A.D. 41: Roman Emperor Caligula, known for his eccentricity and cruel despotism, becomes the first Roman emperor to be assassinated when his disgruntled Praetorian Guards kill him. The Guard then proclaimed Caligula's uncle Claudius as emperor.
1848: James W. Marshall finds gold at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento, Calif., setting off the California Gold Rush, which would bring 300,000 new arrivals to the state and help push California toward statehood.
1862: Writer Edith Wharton, who would become the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921 for "The Age of Innocence," is born in New York City. Some of Wharton's other best-known novels include "Ethan Frome" and "The House of Mirth."
1916: In Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad, the Supreme Court of the United States declares the federal income tax constitutional.
1917: Actor Ernest Borgnine, who won an Oscar in 1955 for "Marty" and is also known for playing Quinton McHale in the 1962–1966 TV series "McHale's Navy," is born in Hamden, Conn.
1918: Televangelist Oral Roberts, who founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University, is born in Ada, Okla. He died at age 91 on Dec. 15, 2009.
1922: The Eskimo Pie ice cream treat is patented by Christian K. Nelson of Onawa, Iowa. The patent describes the cold treat as "in its simplest form, a block or brick or frozen confection within an edible container or shell. The core or center may be an ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, ice, or other material congealed by refrigeration." The shell was described as "like that used in coating chocolate candies, although preferably modified to harden at a lower temperature," and not too brittle.
1941: Singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, whose eight No. 1 hits are "Cracklin' Rosie," "Song Sung Blue," "Desiree," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Love on the Rocks," "America," "Yesterday's Songs" and "Heartlight," is born in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1941: Singer Aaron Neville, known for solo hits such as "Tell It Like It Is," "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "Somewhere Somebody," as well as his work with his brothers as The Neville Brothers, is born in New Orleans, La.
1943: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill conclude a conference in Casablanca to plan the Allied European strategy for the next phase of World War II.
1943: Actress Sharon Tate is born in Dallas, Texas. Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was an up-and-coming young actress with credits on TV and in films such as "Valley of the Dolls," when she was murdered in her home, along with four others, by followers of Charles Manson on Aug. 9, 1969.
1946: The United Nations General Assembly passes its first resolution, which establishes the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission "to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy."
1947: Singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, best known for such songs as "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money," is born in Chicago, Ill. He died from cancer at the age of 56 on Sept. 7, 2003. His final album, "The Wind," which was released two weeks before his death, earned him two posthumous Grammys.
1948: "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt, and directed by John Huston, premieres in theaters. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949, but lost out to Laurence Olivier's film adaptation of "Hamlet." It won the other three Oscars it was nominated for, with John Huston winning Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Walter Huston, John Huston's father, winning for Best Supporting Actor, marking the first father-son Oscar win.
1949: Actor John Belushi, best known as one of the original "Saturday Night Live" cast members and for his movie roles in "The Blues Brothers" and "National Lampoon's Animal House," is born in Chicago, Ill. He died on March 5, 1982, after overdosing on a mixture of cocaine and heroin at age 33.
1955: World War II hero Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American and a U.S. Marine who was one of the six men immortalized in the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima during the war, dies of exposure and alcohol poisoning at the age of 32 in Bapchule, Ariz.
1962: The Beatles sign a five-year contract with Brian Epstein as their manager, giving Epstein 25 percent of their gross income. Epstein would begin to immediately direct their image away from leather jackets, instead encouraging them toward a smarter stage presentation, with matching suits and bows to the audience. Epstein would remain the band's manager through his death at the age of 32 in August 1967.
1962: Jackie Robinson becomes the first black man elected to Baseball Hall of Fame.
1965: British politician Winston Churchill, best known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II, dies at the age of 90 in London, England, nine days after suffering a stroke, his fourth since 1949. Churchill served as British prime minister twice (1940–45 and 1951–55) and was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer, and an artist. He is the only British prime minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
1968: Gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who won a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, becoming the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to do so, is born in Fairmont, W.Va. She also won four additional medals in Los Angeles: silver in the team competition and the horse vault, and bronze in the floor exercise and uneven bars.
1970: Actor and filmmaker Matthew Lillard, best known for his roles in movies such as "Scream," "Scooby-Doo" and "She's All That," is born in Lansing, Mich.
1971: William Griffith "Bill" Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, dies of emphysema complicated by pneumonia at the age of 75 while en route to treatment in Miami, Fla. Wilson, who drank no alcohol for the last 37 years of his life, was commonly known as "Bill W." or "Bill" during his life, following AA's Twelfth Tradition of anonymity.
1972: Japanese Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi is found hiding in a Guam jungle, where he had been since the end of World War II. He was among the last three Japanese holdouts to be found after the end of hostilities in 1945. For 28 years, he had hidden in an underground jungle cave, fearing to come out of hiding even after finding leaflets declaring World War II had ended, believing them to be false Allied propaganda. After his discovery, he was discharged and sent home to Japan, where he was hailed as a national hero.
1974: Actor Ed Helms, best known for his TV work on "The Daily Show" and "The Office," and for starring in "The Hangover" movies, is born in Atlanta, Ga.
1975: Actor and comedian Larry Fine, best known as a member of the comedy act The Three Stooges, dies at the age of 72 in Woodland Hills, Calif. Fine suffered a debilitating stroke in January 1970 that paralyzed the left side of his body and left him confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life. He also suffered several other strokes leading up to his death. Fine was born Louis Feinberg in 1902.
1978: Soviet reconnaissance satellite Kosmos 954, with a nuclear reactor on board, burns up in Earth's atmosphere, scattering radioactive debris over Canada's Northwest Territories. The incident prompted an extensive cleanup effort, although only 12 larger pieces of the satellite were recovered, amounting to 1 percent of its nuclear fuel.
1983: Film director George Cukor, who directed such movies as "The Philadelphia Story," "Adam's Rib," "Born Yesterday," "A Star Is Born" and "My Fair Lady," dies of a heart attack at the age of 83 in Los Angeles, Calif.
1984: The first Apple Macintosh goes on sale. It would go on to become the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface, rather than a command-line interface.
1986: Voyager 2 passes within 50,600 miles of Uranus. The probe also discovered the moons Cordelia, Ophelia, Bianca, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia, Rosalind, Belinda, Perdita and Puck; studied the planet's unique atmosphere; and examined the Uranian ring system. It is still the only spacecraft to have visited the two outer gas giant planets Uranus and Neptune and today continues to study interstellar space in an extended mission.
1986: L. Ron Hubbard, a pulp fiction author and the founder of the Church of Scientology, dies at the age of 74 in Creston, Calif., a week after suffering a stroke.
1986: Actress Mischa Barton, best known for her role as Marissa Cooper on the TV dramatic series "The O.C.," is born in London, England.
1989: Serial killer Ted Bundy is executed via electric chair at Raiford Prison in Starke, Fla. He was sentenced to three death sentences in two separate trials for three Florida homicides committed in 1978. After more than a decade of denials, he confessed shortly before his execution to 30 homicides committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. However, the true number of his victims remains unknown and could be even higher.
1993: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who became the first black Supreme Court justice in 1967, dies of heart failure at the age of 84 in Bethesda, Md. Marshall served on the court for 24 years, compiling a liberal record that included strong support for Constitutional protection of individual rights, especially the rights of criminal suspects against the government.
1995: Van Halen releases the album "Balance," which would prove to be the last album recorded with lead singer Sammy Hagar. During the recording of "Balance" and the band's subsequent Ambulance Tour, Van Halen's second incarnation broke up and Hagar left the band in 1996.
1999: In Louisville, Ky., Matthew Scott, 37, receives the first hand transplant in the United States during a 15-hour surgical procedure. Scott had lost his hand at age 24 in a fireworks accident. The Louisville group, including Drs. Warren C. Breidenbach and Tsu-Min Tsai in cooperation with the Christine M. Kleinert Institute, Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville, went on to perform the first five hand transplants in the United States.
2003: The United States Department of Homeland Security officially begins operation on the same day former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is named secretary of the department.
2006: Actor Chris Penn, the brother of fellow actor Sean Penn best known for his roles in movies such as "Reservoir Dogs," "Footloose," "Rush Hour," "True Romance," "All the Right Moves" and "Pale Rider," dies of heart disease at the age of 40 in Santa Monica, Calif.
2010: Actor and singer Pernell Roberts, the last surviving star of the TV western "Bonanza," dies of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81 in Malibu, Calif. Besides playing Ben Cartwright's eldest son, Adam Cartwright, on "Bonanza," Roberts also is best known for playing chief surgeon Dr. John McIntyre, the title character on "Trapper John, M.D."
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