Performers Who Died In Front Of Their Audiences

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  Performers Who Died In Front Of Their Audiences

In the early 20th century, Louis Vierne held the most prestigious job possible for a professional church organist: resident organist at the legendary Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Despite drawing crowds that wanted to hear Vierne’s otherworldly organ work, particularly on his own compositions (he wrote six symphonies), the Catholic Church clergy that ran Notre-Dame decided in 1937 to discontinue all organ recitals. They at least let Vierne play for the people one final time, on June 2, 1937.

Vierne was the Elvis Presley of early 20th-century organists. While Presley struggled with drugs, nutrition, and health problems, Vierne had experienced a string of tragically bad luck. His wife cheated on him, one of his sons died from tuberculosis, and the other died fighting in World War I. A fall so shattered his leg and ankle that he had to relearn his organ pedaling technique, and the stress of it all made him a three-packs-a-day smoker who also relied on heart pills, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. 

About 3,000 people amassed for Vierne’s last concert at Notre-Dame … which turned out to be his last concert ever. After playing an original piece, he said to his assistant standing nearby, “I’m going to be ill.” He then played one low, continuous note … and didn’t stop. He’d died of a heart attack sitting in his favorite seat.

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