Inside Redbubble

6 Artists Who Predicted Their Own Deaths

I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all. In fact, I’d say I’m a seasoned skeptic about all things coincidental and serendipitous. Because of this, when I read about American writer John Dunne predicting his own death in 2003, I began to research extensively artists who in some capacity, felt they were going to die very soon. It fascinated me that anyone could feel death before it arrived. I found it even more interesting that these people at least experienced something that made them need to say to the world that they thought they were on the way out. What is that feeling? And where does it come from? This skepticism led me to some pretty interesting coincidences, and only a handful of truly bizarre “prophecies.” Believing we can ever feel death in any form is quite a personal endeavor, and it’s an interesting thought to mull over. In terms of these artists, this is really all we know: all of these artists felt an urgent and specific time that they would meet the end, and all of these creative people did actually die between 1 and 30 days of communicating that the end was nigh.

Mark Twain photograph by Brady-Handy

1. Mark Twain

Twain predicted the exact date of his own death. According to the book “Mark Twain: A Biography,” which you can read for free over here, in 1909 he was quoted as saying:

“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.'”

Twain’s prophetic assumption was realized, and he died from a heart attack on April 21, 1910, reportedly just 24 hours after the comet came as close to Earth as it ever had before.

2. Jackie Wilson

One of the best rhythm and blue singers ever, Jackie Wilson’s death reads kind of like a really awkward joke. Which is what the audience he was performing for thought they were witnessing. Known for his stunning dancing and on stage antics, when Wilson started to struggle to stand during a performance of one of his hits “Lonely Teardrops” while singing the line “my heart is crying” he was actually dying of a heart attack.  On live TV. He was successfully revived on stage from a bystander after a few minutes (when they realized he wasn’t joking) but later died in hospital.

You can read it in the book “Icons of R & B and Soul” here in detail, and an entire live TV audience did see it too. 

John Gregory Dunne, Miami Book Fair International, 1989

3. John Gregory Dunne

John Gregory Dunne collaborated with his wife Joan Didion, writing as journalists, screenwriters, and novelists for 40 years. After Dunne’s unexpected — and prophesied — death in 2003, in which he urgently expressed two weeks before his death that he was going to go soon, he died while eating dinner at his home in New York two weeks later, as predicted. Dunne was so convinced he would die that he and Joan went to Paris to visit, as Dunne wanted to see Paris again before he died.

Joan Didion wrote in her memoir “A Year Of Magical Thinking” (for which she won a Pulitzer Prize) of the experience of her daughter and husband dying within 18 months of each other that John had seemed annoyed he’d spent a long time writing about something he didn’t truly care about because he felt he was about to die.

“He said that his current piece in The New York Review, a review of Gavin Lambert’s biography of Natalie Wood, was worthless…‘Why did I waste time on a piece about Natalie Wood,’ he said.”

Didion wrote that he “had a feeling” in those two weeks that the end was coming. As Dunne had a heart attack during dinner, Didion called an ambulance and he died within the hour. You can read more about it here, or for the entire story told firsthand, read “A Year Of Magical Thinking.”


via @MikeyWelsh71

4. Mikey Welsh

Mikey Welsh was a prolific American artist and musician. He found fame early as the bass player of Weezer, and enjoyed a productive painting career. In an uncanny turn of events, Welsh Tweeted about a premonition in a dream that he died of a heart attack in his sleep in Chicago. Two weekends later, he died in his sleep in a hotel room in Chicago from a drug overdose. It was a tragic and untimely death coupled with Welsh’s bizarre Twitter assertion.

Arnold Schönberg via the Schönberg Archives at USC Photo by: Florence Homolka

5. Arnold Schoenberg

Austrian composer and artist Arnold Schoenberg had a bad case of triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13. And it apparently killed him. According to his friend Katia Mann, which is recorded in his book, he was so scared of dying in a year that was a multiple of 13. For example he was petrified of his birthday in 1939 (he was turning 65). In 1950, Schoenberg was turning 76 years old, and his stupid friend Oskar Adler wrote a letter to Schoenberg warning him that the coming year was “critical” because 7 + 6 = 13. This freaked him right out, and he became convinced he would die on his 76th birthday, Friday the 13th of July. In a letter Schoenberg’s wife wrote Arnold’s sister his wife Gertrude is quoted as saying, “About a quarter to twelve I looked at the clock and said to myself: another quarter of an hour and then the worst is over. Then the doctor called me. Arnold’s throat rattled twice, his heart gave a powerful beat and that was the end.” He died at 11.45 pm, 15 minutes before the day was out. His death was of natural causes, sometimes recorded as heart failure, and often as being “scared to death.”

You can read more about it here, or you can look it up in this book.


6. Johnny Cash

In the interview above, Johnny Cash quite poetically explains that he feels that death is coming to him. Within a month of this interview Cash passed away. He didn’t predict the date, or the comet, or the location like others, but he does speak of a a feeling that he “expects his life to end soon.” It’s Cash’s last interview, and is a nice conversation to ponder our understanding of our own mortality. I don’t think Cash predicted his death in the same way as someone like Mark Twain, but perhaps there is an inexplicable quality about the relationship we have subconsciously with our body.

Have you known someone to have felt death approaching? Do you think these are all purely coincidence? We’d love to hear your thoughts or share links to similar stories in the comments. 

"75/364" by Bethany Holland