The first President of Vietnam, who died on the 24th anniversary of his accession to that role, Ho Chi Minh is best known in the west as the leader of North Vietnam during the early parts of the Vietnam War. In particular, he was responsible for the move away from traditional military engagements towards the guerilla tactics that eventually (as he predicted) wore the US down.
Ho Chi Minh was 79 years old when he died, and had lived through French, Japanese and then French occupation again in his life. He was a staunch communist, abandoning his birth name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung in token of his ideals, and a firm believer in an independent Vietnam.
After his death, his body was embalmed, and has been on display in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi ever since, even though his will requested that he be cremated.
Henry Luce was an American magazine publisher, who rose to be a magnate in his industry and was called, with very little hyperbole, “the most influential private citizen in the America of his day”. Luce was a staunch patriot who predicted that the United States would achieve world hegemony. It was he who coined the phrase “the American Century” (by which he meant the 20th century) in 1941.
He launched and closely supervised a stable of magazines that transformed both journalism and the reading habits of millions of Americans. Including his radio projects and newsreels, Luce’s corporation was the first truly multimedia endeavour.
Among his stable were such iconic magazines as Fortune (which reported on national and international business); Life (a picture magazine of politics, culture, and society); Time (which summarized and commented on the week’s news and famously selected an annual ‘person of the year’); and Sports Illustrated (which explored the world of sports and famously published an annual ‘swimsuit edition’).
Albert Camus was not an existentialist. He’d have been the first one to tell you that. He was mates with quite a few members of that tribe, but he never considered himself one of their number. Nevertheless, his works – especially “The Stranger”,”The Plague” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” – are often considered to parts of the existentialist canon (insofar as such a thing can be considered to exist).
Camus was only 46 when he died, in an unfortunate car accident that also claimed the life of his publisher, Michel Gallimard, who was driving the car at the time. His death was a great loss to the development of philosophy in the twentieth century.
The man who basically invented the modern science fiction novel (Jules Verne himself insisted that this was the case), one of the earliest people to worry about what we now call ‘peak oil’ and a designer of wargames in his idler moments, Herbert George Wells is one of the people who created the Twentieth Century. His death, at the age of eighty, was not especially marked by a British establishment that found his views on politics and religion an embarassment.
Wells was the writer of, among others, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. His work as a writer of science fiction, as an historian and as a journalist, is among the most influential in human history – among other things, he is the inventor of almost every basic modern science fiction device except for alternate universes.
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As mentioned in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, was 75 when he died, and still refused to have a telephone in his laboratory. He regarded his most famous – and most transformative – invention as a nuisance and a distraction from his serious work. The telephone itself had arisen out of Bell’s true interests in acoustics, which grew out of his work as a teacher for the deaf: he had wanted to invent a device that would make it possible for the deaf to hear, the fact that he may well have stolen the idea from Elisha Gray notwithstanding.
The telephone is merely his best known invention – Bell held the patent for that, but also for 17 other inventions (some of them held in common with other, but most in his own right). Bell’s death was the result of complications arising from his diabetes. He left behind a legacy that has, over the course of less than 150 years and with many followers building on his work, transformed the world beyond recognition. One wonders what he’d think of the iPhone.
Best known for his tales of Teyve the Dairyman, Sholem Aleichem was a Jewish writer born in Russia in 1859. His real name was Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich – Sholem Aleichem was a pen name he used, a play on the Yiddish expression “Shalom aleichem” (which means ‘peace be with you’). His stories of Teyve are best known in English by the title of their musical adaptation “Fiddler on the Roof”, which came to pass after he emigrated to New York City in 1905.
Aleichem died of a combination of tuberculosis and diabetes, still working on his latest novel “Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son”. He was 57 years old, and despite having been in America only a decade or so, his funeral was one of the largest in New York history, with over 100,000 mourners in attendance, and his will was read into the Congressional Record and published in the New York Times.
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As mentioned in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
A painter of the Post-Impressionist school, whose work was largely in the Naive or Primitivist manners, Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was born in 1944. A self-taught painter, his works were not respected during his lifetime – indeed, they were often derided for what was seen as a ‘childish’ style.
However, after his death, he became noted as an influence on many of the painters who followed him, notably the Surrealist school and Pablo Picasso, and his work was re-evaluated and its merit seen (too late to do Rousseau any good). His influence continues undimmed even today – one of his paintings was recently the inspiration for certain elements of the animated film ‘Madagascar’.
One of the most influential public intellectuals in the history of the world, Karl Marx, it should be noted, was no relation to the Marx Brothers. What he was instead was an economist, a sociologist, a theorist, a philosopher and a writer. His books “Das Kapital” and “The Communist Manifesto” shaped the Twentieth Century in a way few others can lay claim to (“Mein Kampf” and “The Bible” are just about the only other books that even compete).
Marx was the originator, though not the founder, of Marxism. As a political movement that still lives on today, and under which more than a fifth of the world’s population lives, its influence is impossible to ignore. He is also one of the founding figures (along with Emile Durkheim and Max Weber) of the discipline of sociology, and his influence dominates many university sociology departments even today.
Marx was born a German, and lived there in his early life. In 1843 he moved to Paris, thence to Brussels in 1845 after the French government kicked him out, and finally to London in 1849. From here, Marx worked on his various philosophical books and engaged in political journalism (including a lengthy stint writing for the New York Tribune). He died at the age of 64 in 1883 after a lengthy illness, and was buried in London’s Highgate Cemetary. At the time of his death, his works were just beginning to find an audience, but their influence would grow by leaps and bounds over the next sixty years.
Known to history as “Whistler’s Mother”, after the painting she was the subject of, Anna Matilda (née McNeill) Whistler was 76 when she died. It had been nearly ten years since she sat for her son James, becoming the subject of his eponymous and best-known painting – which was actually titled “Arrangement in Grey & Black No.1” by her son.
Ironically, for such a quintessentially American painting, it was painted while she and her son were both living in England. Anna Whistler later died, still in England, and was buried in Hastings Cemetery.