October 31st used to be approached with apprehension and spine-tingling superstition, but nowadays the overriding energy has been one of thrills and frills, outlandish costume parties, and the threat of sugar-induced cavities just waiting to be billed at your next dentist’s visit.
But like Friday the 13th, there is an undeniable macabre aura tied to Halloween; when unsavory events occur on this day, it’s generally considered unlucky. That’s certainly the case with these four individuals who happened to meet their unfortunate end on a day dedicated to the dead.
1. HARRY HOUDINI
Born Erich Weiz from Hungary, Harry Houdini brought magic and mystery to people’s lives and his talents gave him worldwide renown. His death, however, shrouded him in more mystery than any of his death-defying stunts could’ve mustered…
Detroit, Michigan. October 31, 1926. A ruptured appendix. From autopsy reports, that is the verifiable fact surrounding his demise. But a century’s worth of investigation hasn’t made clear whether it was only a case of appendicitis that brought down a man long revered as invincible.
The cynical believe the magician was poisoned by a renegade band of Spiritualists—Houdini was one of their loudest critics. Others believe a student from Montréal, seeking to verify the strength of the magician’s stomach, killed him by landing a blow Houdini wasn’t quite ready for. Was it death by an overenthusiastic fan that killed the great Houdini?
2. RIVER PHOENIX
Hollywood is no stranger to tragic drug-induced deaths. From Whitney Houston to John Belushi, some of the biggest stars have burnt out as dramatically as they trail blazed onto the entertainment scene. The end chapter of River Phoenix‘s all-too-brief career is no different.
Looking to blow off some steam while wrapping up the filming of Dark Blood, Phoenix visited the West Hollywood nightspot the Viper Club. His brother, actor Joaquin Phoenix, their sister Rain, and then-girlfriend Samantha Mathis accompanied him. A passionate musician, Phoenix was scheduled to perform at the club with friend and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. According to Phoenix’s musician friend and VH1′s Celebrity Rehab counselor Bob Forrest, a change in plans had a disgruntled Phoenix sitting out the jam session, during which he decided to turn his attention to cocaine. That’s when the Stand By Me star started to act strangely.
At that point, he was escorted out of the club and suddenly fell onto the pavement in convulsions. He arrived at the hospital in full cardiac arrest and was too far gone to be revived.
Rumors persist that Phoenix was intentionally given a lethal cocktail of drugs. That suspicion was buoyed by the actor’s well-known dedication to clean living and utmost respect to the body. However, it has since been made known that Phoenix had been struggling with drug addiction for years. He would routinely binge on cocaine and heroine before getting himself back on track. The Halloween of 1993 would turn out differently.
3. INDIRA GANDHI
Though Indira Gandhi was born within the confines of a powerful political family—her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India’s first prime minister—she proved to be a natural leader herself. Groomed in the finest schools and among the company of the world’s leaders, Gandhi’s intelligence and deftness won her praise in the political and public spheres. She became prime minister of India in 1966, just two years after her father was in office. For the most part, she was an effective leader who guided India into a period of regional supremacy and prosperity. But her legacy was also one of heavy-handedness and acute shrewdness.
Gandhi’s more-or-less dictatorial tactics caused her to be ousted out of political power on the grounds of corruption and led to her imprisonment. However, she was re-elected into government just a few years later. In her second wave of leadership in the 1980s, a Sikh uprising overtook the country. Responding with over-the-top violence, Gandhi ordered 70,000 troops to overrun a Sikh gathering inside the Golden Temple. Four hundred and fifty people died as a result. A year later, Gandhi was assassinated by two of her own guards in 1984. Both were of the Sikh denomination. Rumors persist to this day that the CIA spurred the Sikh protests and helped set up Gandhi’s cold-blooded murder.
4. RAMON NOVARRO
Before descending into the pitfalls of alcoholism and old age, Ramon Novarro was as big of a Hollywood star as they come. Known as Ravishing Ramon, he was pegged as the logical successor to Rudolph Valentino. Quite a feat.
At the height of his acting fame, he was bagging $100,000 per film (mind you, this was in the 1920s and 30s) and starred in classics such as Scaramouche (1923), Ben-Hur (1925), and We Were Strangers (1949). Despite his success, he long struggled with his Catholic upbringing and his closeted homosexuality, and his personal struggles led to a drinking problem. As his good looks degenerated, Novarro retired to a more quiet existence in his Laurel Canyon home.
There he frequently solicited male escorts, and it was in one careless instance, that it’d become his last. Believing Novarro kept bundles of cash at his house, brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson phoned the recluse actor one night, posing as would-be companions. Novarro invited them over only to be stripped, tortured, and ultimately killed by the sadistic siblings. In court, they blamed the other for the murder. Novarro’s body was discovered the next day, on Halloween of all days, and became one of Tinseltown’s greatest scandals.