Day of the Departed: Stories of The Famous Who Died on Halloween

Before it became all about costumes and candy, Halloween was traditionally a time to commune with the dead, a night when spirits were free to roam the Earth. Historically, it's also been a day to die some strange or sudden death.

From fiery car crashes and magic tricks gone wrong, to alleged asphyxiation by art deco dildo, the following notables had some of the worst Halloween holidays ever.

River Phoenix: Died October 31, 1993
Phoenix, an actor who received acclaim for his roles in such films as Stand By Me and Running On Empty, was partying at The Viper Room club on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip when he collapsed on the sidewalk out front and began convulsing. He died at the scene, from an overdose of heroin and cocaine. He was 23. Actor Johnny Depp, who owned The Viper Room at the time, closed the club every year on Halloween until selling his share in 2004.

Harry Houdini: Died October 31, 1926
The famous magician and escape artist died of peritonitis, after sustaining a ruptured appendix. The injury was reportedly caused on October 20, 1926 by J. Gordon Whitehead, a student at McGill University in Canada, who hit Houdini in the abdomen several times to test his claim that he could withstand being hit anywhere above the waist without being hurt. Too bad he didn't give the magician a heads up before pummeling him. Houdini died eleven days later, on Halloween. He was 52.

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Charles Taze Russell: Died October 31, 1916
A minister and founder of the Jehovah Witness' Watchtower literature, Russell was suffering from cystitis (bladder inflammation) in the days leading up to his death. He died on a train near Pampas, Texas on Halloween, while en route to Brooklyn. He was 64.

Indira Gandhi: Died October 31, 1984

Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma) remains the world's longest serving female prime minister. She was the Prime Minister of The Republic of India for a total fifteen years -- until her assassination on Halloween, when two of her bodyguards shot her more than 30 times with a handgun and submachine gun. She was 66.

Greg Moore: Died October 31, 1999
Moore, a Canadian race car driver in the Indy Lights and CART World Series, had several wins under his belt and a promising career in front of him -- until Halloween of 1999, when he died in a violent car crash on the 10th lap of the Marlboro 500 in Fontana, California. Moore was reportedly going more than 200 mph when he lost control of his car on a turn and struck a concrete wall upside-down. He was 24.

Ramon Novarro: Died October 31, 1968

Novarro, known as the "Latin Lover," was a star of silent films, and rumored to have been a lover of Rudolph Valentino. He was murdered in his California home in the early morning hours of Halloween, by two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson, whom Novarro had hired for sex. Novarro was beaten and died of asphyxiation. He was 69. According to Kenneth Anger in his book Hollywood Babylon, Novarro had been choked with a black art deco dildo, allegedly a gift from Valentino, inscribed with his name in gold. This anecdote, although interesting, has never been proven true.

William Woodward Jr: Died October 31, 1955
Woodward Jr. was heir to the Hanover National Bank fortune and a well-known figure in horse racing. After attending a dinner party for the Duchess of Windsor, Woodward and his wife, Ann, retired to their separate bedrooms. Since they suspected a prowler had been on the property, both had loaded shotguns. Sometime in the early morning hours of Halloween, Ann Woodward went into the dark hallway and shot and killed her husband. She said she'd thought he was the prowler. Woodward was 35.

(And one Halloween death wannabe...)
Anton LaVey: Died October 29, 1997
The founder of the Church of Satan didn't actually die on Halloween -- he died two days earlier, from pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs), at a Catholic hospital, of all places. But the date of LaVey's death was incorrectly listed as October 31 on his death certificate (this was allegedly done by Lavey's oldest daughter, Karla). An official examination by the City of Francisco determined the date had been amended illegally, and the death certificate was changed to reflect the correct date of LaVey's passing. He was 67.


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