The First Clown
May 31, 1837 - Joseph Grimaldi died on this day. He was only 58 years old, but his health had declined sharply after many years working hard and partying hard as the world's most famous clown.
Some historians claim that Grimaldi was the first clown to paint his face white. He was a master of pantomime. Grimaldi's onstage antics in London and all across Europe were legendary. He was also a gifted impressionist who relentlessly lampooned the rich and powerful people of his time.
Sadly, Grimaldi was terrible with money. Even though he achieved great fame and commanded a high salary, the money seemed to slip through his fingers.
By the time he was 45, Grimaldi's failing health forced an early retirement. All the years of pratfalls, flips and tumbles had left him battered and exhausted.
Here's a portion of the speech he gave at his farewell performance:
Like vaulting audition, I have overleaped myself and pay the penalty in advanced old age. It is four years since I jumped my last jump, filched my last oyster, boiled my last sausage and set in for retirement.
He spent his last years next to a fireplace in a local tavern. He was penniless and unable to walk, but the owner of the pub would carry him home each night.
Grimaldi died in his sleep.