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9 Final Photos of Famous People Before They Died

Clare Fitzgerald
1. Bettmann / Getty Images 2. Slava Katamidze Collection / Getty Images / Bettmann / Contributor

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it’s the last one taken of a person. Below you’ll find nine final images of some of history’s most notable names. It’s haunting to know these were some of the last moments of their lives.

James Dean:

James Dean was one of the fastest-rising stars of the 1950s. The Rebel Without a Cause and Giant star was praised for his acting abilities and adored for his greaser good looks, so his death on September 30, 1955 came as a shock.

James Dean at a gas station with his silver Porsche 550

James Dean at a gas station with his silver Porsche 550 Spyder he named Little Bastard, just hours before his fatal crash. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)

Dean was on his way to a road race in his Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “Little Bastard.” At 3:30PM, he was pulled over for speeding, but continued to do so as he drove west along U.S. Route 446. At 5:45PM, he crashed into the passenger side of a 1950 Ford Tudor driving east. While the car’s driver and Dean’s passenger escaped with injuries, he was fatally wounded.

This photo was taken just hours before his death.

Robert F. Kennedy:

Senator Robert F. Kennedy – brother of President John F. Kennedy – was one of the most popular politicians in 1968. That June, he won the California Democratic Presidential Primary, and was expected to become the next President of the United States – that is, until he was assassinated just hours after his primary victory.

Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy speaking

Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy (D- N.Y.), his wife Ethel standing behind him, gives victory sign to huge crowd at the Ambassador Hotel June 5th, prior to making victory speech after winning the California primary. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)

This image was taken during Kennedy’s victory at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. Just after midnight, he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant. Five others were wounded in the incident, and the senator died the following day.

Sirhan was initially sentenced to death for Kennedy’s murder, but this was later reduced to life with the possibility of parole, following California’s temporary outlaw of the death penalty. As of 2022, he is still in prison, as Governor Gavin Newsom denied his parole application.

Carole Lombard:

Carole Lombard was one of Vintage Hollywood’s favorite comedic actress, starring in the likes of To Be or Not to Be and My Man Godfrey. She was also dedicated to fundraising efforts on the Home Front during World War II, actively pushing the sale of war bonds. Her husband, Clark Gable, also served as the head of the Hollywood Victory Committee.

Carole Lombard in Indianapolis

Carole Lombard in Indianapolis (Photo Credit: By Public domain newsreel – [1], Public Domain)

Lombard largely traveled via train, as Howard Dietz, the publicity director of MGM Studios, had warned her of the potential dangers associated with flying. On January 16, 1942, she was scheduled to leave Las Vegas and return home to Los Angeles and, impatient, opted to fly, instead of waiting for her train.

The plane veered off course shortly after takeoff, as warning beacons intended to guide the pilot had been turned off due to the risk of Japanese bombings. The aircraft then crashed into a cliff, near the top of Potosi Mountain. Everyone aboard the flight, including Lombard, was killed.

Jayne Mansfield:

Jayne Mansfield may have only starred in a handful of films, but that didn’t stop her from turning heads with her comedic timing and eye-catching beauty. Best known for her appearance in The Wayward Bus, she was also known for going against the grain.

Jayne Mansfield at Heathrow Airport

American actress Jayne Mansfield at Heathrow Airport with her son Antonio Raphael Ottaviano, aka Tony Cimber, London, UK, June 1967. (Photo Credit: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Manfield quickly branched out to public appearances, one of which she was traveling to on June 29, 1967. She was a passenger in a vehicle bound for New Orleans when it struck the rear of a tractor-trailer along a foggy stretch of road. 

Mansfield was killed instantly, along with Ronald S. Harrison, a driver for the Gus Stevens Supper Club, and Samuel S. Brody, a lawyer. Her three children were injured, but survived.

Lucille Ball:

Lucille Ball is one of the most iconic television actresses from Hollywood’s golden age. Her sitcom I Love Lucy alongside ex-husband Desi Arnaz spawned numerous spin-offs, and everyone was a fan of her quirky personality and sense of humor.

Gary Morton and Lucille Ball

American comedian Gary Morton and his wife, American actress and comedian Lucille Ball (1911-1989) attend the 61st Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, 29th March 1989. (Photo Credit: Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Throughout her career, Ball earned herself five Primetime Emmy Awards, two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, her induction into the Television Hall of Fame and many other honors. Her star power continues to this day, despite her passing in 1989, with Nicole Kidman starring as her in the biopic Being the Ricardos.

This photo is one of the last ever taken of Ball, during her appearance at the 61st Academy Awards. With her is husband Gary Morton, who died 10 years after his wife.

Princess Diana:

Princess Diana is arguably the most famous Royal ever. The first wife of Prince Charles, she was adored by the British public. However, they doubted her husband’s loyalty, believing he still had a thing for ex-girlfriend Camilla (whom he later married).

Last shot of Diana in the Mercedes

Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed (both partially visible in back seat), bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones (front, left) and driver Henri Paul, in their Mercedes-Benz S280, shortly before the fatal crash which killed Diana, Fayed and Paul, Paris, 31st August 1997. (Photo Credit: Jacques Langevin/scottbaker-inquests.gov.uk via Getty Images)

Charles and Diana divorced, and although no longer a Royal, she couldn’t escape the spotlight. The media around her became relentless, bordering on harassment. On August 31, 1997, she was riding in a car in Paris. To evade the press, her driver, Henri Paul, entered a tunnel and shortly after got into an accident, which killed everyone in the vehicle. 

While the press was initially thought to be at fault, later investigations found Paul had alcohol and prescription drugs in his system.

Babe Ruth:

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was an American baseball player whose career in the Major Leagues spanned 22 seasons. Starting with the Boston Red Sox, he made a name for himself while serving as an outfielder with the New York Yankees, and is widely considered one of the greatest athletes in American history.

Babe Ruth walking away

Babe Ruth walking away during a ceremony at Yankee Stadium to retire his number. (Photo Credit: By Nathaniel Fein – Time 100 Photos: The Babe Bows Out. Originally published in the New York Herald Tribune. Cropped from the source image to reflect the portions of the photograph that were published in newspapers at the time. Public Domain)

Ruth retired from baseball in 1935. This image was taken at a ceremony at Yankee Stadium to retire his jersey number in June 1948. He was severely ill at the time and had to use his bat as a cane. 

Just two months later, he died in his sleep during a stay in hospital, at the age of 53. 77,000 fans descended on Yankee Stadium to pay their respects during an open-casket memorial, while 75,000 stood outside during his funeral.

Vladimir Lenin:

Vladimir Lenin was the first leader of the Soviet Union, following the Bolshevik Revolution. From a young age he viewed himself as a revolutionary, and for his actions and thoughts about Communism has been dubbed the “greatest revolutionary leader and thinker since [Karl] Marx.”

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in a wheelchair

circa 1923: Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870 – 1924), the founder of the Bolshevik state, in an advanced state of ill health following a series of strokes.  (Photo Credit: Slava Katamidze Collection/Getty Images)

Lenin passed away on January 21, 1924 at the age of 53. An estimated one million people braved the Russian weather to pay their respects while he lay in state at the House of the Unions, and after being moved numerous times was entombed in Red Square.

Challenger Crew:

On January 28, 1986, the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger – Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe – were tasked with traveling to space to deploy a communications satellite and study Hailey’s Comet. McAuliffe, in particular, joined as part of the Teacher in Space program.

Challenger crew members

Cape Canaveral, Florida: Challenger crew members (front to back), teacher astronaut Christa McAuliffe, Ellison Onizuka, and Gregory Jarvis leave crew headquarters for their trip to Challenger, waiting on launch pad 39B. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images)

Approximately 73 seconds into its flight, the Space Shuttle broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven crew members. It was later determined the incident was caused by the failure of two O-ring seals in a joint of the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster, due to record-low temperatures.

More from us: Presidents Of The United States: Their Final Photographs

Following the disaster, NASA put its Space Shuttle program on hiatus for 32 months and implemented new safety measures. An investigation was also ordered by President Ronald Reagan. It remains one of the worst disasters in NASA’s history.