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Weekly Top 5: Talented People Whose Gifts Were Wasted

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The world has been full of talented people. There is talent in everyone, but the simple fact is that most people never realize their talents, and those talents go to waste. These are people who knew what their talents were, but for one reason or another, their talents were wasted or their lives cut short before fully utilizing their potential.

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – He is perhaps the most brilliant human to have ever lived. He played the piano at age one, composed music at age five and wrote full symphonies at age seven. His premature death at age 35 deprived the world of countless more symphonies. Although he wasn’t as appreciated during his life as he was after his death, no one doubted that he was talented.

2. James Dean – Considered by some to be the best actor of his generation, but because of his untimely death at 22, he never fulfilled his potential. He starred in three films – Giant, East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause – with only East Of Eden being released during his life.

3. Mike Tyson – Being the youngest world heavyweight boxing champion ever, many believed Tyson was bound for great things. But his anger and personality clashed (maybe combined) to created many problems. A troubled marriage and a rape conviction halted Tyson’s rise to boxing greatness. Although many say his performances in the ring were tainted by the fact that he faced inferior opponents, the fact that he had so many hiatuses from the ring really hurt any real or accurate evaluation of his true skill. But that is Tyson’s fault. He not only deprived us of great fights, but he deprived himself of possible greatness.

4. Albert Einstein – Try me on this one. As the most popular scientist to have ever lived, this man might have achieved more and discovered more had he not had to fear for his life during the onset of World War II. As a Jew, he had to worry about being captured by the Nazis and being sent to concentration camps like the millions of other Jews in Europe at the time. Seeking refuge, Einstein fled to the United States along with a few other Jewish scientists, and were sought by the U.S. government to create the atomic bomb. Although the bomb itself helped usher in a new age of technological discovery, Einstein himself regretted his involvement in the Manhattan Project. Had Einstein not had to redirect his life toward these endeavors, he might have discovered fusion (I think) or some other great discovery. Who knows?

5. Anna Kournikova – This lovable loser has never won a Grand Slam singles title – or a singles title in general – despite the overwhelming popularity she received from both the media and the fans. Although no one mentions the fact that Anna has two Grand Slam doubles titles with former No. 1 Martina Hingis, Anna was still a great doubles player. To her credit, Anna still plays tennis, and she does constant charity events. Could she have won a title if she didn’t have all of the media attention and dozens of cameras flashing at her? I sure like to think so.

Honorable mention: Jennifer Capriati, Ted Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bobby Fischer, River Phoenix, Dwight “Doc” Gooden, anyone lost in war…

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About Tan The Man

Tan The Man writes mostly about film and music. He has previously covered events like Noise Pop, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, South By Southwest, TBD Festival, Wizard World Comic Con and WonderCon.
  • Tan: Very thought-provoking and deserving of much commentary. However, it is distinctly different to lump Mike Tyson and Mozart (and even James Dean) in the same list. To “waste” a life, I think it would have to be more Tyson-esque – have everything and voluntarily toss it – is one thing. Premature death, as in the case of Mozart and Dean are entirely different animals, at least in my humble opinion. Was JFK’s a “wasted” life?

    For my entry, having just seen the HBO special on his life, I nominate Mickey Mantle. As he admits himself, “I was given so much. You talk about ‘role models,’ look at me! Don’t live your life like I did.” [Paraphrased but accurate] Had he not been an alcoholic and played at 50% for much of his career I think Mickey, himself, would admit he would have accomplished much more. That is a life – with so many atletic skills – wasted.



  • If I recall correctly, Mozart and Dean’s premature deaths occurred, at least in part, through their own recklessness. That could place them in the same general category as Tyson.

    By Tan’s reasoning, Einstein and Kournikova (now there’s an unexpected pairing) would belong in a different category because their talents got dissipated by events entirely beyond their control. (World war in Einstein’s case, excessively obsessive media attention in Kournikova’s.)

    It seems to me both categories qualify to be described as wasted. Whether the wasting was done by those around them, or by the talented ones themselves, the world lost out on what it could have gained from a fuller expression of their talents.

    As best I can recall right now, my top candidate for a talent lost to the world before fully developing would be Srinivasa Ramanujan, the mathematical genius from India who died prematurely in the early 20th century.

  • Victor, as you wish. It’s your world; I am just a squirrel trying to get a nut. However Tan wants to define “waste” is perfectly fine with me!



  • You could always do your own list of the Top 5 Talented People Who Wasted Their Own Gifts.


  • Victor, I want Tan’s thread to grow exponentially to a discussion of the whole topic….wasted, squandered, undiscovered, you name it! I am not nearly as imgainative as Tan and clearly don’t have as good a recall as you and most others here. I will just watch the flow and take my inspiration from these talented folks. It is so much fun and I always learn something I didn’t think of.



  • Since you’re listing a few tennis stars (or former tennis stars) in your list of wasted talent, I’m going to have to add to that.

    Andre Agassi – Through out his younger career, he was basically a playboy. Half concentrating on tennis, half just having fun. He didn’t really dedicate himself playing and training for tennis until his late 20’s (when he almost won all 4 grand slams in 1 calendar year). Just imagine if he had actually dedicated himself earlier in life, during his prime.

    Monica Seles – She was crushing all of her opponents in her early career. Then a crazy fan stabs her and she was never the same again. She couldn’t have controled what happened, but it is still wasted talent.

  • JR

    Charlie Christian
    Clifford Brown
    Buddy Holly
    Eric Dolphy
    Tommy Bolin
    Randy Rhoads

  • Duane

    Tommy Bolin ??!! Alright. Good call, JR. And let’s not forget SRV.

  • Duane

    Interesting that you would include Einstein, Tan.

    A couple of things:

    Einstein left Germany in 1933, and took up permanent residence in the US. He was never in any personal danger.

    His involvement in the Manhattan Project went no further than drafting and signing two letters to Roosevelt, at the urging of Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner. His regret is summarized in the following statement:

    “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have lifted a finger.”

    It is also worth noting that the years of WW I were among the most scientifically productive of his career.

  • I thought I had Mickey Mantle in there. I guess I forgot.

    I second Srinivasa Ramanujan.

    In the case about war – just the number of those died had their lives cut short and any thing they could have or would have done if they lived were wasted.

  • Another thing with Agassi is that there was a time when he focused mainly on his marriage to Brooke Shields. His marriage was in trouble and he took off tennis for 1-2 years.

  • Duane

    Ramanujan is an excellent choice. You might also look up Evariste Galois (1811-1832). He died from a gunshot wound inflicted in a duel over a woman, evidently. Just before the duel he scribbled down some mathematical ideas that eventaully became what is called group theory, an essential branch of mathematics. 21 years old.

  • Alexander Hamilton was another taken from us too early by the primitive custom of the duello.

  • RJ

    Here are a good five:




    Mike Utley

    Pat Tillman

  • I understand Tillman’s place, but he isn’t as famous or as important as Hamilton or MLK. But you could say that MLK’s death made him more famous and his death accomplished more than his living might have.

  • RJ

    Pat Tillman, had he lived, would have almost certainly been elected a Republican Senator (at least), had he chosen to run.

  • Yeah, but who really takes “celebrity/sports figure” politicians seriously? I’m not saying he couldn’t have contributed… I’m just saying that he wouldn’t be taken as seriously as other non-public figure types.

  • RJ

    Yea, Steve Largent and Jim Bunning aren’t exactly Presidential timber…

    But, then again, Ronald Reagan was merely a Hollywood actor… 🙂

  • Celeste O.

    “Tell me future boy, who’s President in 1985 then?”
    “Ronald Reagan.”
    “The act-tor?!? Then who’s VICE-President? Jerry Lewis?”

  • Celeste O.

    Sorry, I should have added that Tillman was just a poster child for soldiers lost in the Iraq war, because of his athletic fame. Nothing against his sacrifice, but he does not represent a greater loss than any other war victim.

  • RJ

    Tillman died in Afghanistan…

  • AR

    I think you should add skier Bode Miller to this list.

  • zingzing

    brian wilson. der. james dean is overrated. good, but not the best of his generation by any means.

  • zingzing

    oh yeah. alex chilton.

  • zingzing

    fuck. rod stewart.

  • I think you can add most women up until recently and even now were/are talents under appreciated and mostly unrecognized. Beatrix Potter. Had a lovely theory on fungi and algae, but the scientific society didn’t admit females.

  • Geo

    I’m taking the word talent at face value… people in the entertainment biz. Einstein was a GREAT mind… and tinkered with a violin, but I don’t think he was a talent (so to speak), but a genius. So here’s where I’m going with this.

    Talented People who wasted their talent I will hold to Theator/music/sports

    1. Ok, Mike Tyson
    2. Gerry Garcia (chased the dragon and greatly reduced his lifespan).
    3. Chet Baker (Maybe KING of the functioning junkies).
    4. Charlie Christian (didn’t waste ANY talent but died too young, I think it was tuberculousus).
    5. Jimi Hendrix (ground breaker, killed himself too).
    6. Jaco Pastorious (Suffered greatly from depression, died as a result in an unfortunate altercation outside of a bar… Note: took to drinking himself into many awkward situations).
    7. Garland (functioning abuser of alcohol and perscription drugs).
    8. Micky Mantle (Functioning alcoholic).
    9. Duane Allman (The motorcycle killed him, but I wonder if he was headed down the slippery slope like his brother Greg).
    10. Rex Muenzer (outstanding mind, dedicated techician, inventer, craftsman. Died from the long effects of gross exposure to Agent Orange).
    11. Ok Randy Rhodes (The prudent aviator wouldn’t have buzzed the tour bus).

  • duane

    Beatrix Potter … wasn’t she the chick in Kill Bill? No wasted talent there. She’s really good with that eyeball-plucking move. That’s talent.

  • nugget

    Tan the Man: Scholars speculate that Mozart’s father “assisted” Mozart in writing alot of those works at a very young age. He was pushed, or forced to practice the piano and even write music. Strangely enough, he didn’t get tired of it because he was a real talent, but I wouldn’t turn him into a God.

    If you want the greatest musical genius, try Johann Sebastian Bach. With over 2000 works, he supercedes all others by a landslide in quality and quanitity.

    In fact, when Mozart discovered transcripts of JS Bach’s, he said something to the effect “finally, something from which I can learn”.

    If you compare the two’s writing, Bach was equally as clever, quick, and wrote more complicated pieces. Bach could write simple catchy tunes as well as ridiculously complicated chamber works and choral preludes (later transcribed to the organ and made even more complicated)….I also think the awe attached to Mozart (besides his great sonatas and symphonies) was the whole child prodigy thing. It was a bit overblown and somewhat untrue. There have been many children that play professionally with great technique and musicality. (usually because their parents push them).

    All this to say, I agree with your list, but Bach should be #1, not Mozart.

  • godoggo

    Speaking of prodigies, I recently heard some amazing stuff Erich Korngold composed when he was 11.

  • All this to say, I agree with your list, but Bach should be #1, not Mozart.

    Except that Bach’s talent WASN’T wasted, because he did write those 2000 pieces and had a long and successful career and a huge legacy.


  • Janis Joplin

  • nugget

    good point dave. Perhaps Bach shouldn’t be on THAT list.

    He should be on a list though. I’m sure he is. He’s on my itunes liist omgz.

    Bach also had a good family life…very uncharacteristic of genius-types methinks.

  • nugget

    perhaps had Mozart lived past 35 he would have crapped out alot of great stuff. His life was totally screwed tho’.

  • Art Garfunkle

  • godoggo

    Art Garfunkle???

  • godoggo

    Around 50% of the greatest jazz trumpeters died much too young. Seems to be a dangerous occupation.

  • I would replace Mike Tyson with Malcolm X.

    You forgot the unsportsman-like behavior when he faced equal opponents. That ear-biting incident.

    Malcolm was a fiercely intelligent man and had the ability to captivate people’s minds.

  • Justin Berry

    Hank Williams!

  • Bliffle

    Bach: the waste was not during his lifetime, but after, when more than half his works were lost permanently, and even those we know disappeared from use until Mendelsohn revived them. Bach was surely the greatest fountain of original and appealing music that we have knowledge of.

    Ted Williams: Not exactly a wasted talent. It’s been said that he hit the Trifecta by doing three things better than any man before or since: hitting a baseball, flying a fighter plane and fly fishing.

  • Yes Art Garfunkle! He was the voice of Simon and Garfunkle before they broke up, that’s his voice on Brigde over Troubled water damn it!

  • nugget

    why is this still in hot topics?

  • Alistair Prenderville

    What about Jesus Christ? He died young too! Or is he too holy for you?

    Seriously though, this is utter rubbish. Gave me a headache just reading it.

  • Stupid4Ever=PityyPity

    poor einstein. such a pity D: i feel so sad for him.

  • adam


  • Adam


  • Adam




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    I KNOW MATH!!!YEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!2+4=uhhhhhh………(answer correctly)6(answer adam retarded way)24!!!!!!! im a genius!!!!!lololololololololol(real adam)9*12=108

  • How about Scott Flansburg?