25 Professional Athletes Who Died Young

Several famous baseball players, NFL athletes, and basketball stars have died much too young. Some of these stars that died young suffered from undiagnosed medical conditions, while others were killed in car accidents.

Who are some of the most famous who died young? Malik Sealy tops our list. His NBA career was cut tragically short when he was killed in a wrong-way car accident at the age of 30. The driver responsible for the 2000 crash was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal vehicular homicide.

On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt died in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. He is widely considered one of the best racers of all time having won seven Winston Cup Championships and several other honors. Other pro athletes that died young who appear on this list include Reggie Lewis, Steve Prefontaine, and Roberto Clemente.

Aaron Hernandez

Former football star Aaron Hernandez died on April 19, 2017 after committing suicide. He was 27.

Hernandez was a football standout while attending the University of Florida, where he and his teammates won the BCS National Championship. He was drafted into the NFL by the New England Patriots in 2010 playing at tight end, and had an impressive – albeit short – NFL career. Despite a promising start, Hernandez’s personal life and legal troubles overshadowed him.

In 2007, he was arrested for fighting at an off-campus bar in Gainesville, FL. He was also accused of participating in a double shooting, but was never charged with the crime. In 2012, he was accused of killing two men in Boston, but was never formally charged. In 2013, he was accused of two separate shootings – one in Miami, and another in Boston. He was never charged in the Miami shooting, but was put on trial for the death of his friend Odin Lloyd in Boston. Two years later, Hernandez was found guilty of the 2013 killing of Lloyd. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2017, the trial for his 2012 shootings began. A jury found him not guilty and he was acquitted on all charges. But because of the first homicide charge, he was put back in prison. Less than a week later, he hung himself in his prison cell.

Malik Sealy

Malik Sealy’s NBA career was cut tragically short when he was killed in a wrong-way car accident at the age of 30. The driver responsible for the 2000 crash was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal vehicular homicide.

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Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37 after suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The fatal disorder has become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

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Ernie Davis

1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis was never able to play a game in the NFL as he was diagnosed with Leukemia the following year. He passed away, at the age of 23, on May 18, 1963.

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Roberto Clemente

MLB legend Roberto Clemente’s death in 1972 was all the more tragic due to the circumstances. He was on his way to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua when his plane crashed.

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Steve Prefontaine

Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine died at the age of 24 after being involved in a 1975 car accident. He is often cited as igniting the running boom of the 1970s.

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Thurman Munson

Legendary Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died at the age of 32 in 1979. He was practicing landing a plane when the aircraft crashed.

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Salvador Sánchez

Professional boxer Salvador Sánchez died on August 12, 1982, at the age of 23, after being involved in a deadly car accident. His boxing record was 44 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw at the time of his death.

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Pelle Lindbergh

NHL goalie Pelle Lindbergh died, at the age of 26, after being involved in a 1985 car accident in which he lost control of his Porsche 930 Turbo. The Philadelphia Flyers now present the Pelle Lindbergh Trophy to the most improved player on the team.

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Len Bias

All-American college basketball star Len Bias died as the result of a cocaine overdose in 1986 at the age of 22. His death came just two days after he was drafted as the second overall pick by the Boston Celtics in the NBA draft.

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Tim Richmond

Race car driver Tim Richmond died on August 13, 1989, at the age of 34, due to complications from AIDS.

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Hank Gathers

College basketball star Hank Gathers died on March 4, 1990, at the age of 23, after collapsing during a WCC tournament semifinal game. He was suffering from exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia and had reduced his medication levels because he believed it was affecting his ability to play basketball.

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Dražen Petrović

NBA player Dražen Petrović died on June 7, 1993, at age 28, after being involved in a car accident. He was traveling as the passenger in a car that was hit by a truck.

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Reggie Lewis

At the age of 27, NBA player Reggie Lewis died after going into cardiac arrest during a practice in 1993. His No. 35 jersey was retired in 1995.

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Dale Earnhardt

On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt died in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. He is widely considered one of the best racers of all time, having won seven Winston Cup Championships and several other honors.

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Darryl Kile

MLB pitcher Darryl Kile died from a heart attack on June 22, 2002, at the age of 33. It was later found that he suffered from a 90 percent blockage in two coronary arteries near his heart.

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Dan Snyder

25-year-old NHL player Dan Snyder fell into a coma after being involved in a car accident in 2003. His friend and teammate Dany Heatley, who was driving the car, was sentenced to three years’ probation and fined $3,000 for the incident.

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Pat Tillman

NFL player Pat Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan 2004. The circumstances of his death are still questionable, but Tillman has been honored with the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals for his heroic service. The army originally stated that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, but it was later discovered that members of his own platoon may have mistaken him for the enemy. He was shot three times in the head.

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Darrent Williams

24-year-old NFL player Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting on January 1, 2007. The gunman was sentenced to life in prison for murdering the young athlete.

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Antonio Puerta

At the young age of 22, soccer player Antonio Puerta died on August 28, 2007 a few days after suffering from cardiac arrest during a match.

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Nick Adenhart

Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed at the age of 22 after being involved in a collision with a drunk driver on April 9, 2009. Two other individuals were also killed in the crash.

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Sean Taylor

24-year-old NFL player Sean Taylor was murdered in his Miami home in 2007. Four men were accused of murdering him in a home invasion gone wrong.

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Chris Henry

On December 16, 2009, Chris Henry died from injuries sustained in a car accident. He was 26 years old at the time of his death.

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Davey Allison

NASCAR driver Davey Allison died on July 13, 1993, at the age of 32, after being involved in a helicopter crash in which he was the pilot. Fellow race car driver Red Farmer, who was a passenger on the aircraft, survived the crash.

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Lyman Bostock

27-year-old MLB player Lyman Bostock was shot and killed in Gary, IN on September 23, 1978. The man who shot him, Leonard Smith, was found not guilty due to insanity, and has never given a reason for the crime.