An interesting emotion can be felt when you look at the last monumental photo of a historical figure, object, or landmark. It can fill you will rage, peering into the eyes of a cynical creature, sadness, as you remember the life and legacy of a great man, or intrigue, as you wonder what these individuals experienced in their final days. Photography has helped give people a glimpse into reality. Individually, we can travel and view only so much, but photos can instantly take us all around the world. I have composed a list of ten of the most famous final photographs ever captured. CAUTION: This list contains some graphic images.
10. Chris Benoit (1967-2007)
Benoit was a Canadian professional wrestler who spent time with many wrestling organizations, including the ECW, WCW, and the WWE. He was an extremely successful and popular wrestler. During his career he accumulated 16 championships as a singles competitor, including two WWE world heavyweight titles and a WCW championship. He is the second of only three men to hold the belt in both the WWE and WCW. On June 25, 2007 Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son Daniel were found dead in their home. A subsequent investigation found that Benoit had killed his family and then hung himself with an exercise cord. Toxicology reports found a devastating mix of medication and steroids in his body. On the day of the murders Benoit was visiting the office of Dr. Phil Astin in Carrollton, Georgia and a fan snapped a cell phone picture of him. This is the last known picture of Chris Benoit, who committed murder the same day the photo was captured.
9. Jesse James (1847-1882)
Jesse James was an American outlaw from the state of Missouri that was born in 1847. He was regionally famous when alive, but became a legendary figure of the Wild West after his death. He was an ex-confederate following the American Civil War and was infamous for robbery, shootouts, and murder. In 1882, the James gang was nearly annihilated by arrests, deaths, and defections. Jesse felt that the only men he could trust were Robert and Charley Ford. On April 3, the Fords and James prepared to depart for another robbery when Robert Ford shot and killed an unarmed Jesse. Ford ultimately decided to cash in on the reward money and fame of killing the infamous outlaw. The death of Jesse James was a national news story and important event in history. As with many famous outlaws during this era death pictures were taken of James to confirm and record the incident. This picture gives a sad profile of the famous James, who will continue to be embedded in American folklore for generations to come.
8. Manfred von Richthofen (1892-1918)
Manfred von Richthofen was an infamous German fighter pilot given the nickname “Red Baron.” He was born into an aristocratic family with many famous relatives. During World War I von Richthofen was the most successful flying ace of the Imperial German Army Air Service. He has been historically credited with 80 confirmed air combat victories. He was killed in action just after 11 a.m. on April 21, 1918. He was pursuing a Sopwith Camel piloted by a novice Canadian pilot and was shot down by a trailing fighter. This is the last photograph of him and it was taken on the morning of his death. You can see his military boots and piloting attire. Historians note that there is one other image of von Richthofen as he was getting ready to depart on his final voyage, but his face is not seen.
7. Jeffrey Miller (1950-1970)
Jeffrey Miller transferred to Kent State University from Michigan State in 1970. He was a smart kid and had many friends. When first arriving at Kent State Miller pledged Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and became a member. On May 4, 1970 he was shot and killed by an Ohio National Guardsmen in the Kent State shootings. Miller was part of a large group of unarmed students who gathered on the Kent State campus to protest the U.S. war efforts, especially the recently announced invasion of Cambodia. At some point the guardsmen became agitated and fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others. There was a significant national response to the incident and many students all over the U.S. conducted a walk out and strike. Jeffrey Millers last photograph is truly a sad site. John Filo was on campus the day of the shooting and took some iconic images. One of them was the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of a young girl screaming while leaning over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller. It is one of the most famous pictures in U.S. history and shows the realism of the event. Jeffrey Miller was a kind hearted passionate man who was murdered at a young age. I strongly feel that the final picture of Jeffrey is a fitting tribute to his life and has helped teach a generation about an important cause.
6. MV Wilhelm Gustloff (1945)
MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German passenger ship during World War II. The ship was named after Wilhelm Gustloff, who was the German leader of the Swiss Nazi party. It originally served as a hospital ship, but once the war started it was assigned as a floating barracks for naval personnel. On January 30, 1945 three torpedoes fired by the Soviet submarine S-13 sank the ship killing around 9,400 citizens and officers. The ship was struck while participating in the evacuation of civilians and personnel who were surrounded by the Red Army in East Prussia. The evacuation was part of the German Operation Hannibal. It was a gloomy night and the MV Wilhelm Gustloff sank in less then 45 minutes. Most of the passengers were forced to enter the rigid waters of the Baltic. It remains the greatest loss of life during a maritime disaster in history. Today, the shipwreck is one of the largest on the Baltic Sea floor. The final recorded picture of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff is taken from a bit of a distance as it left harbor on its final voyage. You can clearly see the massive giant floating away.
5. Bonnie & Clyde (1910-1934)
Bonnie & Clyde were a pair of well known outlaws, robbers, and criminals who traveled the Central United States during the Great Depression. They captured the attention of the entire nation and news agencies rigorously followed every crime. They are thought to have robbed numerous banks and killed nine police officers. Bonnie and Clyde were killed on May 23, 1934, on a dirt road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, near their hideout. They were ambushed and shot by six police officers, riddling hundred of bullets into the couple’s automobile. A media circus ensued and numerous pictures of the bullet ridden car and Bonnie & Clyde’s bodies were published. It was a clear attempt by the police to show the population that murder and theft would not be tolerated. The final picture of the group is rather gruesome, but it gives a true sense of reality. Bonnie & Clyde were outlaws that practiced violent force and it is fitting they would meet that same fate.
4. Salvador Allende (1908-1973)
Salvador Allende was a Chilean political official and President of Chile from November 4, 1970 to September 11, 1973. He was originally a physician and became the first democratically elected Marxist socialist to become leader of a state in the Americas. Allende had a close relationship with the Chilean Communist Party from the beginning of his political career. America was uneasy from the moment Allende was leader of Chile and he was eventually overthrown in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état. The government was dissolved and Allende arrested on alleged breaches of the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that his rule was a disruption to the legality of the nation in its failure to uphold judicial decisions. President Allende died during coup and his body was filled with AK47 ammunition. His death was officially labeled as a suicide, although certain aspects are unexplained. In his final days Allende realized that his government was going to be overthrown and that his life was in danger. He was constantly watched by armed guards. The last picture of Salvador Allende was taken in the final days of his life. He can be seen dressed in a suit, surrounded by police, and looking very cautious. It is an interesting photo and gives an important glimpse into the world’s political history.
3. Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)
Tupac is a rap music pioneer and top-selling recording artist. He was also a promising actor and determined social activist. Shakur has sold tens-of-millions of records worldwide and is still considered one of the most popular musicians in the industry. He is consistently one of the top earning deceased celebrities, bringing in millions every year. In 1994, Tupac was shot five times and robbed in the lobby of a recording studio in New York City. He lived, but emerged extremely angry and helped spark the deadly East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry of the 1990’s. On September 7, 1996 Tupac was again shot, this time four bullets in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He was in a vehicle leaving a Mike Tyson prize fight. Tupac died several days later of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. His famous final photograph was taken by paparazzi twenty minutes before the deadly drive-by. It shows him and Suge Knight leaving the fight in the car Tupac was killed in.
2. Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Michael Jackson is one of the greatest musicians of all time. His record sales and award nominations dominate all others and he is widely considered the most successful entertainer of all time. He has thirteen Grammy Awards, thirteen #1 singles in his solo career, and has sold over 750 million records worldwide. Jackson was also a renowned philanthropist and supported 39 different charities, raising millions of dollars for the less fortunate. On June 25, 2009 paramedics responded to Jackson’s house after he suddenly collapsed and stopped breathing. He entered into cardiac arrest and died at the hospital within the hour. TMZ was the first to report the news of his death and had camera men outside Jackson’s home when he was being removed by paramedics. His last image is quite revealing as he is being put into the ambulance with a respirator over his mouth. The king of pop has died and he will be greatly missed.
1. John Lennon (1940-1980)
John Lennon was born in Liverpool, England in 1940. He is one of the most astounding song writers and performers of the 20th century. Lennon is a founding member of the innovative rock group The Beatles. He was a strong peace activist and important social figure of the 1960’s and 70’s. John was a bit of a rebel, but extremely dedicated to his music. In 2002, a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted Lennon eighth. On the night of December 8, 1980 Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times in the entrance of the Dakota, in New York City. He staggered his way into the building, but was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman, who was stalking his neighborhood. By pure coincidence, a local man captured a photograph of Lennon during the encounter and you can see the eerie face of Mark David Chapman in the background. It was the last recorded photo of John Lennon before he was murdered. John Lennon truly has an immortal legacy that will continue to thrive and expand forever.