Wednesday, April 29, 2009

History's Weirdest Deaths (Of The Day)

History's strangest deaths - supposedly. Some are surely more legend than fact. And don't call me Shirley.

207 BC: Greek philosopher Chrysippus is said to have died of laughter after watching his drunken donkey attempt to eat figs. (Yeah, the old "drunken donkey trying to eat figs" bit gets me every time, too.)

258: St. Lawrence was martyred by being grilled over a fire on a large metal gridiron at Rome. According to legend, Lawrence refused to give information about the Church to the Romans, and instead exclaimed, "I am done on this side! Turn me over."

1305: Scottish patriot (and ancestor of my buddy, Pete) William Wallace was stripped naked and dragged through the city by horse. He was hanged, drawn and quartered, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head was placed on a pike atop London Bridge, and his limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Aberdeen. (You could say he "got around.")

1327: Edward II of England, after being deposed and imprisoned by his Queen consort Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, is said to have been murdered by having a red-hot iron inserted into his anus. (But - knowing the royals, he probably liked it.)

1771: King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died of digestion problems after a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, topped off with 14 servings of his favorite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk. He is remembered by Swedish schoolchildren as "the king who ate himself to death." (In America, that title belongs to Elvis.)

1899: French president Félix Faure died of a stroke while receiving oral sex in his office. (No info on whether or not he came before he went.)

1911: Jack Daniel, founder of the Tennessee whiskey distillery, died of blood poisoning six years after receiving a toe injury when he kicked his safe in anger at being unable to remember its combination. (He was trying to get to his Johnnie Walker stash.)

1912: Tailor Franz Reichelt fell to his death from the Eiffel Tower while testing his invention, the coat parachute. It was Reichelt's first attempt with the parachute, and he'd promised authorities he would first test it with a dummy. (And did!)

1920: Baseball player Ray Chapman was killed when he was hit in the head by a pitch. (Thrown by Nolan Ryan)

1923: Jockey Frank Hayes suffered a heart attack during a horse race. The horse, Sweet Kiss, continued running and finished first, making Hayes the only deceased jockey to win a race. (He showed surprisingly little emotion when presented with the trophy.)

1927: J.G. Parry-Thomas, a British racing driver, was decapitated when his car's drive chain snapped and whipped through the cockpit. Parry-Thomas was attempting to break his own land speed record set the previous year. Despite being killed in the attempt, he succeeded in setting a new record of 171 mph* (* only his head reached that speed, not the car).

1927: Dancer Isadora Duncan died of accidental strangulation and a broken neck when one of her trademark long scarves caught on the wheel of a car in which she was a passenger.

1935: Baseball player Len Koenecke was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher by the crew of an aircraft after provoking a fight with the pilot during flight. (Their battering average for the flight was 1.000)

1941: Writer Sherwood Anderson swallowed a toothpick at a party and died of peritonitis. (But not from periodontitis.)

1943: Lady Be Good, a USAAF B-24 bomber, lost its way and crash landed in the Libyan Desert. Mummified remains of its crew, who struggled for a week without water, were not found until 1960. (At least they could remember their names. Because there wasn't no one for to give them no pain.)

1971: Jerome Rodale, an American pioneer of organic farming, died of a heart attack while being interviewed on "The Dick Cavett Show." According to urban legend, when Rodale appeared to fall asleep, Cavett quipped, "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?" Cavett later stated in a New York Times article that the myth is incorrect; the initial reaction to Rodale's seizure, he says, was fellow guest Pete Hamill saying in a low voice to Cavett, "This looks bad." (To which Cavett replied, "Well, no shit, Captain Obvious.") The show was never broadcast. (So let me get this straight. The organic farmer fell asleep? But not Cavett and everyone else listening to him talk about organic farming?)

1972: Leslie Harvey, guitarist of Stone the Crows, was electrocuted on stage by a live microphone. (I could make some lame jokes here about how no one was ever charged with his death, or how he finally got those new amps he wanted. But I won't.)

1974: Christine Chubbuck, an American television news reporter, committed suicide during a live broadcast on July 15. At 9:38 AM, 8 minutes into her talk show on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, she drew out a revolver and shot herself in the head. (I get that same urge when I when I watch talk shows.)

1975: Alex Mitchell, a 50-year-old bricklayer in England, literally died laughing while watching an episode of "The Goodies." According to his wife, Mitchell was unable to stop laughing while watching a sketch in the episode "Kung Fu Kapers" in which Tim Brooke-Taylor, dressed as a kilted Scotsman, used a set of bagpipes to defend himself from a psychopathic black pudding in a demonstration of the Scottish martial art of "Hoots-Toot-Ochaye." After twenty-five minutes of continuous laughter, Mitchell finally slumped on the sofa, dead from heart failure. (Well, it does sound funny.)

1976: Keith Relf, former singer for The Yardbirds, was electrocuted while practicing his electric guitar, which was not properly grounded. (Although Relf was, three days after his death.)

1981: Carl McCunn paid a bush pilot to drop him at a remote lake near the Colleen River in Alaska to photograph wildlife, but had not arranged for the pilot to pick him up again. (The devil is in the details, ain't he?) Rather than starve, McCunn shot himself in the head. His body was found in February 1982.

1981: Movie director Boris Sagal died while shooting the TV miniseries World War III when he walked into the tail-rotor blade of a helicopter and was decapitated. (Aaaaand...cut!)

1982: Vic Morrow, actor, was decapitated by a helicopter blade during filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie, along with two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.

1983: Professional diver Sergei Chalibashvili died during the World University Games. When he attempted a three-and-a-half reverse somersault in the tuck position, Chalibashvili smashed his head on the board and was knocked unconscious. He was in a coma for a week before dying. (He received a cumulative score of 0.0 for the dive, but only after the French judge's score of -3.5 was thrown out.)

1984: Jon-Erik Hexum, an American television actor, died after he shot himself in the head with a prop gun during a break in filming on the set of the CBS series Cover Up, a program about a pair of fashion photographers/models who were actually secret agents. Hexum apparently did not realize that blanks use paper or plastic wadding to seal gun powder into the shell, and that this wadding is propelled out of the barrel of the gun with enough force to cause severe injury or death if the weapon is fired at point-blank range. (Shame, because it sounds like it could've been a great show.)

1984: British TV actor Tommy Cooper collapsed from a massive heart attack in front of millions of television viewers on the popular ITV show, "Live From Her Majesty's." At first the audience assumed he was joking. (The show was renamed, "Dead From Her Majesty's")

1990: Aspiring magician Joseph W. Burrus, 32, attempted to perform an illusion of being buried alive in a plastic box covered with cement. The cement crushed the box and smothered Burrus. (His illusion of knowing what the F he was doing also failed.)

1993: Garry Hoy, a Toronto lawyer, fell to his death from the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre. Hoy had thrown himself at the window to prove the glass was "unbreakable." (Karma is a cruel mistress.)

1997: Daniel Jones, a 21-year-old from Woodbridge, Virginia, died from suffocation when the 8-foot-deep hole he dug at a beach in North Carolina collapsed and buried him in the sand. (Hey y'all, watch this!)

1999: Pro wrestler Owen Hart died during a WWE Pay-Per-View event while attempting to perform a stunt. Hart planned to make his ring entrance by being lowered on a rope attached to a safety harness, but the harness broke, dropping Hart nearly 80 feet to the ring below, where he hit his head on a turnbuckle. The Pay-Per-View match continued even after Hart was pronounced dead. (I think the fall was fake.)

2002: Richard Sumner, a British artist suffering from schizophrenia, mysteriously disappeared in 2002. Three years later, his skeleton was discovered handcuffed to a tree in a remote forest in Wales. Police investigators determined the death was a suicide, with Sumner securing himself with handcuffs and throwing the keys out of reach. (See, now that would have made a great painting.)

2003: Pizza delivery man Brian Wells was killed by a time bomb which was fastened around his neck. He was apprehended by the police after robbing a bank, and claimed he had been forced to do it by men who put the bomb around his neck and threatened to kill him if he refused. The bomb later exploded, killing him. (After this, Domino's realized they were taking the "30 minutes or less" promise a little too seriously, and backed off.)

2003: Brandon Vedas died of a drug overdose while engaged in an Internet chat, as shown on his webcam. ("OMG, 4ril?!)

2003: Timothy Treadwell, an American environmentalist who had lived in the Alaskan wilderness among brown bears for thirteen summers, was killed and partially consumed by a bear, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard. The incident is described in Werner Herzog's documentary film Grizzly Man.

2005: Kenneth Pinyan of Seattle died of acute peritonitis (a lot of that going around) after engaging in anal sex with a stallion. Pinyan delayed his visit to the hospital for several hours out of fear of arrest. The case led to the criminalization of bestiality in Washington. His story was recounted in the 2007 documentary film Zoo. ("If a horse is the source of your intercourse, try to endorse a course of less force...")

2005: 28-year-old South Korean, Lee Seung Seop, collapsed of fatigue and died after playing Starcraft for almost 50 consecutive hours in an Internet cafe. (PWN3D!!!!!)

2006: Mariesa Weber, a 5'3" Florida woman, fell behind a 6' tall bookcase in her family's home and suffocated. She was not discovered for 11 days; her family thought she had been kidnapped. (They obviously don't read much.)

2007: Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old woman from Sacramento, California, died of water intoxication while trying to win a videogame system in a contest held by a local radio station. The contest, called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii," involved drinking large quantities of water without urinating. Strange placed second. (But received an A+ for effort.)


  1. What about Bruce Lee? That was pretty strange as well.

  2. "If a horse is the source of your intercourse, try to endorse a course of less force...", Great! Now I've got that running though my head... That and a horse with no name.

    Excellent comments!

  3. I could be wrong, but I think one of the Christian saints was martyred by being crushed to death in a giant pestle and mortar. And there was a philosopher who was killed by a flying turtle during a very windy day.

  4. I never really liked Craig Kilbourn on The Daily Show, but I did think it was funny when he reported -- after the death of Owen Hart (aka "Blue Blazer") -- that he was survived by his partner, White Turtleneck. I don't think the wrestling community was amused, though.

  5. ok, yes elvis was fat but he did not eat himself to death. he died of a heart attack from ingesting too many drugs. yes folks, DRUGS.

    that is all.

  6. Swine flu sounds kind of weird.

  7. Would it be reduntant of me to mention this year's Darwin award winners?

    (actually, I hadn't realized they've already come out this year, and didn't think about it until reading a great post by Cary...thanks!)

    ...and, for the record, anal sex with stallions is the exception rather than the rule up here in Washington (just in case there were any jokes-in-waiting).

  8. I hope I die laughing. But I hope it's not because I'm senile and think a drunken donkey eating figs is hilarious. Ah, well, I guess if I'm senile I won't care. Everything will be funny.

  9. re: 09 Darwin Awards. Turns out they're not out yet this year. Never mind. Does anyone know when that does happen?

  10. "Aaaaand...cut!" HA! :D

    Your observations are spot on, Cary.

  11. "No info on whether he came before he went." ROFL Weird things happen just before you die.

  12. Correction: NY Yankees pitcher Carl Mays threw the deadly pitch

    just thought you'd want to know.

  13. @nymph...I'm pretty sure that was a joke. Nolan Ryan is old but he ain't that old.

    I once nominated Vic Morrow as an honorary member of our local Rotary Club....and our dumbass president actually put the motion to a vote. I never did figure out where to send his plaque.

    I think I'll nominate Boris Sagal next month and see what happens.

  14. Yes, the Nolan Ryan bit was my way of pointing out how damn long the old guy played in the majors, as well as how hard he threw.

    The Elvis line was also a joke. I realize he died from rampant drug usage, but the food didn't help.

    Work with me, people. It's called narrative license. Thank you.

  15. oh no you di'int!!!

    ("If a horse is the source of your intercourse, try to endorse a course of less force...")


  16. 258: St. Lawrence was martyred by being grilled over a fire on a large metal gridiron at Rome. According to legend, Lawrence refused to give information about the Church to the Romans, and instead exclaimed, "I am done on this side! Turn me over."

    "I am done on this side! Turn me over," is an alternative translation of the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells us to "Turn the other cheek."

    Poor St. Lawrence. If he'd been around in 258 BC, none of this would have happened.

  17. 2005: 28-year-old South Korean, Lee Seung Seop, collapsed of fatigue and died after playing Starcraft for almost 50 consecutive hours in an Internet cafe. (PWN3D!!!!!)

    South Korea is full of Internet cafés so filled with smoke it looks like a volcano erupted, and they sit for hours and hours — sometimes days — eating ramyon (Korean-style ramen, cup o' noodles) and only getting up to go to the bathroom (if that).

    And although the inventor of ramen himself lived to be 96, those chemical-laced nutrient-free noodles used as quickie meal replacement, cigarettes, intense smoke of both first- and second-hand varieties, and lack of movement are a dangerous combination. It's not so much a shock that this man died, but that so few others have followed.

  18. Hrm. I remember when John Erik Hexum died. That was really, really sad. But I thought it happened when he was doing "Voyagers", a FABULOUS show that I loved watching as a kid.

    I remember coming down the stairs, and my father telling me how he'd died. It was the first time I can remember a famous person dying that I actually knew about.

    Oh, and let's not forget Tennessee Williams' death...choked on an eyedropper bottle cap in a hotel room. Heck of a party piece, actually.

  19. Siress Yorkie wrote:
    Hrm. I remember when John Erik Hexum died. That was really, really sad. But I thought it happened when he was doing "Voyagers", a FABULOUS show that I loved watching as a kid.

    I also thought he died on the set of "Voyagers," but my memory is skewed because I was too young then and too old now.

  20. Excellent list, hilarious commentary. Thanks!

  21. Loved the list, loved the commentary, but Cary, I am going to be trying to figure out how the horse was coaxed into position for a while... logistical puzzles bother me.

  22. Those were great--your comments are the best! My happy hour at Sonic was slightly tainted by the Cherry Limeade shooting out of my nose at the stallion story. (Which is a relatively boring orifice, when you look at the options.)

  23. Ah yes, poor Chappie. He was set to retire from baseball at the end of the season to join his new father-in-law's business.

    Samsmama - I bow to you. Brilliant!

  24. "The popular theory is that Aeschylus was just milling about out in the sun one day when an eagle mistook the top of his bald head for a rock and unleashed a world of tortoise-related hurt on the poet out of a perfectly innocent desire for a mid-afternoon snack... It's worth noting that the turtle supposedly survived". - I love being a Lit major...

  25. I live a couple hours away from Sarasota, FL where the newscaster shot herself. I remember hearing about it as a kid, though I don't think the station she was on was broadcast in our area. For years I thought it was a story the older kids told to scare us younger ones, but found out years later it had really happened.

  26. Thanks, y'all.

    Scope - the Rotary Club. Excellent.

  27. Melissa - Christine Chubbuck is probably the most tragic story here. I seem to recall that she had a history of mental illness. I can't imagine seeing that as it happened - shades of Bud Dwyer. Sad.

  28. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you pro golfer Payne Stewart, whose airplane cabin spontaneously depressurized while in flight. He and the other 5 passengers died of hypoxia, froze solid, and kept flying for 1500 miles over almost 14 hours before death-spiraling nose-first into a field in South Dakota. Creeeeeepy.

  29. Is hypoxia like chicken poxia?

    Yeah, that story's fucked up for sure.

  30. @scope @ cary.....oh duh my stupid....okay...i'll work with ya.
    i'm just a girl who knows weird baseball facts.

    i'll shut up hahahahaha !!!

  31. Baseball player Ray Chapman was not killed by Nolan Ryan. It was in 1920 and the pitcher who hit him was Carl Mays.

  32. Good catch. Nothing gets by you.



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