It was just about a year ago that a housekeeper at a Homewood Suites in Brandon, Florida, walked into a room to find the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson dead.
“An active and open investigation into his death is underway,” Sports Illustrated reported at the time.
In our era of Covid-19, the rise of online identities, and the general impersonality of the mechanized modern age, dying alone in a hotel room may be as much a symbol of the times as anything. Hotels, despite all their fanciness and frills, can also serve as a symbol of isolation and loneliness in our world. The businessperson always on the run. The room in the hotel chain that looks roughly the same in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, as it does in Des Moines, Iowa. Furthermore, in many country’s hotels have recently served as Covid quarantine centers, and even been transformed into hospitals.
But famous people dying in hotels has long been a part of our culture. We probed the issue some years back, in an article Digital Dying published in February 2013, Dying at the Ritz – Can You Name History’s 3 Most Famous Hotel Deaths? The post detailed the deaths of Nancy Spungen, the girlfriend of Sid Vicious, bass guitarist of the popular 1970s British punk band, the Sex Pistols, who was murdered in Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel, in New York City, on October 12, 1978. And also Oscar Wilde, the famous 19th-century Irish writer, and poet who was convicted of homosexual offenses and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison where his health declined sharply. He developed cerebral meningitis and died on November 30, 1900, lying in bed at a tiny Paris hotel known simply as L’Hotel. “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do,” Wilde famously uttered, before passing on.
For the fast-moving and hard-hitting denizens of our society, whether they be Rock N Roll stars or NFL football players, life often means a life on the road, and hotel rooms are simply a part of that. Away from family and friends, and also familiar doctors and routines, loneliness, depression, and estrangement may be inevitable. In the case of the football player Vincent Jackson, his family members reported him missing and filed a formal missing person’s report on February 11, 2021. On February 12, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s officials located him at Homewood Suites in Brandon, Florida. He spoke with authorities and after assessing his well-being, the missing persons case was canceled. It was on Monday, February 15th that Jackson was found dead.
Some other notable examples of famous people found dead in hotel rooms are as follows…
Michael Hutchence, co-founder of the rock band INXS died on November 22, 1997, in room 524 of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Sydney, Australia. Hutchence had a string of love affairs with prominent actresses, models, and singers. In July 1996, Hutchence and English television presenter Paula Yates had a daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. In the days leading up to Hutchence’s death, he had been involved in a legal dispute over his daughter. According to Yates, Hutchence “was frightened and couldn’t stand a minute more without his baby… [he] was terribly upset and he said, ‘I don’t know how I’ll live without seeing Tiger.’” Hutchence’s body was discovered by a hotel maid at 11:50 am.
And who doesn’t recall Whitney Houston’s tragic hotel death? Houston was one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, with sales of over 200 million records worldwide. Her first two studio albums, Whitney Houston (1985) and Whitney (1987), both peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 and are among the best-selling albums of all time. She is the only artist to have had seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Her singing style was strongly inspired by gospel music and she was known for powerful, soulful vocals and her vocal improvisation skills. She was also a movie star, making her acting debut in 1992 with the romantic thriller film, The Bodyguard. At the time of its release, the film was the tenth highest-grossing film of all time. Houston recorded six songs for the film’s soundtrack, including “I Will Always Love You,” which won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and became the best-selling physical single by a female in music history.
On February 11, 2012, the same day as the 2012 Grammy Awards, Houston was found accidentally drowned in a bathtub in suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Local police said there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent.” The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office reported that Houston’s death was caused by drowning and the “effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.”
Jimi Hendrix, the ultimate Rock N Roll legend, died in room 507 of the Samarkand Hotel on September 18th, 1970, in London, England. He was found by his West German girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, in a coma in bed. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes Hendrix as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” Dannemann was the only witness to his final hours and recounted them as follows. She prepared a meal for them at her apartment in the Samarkand Hotel around 11 pm, and they shared a bottle of wine. She drove him to the residence of an acquaintance at approximately 1:45 am, where he remained for about an hour before she picked him up and drove them back to her flat at 3 am. She said that they talked until around 7 am when they went to sleep. Dannemann awoke around 11 am and found Hendrix breathing but unconscious and unresponsive. She called for an ambulance at 11:18 am, and it arrived nine minutes later. Paramedics transported Hendrix to St Mary Abbot’s Hospital where Dr. John Bannister pronounced him dead.
A post-mortem examination performed on September 21 by Professor Robert Donald Teare, a forensic pathologist, concluded that Hendrix aspirated his own vomit and died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates. Still, a line of thinking persists to this day that he was murdered by the mafia or his manager—or some collaboration between the two. Either way, the final note remains the same, Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27, just like so many other great musicians. “When I die,” Hendrix once wrote. “I want people to play my music, go wild, and freak out an’ do anything they wanna do.”
Another famous Rock N Roll star dead at 27 was Janis Joplin, who died on October 4, 1970, from what has been reported as an accidental overdose of heroin. Joplin was one of the most iconic musicians of the 1960s and died in room 105 of the Landmark Motor Hotel, in Los Angeles. “Today that same lodging still stands, although now it is called the Highland Gardens Hotel,” reports the news and travel site, Atlas Obscura. “The room in which Joplin spent her final hours is still a rentable hotel room, and her fans seem to know it. The closet contains a small brass plaque, commemorating Joplin’s life, and the walls are heavily decorated with fan art and notes, comprising an ever-evolving shrine to the late singer.”
And for weird factor, there is nothing like the unfortunate death of Hollywood “Kung Fu” star David Carradine, who was found dead in a hotel room closet in the Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel, in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 4, 2009. At around 11:30 that morning a chambermaid knocked on the door of suite 352 in the luxurious hotel, which is situated in a quiet garden in central Bangkok. When no one answered, the maid entered and found Carradine in a rather shocking pose. We’ll let you do the work of figuring out the details if you care to.
Unfortunately, the list goes on. In June 2013, James Gandolfini, star of the hit TV show, The Sopranos, was found slumped in the marble bathroom by his 13-year-old son Michael, in a room on the fourth floor of the Hotel Boscolo Exedra Roma, a high-end art deco hotel on Rome’s Piazza della Repubblica. He had suffered a massive heart attack. John Belushi, died in Bungalow 3 on March 5, 1982, at the infamous Chateau Marmont, located on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The hotel was built in 1929 and has been host to a long list of Rock N Roll stars including Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Ringo Starr, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, John Frusciante, and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
And just a few weeks ago, the list of celebrity hotel deaths grew even longer. On January 9, 2022, Bob Saget, the beloved American fatherly figure who long hosted the popular TV show, America’s Funniest Home Videos, was found dead in the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, in Florida. He was on a stand-up tour and had performed in Ponte Vedra Beach the previous evening. “Saget was found unresponsive in his room by hotel staff about 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time,” says the Wikipedia entry for Saget, which has already been refreshed to acknowledge the death. “He had missed his scheduled check-out time, and family members had grown concerned after being unable to contact him. Emergency responders pronounced him dead at the scene; he was 65.”
But there is something of a silver lining even in all of this sadness. Perhaps things can be learned from this trend, about loneliness, isolation, and struggle, and the way we live our lives, and the way we die.
For example, just this past December it was revealed that Vincent Jackson, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers football player who was found dead by a housekeeper at a Homewood Suites in Brandon, Florida, had stage 2 CTE at the time he died. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has affected boxers since the 1920s, the New York Times recently reported. But it has gained attention in recent years for its link to professional football players.
The degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head has been found in the brains of more than 315 former N.F.L. players, the Times reported, including Junior Seau, 43, and Dave Duerson, 50, who were all found to have CTE after their deaths by suicide. More CTE victims include Jovan Belcher, 25, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs who killed his girlfriend before shooting himself in 2012. Aaron Hernandez, 27, a former New England Patriots tight end died by suicide after being convicted of a 2013 murder. And Phillip Adams, 32, an N.F.L. defensive back shot and killed six people in April 2021 before dying by suicide.
“What is surprising is that so many football players have died with CTE and so little is being done to make football, at all levels, safer by limiting the number of repetitive subconcussive hits,” said Dr. Ann McKee, a physician with the VA Boston Healthcare System who treated Vincent Jackson, among other former NFL players. “CTE will not disappear by ignoring it, we need to actively address the risk that football poses to brain health and to support the players who are struggling.”
Which is why just last month Jackson’s family revealed the cause of his death and opened up about it. Jackson’s family said that they donated his brain to a tissue repository where brains are examined, known as the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank and held at Boston University and that they wanted to share the diagnosis to help raise awareness about the disorder.
“There is still a lot to be understood about CTE, and education is the key to prevention,” his widow, Lindsey Jackson, told NBC News. “The conversation around this topic needs to be more prevalent, and our family hopes that others will feel comfortable and supported when talking about CTE moving forward.”
“Vincent dedicated so much of his life to helping others,” she added. “Even in his passing, I know he would want to continue that same legacy.”