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Ten Terrifying Times Star Athletes Foretold Their Own Deaths
There are few things more upsetting to fans than seeing their hero tragically cut down. Athletes the world over are larger than life during their playing days. Their talents transcend what we mere mortals can do. The memories they deliver to fans with on-field glory leave a lasting impact long after they’re gone. But athletes aren’t immortal. And they are also often interviewed in the media because of their public-facing jobs. Combine those two facts, and occasionally the craziest of fates come together.
In these ten cases, high-profile pro athletes and sports stars inadvertently called their own deaths before they ever happened. These accidental passing predictions are creepy in their accuracy. The legacy left behind by these sports stars makes their eerie deaths all that more unsettling. Now, we look back with wonder at how these stars were able to see their own future fates before they ever happened.
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10 Pete Maravich
Unfortunately, Pete Maravich may have made the most accurate death prediction in all of history. The pro athlete was an NBA star in the 1970s. After a stellar college career, he had a long run playing with the Atlanta Hawks and the New Orleans Jazz. But he eventually walked away from the game in 1980. And well before that, during the height of his career, he eerily predicted his future untimely death in a newspaper interview.
Maravich was playing with the Hawks in 1974, and he wasn’t getting along with the fans. Ticket holders didn’t care for his brash style of play. Some even showed up to games in Atlanta with signs calling him a “hot dog” and other jeers. Quickly, the taunts ate at Maravich. That year, when the Beaver County Times asked him about the fans, the star shooter pondered his future. The sportswriter who interviewed Maravich, Andy Nuzzo, recalled how the NBA star was trying to explain how “he didn’t need basketball, that he could do something else.” But Pete’s actual words were far more specific. In turn, they would become downright chilling. “I don’t want to play 10 years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at age 40,” Maravich told Nuzzo during that 1974 interview.
For years, the sportswriter forgot about the quote. But then Maravich retired after the 1980 season, capping exactly a decade in the NBA. And eight years after that, in 1988, Maravich died of a heart attack. He was exactly 40 years old. When Nuzzo looked back on his interview with the deceased legend later that year, his jaw dropped. “That’s a little scary,” Nuzzo recalled after Pete’s 1988 passing. “The story was laying on my desk when I got to work. I read it and read it and read it and read it. I couldn’t believe it. Everything matched.”
9 Rowdy Roddy Piper
Rowdy Roddy Piper spent his life in the pro wrestling ring. He earned himself a loyal legion of fans during the long prime of his career. But years after the peak, he was still wrestling. While he should have been enjoying his post-career retirement in peace, Piper was duking it out. The physical toll on his body was severe. But financial issues kept him from being able to walk away for good. In 2003, television host Bryant Gumbel asked Piper about his endless career. Gumbel was shocked that the wrestling star hadn’t quit despite being nearly 50 years old. The pro wrestler explained he still needed to pay his bills. “What would you have me do at 49 when my pension plan I can’t take out until I’m 65?” Piper asked Gumbel. “I’m not gonna make 65. Let’s face facts.”
For a few years, the eerie quote seemed like it wouldn’t come true. Then, in 2006, Piper was diagnosed with cancer. Amazingly, he beat the disease the next year. He even returned to the wrestling ring. But he wasn’t long for the world, and his prediction to Gumbel about failing to make 65 would prove true. One night in July 2015, Piper died in his sleep. His death certificate cited cardiopulmonary arrest and hypertension as factors in his passing. He was just 61 years old.
Even worse, it seemed as though Piper knew his time was coming. Shortly before he died, he left a voicemail for fellow wrestler and longtime friend Hulk Hogan. Hogan only listened to the voicemail after learning of Piper’s death. When he finally heard it, the wrestler lamented how his longtime friend and peer was “walking with Jesus” after the seemingly prophetic phone call.
8 Florence Griffith-Joyner
Florence Griffith-Joyner was one of the best sprinters to ever live. The American woman flew through the 1980s and 1990s, burying pretty much everybody on the track. But far from glory, she had an eerie ability to predict the future. Early in her career, she married boyfriend Al Joyner a full year before they had planned. Her abrupt decision came after a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck her native Los Angeles. Suddenly worried about the future, she urged Al to walk down the aisle early. “I don’t want to die without being married,” she told her shocked partner.
Years later, the woman who became known to the world as Flo-Jo continued her gift for premonition. One morning, she told Al about an unsettling dream. In it, she saw her husband crying but was unable to comfort him. “I was telling you I was all right, and everything was fine, but I couldn’t reach you,” she told Al. “But I was telling you everything was fine. I just couldn’t get to you. You should know this.”
Flo-Jo’s knack for knowing what was going to happen continued after she became a mother. As the couple’s daughter Mary was growing up. Flo-Jo would write letters to the girl. She would seal them in envelopes, give them to Al, and tell him to let her open them when she turned 16. Flo-Jo was beyond healthy at the time. She was a world-class athlete in peak physical condition. But through it all, she sensed something wasn’t right. One day, she confronted Al about Mary’s future. “I don’t want to leave Mary without a mother,” she told her shocked husband. “If something happens to me, I want you to get married again. You will get married again because I’ll be the one to send her to you.”
In 1998, Flo-Jo died of a seizure in her sleep. Doctors were puzzled at its cause. She seemed to be perfectly healthy. Eventually, medical examiners determined she had succumbed to an epileptic seizure. Still, there was no way to have predicted her untimely passing. Thus, it made Flo-Jo’s own past words to Al all the more prophetic.
7 James Hellwig, aka The Ultimate Warrior
James Hellwig became famous to millions of wrestling fans for his persona as the Ultimate Warrior. He drew so much love from fans that he actually changed his name to “Warrior” as a nod of appreciation. His career came with great highs. By the end of it all, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2014. The honor was the triumphant top mark of Hellwig’s long and bruising career. It should have been a coronation for the star as he lived out his days in glory. Sadly, a speech he gave just days after the Hall of Fame announcement ended up changing everything.
Warrior appeared on Monday Night RAW two days after the Hall of Fame reveal. Fans hurled praise at the star as he spoke about his life and legacy. He was clearly overcome with emotion while recounting his career in the ring. But then, he said something that turned out to be a hint about what was to come just a day later. “Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat, his lungs breathe their final breath,” Hellwig told his fans on RAW. “And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper, than something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.” Less than 24 hours later, Warrior was dead. A heart attack killed him at just 54 years old. Though far too young to die, his legacy in the WWE will live on forever. Because his final words were so darkly prophetic, their meaning remains too.
6 Guinn Williams Jr.
Guinn Williams Jr. ended up a movie star during Hollywood’s first golden age, but his route to the silver screen was a long one. The Texas-born star first fought in World War I as a teenager. When the war ended, he returned home for what he thought would be baseball stardom. His father wanted him to attend the U.S. Military Academy, but Junior had other ideas. “I told my father I’d sooner play baseball,” the future actor recalled later, “and I had an offer from the Chicago White Sox.” Guinn’s strong 6’2″ frame helped him star in semi-pro leagues for a while, but the big leagues never called.
Before he knew it, Guinn needed another job. The good-looking young man made his way out west. There, he became a Hollywood darling. He started getting typecast in Westerns and quickly carved out a niche. He even became good friends with Will Rogers. It was Rogers who gave Williams the nickname “Big Boy” because of his muscular farm-built frame. For the rest of his life, the name stuck.
Interestingly, Big Boy’s athletic career didn’t end when his baseball hopes faded. After becoming a Hollywood mainstay, the cowboy took up polo. He eventually became one of the best polo players in the world. The Texas State Historical Association even boasted he was once “the Babe Ruth of polo” on account of his powerful swings on horseback. Williams’ life changed in 1935, though. That year, Rogers died in a plane crash. Guinn lost his best friend, and for the rest of his life, he was never quite the same.
In early June 1962, Big Boy confessed to fellow actor Joel McCrea that he’d been seeing Rogers and the late star’s horse in his dreams. “The last three nights, I dreamed about Will Rogers,” Williams told McCrea. “He is riding Soapsuds, and he says, ‘come on, Big Boy, get on your horse and go with me!’ I don’t feel good, Joel. It’s like he was calling me.” McCrea didn’t think much of it at the time. But just days later, the premonition made sense. Williams died suddenly on June 6, 1962. His death was completely unexpected, and doctors were baffled. The official cause was uremic poisoning, but Big Boy’s eerily prophetic words to McCrea days before would live on forever.
5 Nicholas Mevoli
Freedivers are some of the sports world’s most extreme competitors. They aren’t really competing against other people, though. Their drive to win stems from an internal desire. Diving to lower and lower depths down in the ocean is said to bring incredible clarity. Using just a single breath to push as deep as possible gives freedivers an incredible connection to the Earth. With every dive, they thrust deeper and live more fully. There is a very fine line in trying to improve one’s dive numbers, though. Diving too deep and too quickly can be very taxing on the body. In the worst scenarios, it is deadly.
Nicholas Mevoli was once one of the best freedivers in the world. One peer called him “the most promising athlete in the United States.” Blessed with natural talent, trained with incredible lung capacity, and honing an innate curiosity about the depths, Mevoli transcended the sport. But he was also consumed by his desire for greatness. By 2013, Mevoli had broken nearly every American freediving record. His goal was to capture the last few marks he needed by the end of that year. In a blog posted in September 2013, he hinted that his passion had become an obsession. “Numbers infected my head like a virus, and the need to achieve became an obsession,” Mevoli wrote of his focus on reaching new depths. “Obsessions can kill.”
Sadly, in this case, they did. In November, Mevoli was freediving with a team in the Bahamas. He was exhausted after a long year chasing glory. Twice during his fateful dive, he considered turning back. But he kept pushing down to get his record. Sadly, he never made it. Mevoli died of an upper respiratory squeeze while attempting a 315-foot (96-meter) dive. He was just 32 years old. His unsettling blog from weeks before almost perfectly forecasted his fate.
6 Eamon McEneaney
Eamon McEneaney was one of the best athletes in college lacrosse history. He was a superstar in his years at Cornell University. Known as Cornell’s “Wild Irish Rose” by his beloved teammates, McEneaney was a three-time first-team All-American in the mid-1970s. Even better, he led the Big Red to three straight Ivy League titles and two national championships during that run too. His unforgettable college career was among the best amateur turns the sport has ever seen. For his on-field glory, he was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1993. Enshrined in the esteemed institution for eternity, his lacrosse exploits continue to live on.
After his college days ended, McEneaney moved to New York City. There, he became a successful stock trader at the World Trade Center. The building had been hit once by a terror attack orchestrated by Osama bin Laden in 1993. That scary event was on Eamon’s mind years later. On September 2, 2001, he was with his family at a barbecue. Out of the blue, Eamon started talking to friends about what he would do if the towers were hit by a terror attack once again. He debated how best to use emergency stairwells to reach safety.
Days later, he came up to his wife Bonnie at home while she was making dinner. “One night, I was cooking,” Bonnie recalled in an interview with ABC News. “He walked in and said, ‘You had better become more of a disciplinarian with the children because when I’m gone, it’s going to be hard.’” She was thrown by the fatalistic comment. It seemingly came out of nowhere. But less than a week later, on September 11, 2001, Eamon woke up and went to work as usual. Hours later, along with more than 3,000 other people, he died after the towers were struck by airplanes.
3 Dean Potter
BASE jumping is one of the scariest sports in the world. Even more dangerous than freediving, it is truly extreme. Those who take it up understand death is a serious possibility. In fact, it’s more likely to die in a BASE jumping accident than in nearly any other extreme sports endeavor. Still, those who enjoy it do so knowing full well the risks that come with it. The adrenaline they get from crazy cliff-diving falls is unmatched, though. BASE jumpers feel larger than life with each successive high-altitude jump. Even as fate stares them in the face with every fall, they push through.
So it went for Dean Potter during his life. Potter was one of America’s foremost BASE jumpers in the 2010s. He was well aware of the sport’s risks too. In May 2015, Potter posted a photo of himself and three fellow jumpers to his Facebook page. In the picture was another BASE jumping legend named Sean Leary. Leary had died in 2014, and Potter was still mourning his lost friend. “This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of civil disobedience,” Potter wrote along with the picture. “I sure miss my friend Sean Leary.” A week after publishing that post in honor of his dead friend, Dean also passed away.
But it wasn’t just the look back at Leary’s life that proved to be a premonition for Potter. A year before the Facebook post, Dean spoke to Outside TV about his love of BASE jumping. In the interview, Potter revealed how one of his earliest memories was of free-falling through the sky to his death. “When I was a little boy, my first memory was a flying dream,” he told the outlet. “In my dream, I flew, and I also fell. I always wondered as I got older if it was some premonition of me falling to my death.” On May 16, just nine days after honoring Leary, fate found Potter. He and fellow jumper Graham Hunt died in an accident while BASE jumping off Yosemite National Park’s Taft Point. Potter was just 43 years old.
2 Jack Trice
Jack Trice was the first Black college football player at Iowa State University. He made history with his pioneering role on the team, but it would come with a steep price: his life. On October 5, 1923, Trice was busy preparing for a game against the University of Minnesota. That night, alone in his room, he wrote a fateful letter about his life. “To whom it may concern,” he began the letter on the eve of his first big college football game. “The honor of my race, family, and self are at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will! My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about on the field tomorrow.” He wasn’t kidding about that. During the game against Minnesota, he was severely injured in a rough play. He would die from the terrible tackle two days later. The letter almost made it seem as though Trice knew of his shocking fate.
Trice may have been a pioneer at Iowa State, but elsewhere in the country, he was unwanted. On the same day he died, the University of Missouri sent a letter to Iowa State warning them about the two teams’ upcoming game. Missouri counseled Iowa State not to bring Trice down south, as “you know the conditions here.” To that end, historians have wondered whether Trice was intentionally injured against Minnesota. Why did he write that letter the night before the game, anyway? And why address it to “whom it may concern” rather than to himself as a diary entry or something similar?
In 2000, author Steven L. Jones published Football’s Fallen Hero: The Jack Trice Story. In the book, Jones claimed a witness on the field that day in 1923 saw something shocking. “I’ve talked to two people who had seen the play,” Jones reported. “One person told me nothing out of the ordinary happened. But another who saw it said it was murder.” Now, a hundred years later, it’s impossible to say what happened. But Trice’s ominous letter on the eve of that fateful game will always be a mystery.
1 Johnny Horton
Johnny Horton was good enough to play professional basketball in his early life. The future country crooner grew up shooting hoops as a kid. Even though he was from small-town Texas, coaches at higher levels noticed his talent. First, he spent two years at local junior colleges honing his craft. Then, Horton moved on to play basketball for major college programs. In the 1940s, he started at Baylor University and then at Seattle University. But pro basketball wasn’t big back then. So, Johnny gave up hoops for his other love: music.
Horton’s country career quickly took off in the 1950s. Music fans loved his Texas twang. He became an even bigger hit when he transitioned into the growing rockabilly genre. Songs like “The Battle of New Orleans” and “North to Alaska” kept listeners coming back for more. Fans flocked to his down-home sound as the 1950s wore on. But while Johnny was starring on stage, he had dark thoughts away from it. He would often tell friends he’d try to contact them from the afterlife. Pals tried to push away his dark thoughts, but he persisted.
In October 1960, Horton told a friend backstage at a show that he thought he’d one day be killed by a drunk driver. The friend dismissed the premonition, but Johnny didn’t. He even tried to back out of performing at another venue that month because he thought he’d be killed by a drunk driver on the way home. The rest of October passed without incident. But Johnny’s prognostication ended up being correct. On November 4, 1960, Horton was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He was just 35 years old.