People Who Changed The World But Died Before They Turned 40
September 24, 2016 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm making a list of folks who did something world-altering but died before turning 40. Historical/political/scientific like Alexander the Great or Srinivasa Ramanujan preferred, recent/pop cultural like the 27 Club, not so much. Thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Linus Pauling was a major figure by age 30 or so. He was about 31 when he explained electronegativity to the world.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:37 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Newton did most of his major work on optics in his 30s.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:40 AM on September 24, 2016


Is dying a requirement? If not, you have to win the Fields Medal by forty.

Also in the math world, Galois died at 20, enabling generations of undergraduates to feel like failures.
posted by hoyland at 9:43 AM on September 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Sorry, dying is a requirement. I saw it in the title, but missed it in the body of your post.
posted by hoyland at 9:44 AM on September 24, 2016


oh, sorry about the dying, I didn't read carefully! Neither of my answers are on point.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:45 AM on September 24, 2016


What about Jesus?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:46 AM on September 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


There are a few mathematicians in addition to Ramanujan and Galois. Riemann and Abel both did foundational work in their fields. Riemann died at 40, Abel at 26.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:48 AM on September 24, 2016


"When Mozart was my age [37] he'd been dead for two years." Gallois and Abel were arguably more significant in the history of mathematics than was Ramanujan. Turing just misses (died at 41).

Pop culture gives us the 27 Club.
posted by mr vino at 9:48 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Frank P. Ramsey was a brilliant logician and philosopher with a tremendous influence on his analytic contemporaries, and died at 26.
posted by dis_integration at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2016


Rosalind Franklin, whose work was essential to understanding the structure of DNA, died at 37.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:51 AM on September 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


Joan of Arc, James Dean, Lady Jane Grey and more.
posted by bunderful at 9:55 AM on September 24, 2016


Anne Frank
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on September 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Michael Ventris read Mycenean Linear B in his 20's and died with he was 34.

What he actually did was to prove that Linear B was a script for the Greek language, when at the time it was generally believed to be a different language entirely.

The enscriptions which could be read afterwards were not very interesting (mainly indicating a smothering bureaucratic state) but the fact that it was Greek rather than something else completely changed our understanding of that era.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:06 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Robespierre (key leader of the French Revolution) was guillotined at age 36.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:07 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Henry Moseley
posted by gudrun at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also think Vincent van Gogh was pretty important.
posted by gudrun at 10:33 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Pushkin died at 37 in a a duel. Henry V, who won at Azincourt, died only 7 years later at 36 and was succeeded by his infant son Henry VI.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:38 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


The poet John Keats was 25 when he died.
posted by FencingGal at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Christopher Marlowe died at age 29.
posted by superlibby at 10:40 AM on September 24, 2016


Princess Diana and Samantha Smith.
posted by SillyShepherd at 10:44 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Chopin died at 39.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:51 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Shelley died at 29, Byron at 36.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 10:56 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dylan Thomas died at 39. I’m not sure any of these poets ‘changed the world’, though.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 10:57 AM on September 24, 2016


Anne Brontë died at 29, Emily at 30 and Charlotte at 38. Jane Austen made it to 41, so she doesn’t quite qualify.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered at 39.
posted by Automocar at 11:04 AM on September 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


Raphael.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:06 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


The director Jean Vigo was hugely influential despite dying at 29 of tuberculosis that was exacerbated by the filming of L'Atalante, his only feature length film.

And his father was an influential revolutionary who was (probably) murdered in prison at 34.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Franz Kafka died when he was 40.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:34 PM on September 24, 2016


Cleopatra died at 39.

And, um, thanks for posting this on the very day of my 40th birthday.
posted by Pryde at 12:34 PM on September 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Malcolm X was killed when he was 39.
posted by mistersix at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


George Gershwin died at 39.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2016


-Che Guevara
-Anne Boleyn
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2016


-John Wilkes Booth
-Gavrilo Princip
-Lee Harvey Oswald
-Mohammad Atta

Basically, lots of infamous murderers/assassins.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 1:34 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


In psychology Lev Vygotsky and neuroscientist David Marr.
posted by Free word order! at 2:07 PM on September 24, 2016


Egon Schiele (artist) died at 28, Stephen Crane ("The Red Badge of Courage") at 29, Alain-Fournier ("Le Grand Meaulnes") at 27, Rimbaud at 37...

Magellan's age of death is listed on Wikipedia as "40-41," Amelia Earhart made it by dying at 39...

It's very hard to figure out 'changed the world.' I have Le Grand Meaulnes in three different translations and think it influenced a lot of major authors -- but I think most people have never read it -- but most people have never read most books. So do we knock Keats off the list? It's a difficult question.

I'm going to stump for Keith Haring (31); Ignorance = Fear et al were powerful anti-Ronald 'can't utter the word' Reagan weapons and (arguably?) did a lot to change how the world confronted AIDS when it first appeared on the scene. His Wikipedia entry quotes another work -- "his imagery has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century" -- which I'd agree with. He was a huge influence in a decade that was dealing with a lot of crazy crap and a lot of terrible elected leaders -- it might be a bit early to say he's changed the world, but there's no way to go back and change our initial response to AIDS and alter the course of how the world first dealt with HIV, and those responses did alter history...

There are a lot of other early AIDS activists whose work altered the course of history there and who died at early ages.

There are also a lot of explorers who, though they may not have had famous names, died, young, alongside the famous explorers -- whose work wouldn't have been possible without the less-famous that accompanied them.

It's uncommon that a historical event/accomplishment can be attributed to just one person. The scientific/political/artistic zeitgeist often needs to be at the right place for somebody to be heard, for somebody to advance an idea to a level where it attracts attention/becomes useful. Important inventions usually require a lot of hard work and failures to precede them. If Elisha Gray had died young, would he make the cut? Sorry, bit of a derail; just musing on why this is a hard question to answer and why you might be getting answers that don't suit.
posted by kmennie at 2:24 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Alexander the Great died in his early 30s.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 3:05 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Crazy Horse was estimated to be 36 or 37 when he died.
posted by FencingGal at 3:27 PM on September 24, 2016


Steven Biko
posted by vunder at 3:30 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nat Turner
posted by vunder at 3:39 PM on September 24, 2016


Sacagawea probably died when she was 24.
posted by dilettante at 5:42 PM on September 24, 2016


Oh, and Meriwether Lewis died when he was 35.
posted by dilettante at 5:44 PM on September 24, 2016


Hank Williams was another who died at age 29.
posted by yclipse at 7:32 AM on September 25, 2016


Lou Gehrig died at age 37.
Nathan Hale was 21.
Tutankhamun was around age 18.
Ryan White was 18.
Marie Antoinette was 37.
Jesse James was 34.
John Dillinger was 31.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:10 PM on September 25, 2016


Wilfred Owen died at 25, in action, almost exactly one week (to the hour) before the Armistice. I'm not sure I would say he changed the world, but he gave it some of its greatest and most quotable war poetry, including a brutal poem (in sonnet form) about the effects of gas.

T. E. Hulme died at 34, also in action, in Flanders. His writings on philosophy, poetry, and aesthetics were crucial to Modernism.

Guillaume Apollinaire, who had suffered a head injury in 1916, was still recovering when he succumbed to the Spanish flu in 1918 at the age of 38. He was a proponent of Cubism and one of the fathers of the Surrealist movement.

And, of course, someone has already mentioned Henry Moseley. So much was lost in that war.
posted by tully_monster at 10:43 PM on September 25, 2016


He died at 41, but I really think Alan Turing deserves an honorable mention.
posted by tully_monster at 10:45 PM on September 25, 2016


John Lennon also deserves an honorable mention - he turned 40 two months before he was murdered.

Jonathan Larson died at 35.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:13 AM on September 26, 2016


Ada Lovelace died at 36.
posted by harujion at 5:44 AM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


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