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They Didn’t Die the Way You Think They Died

May 14, 2018

Some celebrities are as famous for their shocking deaths as they were for the work they did during their lives. As it turns out, the collective knowledge of their deaths…turned out to not be true.

JAMES DEAN

Dean was a brooding, charismatic, and magnetic screen presence. His mystique likely grew because he starred in only three (really good) movies—Giant, Rebel Without a Cause, and East of Eden—before his untimely death in 1955 at just 24 years old. Dean was a well-known car enthusiast who dabbled in semiprofessional and amateur auto-racing, and it’s in the pursuit of speed that killed him. He was driving his Porsche Spyder extremely fast on a California highway and crashed into another car. It wasn’t until an inquest in 2005 when it was revealed the accident was more complex. Dean was thought to have been driving around 90 mph and tried to go around a car by laying on the gas, only to crash into it. As it turns out, Dean was going a more reasonable 70 mph…and had actually braked hard to try to avoid that other car.

DAVID CARRADINE

Kung Fu star David Carradine was in the midst of a comeback in 2009, having just starred as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part epic Kill Bill. That’s when the 63-year-old actor was discovered dead in a Bangkok hotel room—hanging in a closet with a cord around his neck. Authorities ruled that Carradine’s death was by his own hand…but was it? Carradine’s body was found with his wrists tied behind his back, and he was reportedly covered in many cuts and bruises, and there were unidentified footprints in the hotel room.

CASS ELLIOT

Also known as “Mama Cass” during her time in the Mamas & the Papas, Elliot possessed one of the greatest and most versatile voices in rock history, perfect for singing hits like “California Dreamin’” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Elliot was just 32 years old when she was found dead in a London apartment. The first to investigate and determine a cause of death was a medical examiner named Dr. Anthony Greenburgh. He told the press that his initial thoughts, after looking over Elliot and the scene of her death, was that the singer had been eating a ham sandwich while laying down. The media latched on to that detail, and it spread, also functioning as a subtle but cruel joke at the expense of the overweight Elliot—the world believed she died eating. But it’s simply not true. There was a ham sandwich found near Elliot’s body, but it was untouched. Elliot actually died from heart failure.

DOROTHY DANDRIDGE

Dandridge was one of the first African-American movie stars, and the first actress of color nominated for an Academy Award (the musical Carmen Jones, 1954). After she testified in a criminal libel trial against the publisher of the movie magazine Confidential, in 1957, Dandridge’s career suffered—her image was tainted by scandal and there weren’t many good roles for black women at the time. She wound up making a series of unmemorable B-movies until 1965, when Dandridge’s body was found by her manager. A Los Angeles pathologist determined that Dandridge died from an accidental overdose of prescription antidepressants. That conflicted with later findings by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, which were ruled to be the more truthful of the two accounts. Dandridge suffered from a rare and bizarre form of embolism brought on by a bone break. A few days before she died, Dandridge fractured her right foot while working out, which caused tiny bits of fat to break off from bone marrow, which lodged in her brain and lungs, cutting off blood flow.

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