Stars Who Died At 40

The following article includes mentions of suicide.

It's never easy to hear about a celebrity's death, whether they had lived a long fulfilling life or whether it was cut short. Hollywood star Betty White died at the age of 99, on December 31, 2021, with her career spanning an incredible eight decades. "The Golden Girls" star was only weeks away from turning 100, but she had done more in a lifetime than others could dream of. On the other hand, several celebs met their fate very young. We've all heard of the infamous 27 Club. It pertains to stars who tragically died at the age of 27, and include rockstars like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain. These untimely deaths have all made us wonder what could have been. 

There are also those celebrities who have passed away at the age of 40. What's different here is that these stars died at the prime of their lives. The stars listed below include influential musicians, actors, designers, and dancers who have touched fans in more ways than one. These stars already had a resume full of impressive accomplishments and were on their way to doing even more, which makes it incredibly saddening to hear about these deaths. 

Paul Walker

Actor Paul Walker is best remembered for portraying Brian O'Conner in the "Fast and Furious" franchise. Walker starred in the first seven installments about street racing, heists, and fast cars. Not only did he work around these incredible vehicles for much of his career, he also had a passion for cars which spanned way before he got the role in the first film, 2001's "The Fast and the Furious."

In 2001, he shared with MTV that he grew up admiring cars. "My father was always into cars. I grew up with all of the various car publications. That's what I read. They were always around the house. My grandfather actually raced factory cars for Ford. I think the whole speed car thing is really in my blood," he explained. 

Sadly, Walker died in a car crash on November 30, 2013. The actor was in the passenger seat of a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT when it crashed in Valencia, California, and burst into flames. The driver of the vehicle, Roger Rodas, also died. A coroner report stated that the car was going over 100 mph when it struck a tree and became engulfed in flames. "The Fast and the Furious 7" had not yet been completed after Walker's death, with his brothers, Cody and Caleb Walker, stepping in as body doubles as CGI did the rest. 

Chris Penn

Chris Penn's most notable roles included portraying Nice Guy Eddie in "Reservoir Dogs," Cesarino "Chez" Tempio in "The Funeral," and Peter Romano in the mafia comedy "Corky Romano." The younger brother of actor Sean Penn, he unexpectedly died at the age of 40 on January 24, 2006. 

Penn died in his Santa Monica, California, home from heart disease with the effects of multiple medications. The Los Angeles County medical examiner ruled his death an accident. They concluded that he died from "nonspecific cardiomyopathy" and added, "We know he had several prescriptions, including promethazine with codeine, which featured predominantly in his death" (via People). It was reported that they had also found Valium, morphine, and marijuana in his system.

Penn's brother, Sean, believed that he had ultimately died because of his weight. At his death, the coroner reported that the actor had weighed 300 pounds. Sean told Larry King during his first interview since his brother's passing, "He had certainly been a fantastically self-abusing guy over periods of his life, but that wasn't the case in the end. I mean, it's a natural death. But a natural death that was brought on by some hard living, but particularly weight."

Caroline Flack

Caroline Flack was a top-rated British television presenter, having worked as the former host of the hit U.K. show "Love Island." Sadly, Flack died by suicide in her home in London on February 15, 2020. 

According to The Guardian, before Flack died, she had been involved in a domestic assault incident with her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, in December 2019. Flack left her hosting gig on "Love Island" because of the incident. The Crown Prosecution Service had initially intended to give Flack a caution for the assault; however, after further investigation, the host learned that she would be charged with assault and prosecuted. A day after she learned her fate, Flack died.

A coroner reported that Flack struggled with mental health and could not face the publicity surrounding the case. "Caroline had fluctuating mental ill health — she had had struggles in the past. In spite of the fact she may have led — to some — a charmed life, actually the more famous she got, the more some of these difficulties increased — she had to deal with the media in a way most of us don't." In 2022, Flack's mother, Christine Flack, asked police to reinvestigate the decision to charge her daughter, stating that the host was mistreated because she was a celebrity. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Alexander McQueen

British fashion designer Alexander McQueen's death at 40 shocked the world. Known for his bold and beautiful creations, he was adored by many celebrities including Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, and even the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton. Sadly, his last show and final runway would be his spring 2010 collection, Plato Atlantis, with the designer returning to what he loved — nature. 

The designer had died of suicide after being found in his London home on February 11, 2010. His death came a day before his mother's funeral. She died on February 2, 2010. The Guardian reported that the death of his mother played a significant role in taking his life, with his psychiatrist stating, "He was very close to his mother. I think on top of the grief he felt there was that one line that had gone from his life and there was very little to live for." His doctor also added that the fashion designer had "felt very pressured by his work" and was depressed. A toxicology report stated that before taking his life, McQueen took a cocktail of drugs, including cocaine, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers.

McQueen's fashion house still lives on despite his death, with Sarah Burton named his successor in May 2010. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

John Lennon

It was a sorrowful day in music history when John Lennon was killed on December 8, 1980. As one of the leading members of The Beatles, Lennon's contributions to music were profound throughout the '60s. Even when the band broke up in the '70s, his solo work continued to amass fans. Indeed, it's safe to say that just about everyone knows who The Beatles are, making Lennon's manner of death much more impactful. 

Lennon was shot several times outside of his Upper West Side home in New York City by Mark David Chapman. The shooter remained at the scene until police took him into custody. Lennon was rushed to the hospital but died from his injuries. Twenty years after the shooting, Chapman spoke with Larry King, expressing remorse for killing the star. He shared that he was jealous of Lennon's fame and wanted his own. "Mark David Chapman was a failure in his own mind. He wanted to become somebody important, Larry. He didn't know how to handle being a nobody," Chapman shared in the third person, adding, "Mark David Chapman struck out at something he perceived to be phony, something he was angry at, to become something he wasn't, to be somebody."

Chapman was eligible for parole in 2000 but has since been denied 12 times. A memorial for Lennon was constructed in Central Park called "Strawberry Fields" with the help of his wife, Yoko Ono, in 1981. 

Adrienne Shelly

Adrienne Shelly was tragically killed just as her film "Waitress" was about to make her into a massive star. Having already proved herself as a Hollywood actor with films like "The Unbelievable Truth" and "Trust," Shelly made her way into the director's chair with 1999's "I'll Take You There." However, it was a movie about a waitress wanting more out of life that spotlighted Shelly's exceptional talents as a writer and director. Sadly, it would become her last film.

According to The New York Times, Shelly was murdered by a construction worker named Diego Pillco in her home in New York City on November 1, 2006. In his confession, Pillco detailed the incident and how he staged the murder as a suicide. However, police matched Pillco's shoe prints found in her bathroom with those in an apartment being renovated below. After pleading guilty to manslaughter, Pillco was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2008. 

In 2021, Shelly's husband, Andy Ostroy, released a documentary titled "Adrienne" about his late wife. In the trailer, Ostroy details his late wife's accomplishments with interviews from former co-stars, including Keri Russell and Paul Rudd. In addition, Ostroy has conversations with their daughter, Sophie, and confronts Shelly's killer in prison. 

Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves was a country star who had so much more to contribute to music before he was tragically killed in a plane crash. A native of Texas, Reeves' career in music began in the '50s with his first song, "Mexican Joe," becoming a country hit. Open to different musical stylings, his 1959 song, "He'll Have to Go," had a pop sound that made its way to No. 2 on the Billboard Music charts. Describing Reeves' knack for conquering different genres, historian Larry Jordan shared to Billboard, "When he became successful, and he had the freedom to experiment, he began gravitating toward the pop world. He was uniquely in his own category, and as a vocalist was in a league with the best crooners of the twentieth century like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Buddy Clark — who was his idol. He was in that league."

Sadly, Reeves died during the most successful period of his life. The star was flying his single-engine plane from Arkansas bound for Nashville, Tennessee, when it crashed on July 31, 1964. Reeves' pianist, Dean Manuel, who was also on board, died in the crash. The biography, "Jim Reeves: His Untold Story," written by Jordan, explained that Reeves was caught in a heavy storm and lost visual reference. As a result, he crashed just south of Music City. 

Despite his death, his music still lived years later, with Reeves' song, "The Image of Me," making its way to the Billboard charts in 1984.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane was a saxophonist who became one of the most influential jazz musicians. His love of music came at a young age, and his talents allowed him to work among famed quartets, including those of jazz artists Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. He also got the chance to work with musical legend Thelonious Monk. In the '60s, Coltrane started his own quartet and released his best-selling album, "A Love Supreme," in 1965. It would become the first jazz album of that era to go platinum.

Coltrane died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at 40 years old. According to Lewis Porter's biography, "John Coltrane: His Life and Music," his death came unannounced to the jazz community. "Coltrane's death shocked everyone, took everyone by surprise," Miles Davis said, adding, "I knew he hadn't looked too good ... But I didn't know he was that sick — or even sick at all." Even after his death, Coltrane continues to remain an influential figure in the jazz world.

Stephen 'tWitch' Boss

Stephen 'tWitch' Boss' love of dancing made him into a star. He found fame as the runner-up of Season 4's "So You Think You Can Dance" and returned to the show as an All-Star and a judge. Boss' most notable role was DJ and co-host on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," where he had worked since 2014. Boss became a co-executive producer of the daytime talk show in 2020 and worked with DeGeneres until the show ended, with its final episode airing in May 2022. 

Boss died on December 13, 2022, in Los Angeles, with the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner confirming that he had died by suicide. His wife, Allison Holker, who he met on "So You Think You Can Dance," had also confirmed her husband's death telling TMZ, "He was the backbone of our family, the best husband and father, and an inspiration to his fans ... Stephen, we love you, we miss you, and I will always save the last dance for you."

The couple, who wed in December 2013, became dancing fixtures on social media. They welcomed two children — Maddox and Zaia, while he was also a stepfather to her daughter, Weslie.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.