In what is one of the most famous (or infamous) suicides in history, the great philosopher and founder of the Socratic method ”” and arguably Western thought ”” drank hemlock as punishment for a conviction of "corrupting the youth" and blaspheming the gods. Call him a fool for not recanting, or a martyr for sticking to his guns, but his suicide only helped galvanize secular philosophy, to Plato, Aristotle and the rest of the line.
Composer of the "Ode to Joy" and the "9th," Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, at 56. An autopsy showed that the proximate cause of death was post-hepatitic cirrhosis of the liver, as well as raised competing theories to the root of his deafness.
Tesla was in Manhattan, New York near the time of his death on January 7, 1943, when he was 86. After the coroner assayed the body, he concluded that the cause of death was a coronary thrombosis and that there was no foul play. But, suspiciously, just two days after Tesla's death, the FBI seized his entire estate and everything therein.
In the years leading up to Newton's death, his international acclaim only grew. His theories and methods were ascendent, and he became a household name because of them. But with great fortune came great misfortune, and his digestion started to fail him. After having changed his diet to seemingly no avail, on March 30th, 1727, he suffered an acute pain in his abdomen that knocked him unconscious. He would never wake up but instead passed on the very next day. He was 84.
Einstein was still working at the University of Princeton when, in the middle of drafting a speech for Israel's seventh anniversary, was seized by an abdominal aortic aneurysm that took him to the medical center. He declined the surgery the doctors wanted to administer, saying "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly." He died the morning of April 18, 1955, at 76.
It is perhaps fitting, perhaps cruel that the mother of radioactivity be killed by the very brainchild she brought into this world. Such it was with Marie Curie, who in July of 1934, having checked into a sanatorium in France for symptoms related to radiation poisoning, died of aplastic anemia ”” a condition that can be caused by overexposure to radioactive material.
One of mathematics' greatest minds, Emmy Noether left quite a legacy for today's thinkers. After escaping the Nazi regime, she became a visiting professor at Bryn Mawr College as well as an adjunct at Princeton. But unexpected complications from an ovarian cyst stole Noether away too soon, on April 14, 1935. Einstein said of her after her passing that "Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."
Samuel Clemens, as was his given name, came in with Halley's Comet, and left with it after suffering from a "brief illness," completing its 76-year cycle. In 1909, Clemens even predicted that he would be exiting with the comet, when he wrote...
"I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: `Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'"
The master painter and sculptor was struck down by an illness on February 18, 1564, in Rome, a few weeks before his 89th birthday. When his nephew returned him to Florence he was posthumously given a rousing eulogy and praises.
Da Vinci lived out the last years of his life as "Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King," a role given to him by French Ruler Francis I, in a manor house near Amboise in France. The caustic tone of da Vinci's late letters suggest that maybe the generalist wasn't having such a great time with his concierge, a man named Melzi, and after da Vinci died Melzi's heirs sold da Vinci's estate.
Officially, Queen Elizabeth I (arguably the greatest Monarch the English Empire has ever seen) died of blood poisoning on March 23, 1603. But unofficially, it could be said she died of a broken heart. Her lover Robert Devereaux was put to death on February 25, 1601, and Elizabeth never truly recovered. She became more and more unconcerned with her own wellbeing, as the death toll on those she most cared about was rising.
A titan of the modernist movement in literature, Virginia Woolf is known for both her immense contributions to fiction as well as her unfortunate suicide. In March of 1941, Woolf committed suicide by filling her pockets with stones and walking out into a nearby river, but not before having left a deeply moving, deeply troubled suicide note that leads us to believe she suffered from a form of bipolar disorder.
Hailed as a genius, despised as an autocrat, the father of Apple Steve Jobs died at 56 of pancreatic cancer. A major proponent of alternative medicine and holistic treatments, Jobs ultimately regretted electing for surgery so late in the game, as his biographer stated. Love him or revile him, the world will never bee the same after Jobs.
So, as you can see, it makes no difference if you're a genius or just of average intelligence, or even of below-average intelligence. The truth remains: death catches up with every one of us eventually. Except for Elvis. That dude is still haunting vinyl-covered barrooms in Nevada somewhere.