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List of unusual deaths

This is a list of unusual deaths, including unique or extremely rare causes of death recorded throughout history, as well as less rare but still unusual causes of death of prominent persons.

Ancient Age

  • 456 BC: Aeschylus, Greek dramatist, according to legend, died when a vulture, mistaking his bald head for a stone, dropped a tortoise on it.
  • 207 BC: Chrysippus, Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after seeing a donkey eating figs.
  • 121 BC: Gaius Gracchus, Roman tribune, was, according to the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, executed by assassins out to receive a bounty on the weight of his head in gold. One of the co-conspirators in his murder, Septimuleius, then decapitated Gaius, scooped the brains out of his severed head, and filled the cavity of his skull with molten lead. Once the lead hardened, the head was taken to the Senate and weighed in on the scale at over seventeen pounds. Septimuleius was paid in full. [1]
  • 30 BC: Cleopatra, beautiful queen of Ptolemaic Egypt, allegedly killed herself with an asp snake bite.
  • 260: Roman emperor Valerian, after being defeated in battle and captured by the Persians was used as a footstool by their king Shapur I. After a long period of treatment and humiliation of this sort, he offered Shapur a huge ransom for his release. In reply, Shapur had molten gold poured down his throat. He then had the unfortunate Valerian skinned and his skin stuffed with straw and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple. Only after Persia's defeat in their last war with Rome three and a half centuries later was his skin given a cremation and burial.
  • 453: Attila the Hun suffered a severe nosebleed and choked to death on his wedding night.

Middle Age

Early Modern Age

Modern Age

  • 1901: William McKinley, 25th president of the United States, was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, concealed the gun by a cast on his arm.
  • 1911: Jack Daniel, founder of the famous Tennessee whiskey distillery, died of blood poisoning due to a toe injury he received after kicking his safe in anger when he could not remember its combination code.
  • 1915: François Faber, Luxembourgean Tour de France winner, died in a trench on the western front of World War I. He received a telegram saying his wife had given birth to a daughter. He cheered, giving away his position, and was shot by a German sniper.
  • 1916: Grigori Rasputin, Russian mystic, died of drowning while trapped under ice. Although the details of his murder are disputed, he was allegedly placed in the water through a hole in the winter ice after having been poisoned, shot multiple times in the head, lung, and liver, and bludgeoned.
  • 1916 : Saki (the pseudonym of H. H. Munro), English satirist, novelist and wit, was killed in France, near Beaumont-Hamel during World War One by a sniper's bullet, having reportedly cried "Put that damned cigarette out!" to a fellow officer in his trench (lest the smoke revealed their whereabouts), thus alerting the enemy to his presence.
  • 1918: Young princesses of the Romanov tsar dynasty had to be slaughtered with bayonets, after their communist captors' bullets bounced off their garments, stuffed full of hidden family gems.
  • 1926: Barcelona's star architect Antoni Gaudi was run over by a tram. Cab drivers did not take him to hospital immediately, not recognizing the ragged figure who had no money in his pockets. Gaudi was brought to a pauper's hospital, where he died some days later.
  • 1927: J.G. Parry-Thomas, a British racing driver, was decaptitated by his car's drive chain which, under duress, snapped and whipped into the cockpit. He was attempting to break his own Land speed record which he had set the previous year. Incredibly enough, despite being killed in the attempt, he succeeded in setting a new record of 171mph.
  • 1927: Isadora Duncan, dancer, died of accidental strangulation and broken neck when her scarf caught on the wheel of a car in which she was a passenger.
  • 1928: Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian physician, lost his life following one of his experiments, in which the blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis was given to him in a transfusion.
  • 1933: Michael Malloy, a homeless man, was murdered by gassing after surviving multiple poisonings, intentional exposure, and being struck by a car. Malloy was murdered by five men in a plot to collect on life insurance policies they'd purchased.
  • 1937: Harold Davidson, a defrocked Church of England Rector, died after being mauled by a lion.
  • 1940: Leon Trotsky, the Soviet revolutionary leader in exile, was assassinated with an ice axe in his Mexico home.
  • 1941: Sherwood Anderson, writer, swallowed a toothpick at a party and then died of peritonitis.
  • 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.
  • 1945: After surviving the Second World War, composer Anton Webern was shot by an American sentry on the veranda of his house in Salzburg, Austria, when he had stepped outside to smoke his after-dinner cigar.
  • 1945: Austrian author Ödön von Horvath was killed by a falling branch during a thunderstorm in Paris
  • 1953: Frank Hayes, jockey, suffered a heart attack during a horse race. The horse, Sweet Kiss, went on to finish first, making Hayes the only deceased jockey to win a race.
  • 1960: Movie legend Clark Gable died of long term heart disease hours before his son was born. Some attributed his death to exhaustion caused by involvement with his film partner Marilyn Monroe, perhaps contributing to her worsening mental condition and eventual suicide.
  • 1967: A flash fire began in the pure oxygen atmosphere inside the unlaunched Apollo 1 spacecraft, killing its crew during a training exercise.
  • 1967: Harold Holt, the serving Prime Minister of Australia, vanished while swimming on a beach near Melbourne. His body was never found.
  • 1968: Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, author, was accidentally electrocuted to death while taking a bath.
  • 1971: John Fare, Canadian artist, decapitated by a robot during an art performance
  • 1971: Jerome Irving Rodale, an American pioneer of organic farming, died of a heart attack while being interviewed on the Dick Cavett Show. When he appeared to fall asleep, Cavett quipped "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?".[2] The show was never broadcast.
  • 1973: Péter Vályi, finance minister of Hungary fell into a blast furnace on a visit to a steelworks factory at Miskolc.
  • 1974: Christine Chubbuck, an American television news reporter committed suicide during a live broadcast on July 15th. 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.
  • 1977: Tom Pryce, a Formula One driver, and a 19-year-old track marshal both died at the 1977 South African Grand Prix after the marshal ran across the track beyond a blind brow to attend to another car and was struck by Pryce's car. Pryce was hit in the face by the marshal's fire extinguisher and was killed instantly.
  • 1978: Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was assassinated by poisoning in London by an unknown assailant who shot him in the leg with a specially modified umbrella that fired a metal pellet with a small cavity full of ricin poison.
  • 1981: A 25-year-old Dutch woman studying in Paris, Renée Hartevelt, was killed and eaten by a classmate, Issei Sagawa, when he invited her to dinner for a literary conversation. The killer was declared unfit to stand trial and extradited back to Japan, where he was released from custody within fifteen months.
  • 1982: Vic Morrow, actor, was decapitated by helicopter blade during filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie and was killed instantly, along with two child actors.
  • 1982: Vladimir Smirnov, an Olympic champion fencer, died of brain damage nine days after his opponent's foil snapped during a match, pierced his eyeball and entered his brain.
  • 1983: Sergei Chalibashvili, a professional diver, died after a diving accident during World University Games. When he attempted a three-and-a-half reverse somersault in the tuck position, he smashed his head on the board and was knocked unconscious. He died after being in a coma for a week.
  • 1983: Jessica Savitch, NBC television news anchor, drowned after the car she was riding in fell into a canal, flipping over and sinking in mud, sealing the doors shut.
  • 1984: Tommy Cooper, British television magician, died on stage at Her Majesty's Theatre during a live television routine. Most of the audience and viewers believed it was part of his act.
  • 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. Whether he deliberately committed suicide or was simply unaware of the potentially deadly effects of the blank round was not determined.
  • 1986: Jane Dornacker, a musician, actress and comedienne turned radio station traffic reporter, died after a helicopter owned by New York's WNBC-AM in which she was a passenger crashed into the Hudson River. The fatal crash occurred as Dornacker was delivering a traffic report, and was broadcast live on air. Her final words (to the helicopter pilot), "Hit the water! Hit the water! Hit the water!", were clearly heard by listeners.
  • 1987: Dick Shawn, aged 63, an actor and comedian, died onstage on April 17, during a monologue about the Holocaust in San Diego, California. Due to the nature of his act, audience members were at first unaware that he had suffered a massive heart attack.
  • 1987: R. Budd Dwyer, a Republican politician, committed suicide during a televised press conference. Facing a potential 55-year jail sentence for alleged involvement in a conspiracy, Dwyer shot himself in the head with a revolver.
  • 1989: A Belgian teenager was killed by a crashing soviet MiG-23 fighter jet, which escaped from Poland on autopilot after the crew ejected over a false engine failure alarm.
  • 1993: Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, was shot and killed by a prop .44 Magnum while filming the movie The Crow. The scene involved the firing of a full-powder blank (full charge of gunpowder, but no bullet) at Brandon's character. However, unknown to the film crew/firearms technician, a bullet was already lodged in the barrel. The gun had previously been fired with a dummy round that had had all its gunpowder removed, but its primer charge left intact in error. The firing of the 'squib' lodged the bullet inside the barrel. When the full powder blank round was later fired, the bullet already in the barrel shot out and fatally wounded Lee.
  • 1996: "The Engineer" Yahya Ayyash, chief Palestinian bombmaker of Hamas and responsible for over 60 Israeli civilian casualties, was assassinated by way of a Shin Bet (Shabak) rigged mobile phone, which detonated when he answered a call.
  • 1998: Sani Abacha, Nigerian dictator, died at his residence in Abuja of a heart attack, rumored to have been caused by the ingestion of large quantities of the drug Viagra as a prelude to an orgy.
  • 1999: Owen Hart, WWF (now WWE) wrestler, died when he fell 78 feet while being lowered into the ring by a cable from the stadium rafters before an upcoming match. He had been scheduled to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship that night.
  • 2001: June 1, Crown Prince Dipendra of Nepal, enraged from a dispute over his marriage arrangements (and possibly intoxicated), reportedly went on a rampage at dinner and massacred nearly the entire Royal Family, including his father the king. But in accordance with custom and tradition, Dipendra, then in a coma due to wounds sustained either from palace guards or a botched suicide attempt, became king for three days before dying on June 4. He was succeeded by his uncle, whose son mysteriously survived the massacre unscathed.
  • 2003: David Bloom, NBC news reporter, died of a pulmonary condition, DVT, possibly caused by his long hours cramped in a troop carrier while reporting on the invasion of Iraq.
  • 2003: Brian Wells, pizza deliveryman, was killed by a time bomb fastened to his neck. He was apprehended by the police for robbing a bank, and claimed he had been forced to do it by three people who had put the bomb around his neck.
  • 2003: Timothy Treadwell, an American environmentalist and self-proclaimed "eco-warrior" that had lived in the wilderness among bears for thirteen summers in a remote portion of Alaska, was killed and partially consumed along with his girlfriend after they had been slated to leave due to the impending harsh fall/winter in Alaska. The critically-acclaimed documentary film Grizzly Man, directed by Werner Herzog, was released in 2005. [3]
  • 2005 - In Enumclaw, WA. a Seattle man died of peritonitis after submitting to anal intercourse with a stallion. The man had done this before, though apparently this time his partner was a little too keen. The case may lead to the criminalization of bestiality in Washington. [4]


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