Rest in peace Shane Warne, one of the great cricketers, and one of the great commentators. Along with a handful of other retired bowlers, like Richie Benaud and Michael Holding, he caused me to watch far more cricket on TV than I would have if certain former England batsmen had been commentating instead.
News of his death last Friday, aged 52, came as a real shock: he was a professional sportsman, many years younger than me. I find it especially poignant when people die at 52. I have mentioned before on these pages a family friend, John, who we met at the NCT antenatal classes before my son was born. John died less than three months after his 52nd birthday. He had been ill on and off for many years with leukaemia, so it was not completely unexpected. He left behind children who were the same school years as our two, both slightly younger: a 10-year-old son and a daughter aged 7.
I reflected on “biting the dust at 52” in this 2018 piece, prompted by hearing the Benny Hill song “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)”. I quoted some lines from the final verse: “Ernie was only 52 / He didn’t want to die / And now he’s gone to make deliveries / In that milk round in the sky”.
In addition to the fictional Ernie, and our friend John from NCT classes, I am aware of a dozen people who died at 52 who have been in the public eye for one reason or another. Shane Warne completes this unhappy list, which, with one exception, is in date order:
- Yootha Joyce, actress (28 August 1927 to 24 August 1980).
- Roy Orbison, singer, songwriter (23 April 1936 to 6 December 1988).
- Derek Jarman, film-maker, artist (31 January 1942 to 19 February 1994).
- Pete McCarthy, author (9 November 1951 to 6 October 2004).
- Laura Branigan, singer (3 July 1952 to 26 August 2004).
- Robert Lockhart, composer and musician (26 March 1959 to 23 January 2012)
- Caroline Aherne, comedian, actress, writer (24 December 1963 to 2 July 2016)
- Chris Cornell, musician (20 July 1964 to 18 May 2017).
- Elizabeth Wurtzel, writer (31 July 1967 to 7 January 2020).
- Helen McRory, actress (17 August 1968 to 16 August 2021).
- William Shakespeare, playwright believed to have died on or near his 52nd birthday, 23 April 1616.
- And finally, Shane Warne, cricketer and broadcaster (13 September 1969 to 4 March 2022).