9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths

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For some historical figures, their final act is the most impressive. These are the famous people who predicted their own deaths, whether by means of a fortuneteller, a comet, or a dream. To know how it will all end is a feat unto itself, and it represents a deep sensitivity to the current of life, something that exists outside of fleeting celebrity altogether.

As with stories of mysterious doubles and shape shifters, strange disappearances, or weird coincidences throughout history, premonitions of death are undeniably creepy. There is a nobility in knowing, in questioning the parameters, but the joke is always on the seeker.

Arnold Schoenberg couldn't hide behind the number 13. Abraham de Moivre couldn't escape his own theorem, the one that calculated his lifespan. Mark Twain saw a mirroring of his own life in the passage of Halley's Comet. William Thomas Stead, the "father of the modern tabloid," wrote fiction about ocean liners under attack from the elements, only to sink to the bottom of the sea aboard the Titanic. Frank Pastore made light of his own imminent death on his national Christian radio show, complaining about traffic just hours before a fatal motorcycle accident. Bob Marley wrote lyrics about his macabre visions, and Jim Hellwig made a prophetic speech.

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  1. Abraham Lincoln Dreamed of an ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Alexander Gardner/via Wikimedia Commons

    Though the details are murky, Abraham Lincoln reportedly saw a vision of his own death in a foreboding dream just days before his assassination. Lincoln's fascination with dreams was heavily documented in his letters to his wife, as well as in meetings with his cabinet. According to a lawyer friend, Ward Hill Lamon (who was also tasked with being the president's bodyguard), Lincoln dreamed of a dead body visited by a crowd. Upon asking who the unlucky fellow was, Lincoln learned it was he, and that he'd been killed "by an assassin." Of course, as we know, this all came to pass.

  2. Mark Twain Based His Passing o... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Freebase/Public domain

    Mark Twain had a special relationship with Halley's Comet. According to Twain, the comet was visible at the time of his birth in 1835, so he felt it would have to play a role again in his death, or least be visible once again. Twain felt a kinship with the space oddity: the two celestial bodies were "unaccountable freaks" who "came in together" and therefore "must go out together."

    Though he spoke of the relationship humorously, his words acted as a dire prediction. Seventy-six years after it last appeared, Halley's Comet passed the earth on April 20, 1910. The next day, at his home in Redding, Connecticut, Twain dropped dead of a heart attack.

  3. Influential atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg feared the number 13. Born on the 13th of September, he was convinced that he would eventually die on the 13th of some future month. He began actively avoiding the number, even changing the letter count for the title of his opera Moses and Aaron to Moses and Aron. Schoenberg maintained that his vicious triskaidekaphobia was not based on superstition, but instead on "belief."

    Regardless, the fear was heightened on his 76th birthday, when an acquaintance mentioned that 7 + 6 = 13. On Friday the 13th, 1951, Schoenberg laid low, already suspecting death was near. His wife entered his room to offer some comforting words, but the composer let out a death rattle, and that was that.


  4. Frank Pastore Announced His Ow... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Frank Pastore Show/via Facebook

    Frank Pastore, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins in the 1970s and '80s, and then went on to host the national Christian radio show The Frank Pastore Show, made a very public and portentous comment about his own demise. In his November 19, 2012 episode, Pastore waxed philosophical about motorcycles and mortality. "You guys know I ride a motorcycle, right?" he asked his viewers. "At any moment, especially with the idiot people who cross the diamond lane into my lane, without any blinkers - not that I'm angry about it - at any minute, I could be spread all over the 210."

    Tragically, Pastore was riding his motorcycle on the 210 freeway just hours after the broadcast when a 56-year-old woman drifted into his lane and collided with him. Pastore tumbled off his motorcycle, endured major head trauma, went into a coma, and subsequently died a month later - all as he prophesied.

  5. William Thomas Stead Foresaw the Waves of Doom

    William Thomas Stead Foresaw t... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Freebase/Public domain

    William Thomas Stead, touted as the "father of the modern tabloid," was a fearless investigative journalist who helped raise the age of consent for child prostitution in Britain from 13 to 16. Aside from his work as an editor and activist, Stead was also a writer of fiction and occult poetry. In one of his pieces, The Sinking of a Modern Liner, which he wrote in 1886, Stead described a doomed ocean liner bound for New York City that tragically lacked the required life boats to save the crew.

    "This is exactly what will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats," he warned. Another piece, From the Old World to the New, described a ship called The Majestic that fatefully collided with a deadly iceberg. Stead himself later perished aboard the Titanic.

  6. Bob Marley Knew the Deadly Num... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Jeso Carneiro/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Growing up in St. Ann, Jamaica, Bob Marley apparently harnessed psychic powers. His childhood friend, Allan "Skill" Cole, claims to have witnessed Marley reading palms and telling the future to locals. Later in life, Marley's Rastafarian friends urged him to relinquish his psychic ways, though it was generally acknowledged that he was a prophet.

    Rumors have circulated about what Marley knew in regards to his own death. Some say he (rightly) predicted it would happen at the age of 36, citing Jesus's lifespan as a model. Others argue that the reggae icon was assassinated by the CIA through the use of a pair of boots.

  7. Abraham de Moivre Prepped for the Big Sleep

    Abraham de Moivre Prepped for ... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Freebase/Public domain

    French mathematician Abraham de Moivre, who famously collaborated with Edmond Halley (after whom the comet was named), came up with a theory that could predict an individual's lifespan. At 87, deep into his own lifespan, Moivre started to realize that he was starting to sleep 15 minutes longer each night, and he of course equated this to his coming doom. When these 15 minute segments added up to 24 hours, he deduced, it was over for him. Moivre predicted this would occur on November 27, 1754, and indeed it did! The exact amount of time elapsed, and he expired. The official cause of death? "Somnolence."

  8. Pete Maravich Knew Exactly How... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 9 Historical Figures Who Predicted Their Own Deaths
    Photo: Freebase/Fair use

    "Pistol" Pete Maravich, once voted one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, disclosed a frightening bit of foreknowledge during an interview with the Beaver County Times in 1974. In it, Maravich (who was 26 at the time) said that he didn't want to simply play for 10 years in the NBA and then suddenly "die of a heart attack at the age of 40."

    Alas, this very fate befell him: Maravich wound up retiring six years after that interview due to an injury, lasting exactly 10 years in the NBA, and eventually collapsing from a heart attack at the age of 40 during a pickup game.

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