Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died

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No matter what your station in society, everybody has to go sometime. Even the wealthy, powerful, and world-renowned must ultimately meet their Maker—though some have departed this life more ignobly than they might have wished.

  • From Mozart to rock and roll, which performers ended their lives on the wrong note?
  • What famous U.S. bridge is named after an explorer who was eaten ...
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No matter what your station in society, everybody has to go sometime. Even the wealthy, powerful, and world-renowned must ultimately meet their Maker—though some have departed this life more ignobly than they might have wished.

  • From Mozart to rock and roll, which performers ended their lives on the wrong note?
  • What famous U.S. bridge is named after an explorer who was eaten by cannibals?
  • Everyone wants to hit the lottery, but does Lady Luck visit winners with deadly fangs?
  • Plus: Learn the real fate of Gilligan's Island castaways and all your favorite TV actors as well as famous writers, senators, saints, dictators, and philosophers, among many others.

Michael Largo, the man who illuminated readers on the myriad ways of death in Final Exits, has compiled a fascinating, off-beat, and darkly humorous necrology that provides the grim, often outrageous details about the passing of influential persons. Meticulously researched—employing archaeological records, published obituaries, official documents, and forensic evidence—this authoritative, one-of-a-kind reference presents the unabashed truth about a multitude of celebrity deaths, while examining the various deeds, misdeeds, and lifestyle quirks that hastened the demise and determined the departed's role in history and popular myth. The Portable Obituary has the skinny on what made our late icons—whether through overindulgence or neglect: on the john, in the sack, or in some spectacular accident—what they are today: dead!

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Editorial Reviews

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"To die, kick the bucket, cross over to the other side, to meet the Maker, to be dead as a doornail, to get wasted, whacked, smoked, to sleep with the fishes, bite the dust..." Whatever its name, author Michael Largo can't leave death alone. The author of Final Exits: The Illustrated History of How We Die returns with a memorable compendium of celebrity postmortems. Fun facts about final breaths.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061231667
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/4/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 689,829
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Largo is the author of The Big, Bad Book of Beasts; God's Lunatics; Genius and Heroin; and the Bram Stoker Award-winning Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die, as well as three novels. He and his family live in Florida with their dog, two turtles, a parrot, two canaries, and a tank of fish.

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Read an Excerpt

The Portable Obituary
How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died

Chapter One


Nick Adams

Actor Nick Adams (Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock) had a supporting role alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and he starred in the television series The Rebel (1959-1962), playing Johnny Yuma, an ex-Confederate soldier righting wrong where he saw it. In 1968 at age thirty-six Adams died of an overdose of paraldehyde. As his career options began to dwindle, and having recently returned from Japan after playing a supporting role in the sixth Godzilla film, Adams began to allude to his previous homosexual encounters with James Dean and Elvis Presley. A week before Elvis was scheduled to film his "Memphis Comeback" concert, Adams was found dead with enough industrial-strength paraldehyde in his veins to cause immediate unconsciousness and death. The sudden silence of this Presley bad press has made some wonder about the coincidence of "The Rebel's" timely death.

Felix Adler

Felix Adler was dubbed The White House Clown after performing for three United States presidents: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was a happy-face clown, which made a trademark for himself by always wearing a tiny hat and carrying a miniature umbrella and a live baby pig. He was the first clown to appear on television. Adler had run away to join the circus when he was ten. They tried to make him work with the Chinese acrobats, but he was too clumsy—thus, clowning was the next best place for his talents. Although he made others smile, his smile had to be painted on—he died of ulcers in1960 at sixty-four years old.

Ulcers are commonly caused by lifestyles filled with stress and worry, and they are aggravated by coffee consumption and spicy foods. In 2006 there were 850,000 new cases of peptic ulcer disease; 4,976 died.


Alexander the Great had conquered most of the known world and was considered the most successful military commander in history. Some legends say he was poisoned by a medicine sent by Aristotle, since some believed, Alexander was angry with his teacher for not saving the life of his male lover, Hephaestion. However, descriptions of Alexander's fever are more consistent with symptoms of what we now know as West Nile Virus, a bacteria transmitted by a mosquito bite. He died in 323 B.C. at age thirty-three.

Duane Allman

Rolling Stone named Howard Duane Allman as one of the best rock guitarists of all time, second only behind Jimi Hendrix. Left fatherless at a young age when their military dad was murdered by a veteran, he and his older brother Gregg stuck together in life and in music, forming the popular Allman Brothers Band and becoming one of the most influential rock groups of the 1970s. Fame for Duane, known for "Midnight Rider," was short-lived, since his signature song turned out to be his epitaph; he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age twenty-four in 1971. Three months later the group released the album Eat a Peach, and fans believed the title referred to Duane's crash into the back of a peach truck in Macon, Georgia. In fact, it was a lumber truck he swerved around that caused him to fall off the bike and die. Duane looked fine, with only a few scratches, but he died of internal bleeding a few hours later, close to midnight as he had always wanted, a good-looking corpse.

Musician Wrecks

In 1955 popular accordion player of country music, Iry LeJeune, known for the hit "I Made a Big Mistake," did just that in choosing the wrong place to change a flat on his car; he was fatally sideswiped at age twenty-seven. In 1960 Eddie Cochran (Edward Ray Cochrane), known for "Summertime Blues," died from brain injuries after a car crash at age twenty-one, and the following year the singer of the hit "It Could Happen to You," Scott LaFaro, added new meaning to his song after he died in a car accident at age twenty-five. In 1967 "Rockin'" Robin Roberts, who sang "Louie Louie," a big fan of alliteration, confronted the dissonance of death when he passed away at age twenty-seven in a car crash. In 1973 Clarence White of the Byrds was loading instruments into a van when he was sideswiped by a drunk driver leaving one of his concerts and died of a hemorrhage at age twenty-nine. T-Rex star Marc Bolan "banged his gong" against the steering wheel after careening his car into a tree, killing him at age twenty-nine in 1977. Reckless driver and Steppenwolf bassist Rushton Moreve, of "Born to be Wild" fame, died in a car crash at age thirty-three in 1981. That same year, while driving his Volkswagen Beetle, Harry Chapin of "Cat's in the Cradle" fame, got rear-ended at a toll booth on the Long Island Expressway and died on the spot of a heart attack at age thirty-eight. And in 2002 Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC (nicknamed "Left Eye" because she wore a condom on the left frame of her sunglasses) died a month before her thirty-first birthday in a car crash.


The catapult and the business of war in Syracuse laid the ground for the great mathematician Archimedes to flourish. He devised even more outlandish weaponry, such as a claw that reached out and snatched boats sailing near the fortified walls to capsize them, all using the principles of the lever, pulley, and screw, revolutionary concepts at the time, devised and invented by his math formulas. He is also noted to have discovered the principles of buoyancy while taking a bath. He was so excited about the theory that would allow the construction of huge ships to sail and not sink, that he ran from the tub naked through the streets to share the news of his epiphany. Clutching his nuts, he shouted, "It floats!" Years later, when Roman soldiers finally did siege the city, he was not recognized and promptly impaled by a spear. He died at the age of seventy-five in 212 B.C.

The Portable Obituary
How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died
. Copyright © by Michael Largo. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2007

    A reviewer

    The 'Portable Obituary' is well written and easy to read. The book feeds our insatiable appetite for information on the famous, rich and powerful. Just as 'Final Exits', Largo's previous book, is difficult to put down, his latest effort, 'The Portable Obituary' will keep you page turning from start to finish. Largo's latest book would make a great Christmas present for the celebrity junkies on your list.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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