Ten Celebrities Who Spent Their Final Days in Miami
Florida is known as God's waiting room for a reason, and Miami in particular has had its fair share of notable people who spent their last days here — including quite a few you might not have known about.
Edith Bouvier Beale, AKA "Little Edie," Socialite and Documentary Subject
Died January 9, 2002, in Bal Harbour
The first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Edith Bouvier Beale led something of a charmed early life as a socialite and model in Manhattan and Palm Beach throughout the '40s and '50s, but she captured wider attention and infamy as the subject of the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. Along with her mother of the same name (the two were known as "Big Edie" and "Little Edie"), Beale was living in squalor at the family's dilapidating estate, Grey Gardens. Documentarians Albert and David Maysles captured the pair's eccentricities and odd relationship. Though the film was far more well-thought-out than today's reality TV, the public's reaction was strikingly similar. The women, after all, were oddballs living in filth who happened to be related to one of the most glamorous women in America.
Big Edie would die a few years after the film's release. Little Edie would sell the home a few years later and move frequently. She spent about a decade in Miami Beach in the Roney Plaza Apartments (now known as the 1 Hotel), moved around a bit more, and finally settled in Bal Harbour, where she spent the last five years of her life before dying at the age of 84.
The story of the Edies has since received greater attention. Grey Gardens was reproduced as a Tony-winning Broadway musical in 2006 and an Emmy-winning HBO TV movie in 2009. Drew Barrymore played Little Edie in the latter production.
John Jacob Astor VI, the "Titanic Baby"
Died June 26, 1992, in Miami Beach
Remember that scene in Titanic when Rose gossips about the rest of the ship's passengers with Kathy Bates' character, Molly Brown?
"There's the Countess Rothes. And that's John Jacob Astor... the richest man on the ship," she says. "His little wifey there, Madeleine, is my age and in a delicate condition. See how she's trying to hide it. Quite the scandal."
That "delicate condition" was a pregnancy that would eventually produce a baby named John Jacob Astor VI. His father, the fourth John Jacob Astor, would perish on the Titanic, but Madeleine would survive and give birth to the sixth John Jacob Astor, known as "Jakey," a few months later. The press at the time had great interest in Jakey, whom they dubbed the "Titanic Baby."
Jakey never wanted for much but was never quite as rich as other men named John Jacob Astor (two of which, numbers I and III, were the richest men in the world at times). Vincent, his older half-brother from his father's first marriage, received the bulk of the inheritance and refused to share, even wondering publicly if Jakey was truly his brother.
Died May 26, 1972, in Miami
If you've ever watched Comedy Central's late-'90s cult sitcom Strangers With Candy, maybe you wouldn't be surprised to learn that the person who inspired the main character spent large portions of her life in Miami.
Born in the Bronx, Florrie Fisher spent almost three decades as a heroin addict and prostitute, drifting between New York, Florida, and prison. After finally getting clean, she wrote a book, The Way Back, appeared regularly on talk shows, and was a motivational speaker at high schools. One appearance was filmed and aired nationwide as a PSA. It became something of a cult classic, and when Stephen Colbert saw it, he realized Fisher had an uncanny resemblance to his friend Amy Sedaris, giving birth to Strangers With Candy.
Bob Marley, Reggae Icon
Died May 11, 1981, in Miami
The circumstances of Marley's death certainly aren't unknown, but his death isn't as much a part of his legend as other rock stars who died in their prime — to the point where some Miamians are surprised to learn he died here.
Marley developed melanoma under a toenail; citing religious beliefs, he ignored a doctor's advice to have the toe amputated and instead sought out alternative medicine. While on tour in Europe, Marley fell deathly ill and hoped to fly back to Jamaica one last time. He never made it that far, and when he arrived in Miami, where his mother lived, he was taken to what is now University of Miami Hospital before dying.
Marley never lived in Miami, but numerous members of his family, including many of his children, still live in the city.
Olga Guillot, Queen of Bolero
Died July 12, 2010, in Miami Beach
A native of Santiago, Cuba, Olga Guillot established herself as the queen of bolero music in the '50s and toured the world. Opposing the Castro regime, she fled Cuba in the '60s and lived most of the rest of her life in Mexico. However, she kept an apartment in Miami Beach later in life and died here five years ago.
Died January 25, 1947, on Palm Island
Capone was once one of the most powerful and feared Mob kingpins in the nation, but ravaged by syphilis and with the mental competence of a 12 year-old, he died in Miami before he turned 50.
Capone kept a home on Palm Island as a retreat and safe house, thought local authorities tried to run him out of town several times.
Tommy Bolin, Rock Guitarist for Deep Purple and the James Gang
Died December 4, 1976, in Miami
Maybe you haven't heard of Tommy Bolin, but if you're a fan of classic rock, you've likely heard his guitar work. He was the guitarist for bands such as Zephyr, the James Gang, and Deep Purple. He was pegged for solo fame and released two albums under his own name. But while on tour opening for Jeff Beck in Miami, Bolin died of a heroin overdose.
At the end of an interview with the Miami News earlier that day, the journalist told Bolin to take care of himself.
“I’ve been taking care of myself my whole life," Bolin replied. "Don’t worry about me — I’m going to be around for a long time.”
Eddie Arcaro, Greatest Jockey of All Time
Died November 14, 1997, in Miami
Every sport has its legends, even horse racing. To this date, Eddie Aracaro is still the only jockey to win the Triple Crown twice and is the winningest jockey in American classic races. Later he became a well-known spokesman for Buick before passing away in Miami in 1997.
Nam June Paik, Father of Video Art
Died January 29, 2006, in Miami Beach
If you go to any art fairs next month during Miami Art Week, you'll likely see lots of video art. All of those works owe a bit of debt to Nam June Paik, the first person to popularize video as an art form. He died from complications of a stroke in 2006, but his work remains in the collection of major art museums around the world.
Antonio Prohías, Spy vs. Spy Creator
Died February 24, 1998, in Miami
Antonio Prohías was a well-known political cartoonist in his native Cuba — Fidel Castro was a big fan of the artist's anti-Batista cartoons — but Prohías soon turned his pen on Castro, after which the dictator accused him of working for the CIA. Prohías was not a spy himself, but he fled to America and became best known for his Spy vs. Spy cartoons in Mad magazine. "The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel's accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture," he once told the Miami Herald.