Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer
If you happen to be famous, you may want to stay in bed today.
Who knows? Maybe it was the stress of having just made it through the holidays and knowing that there were less than 350 shopping days until the next Christmas that did these folks in. Whatever the case, the 21st day of January has historically proven fatal to a large number of entertainers.
This dark trend began in 1895 when David Burbank died on this date. While not much of an entertainer himself, dentist and rancher Burbank owned the land that now houses the lots for Warner Bros., Walt Disney, and NBC.
The first film star to pass on this date was beautiful silent actress Alma Rubens (b. 1897) who died from complications from drug addiction in 1931. Canadian-born actress Marie Prevost (b. 1898) met a similar fate six years later due to alcoholism.
On this date in 1938, French magician and cinematic pioneer Georges Melies passed away in Paris. Twelve years later, British dystopian author George Orwell (born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903) died from tuberculosis.
In 1959, two Hollywood notables passed on the same day – one old, one young. The elder victim was epic film director Cecil B. DeMille (b. 1881) whose death overshadowed the news that day that thirty-one-year old ex-Our Gang member Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer had been shot during an argument over a hunting dog. The two were buried a few hundred feet apart in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Western actor Al “Fuzzy” St. John, who got his start in silent comedies with his uncle Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, died on this date in 1963. Actress Ann Sheridan (b. 1915) died four years later from cancer.
Death took a holiday until 1984 when the scythe again swung twice claiming the lives of actor and Olympian Johnny Weissmuller and Soul singer Jackie Wilson.
Cecil B. DeMille
Actress Susan Strasberg died on this date in 1999, followed three years later by actress and singer Peggy Lee.
Other notables who passed on this date include baseball hall of famer Charlie Gehringer in 1993, Chicago television personality and original Ronald McDonald portrayer Ray Rayner in 2004, and Chi-Lites vocalist Robert “Squirrel” Lester in 2010.
January 21 was also the death date for two actors on the world stage. It was on this date in 1924 that communist leader Vladimir Lenin died in Russia. This happened exactly 131 years after King Louis XVI lost his head in 1793.
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Statue at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.
Sometimes a life can be defined by a single moment.
Like the moment in the early morning hours of July 27, 1996, when a security guard named Richard Jewell noticed a suspicious bag near the base of a sound tower at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Despite the hour, the park was crowded with music fans who had gathered to hear a late night concert. Jewell alerted authorities about the bag and started moving people out of the area.
A close-up of the statue above reveals the imprint of a nail ejected from the Centennial Olympic Park bomb.
An enjoyable summer evening in the midst of the Atlanta Olympics was shattered moments later when a bomb inside the bag exploded, killing two people and injuring 111 others.
Jewell was immediately proclaimed a hero for saving countless lives, but within days he became the FBI’s chief suspect in the bombing. Though never arrested, the rush to judgment destroyed Jewell’s quality of life. His constant hounding by law enforcement agencies and the news media only ceased when the real bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, was captured many years later. Jewell returned to working in security jobs until his death in 2007.
Richard Jewell represents an often sad group of people who “bump into history” – those individuals who are simply going about their lives and somehow find themselves swirling amidst a maelstrom of events beyond their control.
Today, Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta is the centerpiece of a vibrant world class city. The bombing, which took place fourteen years ago today, is rarely a topic for the hundreds of picnickers and Frisbee-tossing sunbathers who frequent the park on summer days.
I visited the park during a recent trip to Atlanta. It’s situated in a beautiful spot adjacent to the buildings that house the CNN Headquarters and the Coca-Cola tour. It was only after a long search that I was able to locate the only physical reminders of the domestic terrorist act. Along one street there is a memorial court dedicated to the victims, near where the bomb detonated. A more chilling site is the statue that still bears the imprint of a nail that was ejected from the bomb.
During the seven Olympic games that have followed Atlanta, there have been no major acts of terror. Let’s pray that moments like the one that occurred in Centennial Olympic Park fourteen years ago remain a part of history, and never visit us again in the future.
1 Comment | tags: atlanta, atlanta olympics, bumping into history, olympics, richard jewell