The Death Of Gangster Machine Gun Kelly Explained

Before the rapper-turned-rocker decided to use it as a stage name, Machine Gun Kelly was an actual and real life person. In fact, he was one of America's most notorious gangsters. Born as George Kelly Barnes on July 18 of either 1895 or 1897, per Biography, this Memphis-raised kid from a well-to-do family would become a famous violent criminal. His life of crime is noted to have started in Mississippi. He went to college at Mississippi A&M, but things later took a turn while he was a student. 

Kelly was far from an exemplary student. He earned poor grades, racked up demerits, and evidently dropped out, reported his alma mater's newspaper. He then got married to his first wife, Geneva, and the couple had two sons. But then his life of crime began, which started with robbing banks.

This was also conveniently during the Prohibition era, where bootlegging — the trafficking of alcohol — was a common crime. Kelly got heavily involved in that, too, and even got caught for it in 1927. His wife was no fan and divorced him. After his release from prison, he ended up in Minnesota. There, he met a woman named Kathryn and got married to her in 1930. It is said that the second Mrs. Kelly encouraged his affinity for lawbreaking, and he delved deeper into a life of crime, per the FBI. As a matter of fact, it was her that gifted him a Thompson machine gun (via Encyclopedia) and bestowed him with the nickname, "Machine Gun Kelly."

From petty criminal to kidnapper

Machine Gun Kelly bounced around from state to state, committing crimes and doing stints in prison. In 1933, Kelly would get involved in a crime that would send him to prison for life. 

On July 22, Kelly, and another lawbreaking associate, decided to kidnap Charles F. Urschel, one of Oklahoma's wealthiest oil tycoons. The two showed up at Urschel's residence and took him and his friend Walter R. Jarrett at gunpoint. They released Jarrett, but kept Urschel for ransom. They wanted $200,000 for his release, which they did receive close to a week after the kidnapping. However, it was short-lived. Using descriptions that Urschel gave, authorities were able to determine where he was and arrested him and his wife, who were later sentenced to life. Kelly was sent to the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, where he spent a bulk of his sentence, per Oklahoma History. But he was transferred to Leavenworth prison in Kansas in 1951.

A fatal heart issue

A few years later, Machine Gun Kelly died in July 1954. His cause of death: heart attack. Though he had famously proclaimed that he'd be out of prison by Christmas when he spent his first few months there, he eventually realized it was the end of the road.

Kelly even lamented his life of crime, telling a reporter that petty crime better suited him and would've never landed with a life sentence (via Memphis Magazine). "How the hell did I ever get myself into this fix? I should've stayed with what I knew how to do best — robbing banks," he complained.

It's unclear how upset Kelly was about this fact and how long, or if he had any underlying health risks leading up to it. But if it was the former, health wise, medical experts say that long-term anger increases your chances of having a heart attack (via Harvard Medical School).