Death is the only thing none of us can avoid, but every now and then someone goes out with a bang. A real one.
Throughout history, many unlucky individuals have – often not by choice – shuffled off this mortal coil in the most amusing of ways.
While countless have died heroically for country or cause, others have gone out in a less than honourable fashion, often making the history books for entirely the wrong reasons.
Here are some of the weirdest ways people have died throughout history. And rest assured, these sudden demises will make Elvis’s death on the porcelain throne look positively elegant by comparison.
Next time you crack up in uncontrollable fits of laughter, take some time to consider poor old Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosopher who spent his last few moments on earth racked by hysterics.
After feeding his donkey wine, he watched the drunken beast attempt to consume wild figs, and found this sight to be so hilarious, he laughed himself – literally – to death.
It’s called fatal hilarity, and there have been at least two recorded cases in history. Death is usually brought about by asphyxiation or heart failure. In some of the cases, the victims have laughed throughout the night, and late into the next day. Talk about a killer punch-line.
Sometimes we put things in our mouths that we aren’t supposed to. And other times, we swallow these things. Basic rule of thumb – if it’s not food, don’t eat it.
Take Mr Sherwood Anderson, for example, who swallowed a toothpick at a dinner party in 1941. This fairly successful writer later developed a case of peritonitis and his life and career came to a grim and painful end.
Peritonitis is the inflammation of the serous membrane which lines the abdominal cavity, leading to infection, internal bleeding and a long and painful death. Mr Anderson, what have we learnt?
Greed has been said to be one of man’s greatest evils, and Mr Jack Daniels (yes, that Jack Daniels) learnt this lesson the hard way.
Mr Daniels’ rather embarrassing death is never shown on any of the patriotic advertisements, but rest assured if it were, there’d be a lot more ‘Walkers’ on the earth.
In 1911, Jack went up the proverbial hill and didn’t come back after kicking the living daylights out of his safe for which he couldn’t remember the combination (been swimming in the vats again, Jack?). He developed a rather juicy toe injury, and died of blood poisoning shortly afterwards.
Many people would agree that dying during sex would be an excellent way to go – but what if it's while having sex with yourself? In 1994, the British Journalist and Conservative Party politician, Stephen Milligan, died as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation, or commonly known as ‘scarfing’.
This potentially fatal method of masturbation involves cutting off oxygen to the brain during the act, to experience heightened pleasure and a more intense orgasm. Death often occurs when the participant loses consciousness, and thus loses control over the strangling mechanism, which eventually kills them.
A freak accident
Every now and then, someone gets a really raw deal. Like Isadora Duncan for example, who some have dubbed the ‘Mother of Modern Dance’.
This talented young woman died in a freak accident in Nice, France, in 1926. She was known to wear long, flowing scarves that would often be seen fluttering behind her in the wind, but this time, the fluttering became fatal.
That day, her friend picked her up in his open-roofed car, and as they sped off, her scarf became lodged in the open spoke wheel of the vehicle, and wrapped itself around the axle. Isadora was yanked from her seat, and dragged for several metres behind the car before the driver realised what had happened. She died instantly from a broken neck.
Self-induced cannibalistic masochism
Inviting a friend over for dinner is one thing, but turning that same friend into the main course is a completely different sack of potatoes, especially when said friend enjoys the meal too.
Such was the case with Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, who posted an internet advertisement in 2001 stating that he was looking for someone with whom to eat his penis with, and then for that person to eat him.
Armin Meiwes eagerly replied to this ad, and they got together. For starters, they both dined on Brandes’s now severed penis, after which Meiwes killed Brandes by stabbing him several times in the neck, and then ate him. Gravy, anyone?
Death by computer games
Computer games have evolved dramatically since the days of the octopus-chomping Pacman. In fact, it is now possible for anyone to create a virtual character online, and interact with millions of other ‘people’ from around the world.
Throw in a couple of dragons, a massive sword and quest or two, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Just ask Lee Seung Seop of Korea, who is no longer with us.
This 28-year-old man died of dehydration and heart failure after a 50-hour straight session of World of Warcraft, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game. Throughout this period, he had very little water and practically no food, and eventually collapsed from exhaustion, dying shortly afterwards.
An online funeral was held for him, where more than 2000 players gathered at a memorial site, and observed a minute of virtual silence. There’s nothing more to say here.
Spontaneous human combustion
Everyone knows the story about the little old granny who somehow suddenly disintegrated into ashes on her rocking chair. And although there have been recorded cases, SHC still remains an unsubstantiated scientific hypothesis.
In 1951, Mary Hardy Reeser, aka ‘The Cinder Lady’, was reduced to nothing more than a smouldering pile of ash in her living room. All that remained of this unfortunate pensioner was her left foot (with slipper still attached), and her skull (which had apparently shrunk).
The most popular explanation for SHC is known as the ‘wick effect’, which states that once the body catches on fire, it has enough fat and combustible solids to be completely incinerated. In Mary’s case, it is believed that she passed out having taken sleeping pills – at the time she was smoking, set her blanket on fire, and eventually ignited herself.
Experiments have shown that a body can burn in this way for up to seven hours. Strangely, these fires are often so centralised that the surrounding furniture is hardly damaged by the flames. Ashes to ashes, huh?
The end is nigh
Although any of these freakish endings could happen to you, the chances are slim. Many of us will go out with little fuss, so no need to get paranoid about the end. Besides, it’ll be a difficult task indeed to top any of these deadly finales.
(Warren Vonk, Health24.com, updated July 2010)
More than burial or cremation
Go the green way
Peter Bowler and Jonathan Green. What a way to Go, deaths with a difference.
Information portal on autoerotic asphyxiation syndrome, www.autoerotic-asphyxiation.com (2006)