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Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Eric Arthur Blair was born the son of an opium agent in Bengal, India in 1903 and brought up in an atmosphere of impoverished snobbery, what he called lower-upper-middle class. As a child he was known for his intellectual brilliance and for being withdrawn, morose and eccentric. He became a novelist, essayist and critic whose best known works are staples of high school literature classes. Taking the pen name George Orwell, his anti-utopian political satire Animal Farm (all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others) made him famous and prosperous. A few years later he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four (Big Brother is watching you) as a reaction to the menaces of Nazism and Stalinism. He was hospitalized in London after yet another severe bout of tuberculosis. Orwell’s dying words were “At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” 

Many people have been killed by “empty” pistols

Johnny Ace, an R&B singer, died while playing with a .32 caliber revolver less than an hour after buying a new 1955 Oldsmobile. Curtis Tillman, his bass player, said the band was sitting around drinking and Johnny was waving around this little pistol he always carried. When someone said he needed to be careful with that thing, Johnny said, “It’s okay, the gun’s not loaded, see?” He pointed it at himself, it went bang and Big Mama Thornton ran from the dressing room yelling “Johnny just killed himself.” Billboard magazine said his death created the biggest demand for a record since Hank Williams died two years before. Click here to listen to Ace’s posthumous #1 hit Pledging My Love. Elvis Presley recorded his own version during his last studio session in 1976.

George Nichopoulos (Dr. Nick) was Elvis Presley’s private physician

The New York Times said he became Presley’s doctor after being summoned to Graceland to treat saddle sores on Elvis’ thighs and buttocks. In the year before Elvis’ death, Dr. Nick prescribed for him more than 10,000 uppers, downers and painkillers but denied being a “Doctor Feelgood” who fed his patient’s addictions. Presley’s autopsy showed he weighed 350 pounds and had 10 different drugs in his system. 

The last words Elvis’ hangers-on heard him say were “I’m going to the bathroom to read.”

Hours later, when the chronic constipation sufferer hadn’t returned, his fiancée went looking for him and discovered his cold, dead body on the floor next to the toilet. The book found lying next to him was The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, a story about the Shroud of Turin. According to The Sun, his autopsy revealed a four-month old compacted stool in his bowel.

Isaac Newton was one of the greatest mathematicians and physicists of all time

Most know the story about how an apple fell on his head while he was sitting under a tree. This Aha! moment led to his formulation of the Law of Gravitation and The Three Laws of Motion. His final thought was “I have been like a boy playing with pebbles while the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me.”

Leonardo Da Vinci was a bastard child

His unwed parents raised him as a “legitimate” son and taught him elementary reading, writing and arithmetic. Later on he learned Latin on his own because it was the key language of learning. Da Vinci became an extraordinarily gifted artist, sculptor, architect and inventor who was best known for his paintings of The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. He had a superb intellect, unusually acute powers of observation and exceptionally high standards. As he lay dying, he said “I have offended God and mankind because my work wasn’t as good as it should have been.”


He was considered the greatest painter, sculptor and architect of his time. We know him today for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but mostly for his marble sculptures. His best known works are La Pietà and Statue of David. Another man with extraordinarily high standards, his last words were “I’m still learning.”

Humphrey Bogart was born on Christmas Day in 1899

His mother dressed him in Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits and left his curls uncut. That along with his considered-to-be-effeminate name made him the butt of classmates’ jokes. Bogie, the nickname given him by his friend Spencer Tracy, became the tough guy who starred in the film classics CasablancaThe Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, Key Largo and many more. He thought the Warner Brothers wardrobe department was cheap, so he wore his own suits in the films he made for them. His last words to his wife and frequent co-star Lauren Bacall before going to bed on January 14, 1957 were “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.”  

Never give a sucker an even break

William Claude Dukenfield quit school in the fourth grade to work with his father selling vegetables from a horse cart. He ran away from home when he was 11 after his alcoholic father hit him on the head with a shovel. His first job in show business was as a $5-a-week juggler. When he found his sarcastic patter got him lots of laughs, he changed his name to W.C. Fields and became a comedian.

Fields was a hard-drinking, red-nosed alcoholic who was known for his sardonic wit and grandiloquent vocabulary

Fields spent the last two years of his life in the Las Encinas Sanatorium in Pasadena, California. In his final days, his companion Carla Monti used a garden hose to spray water on the roof of his room to imitate his favorite sound of falling rain. On Christmas day in 1946, Fields’ last words were “I’m looking for loopholes.”

Marie Antoinette was the last queen of France

Her reign was ended when the guillotine dropped, cutting off her head at the neck. Her final words were “Pardon me, sir,” uttered graciously after accidentally stepping on her executioner’s foot. 

Stan Laurel, the skinny little half of Laurel and Hardy, said “I’d rather be skiing.”

Irish comedian Spike Milligan, along with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine, was one of the inventors of The Goon Show. Terry Jones called Milligan “the father of Monty Python.” Milligan got the last word in when he said “I told you I was ill.”


Aware that he was dying, British surgeon Joseph Green said “Stopped” while checking his pulse and keeled over, dead. 

The attending nurse followed standard medical protocol before wheeling her patient into the operating room for a surgical procedure, asking swing era drummer Buddy Rich if there’s anything he can’t take.“Yeah – country music.” 


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