“If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anybody.” So said Michael Corleone in “The Godfather, Part II.” He was right. Politics moves people to vote, to march and, sadly, to kill.
According to the book “How to Kill,” most assassins' weapon of choice is a gun at 64.9 percent, followed by bombing at 11.2 percent and then poisoning at 7.9 percent. Be thankful you’re not a politician or ideologue and click ahead for a list of history’s most famous assassinations.
[Editor's note: Assassination is the taking of a life based on political motives, so under this definition the deaths of John Lennon and others, while tragic, do not meet the criteria for this piece.]
The Kennedy Brothers
Victims will always be intertwined with their assassins: President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald in Texas in 1963, and Robert Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. Notably, conspiracy theories still linger for both assassinations.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the age of 34. He won the Nobel Peace Prize at 35. On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray assassinated the civil-rights activist while he was standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis at the age of 39.
Famous for his non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi helped lead India to independence from British rule in 1947. Yet another example of a person killed by “one of his own,” he was shot by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, while walking to a platform to address a prayer meeting.
India has a history of assassinations. Prime Minster Indira Gandhi (no relation) was killed on Oct. 31, 1984, by two of her own bodyguards. Then, on May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi (again, no relation), an ex-Prime Minister of India, was assassinated by a suicide bombing in Tamil Nadu, India. The bombing was blamed on a separatist terrorist organization from Sri Lanka.
The President of Egypt negotiated with Israel, which culminated in the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and won him the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, it made him unpopular with a percentage of the Arab community, and fundamentalist army officers assassinated him in front of a reviewing stand on Oct. 6, 1981. Sometimes the greatest dangers to a leader are his own followers.
The most famous of all presidential assassinations, Lincoln was killed at Ford's Theatre on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, while watching a play. His assassin was John Wilkes Booth. The event took place just five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered, ending the Civil War.
Not as well known, U.S. President William McKinley was assassinated on Sept. 6, 1901, on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, shot him. McKinley died days later on Sept. 14, from gangrene. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him, and later, Congress passed legislation to charge the Secret Service with protecting the president.
“Et tu, Brute?” (“Even you, Brutus?”) aren't famous words for nothing; they are supposedly Caesar's last words, spoken to his close friend Marcus Brutus at the moment of Caesar’s assassination. On March 15, 44 B.C., the Roman Emperor was attacked and stabbed by his fellow senators who worried that he wanted to overthrow the Senate. How very "Revenge of the Sith" that is.
Hopefully, we all learned this guy’s name in high-school history class. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot by a Serbian nationalist while visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28, 1914. The killer was Gavrilo Princip, only 19 years old. Franz’s death triggered the start of World War I, due to a mish-mash of alliances and the question of Slav nationalism. His name was also the inspiration for the popular band from Scotland.
The first openly gay man to be elected to public office, Milk (and Mayor George Moscone) were assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978, by Dan White, another San Francisco City Supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back. Sean Penn won an Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in the film “Milk.”
Malcolm X, an advocate for civil rights, became a member of the Nation of Islam and rose to become one of its leaders. He then left the organization due to his growing and differing views. On Feb, 21, 1965, three members of the Nation of Islam assassinated him as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.
Benazir Bhutto, an ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2007, while attending a rally. First, she was shot by one attacker, and then killed by a suicide bomber. She had recently returned to the country after she was granted amnesty for corruption charges, and was running as a leading opposition candidate for the 2008 general election.
U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr., known as “Maximum John” for his harsh sentences, was the first federal judge assassinated in the 20th century. On the orders of a drug dealer who was to appear before the judge, Wood was shot by a single rifle bullet on May 29, 1979, outside by his home in San Antonio, Texas. Prosecutors said it was “an attack on the system, not just a judge, and it was a crime that had to be solved.” The triggerman was Charles Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson’s estranged father. Charles claimed he didn’t kill the judge, but only took credit so he could get paid from the drug dealer, Jamiel Chagra. However, he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms and died of a heart attack in federal prison in Colorado in 2007.
Next: Hilariously Embarrassing Names
Theo van Gogh
On Nov. 2, 2004, the Dutch film director was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim. The assassin was upset that the film director worked on the film “Submission,” which criticized the treatment of women in Islam. Theo van Gogh was killed while biking to work. Boureri shot him eight times and then tried to decapitate him with a knife.