43: What You Miss Out On When You Die

What world event will happen right after your death?

We’re coming up on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. I was in midtown Manhattan that morning, and the day is etched in my brain. I experienced nothing close to the worst of it and still had occasional nightmares for years. But people are weird creatures, and it’s strange how even in the midst of a terrible day, strange thoughts can creep into our heads. And I remember thinking on that day about all the people in the world who died on 9/10, which was a generally unremarkable day, with no idea about what was to come the next morning.

In fact, often when there is a major world event, I think about the people who died right before it happened and missed it. I think about the people who died the day before Trump got elected, thinking surely that Hillary Clinton would be the next President. Or I think about people who died the day before the iPhone was revealed, and never got to see the next form factor in communication that would come to dominate our lives.

So I thought I’d do a more deliberate search and find out who some of these people actually were. I’ve picked a handful of world events presented in no particular order. Let’s see who missed them.

Attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (9/11/2001)

One week before the attacks of 9/11, film critic Pauline Kael died. Former screen idol Troy Donahue had nothing to say about her passing, because he died the day before her, narrowly missing both her death and the attacks of 9/11.

Voice actor Lorenzo Music, perhaps best known as the voice of Garfield and also Rhoda’s doorman Carlton, died about a month before 9/11.

Steve Jobs Revealed the iPhone (1/9/2007)

One day before Steve Jobs announced the iPhone at Macworld, Yvonne De Carlo, the actress who played matriarch Lily Munster on The Munsters, died before she could hear about the revolutionary device. And Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles, died just a couple days too early, as well. And now there are dozens of apps about ramen noodles in the iOS app store. But no Munsters app.

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (11/22/1963)

I didn’t even need to go back a whole day for this one. Author C. S. Lewis died an hour before JFK was shot. He never knew about the assassination. Author Aldous Huxley died later that day, but he was apparently on an acid trip and may not have known about the assassination when he passed.

This date was referenced in the song Run Baby Run by Sheryl Crow. The song begins, “She was born in November 1963, the day Aldous Huxley died.” I wonder why she chose to reference Huxley instead of Lewis or, I dunno, JFK.

The Challenger Explosion (1/28/1986)

You know who died never knowing about the space shuttle disaster? Cult leader L. Ron Hubbard, who died a couple days earlier in a world that still had a successful space shuttle program. Xenu works in mysterious ways.

Man Walks on the Moon (7/26/1969)

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969. Four days later, before the astronauts reached Tranquility Base, Ted Kennedy gave Mary Jo Kopechne a ride home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha’s Vineyard. On the drive, Kennedy drove off a bridge and Kopechne died never knowing if Neil and Buzz made it to the moon.

Ted Kennedy lived 40 more years until August, 2009, when he died just a few days before the Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment.

Michael Jackson’s Death (6/25/2009)

Remember what huge news it was that Michael Jackson died? You know who doesn’t remember that? Farrah Fawcett. She died earlier the same day, not knowing that her death would only be news for a couple of hours before Jackson’s death completely overshadowed her.

Barack Obama Elected (11/4/2008)

At 11:15 PM Eastern, John McCain conceded the election after it was clear that Barack Obama would win and become the first Black person to be elected President of the United States. Earlier that day, Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton died of cancer, and would never know for sure that this was the outcome.

Donald Trump Elected (11/8/2016)

Of course, our whole nation died a little bit on this day. But you know who never lived to find out? Both Leonard Cohen and Janet Reno, who died the day before the election, when polls were strongly suggesting that Hillary Clinton would win the election. They left this mortal coil imagining a Hillary Clinton presidency. They never knew the horror that was to come.

Abraham Lincoln Assassinated (4/15/1865)

Of course it is world news when an American president is assassinated. But even if 1865’s news services got word to Austria the same day, renowned piano manufacturer Ignaz Bösendorfer would not have heard about it, since he died one day earlier.

What other examples can you think of where a notable person completely missed out on a huge event because they died just a tiny bit too soon? Let me know in the comments.

9/11 in 3D

Speaking of 9/11, I’m going to take this moment to resurface a project I did many years ago, presenting a different way of looking at the tragedy.

There was a helicopter circling Ground Zero on 9/11, and CNN had that footage on their website. Since the helicopter was in constant motion, any two consecutive frames from that footage would be separated by a short distance and could be used to simulate what a person might see through their right and left eyes if they were there in person. Using CNN’s footage, I was able to create anaglyph (red/blue) 3D pictures of Ground Zero, showing the viewer a way of looking at the wreckage that they couldn’t see on TV.

If you happen to have a pair of anaglyph glasses handy, take a look:

People who don’t have anaglyph glasses can still get a 3D view (and maybe a little headache) by crossing their eyes until the images converge in these image pairs:

Unfortunately, this was the maximum resolution of the footage CNN had on their site. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to get ahold of the original footage to make the highest-quality 3D images of 9/11 possible for the historical record.

If these samples interest you, I have 16 images of 9/11 in 3D on my old blog that you can take a look at.

I wish I had something more profound to say about the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, but I’ve never been very comfortable talking about it. I can feel a physical reaction in my body when I think back to that day. Breathing gets harder. My pulse gets faster. It’s been twenty years and still it feels like yesterday.

I wrote six different endings here with thoughts on what the past twenty years have been — two steps backwards for every step forward. Race relations. Climate change. Health care. Women’s rights. A pandemic we could have ended if we weren’t our own worst enemies. We’re inching forward and slipping backwards. Ultimately none of my six endings adequately captured the jumble of thoughts and feelings I have right now. So instead of trying a seventh time, I’ll just point you to this wonderful piece in McSweeney’s by Wendy Molyneux that at least captures a little bit of the frustration I feel on a lot of topics these days:

It’s called Oh My Fucking God, Get The Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks and I wish that I had written it.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

David