Just as Mississippi is the birthplace of a number of famous people, it is also where several well-known people lost their lives. Sometimes, looking back on these losses can be difficult but it is also important to never forget our state’s history. So if you’re ready to remember, read on for seven famous people who lost their lives in Mississippi.
1. Robert Johnson
Many are familiar with this famed blues performer thanks to the story that tells of Johnson gaining his musical talents by selling his soul to the devil. And it turns out that his death is just as intriguing as his life. At the young age of 27, Johnson passed away due to somewhat mysterious circumstances. It is believed that Johnson was poisoned while at a dance near Greenwood via a bottle of liquor given to him by a married woman. Many think that the woman’s husband, unhappy with Johnson’s flirtatious ways, forced his wife to give Johnson the tainted bottle. While nothing has ever been confirmed, musicologist Robert “Mack” McCormick claims to have obtained a confession from the alleged murderer but has never revealed the man’s identity.
2. Charley Patton
Considered by many to be the “Father of the Delta Blues,” singer and guitarist Charley Patton was born in Hinds County in the late 1800’s. He found success pretty early on, performing and writing songs with well-known guitarist Willie Brown. By 1914, Patton landed a gig playing guitar with the Chatmon family. The talented musician went on the record over a dozen songs for Paramount Records and almost 70 recordings total. Eventually succumbing to heart disease, Charley Patton died in 1934 in Indianola.
3. Margaret Taylor
Wife of 12th president Zachary Taylor was not your typical first lady. The Maryland native gravely disliked public appearances and even passed many of her first lady duties on to her daughter. After her husband’s untimely death, Margaret moved to Louisiana where she lived a comfortable life on a lavish estate. In August of 1852, while visiting her daughter in Pascagoula, Margaret passed away at the age of 63.
4. Eudora Welty
The Jackson born author had her first story published in the 1930’s. From there her success snowballed with her work appearing in everything from magazines to major periodicals. After publishing a volume of short stories on the American South, Welty’s popularity rose significantly. By 1946, she had published her first novel, and in 1972 won a Pulitzer for her novel, “The Optimist’s Daughter.” In 2001, at the age of 92, Eudora Welty passed away in Jackson after battling a serious bout of pneumonia.
5. Bessie Smith
Known affectionately as the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith’s musical career was cut short due to an untimely accident. The Tennessee native was extremely talented and by her late-twenties she had signed a contract with Columbia Records, making her one of the highest paid African-American performers of her time. In September of 1937, Smith’s boyfriend, Richard Morgan, was driving her to a show in Memphis. While en route, Morgan side-swiped another vehicle and lost control of the car, causing Smith to be thrown from the vehicle. The badly-injured star was transported to a nearby Clarksdale hospital where, at only 43 years of age, she died as a result of her injuries.
6. William Faulkner
One of the most famous Mississippians of all time, author William Faulkner was born in New Albany. It seems as if the South was always close to the author’s heart as many of his writings were set there, usually in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. The author went on to marry his childhood sweetheart and live an extremely private life in Oxford. Sadly, in 1962 the beloved author died of a heart attack in a Byhalia hospital.
7. John Kennedy Toole
Quite the talented author, John Kennedy Toole completed his first novel, “The Neon Bible,” during his senior year of high school. Toole received a scholarship to Tulane University and then went on to study English at Columbia University. Eventually, the author completed his second novel but was unsuccessful at finding a publisher. This failure had a profound effect on Toole as he spiraled in to a deep depression and suffered from severe paranoia. In an effort to escape his angst, Toole left home with the intent of travelling around the country; however, the author decided to take his own life in Biloxi. Sometime after his death, Toole was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Were you surprised by any of these, or have another to add to the list? Be sure to share in the comments section below.