There was a time when, in just seven days, Charles Atlas could make you a man. Born Angelo Siciliano in 1892, Atlas (he legally changed his name in 1922) was the creator of a bodybuilding program that is probably best remembered for its advertising campaign. Atlas himself was famous for his body building, selling himself as one his program’s success story.
He died of a heart attack while out jogging at the age of 80, although given the Siciliano family’s history of heart attacks, it’s impressive that he lived to be that old. He was survived by a son, Hercules, and a daughter, Diana.
In 1968, Bobby Darin was doing well for himself. He’d had a string of hits over the last decade, starting in 1958 with “Splish Splash”, and continuing with “Dream Lover”, “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife” that had brought pleasure to millions. And then things went bad for him in a hurry. A close friend of and campaigner for Bobby Kennedy, he was present when Kennedy was shot and killed. Later that same year, he learned that the people he had always believed were his parents were actually his grandparents, and the woman he had thought was his sister was actually his mother.
Darin’s health, never great, took a turn for the worse under the stress of it all. He underwent heart surgery in 1971, and in 1973, developed an infection which led to sepsis that eventually killed him. He was only 37 years old. And not being done making the world a better place, he donated his body to science.
It’s a rare country and western song that breaks out of its genre to become a mainstream hit, but Charlie Rich’s 1973 song “The Most Beautiful Girl” is such a song. It reached #1 on the US, Belgian and Canadian charts, #2 in the UK and Ireland, and various top ten positions in Australia, France, Holland, Denmark and Norway. It took three months to climb to the top of the US charts, and held that exalted position for two weeks (it was knocked off by Jim Croce’s masterpiece, “Time In A Bottle”, which is certainly no shame).
“Piano Man” was Joel’s first bona fide hit – in the years since its release, it has become so synonymous with him that he is now frequently called ‘the piano man.’ The song was written by Joel in 1973, as he played barroom piano under an assumed name and licked his wounds after the commercial failure of his first album, and draws on that experience heavily, although most of the characters in the song are composites or entirely fictional.
The single version of the song was cut down for time by the record company, who spliced two verses together in an effort to get it down to what was considered a commercial length. Ironically, today it is far more likely that the full album version will be played on the radio, and the song is a staple of golden oldies stations everywhere.
Dean Corll was an American serial killer. Born in 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he served in the military briefly, but was discharged after only ten months when his mother needed medical care.
By 1970, Corll had started murdering young men around his home, mostly hitchhikers whom he hoped would not be missed. Along with two younger accomplices, David Brooks and Elmer Henley, he is known to have killed at least 27 teenaged boys and young men.
Corll’s own death occurred when he lost an argument over possession of a handgun with Henley, who shot the older man six times. Henley then called the police, and confessed to his part in killing Corll, and participating in the murders of others.
Only three facts are known about the circumstances of the Great King Rat’s death: the proximate cause was syphillis, it was forty-four years to the day since his birth, and the date was May 21st. Even the year is an estimate.
It is known that the Great King Rat was, at the time of his death, a notorious dirty old man, and my feeling is that he was probably involved with organized crime syndicates in London. Given the cause of his death, it seems likely that he did not use condoms.
One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Picasso was the co-founder the Cubist movement, the inventor of constructed sculpture, the co-inventor of collage, and a relentlessly innovative artist for most of his life. He is best known for his cubist works, such as the legendary 1937 painting “Guernica” and the 1967 sculpture known as the Chicago Picasso (for which he refused the $100,000 he had been promised, instead donating it to the people of Chicago).
In the last few years of his life, Picasso created a myriad of new paintings and sketches, and it was only after his death that the art critics of the world realised that Picasso had moved into neo-Expressionism before anyone else had even conceived of it: an innovator to his dying day.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was to be Jim Croce’s last number one single – it was released only six months prior to Croce’s death in 1973. In the song, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is a big tough guy from the South Side of Chicago, who doesn’t take crap from anyone – until one night he meets a man who is bigger and tougher than him.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was the second single from Croce’s fourth album, “Life and Times”. It earned Croce two Grammy nominations (for Pop Male Vocalist and Record of the Year) and was still on the charts at the time of Croce’s death, having spent three months climbing to number one and three months descending.
One of the truly great albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was something of a change of pace for them – it featured more (and tighter) vocals and fewer instrumental breaks. In many ways, it was the most commercial album of their career thus far, and spawned two hit singles: “Money” and “Us and Them”.
The album charted highly, although it was quickly pushed off its peak in each market. More notable was its longevity – in both Britain and America, the album remained in the top 100 charts for over a decade, and it is one of the top ten selling albums of all time. In addition, it achieved widespread critical success, being highly rated in numerous surveys of both fans and critics ever since its release more than 40 years ago.
If you don’t actually own a copy yourself, you probably know at least five people who do.
In his last years, Picasso’s productivity dropped off from the manic peaks of his youth. To be fair, he was in his nineties by then, and in all his decades, had created more than 50,000 works of art ranging from sculptures to sketches, in addition the paintings he was most famous for. He had certainly earned a quiet retirement, and he seemed for the most part content with his lot, if disappointed by his exile from his native Spain.
His last sketch, entitled “Couple” shows that although he may have slowed down with age, he has lost none of his skill or talent. His last painting had been created some years earlier, but showed a similar spirit. Picasso would die only a little later in that same year, during a dinner party with some friends. His last words were “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.”