“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” — Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Everyone dies, though we may not fully understand why. It’s an inevitability.
Given that, we all have a choice: to go gently into that good night, or to rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light. Some manage to leave this world with a bit more of bang than others. Here is our list of history’s most unusual deaths.
47. Dying Of Laughter
Apparently, you really can die of laughter. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek philosopher Chrysippus died of laughter after demanding his servant feed a donkey wine.
46. Watch for falling cows?
Forget about the monsters under the bed, it’s the mammals on the roof you should watch out for. Joao Maria de Souza died in 2013 in his bed in Brazil after a cow escaped from his neighbour’s field. The cow walked down a hill onto Mr. de Souza’s roof and fell through it onto the sleeping man.
45. Not in the script
Director Boris Sagal died while directing the television mini-series World War III when he walked into the rotor blade of a helicopter on the set and was decapitated.
44. Rumors and mysteries
Rumor abounded about Bruce Lee’s death long before he actually died at age 32. He died of what was officially called a cerebral edema, while at the home of his supposed mistress in Hong Kong. The real mystery was what caused his brain to swell by almost 13%. Some experts point to a prescription pain medication, but there were no less than five separate theories as to what might have happened. The rumours continued after his death and included suggestions that he was murdered by Chinese gangsters or was the victim of a family curse.
43. A family curse?
The family curse rumour gained more traction when Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, was shot and killed at age 28 with a prop gun during the filming of the movie The Crow. The gun had been loaded with a bullet in the previous scene but without primer or gun powder, as it wasn’t actually fired. The next scene called for Brandon Lee to be shot at by another actor. Unnoticed by the crew, the bullet was lodged in the barrel and was fired when primer and gun powder were added to the gun for the shooting scene. Sadly, the cast and crew did not immediately recognize what had happened and thought Brandon Lee was still acting. The movie was eventually released posthumously with the help of stunt actors and special effects.
42. Anything for a client
Former 19th century U.S. representative Clement Vallandigham lead a colorful life that included being convicted of treason and banished to the confederacy during the civil war while his supporters nominated him for the governorship in Ohio in defiance of the Union. He continued his colorful approach in his private legal practice when he played out an elaborate demonstration attempting to prove that a murder victim could have accidentally shot himself. Unfortunately for Vallandigham, the gun he used in the demonstration was loaded and he died twelve hours later. Fortunately for his client, the demonstration was convincing, and he walked out of the courtroom a free man.
41. Maybe it’s a lawyer thing?
Another lawyer, over a century later, attempted to show a group of peers and subordinates just how shatterproof the glass window in his 24th
floor office really was by flinging himself against it. The first time, nothing happened,, but wanting to ensure he convinced his audience, Garry Hoy, threw himself against it one more time. The glass didn’t shatter just as he had predicted, however it did pop out of its frame and Hoy fell to his death.
40. Tougher than it looked
Most people scoffed when a politician recently felt the need to warn people not to shoot at an oncoming hurricane. He tweeted, “To clarify, DO NOT shoot weapons @ #Irma. You won’t make it turn around.” Arizona native, David Grundman, could have used similar advice when he used a 26ft cactus for target practice. His shots weakened a four-foot branch from the tree, which broke off and crushed him to death.
39. Should have used the dummy
Never heard of the coat parachute? There may be a reason for that. Tailor and inventor Franz Reichelt fell to his death in 1912 from the top of the Eiffel Tower while testing out his new invention, a parachute that doubled as a coat. Reichelt had convinced security that he would using a dummy for his test.
Tom and Eileen Lonergan were scuba diving on the shark-infested Great Barrier Reef when they were abandoned by their guide boat after the driver failed to make an accurate headcount and left the reef without them. Their bodies were never recovered but it is assumed they died from dehydration, drowning or shark attack.
37. Watch out for the… monkeys?
Delhi is often plagued by invading bands of monkeys, and in 2007, the city’s deputy mayor, Surinder Singh Bajwa died when he struck his head after falling from a balcony while fending off a particularly aggressive troupe of Rhesus macaques.
36. Seriously, they’re cute but homicidal
In 2015, as an Indian priest from Mirchai Gali in Patna province was killed by another troupe of monkeys hurling bricks at him from the roof. Gali was sweeping his front walkway when the monkeys began throwing the bricks and one struck him in the head. He was rushed to hospital but did not survive.
35. Unlucky Thirteen
Timothy Treadwell, a naturalist and documentary filmmaker, lived among the coastal grizzlies in Alaska’s isolated Katmai National Park for thirteen seasons in an attempt to promote understanding and protection of the bears. In 2003, during the thirteenth season, Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by one or perhaps two grizzlies. An audio recording of the attack survived to tell the story.
34. Drowning in …
In 1980, the mayor of Betterton, Maryland died when she drowned in the town’s sewage tank. Monica Meyer was doing her own tests on her town’s sewage tanks when she fell in. There would have been no chance to escape according to officials, who said the human waste would have behaved just like quicksand.
Captured by the Persians during their attack on the Roman Emperor Valerian in 260AD, a Christian deacon was roasted alive on a giant grill. The brave deacon supposedly taunted the Persians shouting, “Turn me over – I’m done on this side.” He is now Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of comedians, cooks and firefighters.
32. The only thing certain
You can’t escape death. Yet daredevil Bobby Leach defied death numerous times, including being the first to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. What finally did in him in was an orange peel. Yes, an orange peel. He slipped on the piece of fruit and broke his leg. He eventually died from complications related to the fall.
31. It’s all in the details
In 1982, Carl McCunn paid a bush pilot to bring him to a lake in a remote part of Alaska to photograph wildlife. Unfortunately, McCunn forgot to make arrangements to have someone come pick him up at the end of the summer. Facing starvation, McCunn shot himself.
30. An unforgiving land
Alaska, remote and unforgiving of the unwary or unprepared, has taken more than its fair share of people. Christopher McCandless joined the unlucky when, as a young man, he set out to find himself by living off the land deep in Alaska. McCandless, who called himself Alexander Supertramp, died of starvation in 1992 and his life and death were chronicled in the movie, Into the Wild. Unfortunately for authorities in Alaska, rather than his death serving as a warning to others, many others have ventured into the same remote part of Alaska equally unprepared in search of the bus in which McCandless lived before he died.
29. What makes you rich can kill you
Jimi Heselden, the owner of the company that made Segways, the popular two-wheeled scooters, died in 2010 when he accidentally drove one of his own scooters off a cliff in Yorkshire, England.
28. Be wary of cheating spouses
King Edward II of England was deposed and then imprisoned by his cheating wife Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer. As if that humiliation wasn’t enough, the pair then had him murdered by an assassin who thrust a red-hot poker in his anus, literally cooking his internal organs.
27. If I have to go…
George, the first Duke of Clarence, was well known for his love of liquor. When he was condemned to death following the War of the Roses, he requested he be drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine. When the execution was finished, his body was aptly shipped home in another barrel filled with brandy.
26. Do you believe me now?
Some people will go to great lengths to prove they are right. In 1900, an American physician by the name of Jesse William Lazear attempted to prove that mosquitoes carried Yellow Fever by allowing a bunch of infected mosquitoes to bite him. Soon after, he died of the disease, proving himself right.
25. A first you’d rather not claim
In 1896, Bridget Driscoll of Croyden, London captured the unfortunate claim to fame of being the first person to ever die after being struck by a car.
24. Customs can kill
In 1880, the Queen of Siam (now known as Thailand) drowned while her horrified subjects and servants looked on. They were forbidden from touching her and therefore couldn’t save her.
23. Great London Beer Flood
In 1814, one of the giant vats of the Meux’s Brewing Company burst, sending 1,000,000 Imperial pints of beer (half the amount of an Olympic sized swimming pool) into the streets. Houses were flooded, panic ensued, and eight people drowned.
22. Great Molasses Tsunami
A century later, a ruptured storage tank was also the cause of another disaster in Boston when 7.5 million litres of molasses surged through the streets, upending rail cars, tearing homes from their foundations and capturing people, horses and dogs in the rapids of waist-high, impossibly thick goo. Twenty-one people were crushed by waves or debris or drowned before the deluge subsided.
21. Choking hazard?
A twenty-two-year-old prisoner in Toronto died when he attempted to swallow a Gideon Bible whole. A judge didn’t label it a suicide and instead ruled that the man, who had mental deficiencies, had seen the Bible as some sort of allegory or symbol or was attempting to purge himself of demons.
20. Assassination by umbrella
Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was killed when a bullet filled with ricin, fired from a modified umbrella, entered his calf. No one has ever been charged for his murder. However, ten days before the murder, an attempt was made to kill another Bulgarian defector named Vladimir Kostov in the same manner. In this case though, the coating of the pellet was damaged during the shot or before, which caused the ricin to leak. Only a tiny portion of the poison got into his blood, causing only fever.
KGB defectors including Oleg Kalugin and Oleg Gordievsky have claimed that both of these incidents were the work of the KGB.
19. Death by scarf
Isadora Duncan was a dancer famous for the long, flowing scarves she always wore. Duncan was strangled to death when one of these scarves caught under the wheel of the car she was riding in.
18. Temper, temper
Jack Daniels, maker of that fine Tennessee whiskey, died from blood poisoning after angrily kicking a safe he couldn’t open and injuring his toe.
17. What doesn’t kill you
The mysterious mystic, Grigori Rasputin, was beloved by the Russian royal family but largely hated by everyone else. Just before the Russian Revolution, Rasputin was poisoned during a dinner with a political rival then shot in the head for good measure. He was then shot an additional three times and tossed into a frozen river. When his body washed ashore, it was discovered that the liquid in his lungs meant he was still alive in the river, and he had actually died of hypothermia.
16. Harry Houdini
After surviving the impossible countless times, Houdini was killed when he was punched by an amateur boxer in the stomach. The boxer had been asked Houdini if his claim that he could “survive any blow to the abdomen” was true. After Houdini said it was true, the young man delivered four punched to the conjurer’s stomach, without giving Houdini time to prepare. Houdini continued to tour and perform, despite complaining of stomach cramps and suffering from a high fever. He stopped his final show early, and as soon as the curtains closed, he collapsed on stage. He died of a ruptured appendix shortly after.
15. But she was a good cook
In 1978, Kurt Godel, the American mathematician, starved to death when his wife was hospitalized and he refused to eat food cooked by anyone else. Apparently, Godel suffered from extreme paranoia.
The governor of Otrar was a thorn in Genghis Khan’s side and after a siege of over one month, Khan and his mongol hordes finally breached the walls of Otrar only to find the governor had locked himself inside one of the inner citadels. Khan wanted him captured alive in order to enact a public execution as a warning to others. He lasted another month, eventually resorting to throwing bricks down on to the Mongols before finally being captured. His public execution was a spectacle in which molten silver was poured into his eyes and ears.
13. Video games can be deadly
Lee Seung Seop collapsed and died after playing the video game StarCraft for fifty hours straight.
12. Deadly sea creatures
Beloved crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, died while while filming a documentary about the ocean’s deadliest sea creatures when a stingray barb slashed through his heart.
11. It can kill you
Sergery Tuganov bet two women he could continuously have sex with them for twelve hours. Tuganov won the $4300 bet but minutes later died of a heart attack. It was later discovered he had ingested an entire bottle of Viagra before starting the competition.
10. When your time is up
Pizza deliveryman Brian Wells was killed when a time bomb fastened around his neck exploded. Wells had just robbed a bank and contended that he had been forced to and told authorities that the time bomb would explode if he didn’t follow instructions. Police later determined that Wells was actually involved in the robbery plot with two others.
9. Silent Assassin
Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned while living in Britain by polonium-210, which caused irreversible radiation syndrome. The former Russian secret service operative and writer is believed to have been assassinated by Russian KGB operatives.
8. I’m not joking
British comedian Tommy Cooper suffered a fatal heart attack in the middle of a live play. While the unknowing audience continued to laugh, the play continued. Cooper’s body was left on stage while attempts were made to revive him. The other actors continued and finished the play.
7. Not a drop
During a battle with invading Mongols, the ruling Caliph of Bagdad was captured and (as was natural at the time) condemned to die. Not wanting to spill royal blood, Hulagu Khan, leader of the Mongols, had his rival rolled in a carpet and trampled by horses.
6. Should have taken the stairs
Sneaking a boy into your bedroom is perhaps not that unusual, but killing him while doing it is. In 1667, James Betts died from asphyxiation after being sealed in a cupboard by his lover, the young Elizabeth Spencer, when her father unexpectedly returned. Sadly, destroyed by guilt and grief, Elizabeth committed suicide shortly after, and the story is rumoured to have inspired Romeo and Juliet.
5. Death by gluttony
King Adolph Frederick of Sweden was considered a weak ruler who failed to gain respect during his life. His death didn’t help matters. The king died after consuming a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne followed by no less than 14 helpings of his favourite dessert. The king literally ate himself to death.
4. The Ripple Effect
In Buenos Aires in 1983, a dog fell out of a 13th floor window and instantly killed an elderly woman who was walking on the street below. As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, gaping onlookers were struck by an oncoming bus and one woman was killed. A man died of a heart attack after witnessing both events.
3. Filming your own death
In 1988, Ivan Lester McGuire filmed his own death while skydiving when he leapt out a plane, bringing his camera but forgetting his parachute. The experienced skydiver and instructor had been filming all day with the heavy video equipment strapped to a backpack.
2. Revenge of the dead
Killed by the man that you just beheaded? That’s exactly what happened to Sigurd the Mighty, the nine-century Viking earl of Orkney. Following a particularly vicious battle, the earl tied the head of his enemy to his horse’s saddle but while riding home he was grazed by one of the dead man’s teeth. He died from the resulting infection of his leg wound.
1. The ultimate hoarder
Long before hoarders made reality TV, two brothers named Homer and Langley Collyer made hoarding their life’s work and ultimately their death. Langley was blind and paralyzed and Homer began the collection with newspapers he hoped his brother could read when his blindness was eventually cured. The junk collection grew out of control and they even created booby traps throughout their home to protect their loot. Responding to a call about a noxious odor in 1947, police sifted through layers of junk and eventually found Homer dead. He had been crushed when his own collection of junk collapsed on him. His brother was nowhere to be found. Authorities removed over 180 tons of junk from the house and what remained of Langley’s body was finally located weeks later. He had died of starvation when his brother no longer brought him food, and his body had been partially eaten by the dozens of rats that also lived in the home.
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