So many deaths, so many to whittle down into a Top Ten list. Most famous? Most greatly missed? Worldwide sympathy to the widow, widower, or family?
Maybe the best measure is how much their deaths either inspired people or changed the course of human history.
Elvis - It's been more than thirty years since he died, but he's still a big draw. The films, the trinkets, and millions of impersonators continue to rake in the bucks. One unique thing about Elvis is that he became more of a marketing phenomenon after he died than during his lifetime. In real life, he was a country boy who made the big time, and then found himself surrounded by an entourage that both helped him and hurt him at the same time. Elvis Presley may have been a pill-popper and fallen off the toilet when he died, but he's still The King. Ask anyone working the tour at Graceland.
Martin Luther King - Up until the day he died, James Earl Ray denied being the one who fired the fatal shot at King. But Ray was identified as the purchaser of the rifle, although a second man in the store giving him advice was never identified. After the shooting, Ray fled to Canada and then on to Europe before finally being caught at Heathrow Airport in London. King's assassination was certainly a conspiracy, but only trigger man Ray was ever brought to justice. Years later, the King family went public and said they believed James Earl Ray was not the killer, but the evidence inexorably points toward him to this day.
King's death was felt around the world and slammed the Civil Rights movement into high gear.
Forty years after King's assassination, America elected its first African-American President.
JFK - Was it a coup, a conspiracy, or the lone act of Lee Harvey Oswald? Did J Edgar Hoover or the CIA plan his murder, or perhaps some angry Cubans? Was Oswald just a 'patsy' as he claimed to the press after his arrest? Did another shooter wait in hiding on the grassy knoll as a sort of insurance? Is the Warren Commission's report full of lies or is the real truth closer to the Oliver Stone film version?
The debate will continue forever unless a smoking gun is discovered.
John F. Kennedy is often held up as an example of a great American President. But the truth is we don't know for sure because he never made it through his first term. He did put America on the road to the moon and gave inspiring speeches. He got us started down the 'road to physical fitness' and he was certainly the undisputed King of Camelot, with wife Jackie by his side as queen.
But JFK also was responsible for the Bay of Pigs fiasco and may have cheated on Jackie with Marilyn Monroe. He was a legacy from a family who raised their children to become legacies, but his Presidency has become bigger than life.
Like many of the Kennedys', his influence on the world is still felt today. There will always be an air of mystique and tragedy about a family that has influenced American thinking for half a century.
JFK's death left a big hole in the soul of Americans, and his assassination is the twentieth-century equivelent of the death of Abraham Lincoln. His death has been pointed to as one of the reasons the Vietnam War escalated into a full-blown conflict that tore the country apart for a decade.
People will continue to probe into November 22, 1963 for a hundred years. Whether they will ever find the truth is a matter of conjecture.
Amelia Earhart - Talk about a search-and-rescue that never ends. People will NEVER give up looking for Earhart. Maybe in the future someone will stumble onto the evidence that she survived the crash with navigator Fred Noonan and lived out her life on a remote island in the South Pacific. She would be well over a hundred years old by now. Or maybe she just got lost, ran out of gas, and crashed into the ocean. The TIGHAR Organization is the latest entity carrying on the search for Earhart.
The truth is that Amelia was never more than an average pilot, but she tried hard and she was one of the first to understand the value of promotion. It's been said that her marriage to George Putnam, her main promoter and the front man for the money, was a marriage in name only.
Back in those days, the press didn't probe too hard into America's heroes and no one will ever know for sure. The more likely explanation is that Earhart was simply a woman who put flying above all else, even love and marriage.
James Dean - For a guy who only made three films, Dean has a lot of impact on young people, even more than fifty years after his death. The phrase 'live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse' could have been written by him. In his first film, East of Eden, he often went off-script and just invented his own interpretation of a scene. His 'dance' in the beanfield was one. The other was a famous scene where he was supposed to run away from his father, (played by Raymond Massey) but instead he embraces Massey and cries. The ad-lib shocked Massey, but director Elia Kazan left the scene in the final cut of the film.
Dean brought teenage rebellion and youth angst into the mainstream. He received his only Academy Award after his death, (Best Actor for East of Eden and was nominated for a second Best Actor award - also posthumously - for Giant.) In a strange twist of fate, exactly seven days before Dean was killed, actor Alec Guinness saw Dean's modified Porche Spyder outside a restaurant and told Dean the car looked 'sinister,' adding: 'If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.' Guinness was right.
Princess Diana - Everyone cried the day she died, and in Britain they STILL cry. Mary Poppins would have called her one of those 'practically perfect people'. If you look up the word 'unselfish' in the dictionary, you'll find her picture there. As the singer Dion once said: 'Only the good die young', and she certainly fit the bill. Diana is one of the rare people that no matter how long it has been since she died, you still miss her just as bad as when you first heard about it.
There is really nothing good in Diana's death, but the fact that she died in a traffic accident, rather than being assassinated, gives some small comfort. That could happen to anybody - even a princess.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt - More than any other U.S. President, FDR changed the fabric of America. Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the FDIC were all instituted during his four terms as President. His New Deal had mixed results, but he was able to put many people to work during a time when jobs were virtually non-existent.
The public was unaware of Roosevelt's health problems and went into shock when he died suddenly from cerebral hemorrage. Chain-smoking, overwork, and the stresses of dealing with a nation going through a Depression and a World War had finally taken the ultimate toll. It has been speculated that had FDR lived a few more months, he would not have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but used it as a demonstration to the Japanese to convince them to surrender.
Mahatma Ghandi - He was the precursor to Rosa Parks and the American Civil Rights Movement. He forced the British to grant independence to India without firing a shot. Although Ghandi was loved by millions, he was also not without enemies. In fifteen years at least five attempts were made on his life, so many in fact, that he grew philosophical about it, saying: 'If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.' This was two days before his assassination in 1948.
Of Ghandi, Martin Luther King said in 1955: 'Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics...'
Ghandi was also a prolific writer. When his Collected Works of Mahatma Ghandi was published in the 1960's it encompassed over 50,000 pages and a hundred volumes.
Buddy Holly - Elvis may have been The King, but Holly was the clean-cut guy who helped bring rock-and-roll into the mainstream, freeing it from accusations of being 'the devil's music'. He was the final nail in the coffin to previous versions of American pop, and an inspiration to future artists, who often covered his songs.
If not for Holly, songs like How Much Is That Doggie in the Window would have continued to be the norm.
There are a lot of myths about the plane crash that took his life, but you can view the real story in detail on Newsvine HERE.
John Lennon - You either loved him or you hated him. Lennon was always willing to do what it took to reach success, stretch the limits, and piss people off to no end. Sometimes he did all three at the same time. He had a love-hate relationship with the public and the press that could change from day-to-day.
The public loved him when the Beatles took America by storm. They hated him when he later compared the Beatles' popularity to Jesus Christ.
They loved him each time the Beatles cut a new album. They hated him when he married Yoko and ditched the Beatles, but at the time he quit, Apple Records was losing between 2500-5000 British pounds a week.
The world went into mourning on the day Lennon was shot in the back by Mark David Chapman. And even if you didn't like Yoko for her supposed role in the breakup of the Beatles, you felt sorry for her. Today, out of all the songs recorded or written by John Lennon, the one he is remembered for most isn't even a Beatle tune, but the song that became his life's anthem: Imagine.