Athletes' Chilling Final Instagram Posts Before Their Deaths

Social media not only allows instantaneous and constant communication, but it also breaks down the boundaries separating different social groups. Regular folks can now interact with celebrities, who use platforms like Instagram to build a brand and promote their activities. If someone really admires and appreciates a professional athlete, for example, they can show off that devotion with something more than a T-shirt or a poster — they can keep up to date with all of their comings and goings on social media, pictures and thoughts included. But athletes are just as mortal as anyone else, and each post may very well become their last.

The death of a famous athlete is all the more bewildering when social media is involved. It can feel like a real-life friend died, and then all of the traces of their daily life and more remain behind for everyone to see in the form of years of past Instagram posts. Death comes quickly for many, even sports celebrities, and even those who stayed active on their social media up until the time they drew their last breaths. Here then are the most tragic, bittersweet, and gut-wrenching final posts of world-renowned athletes.

Mikala Jones

Mikala Jones was passionate about surfing. Not only did he dedicate his adult life to competing in and enjoying the sport, he documented it for the world. The two-time U.S. amateur champion turned professional, and then became a surf photographer, sharing on Instagram the pictures and videos he took from his unique point of view atop a surfboard and cruising through, on, and around monster waves.

The last thing Jones would post on Instagram, on May 26, 2023, was a photograph of himself, set to the jazz drumming of Makaya McCraven, doing the thing he loved. Jones captured a shot of himself riding through a tube-like wave as the water crested around him. (It wasn't the first time that Jones would face a dangerous wave while surfing.) Just six weeks after his final post, he died during a surf session. While riding waves off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the surfer suffered a fatal cut to his vital femoral artery from the fin of his board. The athlete and photographer was 44.

Clifford Robinson

An NIT tournament champion with the University of Connecticut in 1988, Clifford Robinson was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1989, where he became an instrumental part of the franchise's title contention runs over the next decade. In 1993, Robinson earned the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, and a year later, landed a spot on the league's All-Star team. Nicknamed "Uncle Cliffy" and recognizable for his omnipresent headband, Robinson would ultimately play professionally for 18 years with five teams.

Robinson took to his Instagram account on December 31, 2019, to issue a holiday greeting to his followers. "Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year! Blessings for 2020!" he wrote, alongside a picture of his twin sons, Lyle and Clifford Robinson Jr. He'd never make another post. It was around this time that Robinson was diagnosed with lymphoma, and that form of cancer would lead to his death eight months later in August 2020. Robinson was 53.

Ken Block

In the early 1990s, Ken Block helped start DC Shoes, which evolved into a major and influential skate gear brand. After selling the company, Block became an athlete, medaling five times in rally racing events at the X Games. The 2005 Rally America rookie of the year, he was a three-time runner-up for that circuit's championship. Also a stunt driver, Block relied heavily on that aspect of his work to become a popular YouTube personality, with more than two million people regularly viewing his daring videos.

In January 2023, Block went on a group snowmobile excursion in the snowy mountains not far from his home in Park City, Utah. At one point, he became separated from his party and traversed a precipitous area. According to authorities' initial observations (via the Los Angeles Times), Block lost control of his snowmobile, and it fell on him, killing the 55-year-old athlete. As much of a content creator and chronicler of his endeavors as he was a motorsport professional, Block posted an Instagram Story hours before his death. Depicting himself driving to the snowmobiling spot, Block wrote (via Reddit), "sketchy and snowy drive with some great snowboard entertainment."

Kobe Bryant

Entering the NBA at age 17, Kobe Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for his entire accomplished 20-season career. Bryant twice led the league in scoring, appeared on 18 All-Star teams and 15 All-NBA teams, won several MVP awards, and clinched five championships. Bryant, not among the NBA players who couldn't stand LeBron James, mentored his successor NBA superstar and fellow Laker, and on January 25, 2020, the student passed the teacher to rank third on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Bryant was thrilled for James, and to commemorate the moment, he posted to his Instagram a photo of himself and James embracing and laughing. "On to #2," Bryant captioned. "Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next."

The next morning, January 26, 2020, Bryant boarded a chartered helicopter with members of the elite girls basketball team he coached, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Battling fog, the pilot crashed the craft into a hill outside Calabasas, California. Everyone in the helicopter died in the accident, including both Bryants. Kobe Bryant was 41.

Daffney Unger

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shannon Spruill found wrestling fame under the name Daffney Unger, or just Daffney. She differentiated herself from other wrestlers by affecting a gothic, horror-inspired look and personality — known as the Scream Queen, she'd let out blood-curdling yelps during matches fought under the banner of World Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.

In early September 2021, Spruill went live on her Instagram feed. Exhibiting signs of mental health issues, Spruill implored her followers, "Do you guys not understand that I'm all alone? Do you understand that?" The wrestler, believing she suffered from concussion-triggered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), asked that her brain be analyzed after her death. "I don't want to do anything to hurt my brain. I want to be studied," she said in the video (via The Sun). "I want future generations to know. Don't do stupid s*** like me."

The footage concerned and frightened fans, and police performed a wellness check on the wrestler at her home in Norcross, Georgia. On their second visit on September 2, 2021, they forcefully gained entry with the assistance of a firefighter unit and discovered the wrestler deceased, apparently from suicide. The Gwinnett County medical examiner would later confirm she had died by suicide on the evening of September 1. The wrestler was 46 years old.

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Tim Wakefield

Knuckleball-hurling Tim Wakefield played two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1990s but found his baseball home with the Boston Red Sox, for whom he pitched for 17 years. In 2004, his efforts helped the Red Sox come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit to its rival New York Yankees, and go on to win the franchise in its first World Series victory since 1918. Wakefield would win another title with the Red Sox in 2007 and ultimately be credited with victory in 186 total games, the third-most in team history. He retired in 2011, and immediately found work as a Red Sox broadcaster.

June 1, 2023, marked the final time that Wakefield would post material on his Instagram account. He visited the New England Sports Network broadcasting area during a Boston Red Sox home game, and snapped an idyllic pic of the playing field of Fenway Park, the oldest MLB stadium in America. "Iconic view from the booth tonight on NESN," Wakefield captioned. On September 26, Wakefield's former teammate Curt Schilling revealed on his podcast that the pitcher had received a cancer diagnosis. Wakefield asked for "privacy" in a statement issued on September 29; two days later, he died at his home outside Boston at the age of 57, after suffering a cancer-related seizure.

Guy Lafleur

One of the most dominant players in NHL history, Guy LaFleur played 14 seasons in the 1970s and '80s for the Montreal Canadiens, where he won five Stanley Cups and became the franchise's all-time leader in points and assists. A two-time Most Valuable Player and three-time scoring champion, LaFleur came out of retirement in the late 1980s to play three more years, after he'd already been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Three years after doctors discovered that he had cancer, LaFleur died in a care facility near Montreal in April 2022, one of the most underreported celebrity deaths of that year. The hockey great was 70 years old. The remembrances from the hockey world rolled in for LaFleur, who, just days before his own death, uploaded what would turn out to be his last Instagram post — a tribute to another deceased hockey player, his friend Mike Bossy, who died from lung cancer at age 65. "Having a heavy heart today hearing the sad news," LeFleur wrote (translated from French). "I want to send my deepest condolences to Mike's family. We lost a great man as well as a legend."

Terrence Clarke

Recognized as one of the best high school basketball players in the nation in 2020, Terrence Clarke led his Boston high school to a national private school championship before he landed a spot in the illustrious University of Kentucky program. His freshman season with the Wildcats ended after just eight games because of an injury to his right leg.

Nevertheless, big things were expected for Clarke. In March 2021, he announced he'd forgo the final three years of his collegiate eligibility in order to enter the NBA Draft, where pundits predicted he'd be selected early in the second round. Within a month, Clarke would sign with major athlete talent management agency Klutch Sports Group. On April 21, 2021, Clarke announced that career milestone on his Instagram account with a brief video consisting of a montage of highlights and photos of the potential NBA superstar. The very next day, April 22, 2021, Clarke was involved in a car accident in Los Angeles. After running through a red light at an elevated speed, he ran into a pole and a wall. Clarke, 19 years old, was pronounced dead at Northridge Hospital, succumbing to injuries sustained in the accident.

Rasual Butler

A reliable utility small forward and shooting guard, Rasual Butler bopped around the NBA for 13 seasons. In that time, he put in stints with the Miami Heat, New Orleans Hornets, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs. His stats peaked during the 2009-2010 season, averaging 11.9 points per game, playing in all 82 contests that year for the Los Angeles Clippers. Butler retired after the 2015-2016 season and settled in Los Angeles.

On January 30, 2018, Butler posted to his Instagram a photo of himself dramatically posed in shadow next to a wall bearing the inspirational message, "Here to create." He captioned the picture, "We are here to be Ourselves and No one else!" Butler wouldn't get to enjoy his own empowering and optimistic stand. Hours later, in the early morning hours of January 31, 2018, Butler lost control of his Range Rover while driving through the Studio City area of Los Angeles. After hitting multiple parking meters, the vehicle came to rest in a parking lot. Butler and his passenger, his wife and "American Idol" contestant Leah LaBelle, both died in the accident. Butler was 38.

Jessi Combs

Jessi Combs devoted her professional life to traveling as fast as possible in a vehicle on land. Combs reached a pivotal milestone goal in 2013, when she became the fastest female driver in history, piloting the North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger — a car with a jet engine — to a speed of 398 miles per hour. Despite it all, Combs is probably even more famous for her work in television, contributing her expertise as an automotive and fabrication expert to programs including "Truck U," "Overhaulin'," as well as "MythBusters," a show with a cast often beset by tragedy.

In the summer of 2019, Combs set out to set a new land-speed record in a jet-powered automobile. During the attempt in a dry lake in a desert in Harney County, Oregon, Combs' front wheel collided with something on the desert floor, leading to mechanical failure, a loss of driver control, and a crash. Combs died almost instantly as a result of injuries sustained during the high-speed accident; she was 39 years old. In the days leading up to Combs' ill-fated record-breaking drive, she detailed her preparations and progress on her Instagram account. Her last post arrived two days before her death. On August 25, 2019, Combs added a photo of herself making the "thank you" gesture, accompanied with the caption, "I just want to thank all of you for your support and loyalty. That's all. Have a nice day : )."

Cedric Benson

Cedric Benson is among the most stellar college running backs ever, rushing for 5,540 yards and scoring 64 touchdowns over his four years at the University of Texas, good enough for ninth on the all-time list, and second-best ever for the Longhorns, respectively. Drafted in 2005, he played with the Chicago Bears in the 2007 Super Bowl before stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers, rushing for more than 6,107 yards over eight seasons.

On August 17, 2019, Benson added to his ongoing, ultimately disappearing Instagram Story with a photo of a motorcycle, writing on the picture (via X, formerly known as Twitter), "My Saturday evening!" Benson did go out for a motorcycle ride that evening, and it ended in tragedy. While passing through an intersection in Austin, Texas, he and his passenger were struck by a minivan. Authorities declared Benson and his companion dead at the location of the accident. The retired football star was 36.

Niki Lauda

In the historically European-oriented Formula 1 auto racing circuit, few performed as admirably as Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver turned pro in 1971, finished in the top three in the standings in 1973, and won five of the 14 contested races in the 1975 season on his way to a World Championship. In 1976, his friend and rival James Hunt beat him to a title by a single standings point, but Lauda would win two more championships in 1977 and 1984.

In May 2019, an ailing Lauda checked into a medical facility in Switzerland to undergo kidney dialysis treatments. He suited up in his old racing gear and posted a picture of himself on Instagram on May 6, writing (via The Daily Star), "Thinking about a comeback. What do you think about the idea? Have a great evening my friends." That comeback would never transpire. Two weeks after that last post, Lauda died from the effects of his ongoing kidney issues that endured even after a transplant in the months before his death. He was 70 years old.

Hana Kimura

The daughter of Japanese wrestling star Kyoko Kimura, Hana Kimura first grappled publicly as a teenager in the 2010s, winning a JWP Junior title in 2016 before signing with the Stardom promotion in 2019. Elsewhere, Kimura got into the ring for Sendai Girls' Pro Wrestling matches and for Ring of the Honor in the U.S., appearing in a six-person tag-team match on a sold-out fight night at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kimura earned another measure of fame when she appeared as part of the cast of "Terrace House: Tokyo," a reality show produced in Japan and distributed via Netflix in the U.S.

Kimura died at the age of 22 in May 2020. Police discovered Kimura's body at her apartment in Tokyo, and after finding a suicide note addressed to her mother, concluded that the wrestler had died by suicide. Sadly, Kimura telegraphed this and said farewell to her fans via multiple posts on her Instagram account. According to Yahoo! Life, her final Instagram Story, which self-deleted, said "sayonara," Japanese for goodbye. Kumura's last Instagram post proper consisted of a photo of herself snuggling up with her cat. She superimposed on the picture a message written in Japanese characters that, translated into English, read, "I love you, please live a long and joyful life. I'm sorry."

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat