The world is fickle and the standard in which we judge others is often a harsh extreme. Too frequently we are subjected to sources of vast talent that are scrutinized, criticized and/or disregarded while living but inevitably elevated in the public’s eye once dead — you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The list below is a group of individuals from the ages that were never fully appreciated until after their death.
Nick Drake was a heavy-hearted English songwriter that never received much attention in his living years but has since gained international praise. Though he suffered from social anxieties that prevented him from performing live, he managed to build a cult following before he died in 1974. Since his death, he has been elevated in songwriting circles (and among most indie fans) , been featured on documentaries and Volkwagen commercials and even had a song written about him – Life in a Northern Town by the Dream Academy.
As an insightful Greek philosopher, Socrates lived in a time when progressive thinking striked ontroversy. Though he would later be revered as a pioneer in Western philosophy, his paradoxical brilliance was ahead of its time and drew attention from prominent officials, that demanded he and his thoughts be extinguished. Eventually found guilty of corrupting the mind’s of Athenians, Socrates was sentenced to death and a delayed recognition of his intellectual impact.
Now considered one of the great American poets, Emily Dickinson was not so likable during her living years. Wildly depressed and an eccentric recluse, she remained closed-off from the world and was endlessly infatuated with darker subjects – death and immortality. Though she only published a dozen poems while alive, she was silently prolific. Following her death in 1886, her sister discovered roughly 1,800 unknown works and revealed Emily’s poetic brilliance to the world.
According to Stephen Hawking, no man is more, “…responsible for the birth of modern science” as Galileo. Now recognized for his priceless contributions to physics, astronomy and mathematics, Galileo proposed that the sun was the center of the universe at a time when Catholic doctrine preached that the center was the earth. Wildly opposed, Galileo was silenced and sentenced to house arrest for life. Only after his death in 1642 has modern science proved his early theories to be fact.
Edgar Allan Poe
In his lifetime, Edgar Allan Poe was known only for his work as an editor and literary critic. Having only published one creative work (The Raven) while living, his personal library of epic poems and short stories were practically invisible to the world until his death in 1849. Now considered one of the greatest American poets of all time, he is finally credited for his genius as a pioneer in short stories and as the inventor of detective-fiction genre.
Johann Sebastian Bach
A church organist by trade, Bach didn’t develop into a prolific composer until later in his musical career. Though he was widely known across Europe as a talented organist and pianist, he didn’t receive much recognition for his original compositions until a 19th century revival of his works, well after his death in 1750. Bach didn’t reinvent the musical wheel but he is credited as a brilliant blending of style and is now immortalized as the greatest composer of the Baroque era and beyond.
Thomas Paine is considered a Founding Father of the US and a pivotal character in the American Revolution. As a prolific pamphleteer and ambassador for independence from Great Britain, he gained rank and respect amongst the colonies; however, as a later advocate for Deism and a freethinking society, he released a book that spoke against organized religion and alienated his Christian following. Though Paine’s retrospective contributions to American history are priceless, his popularity amongst his peers was showcased when only six people showed up to his funeral in 1809.
Little known (at the time), Lenny Bruce was a comedian that specialized in the obscene. Having only appeared on television a handful of times, Bruce made explicit remarks across the country, was arrested numerous times and was eventually blacklisted by every club in America and eventually in Australia as well. Having died in 1966, Bruce’s spirit endured in up-and-coming comedians and in 2004 Comedy Central named him number three in the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time – beaten only by two comedians that claim Bruce as their muse.
John Keats was an English poet that is most widely known for his contributions and influences during the Romantic Movement. Despite his raw talent that showed in his signature word-choice and exceedingly passionate imagery, critics and peers largely ignored his work while he was alive. Having died at an early age in 1821, his work is now celebrated amongst scholars and modern poets as an overlooked hidden gem.
After spending a decade in Los Angeles as a member of a cover band, Jeff Buckley put a band together, recorded an album called Grace and toured briefly for one year. Never overly praised for his work while living, Buckley drowned in a river in 1997 and left behind a series of four track demos that were eventually released in his wake. These posthumous releases made waves and earned him much-deserved notoriety, including a number one slot on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Vincent Van Gogh
Like most brooding artists, Vincent Van Gogh lived a life riddled with depression and anxiety and was therefore widely disregarded as a loon. Constantly battling a mental illness, he didn’t start painting until his late 20s but managed to produce roughly 2,000 pieces before his suicide (ten years later) in 1890. Though little appreciated in his lifetime, he is responsible for some of the more notable works of art and an invaluable influence on 20th century art and use of color.
No man was ever more hated in life but revered in death as the man, the myth, the legend; Jesus Christ. Though he lived a humble life and spoke softly, he managed to accrue such disrespect that he was murdered by his peers and his government in a hateful public spectacle. Only in death was his purpose realized and fundamentally immortalized as the cornerstone of civilizations, religions and wars.
Widely known as the loud speaking host of Pitchmen and the exclusive salesmen for Oxiclean, Billy Mays was a pioneer in the world of infomercials. He had a way of bursting onto your TV screen and barking abrasively until you either made the purchase or cursed his name as you turned the channel. Illustrated by endless mockery, the world loved to hate Mays until his death in June of 2009 where he was finally celebrated for his achievements.