“The right to choose is man’s great gift,” wrote Martine Leavitt in Keturah and Lord Death, “but one thing is not his to choose — the time and means of death.” So who chooses? Enter black-cloaked Death who swiftly sweeps across the vast stage of life, unannounced, clutching an unsuspecting thespian with his icy grip — his time has come. Oh untimely Death that robs this poor player from his rightful curtain call! There are rare moments in this age-old play where Death is compelled to usher away not a single player — but perhaps two, or even three — at a time. And here’s the rub — that these two or three performers were all linked by a common role or time shared upon the stage. While the odds of this happening are truly astronomical, they have occurred a few times in the last two centuries. Below is a list of famous people who died on the same day.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826.
The fact that these two giants of American history died on the same day, the day of America’s birthday no less, is truly extraordinary. Indeed it is regarded as the most remarkable coincidences in the history of man. Both of these highly respected men were intricately linked by the following: both were Founding Fathers, former Presidents, lawyers, native Americans, avid readers, and former political rivals who became very close friends in retirement. They died within five hours of each other. Incidentally, James Madison, the nation’s fifth president, died on the same date, however in a different year — 1831.
William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra died on April 23, 1616
It is generally accepted that this is the date that these two literary giants died, based on recorded documents. However, in actuality, Cervantes died on April 22 and was buried on April 23; some records cite the 23rd, others the 22nd. Another factor to consider was that Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar while England was using the Julian calendar (up until 1752). Although the famous authors may have died on the same date, they died on different days; specifically, Shakespeare’s death in the Julian calendar was equivalent to May 3, 1616 in the Gregorian calendar — a difference of 10 days. Despite those discrepancies, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared April 23 as the “International Day of the Book” to honor the death of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Incidentally, another famous British poet, William Wordsworth, died on this date, however in a different year — 1850.
C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy died on November 22, 1963
The death of these two famous British authors was eclipsed by one of the most shocking and audacious assassinations of a president in modern times.
Jean Cocteau and Edith Piaf died on October 11, 1963
France mourned the loss of one of their greatest writers/filmmakers and singers on the same day. The paths of these two artistic legends crossed a few times in their lives, when he wrote a play for her and helped revive her career later in life.
For further reading: John Adams by David McCullough, Simon & Schuster (2001)