Dying young is a terrible tragedy, yet some people do so much with their few years on Earth they’ll continue to inspire countless generations. These 10 people, who never made it past the age of 25, show that it’s not how many years you have on Earth, it’s what you do with them.
10. Edmund Thomas Clint
Born in 1976 in Kochi, India, Edmund Thomas Clint was a talented and prolific self-taught painter. He often painted Hindu festivals and was known for his strong use of color. He painted over 25,000 pictures in many different mediums including watercolors, oils, chalk and even crayons, all in a lifetime of just six years and 11 months. At the age of three, Edmund had been diagnosed with a kidney disease that eventually took his life.
He won a number of awards during his lifetime, and since his death he’s had a number of books written about him and one documentary filmed. The latter was seen by Clint Eastwood, whom Edmund was named after.
9. Stephen Sutton
When Stephen Sutton was 15 he was told that he had terminal cancer. After learning of his diagnosis, Stephen started helping out with events run by the Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity that supports young people with cancer.
In January 2013, with the goal of trying to raise £10,000 ($15,500), Stephen launched a website with a blog where he wrote about his “bucket list.” Items on his list included skydiving, getting a tattoo and playing drums in front of a big group of people. And one-by-one, Stephen went down the list. He went skydiving, he got a tattoo of a scarred Troll doll and he played drums in front of 90,000 people at the Union of European Football Associations League Finals in 2013.
Stephen was also raising a lot of money for the Cancer Trust. He changed his goal to £100,000 and once he reached that he aimed for £1 million, all within one year. By the time Stephen died on May 14, 2014 he had raised £3.4 million, just 15 months after he started his blog. In the wake of his death, that number surpassed £5 million ($7.8 million).
8. Sadako Sasaki
Nine years after the bombing, Sadako developed lumps on her legs and neck. Children who survived the bombing were found to be more susceptible to contracting leukemia, and Sadako was diagnosed. While in the hospital, Sadako learned about an old Japanese legend that said if a person were to fold 1000 paper cranes they would be granted one wish. In the three months that she was in the hospital, she managed to fold well over 1000 before she passed away on October 25, 1955 at the age of 12.
Her story was adapted into a children’s novel, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr. In 1958 a statue was unveiled of Sadako holding a golden crane outside of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Her cranes can be found at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center located beside Ground Zero in New York City, the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, and Pearl Harbor.
7. Sam Berns
Progeria is a very rare disease that causes young children to age rapidly. Those will the illness only live to around their mid-teens, when they die from cardiac arrest or a stroke. Currently there’s no cure, although there have only been about 200 known cases in the world.
One of these cases was Sam Berns, who lived in Foxborough, Massachusetts and was featured in an HBO documentary called Life According to Sam, which started following him around when he was 13 and documented his life for the next three years. In the opening he explains he was doing the documentary because he wanted people to get to know him, and definitely didn’t want anyone’s pity. Sam also didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself, saying, “I surround myself with people that I want to be with. And I keep moving forward.”
Sam had a number of different passions in his short life, including the drums and Boston sports teams. Sam wanted to play in his school’s marching band, but he only weighed 50 pounds and the drum harness weighed 40. So Sam and his parents worked with an engineer to make a drum he could use, which was a good analogy for how he looked at his life. He didn’t focus on obstacles and kept pushing forward, which was the message of his Tedx talk on his philosophy for a happy life.
On January 11, 2014, Sam was supposed to be the honorary captain when his beloved New England Patriots played the Indianapolis Colts. Instead, there was a moment of silence for Sam. He passed away the night before at the age of 17.
6. Samantha Smith
One of the most terrifying aspects of the Cold War was the fear of not knowing if the world would be there tomorrow. This was on the mind of 10 year old Samantha Smith, who wrote to the new leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, in November 1982. Her letter read:
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Relations between the United States and Soviet Union were bleak at the time, yet Andropov actually wrote back to the young girl living Manchester, Maine. In his letter, Andropov said that the Soviet Union had no desire to go to war and was busy building their infrastructure. He also invited her to visit his country, which she accepted. When she was in the Soviet Union from July 7-21, 1983, television crews followed her around and the two superpowers got a little glimpse into the lives of people on the other side of the Cold War, making her famous in both countries. After she returned home she was considered an unofficial Goodwill Ambassador, and she continued to travel around the world to promote peace.
Two years after her visit, Samantha was acting in a TV show called Lime Street when the small plane that her and her father were travelling in crashed, killing them both on August 25, 1985. After her death, then-leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and American President Ronald Reagan sent letters of condolences to Samantha’s mother. Samantha made such an impact on the Soviet Union that her face was featured on a stamp. Her mother started the Samantha Smith Foundation, which gets people from different cultures to share their experiences.
5. Anne Frank
Annelies Marie Frank was born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt to an average, upper-middle class Jewish family. Her father had served in the German army during World War I, but by the time Anne was born the political climate of Germany was changing, and they moved to Amsterdam. There, they lived a typical family life until 1940 when the Nazis invaded.
The Franks had to go into hiding in the back of Anne’s father’s business, which he signed over to two Christians, when Anne was 13. The four Franks and three members of another family hid for two years, while Anne wrote the diary that would make her famous.
On August 4, 1944, an anonymous tip led to their hideout being raided. They were sent to a concentration camp in the Netherlands, where they spent less than a month before being shipped off to Auschwitz. Finally, Anne and her sister were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where both died.
Only Anne’s father, Otto, survived the concentration camps. He returned to Amsterdam, where he discovered that someone had saved Anne’s diary. Otto sought to get it published, and selections of the diary were printed in 1952 in English under the title The Diary of a Young Girl. It has since gone to be published in 67 languages. Anne Frank has been considered one of the most inspirational women of the last century, although she only lived to the age of 15.
4. Nkosi Johnson
Since the emergence of HIV/AIDS, Sub-Saharan Africa has been ravished by the horrible diseases. Out of all HIV related deaths in the world, 70% are attributed to the continent. One victim was South African Nkosi Johnson, who was born with AIDS on February 4, 1989. When he was two, his mother left him at a care center for people infected with HIV. He was adopted by a woman working there, but when they tried to enroll Nkosi in school they found a lot of roadblocks. Schools simply didn’t want a boy with HIV. Nkosi’s adopted mother started to fight in the courts, and her struggle made headlines across the world. This led to new policies that allowed children with HIV or AIDS to attend school.
Nkoski had become the face of the approximately 200 children born every day with HIV. Without proper treatment, they only have a 25% chance of living past the age of two. In 2000, at the age of 11, Nkoski was invited to speak at the International Aids Conference where he had this heartbreaking message: “Care for us and accept us – we are all human beings, we are normal, we have hands, we have feet, we can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same.”
Nkoski passed away on June 1, 2001. Nelson Mandela called him an “icon of the struggle for life.”
3. Sophie Scholl
Born May 9, 1921, Sophie Scholl was a German student and one of the six core members of the non-violent anti-Nazi protest group the White Rose. Formed in June 1942, Scholl and the five other members anonymously distributed flyers and pamphlets that asked people to oppose the Third Reich. The group was formed after Scholl’s boyfriend wrote from the Eastern Front detailing the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
One day, Scholl and her brother were seen throwing out White Rose pamphlets by a custodian at the University of Munich, who reported their actions. Sophie, her 25 year old brother Hans, and another member, 25 year old Christoph Probst, were all arrested on February 18, 1943. Four days later they were tried and convicted of treason, and within hours they were led to the guillotine. Sophie’s last words were:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
One of their pamphlets was smuggled out of the country and given to the Allies, who airdropped millions of copies over Germany. Today, Scholl and the other members of the White Rose are considered heroes in Germany.
2. Iqbal Masih
Born to a poor family just outside of Lahore, Pakistan in 1982, Iqbal was sold into child slavery at the age of four. He was forced to work on a carpet loom, and at times was chained to it. He was beaten and barely fed, leaving him malnourished, as he worked for up to 12 hours a day for the next six years.
It wasn’t until 1992 that he escaped from the factory. He managed to get into school and learned to read and write. From there, he became active in campaigns to free hundreds of other children from slavery. He traveled to different countries where he spoke to schools and other groups about the horrors of child labor. He won the Reebok Human Rights Award and planned to use the $15,000 prize to go to university and become a lawyer. Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, offered him a full scholarship.
Sadly, a few months after returning to his home in Pakistan, the 12 year old was assassinated on April 16, 1995. No one was convicted of his murder, but it drastically hurt sales of Pakistani rugs, with sales dropping by $10 million in just one month.
Iqbal’s life and death brought new attention to the plight of child laborers. Iqbal was also the inspiration for other charities like Free the Children, which was started by a 12 year old Canadian boy named Craig Kielburger in 1995.
1. Terry Fox
In March 1977, 18 year old Canadian Terry Fox was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer. The cancer was so bad that his right leg had to be amputated, after which he’d have to undergo chemotherapy in the hopes that he would beat the 50% survival odds.
The night before the amputation he was given an article about Dick Traum, who ran the New York Marathon with a prosthetic leg. The article inspired Terry, because he was bothered by the lack of attention and funding that his cancer got despite the fact that it could strike anyone. So when he got out of the hospital he decided he was going to run across Canada, and try to raise $1 from every Canadian in the process.
Fox wrote to corporations telling them his plan, and companies like Ford gave him a camper van while Adidas gave him shoes. He started on April 12, 1980, in St. John’s, Newfoundland and planned to finish on the west coast of Vancouver Island on September 10.
The Marathon of Hope started slowly, but more and more people cheered him on as he progressed. He was greeted in towns by local mayors, and he even met Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau. But weeks after passing the halfway mark, Fox’s health got worse. The cancer had spread to his lungs. He had to end the Marathon of Hope at 3339 miles and $11.4 million raised. He died a month shy of his 23 birthday on June 28, 1981.
Terry’s fundraising wouldn’t stop there — ever since his death, there have been annual Terry Fox Runs in Canada and another 60 countries. His foundation has raised over $650 million for cancer treatment.