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They went that-a-way.

From They Went That-a-Way by Malcolm Forbes, Copyright (C) 1988 by Malcolm Forbes. Reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster.

How we come into this world is routine . . . how we leave is very personal.

Editor's note: When Malcolm Forbes, a billionaire magazine mogul and the author of six books, was asked why he would want to write about death, his response was: "This is not . . . about death, but rather about satisfying an oft-expressed curiosity on the part of 'We, the Living.'"

Because death is life's only certainty, and because being against it isn't apt to affect the result, Forbes feels that dwelling on the subject can be a woeful wanton waste of time. However, reflecting on the number of times in casual conversation a well-known name pops up and someone asks, "Whatever became of him/her?" he set about recording the extraordinary "exits" of some of history's most famous and infamous personalities. In doing so, he uncovered some pretty fascinating stuff, including one famous person who died enjoying The Saturday Evening Post.

Benjamin Franklin

January 17, 1706-April 17 1790 Benjamin Franklin said it: "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes." The wise and wisecracking self-made statesman helped lead a revolution over taxes, but when his death was near he welcomed it with characteristic good humor. Franklin celebrated life and ascribed much of his happiness to two simple health tips: hot baths and cold fresh air. He slept with an open window and he said"I rise almost every morning and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but, on the contrary, agreeable."

It might have made him happy, but it didn't keep him well. Franklin had severe lung ailments as a young adult and he suffered gout for decades. While minister to France in 1782, he developed a painful bladder stone that restricted his activity for the rest of his life. After he returned to Philadelphia in 1785, ending 25 years of diplomacy abroad, his pain grew worse so that by 1789 he was almost bedridden. His characteristic chubby form was diminished by the pain-relieving opiates he took. "For my own personal ease, I should have died two years ago," he wrote to George Washington after his inauguration in 1789. "But, though those years have been spent in excruciating pain, I am pleased that I have lived them, since they have brought me to see our present situation"-namely, the new nation.

In early April 1790, Franklin developed an abscess in his left lung that left him barely able to breathe. He continued to write and entertain visitors between fits of pain. During one bad spell he told a visitor, "Oh-, no, don't go away. These pains will soon be over. They are for my good, and besides, what are the pains of a moment in comparison with the pleasures of eternity?" On April 12 the pain suddenly subsided. Franklin got up from his bed and asked that it be made up fresh so he could "die in a decent manner." His daughter told him she hoped he would recover. "I hope not," he replied.

On April 17 the abscess in his lung burst. Someone suggested he shift his position in bed so he could breathe more easily. "A dying man can do nothing easy," Franklin said, then fell into a coma. Death overtook the 84year-old at 11 p.m. as his two grandsons watched. His doctor believed that Franklin himself had caused the fatal lung ailment by sitting for hours before an open window. Franklin might have gotten a kick out of that. After all, his Poor Richard said, "Nine men in ten are suicides."

Warren Harding

November 2, 1865-August 2, 1923

"My God, this is a h-- of a job!" Warren Harding said of his presidency. "I have no trouble with my enemies; I can take care of my enemies all right. But my d-- friends, my g-d- friends, they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!" Harding was hardly the most capable man to live in the White House. The prominent Ohio newspaper editor and Republican got there in 1920 by being handsome and likable, which was just what voters wanted after the stormy years of Woodrow Wilson. Harding wasn't a strong leader, nor was he especially bright. He left much of his work to his aides, who would present him with simplified versions of the complicated problems of the nation. Still, Harding compl"I never find myself done."

By the third year of this term, in the spring of 1923, it became clear that Harding had left far too much to his aides. The director of the Veterans Bureau, Charles Forbes, was caught selling government supplies illegally, and he fled to Europe. Shortly after, Charles Cramer, the Veterans Bureau's general counsel, who was in on the scam, shot himself in the head. Several weeks after that, the Attorney General's private secretary, who ran his own racket selling liquor licenses during Prohibition, also shot himself in the head. At the time the scandals remained private, and the public was told the suicides had resulted from financial and health problems.

But Harding knew the real stories would get out sooner or later. Already weak from an illness, and depressed over his unruly aides, Harding that summer embarked on a cross-country trip to Alaska. The President wanted to get away from Washington and also hoped to drum up support during his train stops. But Harding couldn't get over his anxiety about the simmering scandals. When his ship, returning from Alaska, rammed an escort vessel in heavy fog as it entered Puget Sound, Harding didn't leave his cabin but grumbled, "I hope the boat sinks."

Safely on shore in Seattle, Harding was giving a speech on July 27 when he seemed to become dazed. Later that evening the President collapsed. He was rushed to his train, which sped to San Francisco. The White House physician diagnosed the problem as ptomaine poisoning that Harding had gotten from eating crabmeat. But once the President arrived in San Francisco on July 29 and was examined in his suite at the Palace Hotel, doctors correctly diagnosed that Harding was suffering from heart trouble and pneumonia. Harding rested in bed and seemed to get better. But on August 2 at 7:30 p.m., as his wife was reading to him a highly complimentary article about him from The Saturday Evening Post, called "A Calm Review of a Calm Man," Harding suddenly shivered and died.

Doctors said either his heart wall had ruptured or a blood vessel in his brain had burst. Either way, Harding's death stunned the nation, which had been told only that he had eaten some bad crabmeat. The suspicions about what really had killed the President began when it was learned that Harding hadn't even eaten any crabmeat. After Harding's wife, Flossie, refused to allow an autopsy, there were rumors that she had poisoned him. And after the Harding administration scandals began breaking a few months after his death, there were rumors that Harding had killed himself.

There wasn't a shred of evidence to support either claim, but the coming months and years provided plenty of motives. Within three months of Harding's death the real story of the Veterans Bureau broke, as did the more serious Teapot Dome scandal, in which Harding's men sold oil leases for bribes. Harding's Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, was deeply investigated by the Senate for improprieties that involved a group of Harding's friends known as the "Ohio gang." Several of Harding's administration ended up in prison.

Closer to home, a woman named Nan Britton published a book in 1927 called The President's Daughter, in which she alleged that Harding was the father of her illegitimate child and that their affair had lasted well into the White House. Later it was revealed that Harding had carried on a long affair with the wife of a leading businessman in his hometown of Marion, Ohio. It also became known that Harding drank and served liquor in the White House during Prohibition.

Harding once said "I cannot hope to be one of the great presidents, but perhaps I may be remembered as one of the best-loved." Perhaps not, but at least he wasn't around to know it.

Leslie Howard

April 3, 1893-June 1, 1943

Leslie Howard, the handsome, wistful actor who played the noble Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, was regarded just as honorably off the screen. As early as 1939, when it was apparent that England might be headed for war, the British actor gave up his soaring Hollywood career as a romantic leading man to retum home and help the war effort. He acted in and directed a series of moraleboosting war movies and conducted half-hour encouraging radio shows. Just like the characters he portrayed in his films, in real life "he was a gentleman with guts," one friend said.

In the spring of 1943, Howard went to Spain and Portugal for a lecture tour on filmmaking and to explore the possibility of producing movies there. On his way back to England on June 1, he was one of 13 passengers on a British Overseas Airways DC-3 that took off at 9:40 a.m. from Lisbon. More than an hour later, as the plane flew high above the clouds over the Bay of Biscay, it was attacked by six German fighter planes. That was unusual, because the civilian plane was on what had been considered a neutral night path. No planes had been disturbed along the route in three years of war.

The pilot radioed for help, and that was the last ever heard or seen of the flight. One of the German flyers said later that he saw the plane burst into flames and dive toward the sea. The back door of the plane was pushed open, and the German saw four men jump out. Only one parachute unfurled, and that caught fire, sending its carrier plunging with the rest.

Was Howard just another innocent victim of the war? That has never been made entirely clear. It is most widely believed that the plane was shot down because the Germans thought Winston Churchill was on board. The British Prime Minister was known to be in North Africa and presumed to be heading home soon. Another passenger on the flight, Alfred Chenhalls, an accountant and Howard's tax adviser, looked somewhat like Churchill and smoked equally large cigars.

But it is also possible that Howard was the real target. German leaders were known to be angered by his propaganda work. More mysterious are reports that Howard met with German spies while he was in Lisbon and that he was on some kind of British reconnaissance mission himself.

Whatever the cause, Howard's death shocked England like few others. One chronicler said the actor had been deeply popular because he characterized the "chronic disillusionment" between the wars. "He fitted well into the pause between battles and will be remembered not only because he was an accomplished actor but because he suited the mood of those moments." That he was dead was yet another reminder that the pause was gone forever.

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller

July 8, 1908-January 26, 1979

Any man whose birth was announced on the front page of the New York Times, who served every president since FDR except Kennedy, who sought the presidency three times and was vice president under Ford and governor of New York for 15 years certainly would expect to receive substantial attention when he died. What Nelson Rockefeller, also a grandson of the founder of Standard Oil, probably didn't expect was the sloppiness of the event.

The first report, emblazoned with a three-column headline on the front page of the New York Times Saturday morning, announced that Rockefeller had died of a heart attack at 10:15 the night before while working at his desk on the 56th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan. According to longtime family spokesman Hugh Morrow, Rockefeller had had dinner with his family at their Fifth Avenue duplex before he went to the office. A bodyguard had been unable to revive him, Morrow said,

Later Saturday, Morrow recanted his first statements. Rockefeller had died not in his main office but in his town house at 13 West 54th Street, which adjoined another of his offices. And he hadn't suffered the heart attack at 10:15 p.m. but after 11 p.m., just before 911 emergency medical services was called at 11:16. Morrow said police had found Rockefeller lying unconscious on the living-room floor. Also present, he said, were a bodyguard and a 31 -year-old woman with whom Rockfeller had been working, Megan Marshack.

That was grist for Sunday's newspapers. By Monday, along with solemn accounts of the funeral, they were publishing the transcript of Marshack's frantic call to 911: "It's death! It's immediate! Please!" the transcript said. Marshack, the stories said, was 25, not 31. She had been a reporter for the Associated Press before joining Rockefeller's staff in Washington in 1975 when he was vice president. She was one of the few who had been kept on when he returned to private life in New York in 1977. Marshack and Rockefeller had been working on a book about his modern art collection when he died, according to the newspaperstories.

The revisions continued. It turned out Rockefeller's heart attack did occur at 10:15 p.m.-an hour before 911 was called-and Marshack hadn't made the call. A voice analysis of the tape confirmed that help had been summoned by Ponchitta Pierce, the hostess of a weekend NBC-TV show who owned a co-op in the same building as Marshack a few doors from Rockefeller's town house. Pierce had gone over to the town house after Marshack called her, then returned home after calling 911.

Also it turned out there had been no bodyguard in Rockefeller's town house, only Marshack and the former vice president. Although Morrow said Marshack was wearing a long black hostess gown, the New York Daily News called it a housecoat and said there were no papers to indicate that they had been working on the art book, only food and wine sitting on a table.

Whether there was more to the story or not was never published, though it certainly has been the subject of much speculation and rumor. The final note came at the reading of the will. Rockefeller had forgiven a $45,000 loan he'd given Marshack so she could buy her co-op.

Babe Ruth

February 6, 1895-August 16, 1948

"The Bambino," "The Sultan of Swat," "Wizard of Wham," "Bazoo of Bang." Sportswriters stretched further and further to tag baseball's greatest legend, the owner of 54 major-league records, including 714 career home runs and 60 home runs in one season, both of which stood for more than 30 years. The stocky, pugnosed New York Yankee fielder was always affable but also knew his worth. At the height of the Depression, in 1931, he was pressured to take a $10,000 pay cut in his $80,000 salary. "Root," said Yankees owner Colonel Ruppert, "last year you earned more money than President Hoover. "H-," Ruth replied, "I had a better year than Hoover."

It was in 1946 that Ruth began suffering severe headaches and hoarseness in his throat. In November he checked into a hospital when the left side of his face became so swollen he couldn't swallow food. Doctors removed a tumor in his throat but were unable to excise the source of the growth, lodged in the air passage behind his nose. Ruth apparently never knew he had cancer. Bob Considine, who helped Ruth write his autobiography, said, "It was d-- hard to work with a man who was dying, dying as resentfully as Babe was."

Ruth's bitterness stemmed from his years of retirement. The occasional cheers at old-timers' baseball games couldn't fill the daily routine of his 20-year career, and he was frantic for something to do. After a series of misguided ventures, including a stint as a wrestling referee, Ruth tried to get a job-any job-with the Yankees a couple of months before he became ill. His old team turned him down. Just after his major surgery he jumped at the opportunity that spring to promote baseball leagues on a national tour and logged 50,000 miles. That summer, despite a painful relapse, he gladly appeared to accept several awards around the country.

At the same time, he grew weaker and his voice more gravelly. On June 13, 1948, Ruth returned to Yankee Stadium to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The House That Ruth Built." To thunderous cheers, the drawn, white-haired idol walked slowly from the dugout to home plate, using a bat as a came. His wife said he cried that night and most of the next day.

Ten days later Ruth was admitted to Memorial Hospital. He asked why he had been taken to a cancer hospital, and doctors convinced him that other patients were treated there as well. On July 21, Ruth was so ill that a priest administered the last rites. But five days later he showed up at the premiere of a movie, The Babe Ruth Story. He was supported on both arms and was so weak that he had to leave halfway through the film.

On August 12 the story of Ruth's condition-which had been followed regularly in the press for a year and a half-moved to the front page with the announcement that the ballplayer was critically ill. Medical updates were released three times a day, and hundreds stood vigil outside the East Side hospital, including dozens of children who weren't even old enough to have seen their idol play ball. Taxi drivers would stop in front of the hospital and run inside to get the latest word. More than 15,000 messages and telegrams poured in. Many were from people Ruth had visited when they were in the hospital, like 17-yearold Margie Reardon of Paterson, New Jersey, who wrote"Dear Babe, you told me to put up a good fight. Now, I hope you'll do the same thing. You are in all our prayers."

On the morning of August 16, Ruth, who had grown less bitter and more resigned, told one visitor, "Don't come back tomorrow. I won't be here." That evening, at 6:45, he suddenly got up out of bed and started to walk across the room. The doctor led him back to bed and asked, "Where are you going, Babe?" Ruth replied, "I'm going over the valley." At 7:30, he fell into a coma, and a half hour later he died.

An estimated 77,000 people passed by his closed coffin at Yankee Stadium. A few days later 75,000 lined Fifth Avenue in the rain for his funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and another 100,000 watched the procession to Westchester County, where the Babe was buried in Gates of Heaven Cemetery.
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Title Annotation:deaths of famous people
Author:Forbes, Malcolm S.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1989
Words:3203
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