has it he met the devil at a crossroad in Mississippi and the devil tuned his guitar, thus giving him mastery of the instrument. Johnson died in 1938, apparently poisoned by a jealous husband.
An interesting side note to the story of the 27 Club is the white lighter legend. Since high school I've never carried a white lighter, as I was once told they were bad luck. I had no idea where this superstition came from back then. It was reported that Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison all had white lighters in their pockets when they died.
Whether it was better or not, these legendary musicians ultimately burned out, rather than faded away.
THE ATUK SCRIPT CURSE
Lesser known than the 27 Club is the supposed cursed script for a movie called "Atuk," based on a novel about an Eskimo who moves to New York and is a fish out of water story. Legend has It that actors who read the script end up dead.
John Belushi was offered the role. He read the script and was enthusiastic about taking on the role. Tragically he was found dead of a heroine overdose in 1982.
After Belushi’s death the role was given to comedic actor Sam Kinneson. Filming began, and after shooting only one scene Kinneson became dissatisfied and demanded parts of the script be rewritten. Filming came to a halt and shortly after Kinneson died in a car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver in 1992.
The press began talking about a curse attached to the movie when John Candy became interested in the role. He was reading the script when he died of a heart attack in 1994, on the 12th anniversary of Belushi’s death.
Chris Farley climbed to fame after breaking out on Saturday Night Live. Atuk was pulled off the studio shelf and Farley was about to accept the role when he died of a drug overdose in 1997 at the age of 33, the same age that John Belushi , whom Farley had idolized, died at.
The curse struck one more time. Farley had given the script to SNL cast mate Phil Hartman, encouraging him to take a co-starring role. In 1998 Hartman was murdered by his wife.
The Atuk script has been shelved. No plans for future attempts at it's production have been made.
THE SUPERMAN CURSE
The Superman Curse refers to the belief some people have that people involved in various adaptations of the comic hero, especially actors portraying the man of steel, were fated to meet tragedy. A total of 5 actors that portrayed the hero, George Reeves, Bud Collyer, Lee Quigley, Kirk Alyn and Christopher Reeve, met untimely deaths. The legend states that if you intend to play the strongest man on Earth, you will either die or end up in the weakest position possible.
In the 1950s George Reeves played Superman in films and television shows. In 1959, days before he was to get married, he was found dead in his home from a gunshot wound. Controversy continues even today as Reeves was known to be having an affair with the wife of a studio executive. His prints were not found on the gun. From there whispers of a curse associated with the character began.
Several other actors associated with the role were said to succumb to the curse. Most notably was Christopher Reeves who played Superman in a series of films from the late 1970s through the 1980s. Like others who had portrayed the character before him, Reeves became type casted and found it difficult to find other roles. Reeves was participating in an equestrian event in 1995 when he was thrown from his horse, breaking his neck and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He died in 2004 from complications related to his injury.
In recent years executives have revived the Superman franchise. Because of the alleged curse actors Josh Hartnett and Paul Walker both turned down the opportunity to portray the superhero.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character who became the most iconic superhero around. They sold the rights to the character to DC Comics for $130 and had to sit back and watch as DC made a fortune on the character. After years of lawsuits they were awarded a small annual payment and given credit as creators of Superman. It’s been said that Siegel and Shuster cursed their creation and could be responsible for the subsequent tragedies. Hmmmmm.
Others said to have fallen victim of the curse include Richard Pryor, who appeared in Superman III and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after. Marlon Brando played Superman’s father in film, and later suffered many personal tragedies including his son killing his girlfriend and being sent to prison and the suicide of his daughter. Lee Quigley appeared in a 1978 Superman movie as an infant, and died at the age of 14 after inhaling chemical solvents. Margot Kidder, who played Superman’s love interest Lois Lane, suffered from severe bipolar disorder. In 1996 she went missing for days before the police found her in a paranoid delusional state.
In an interesting twist in 1963 President John F. Kennedy’s staff approved a Superman story in which the hero touts the president’s physical fitness initiative. It was scheduled to be released the following April, but Kennedy was assassinated in November and presidential successor Lyndon Johnson had them publish a reworked version.
THE KENNEDY CURSE
A series of unfortunate events has plagued America’s most famous political family. While some say these tragedies could happen to any family and the curse is invoked because of the family’s position in the public eye, there's no denying the Kennedy's have endured one tragedy after another for decades.
The Kennedy’s are the closest thing to American royalty. Many family members have served in high-ranking public offices. The curse claimed it’s first victim when Joe Kennedy Jr, the eldest brother of JFK, volunteered for a dangerous mission flying explosives. He was killed when his plane exploded over the English Channel. In 1941 Joe Kennedy Sr., father to JFK, arranged for an experimental lobotomy for his daughter Rosemary. The result left her institutionalized until her death in 2004. In 1948 Kennedy sister Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish was killed in a plane crash in France.
JFK and his wife Jackie experienced their share of loss, having one baby stillborn, one miscarriage, and one baby, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, died 2 days after he was born, having been six weeks premature. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Jackie went on to remarry Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onasis. Subsequently two of her Onasis stepchildren suffered untimely deaths, one in a plane crash and one from substance abuse.
Robert, or Bobby Kennedy seemed to be following in his brother’s footsteps. His political career was on fire and he received the nomination from the Democratic party to run for president. At an event shortly after receiving the nomination Bobby was assinated by Sirhan Sirhan.
In 1964 Senator Edward Kennedy escaped a plane crash that killed his aide. In 1969 he was driving home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island with Mary Jo Kopechne when he drove off a bridge into the water. Kennedy managed to escape from the car but left Mary Jo behind to drown. In a televised statement he questioned whether there was a curse on his family..
The curse seemed to have continued to come after the following generations of Kennedy’s. In 1973 Edward Kennedy Jr. lost his right leg due to bone cancer. In 1997 Michael Kennedy, son of Bobby Kennedy, died after he hit a tree while playing football on skis. Numerous other tragedies befell the Kennedy clan, including several family members suffering from addiction, car accidents, and rape accusations. In 1984 David Kennedy, another of Bobby’s sons, died of a drug overdose in Palm Beach.
|The Kennedy family during happier times|
In 1999 John F. Kennedy Jr, whom the nation remembered fondly from photographs of him sitting under his father’s desk in the Oval Office and saluting as his father’s casket was being carried away, died in a plane crash. John Jr. was the publisher of the political magazine George and had recently became interested in aviation. Receiving his pilot’s license, he purchased a small plane and took his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette for a flight over the waters near Martha’s Vineyard. His plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all three passengers.
Most recently this past May Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert Kennedy Jr., was found dead in her home from an apparent suicide. The couple had filed for divorce two years prior but had not proceeded with the process.
If there is a curse on the Kennedy family where did it come from? One origin story tells about a Kennedy ancestor in Ireland finding a cursed treasure that had washed ashore from a ship. More often cited as being responsible for the origin of the curse is Joe Kennedy, the father of the Kennedy clan. Over the years the story has changed as it was passed along, but the version most often cited involves Joe Kennedy’s trip back to the US on an ocean liner. Also aboard was a Jewish rabbi and six of his students. The trip happened to coincide with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Kennedy complained to the captain about the loud noise from the Jews praying and demanded they be forbidden to continue their praying. The rabbi is said to have placed a curse on Kennedy, damning him and all his offspring. If so, this rabbi was one guy I would not want to cross.
Perhaps the idea of a curse on the Kennedy family is nothing more than media hype, as they are so prominent in the public eye. Statisticians say that compared to other families, the number of tragedies is not statistically significant. Cursed or not, the Kennedys have endured more than their share of tragedies and hardships.
To find out more about these and other famous curses check out the following links: