List of unusual deaths

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This is a list of unusual deaths. This list only includes unique or extremely rare circumstances of death recorded throughout history, noted as being unusual by multiple sources. Note: some of the deaths are mythological or are considered to be unsubstantiated by contemporary researchers. Oxford Dictionaries defines the word "unusual" as "not habitually or commonly occurring or done" and "remarkable or interesting because different from or better than others."[1]

Some other articles also cover deaths that might be considered unusual or ironic, including list of entertainers who died during a performance, list of inventors killed by their own inventions, list of association footballers who died while playing, list of professional cyclists who died during a race and the list of political self-immolations.


Note: Many of these stories are likely to be apocryphal.
The death of Aeschylus illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle by Maso Finiguerra.[2]
  • c. 620 BC: Draco, Athenian law-maker, was smothered to death by gifts of cloaks and hats showered upon him by appreciative citizens at a theatre on Aegina.[3][4]
  • 564 BC: Arrhichion of Phigalia, Greek pankratiast, caused his own death during the Olympic finals. Held by his unidentified opponent in a stranglehold and unable to free himself, Arrichion's trainer shouted "What a fine funeral if you do not submit at Olympia!" Arrichion then kicked his opponent with his right foot while casting his body to the left, causing his opponent so much pain that he made the sign of defeat to the umpires, while at the same time breaking Arrichion's own neck as the other fighter was still strangleholding him. Since the opponent had conceded defeat, Arrichion was proclaimed victor posthumously.[5][6]
  • 455 BC: Aeschylus, the great Athenian author of tragedies. Valerius Maximus wrote that he was killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle that had mistaken his head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell of the reptile. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historiæ, adds that Aeschylus had been staying outdoors to avert a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object.[7][8][9]
  • 401 BC: Mithridates, a soldier who embarrassed his king, Artaxerxes II, by boasting of killing his rival, Cyrus the Younger, was executed by scaphism. The king's physician, Ctesias, reported that he survived the insect torture for 17 days.[10][11]
  • 270 BC: Philitas of Cos, Greek intellectual, is said by Athenaeus to have studied arguments and erroneous word usage so intensely that he wasted away and starved to death.[12] British classicist Alan Cameron speculates that Philitas died from a wasting disease which his contemporaries joked was caused by his pedantry.[13]
  • 210 BC: Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, whose artifacts and treasures include the famous Terracotta Army, died after ingesting several pills of mercury in the belief that it would grant him eternal life.[14][15][16]
  • 206 BC: One ancient account of the death of Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, tells that he died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine to drink to wash them down with, and then, '...having laughed too much, he died' (Diogenes Laertius 7.185).[17][18]
  • 258 AD: The deacon Saint Lawrence was roasted alive on a giant grill during the persecution of Valerian.[19][20] Prudentius tells that he joked with his tormentors, "Turn me over — I'm done on this side".[21] He is now the patron saint of cooks and firefighters.[22]
The stoic Chrysippus who is said to have died of laughter when a donkey ate his figs. 
Greek intellectual Philitas of Cos, said to have studied arguments and erroneous word usage so intensely that he wasted away and starved to death.[12] 
Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China who sought immortality through ingesting poisonous mercury. 
The martyrdom of Saint Lawrence by Titian shows Lawrence over the fire. 

Middle Ages[edit]

  • 1327: Edward II of England, after being deposed and imprisoned by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, was rumoured to have been murdered by having a horn pushed into his anus through which a red-hot iron was inserted, burning out his internal organs without marking his body.[23][24] However there is no real academic consensus on the manner of Edward II's death and it has been plausibly argued that the story is propaganda.[25]


18th century[edit]

  • 1771: Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden, died of digestion problems on 12 February 1771 after having consumed a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk.[33] He is thus remembered by Swedish schoolchildren as "the king who ate himself to death."[34]

19th century[edit]

Clement Vallandigham – died after demonstrating how a victim might have accidentally shot himself.
  • 1871: Clement Vallandigham, a lawyer and Ohio, U.S., politician defending a man on a charge of murder, accidentally shot himself demonstrating how the victim might have shot himself while in the process of drawing a weapon when standing from a kneeling position. Though the defendant, Thomas McGehan, was ultimately cleared, Vallandigham died from his wound.[37][38]

20th century[edit]


Isadora Duncan, dancer, died when her long scarf caught on the wheel of a car, breaking her neck.
  • 1926: Phillip McClean, 16, from Queensland, Australia, became the only person documented to have been killed by a cassowary. After encountering the bird on their family property near Mossman in April,[41] McClean and his brother decided to kill it with clubs. When McClean struck the bird, it knocked him down, then kicked him in the neck, opening a 1.25 cm (0.5 in) long cut in one of his main blood vessels. Though the boy managed to get back on his feet and run away, he collapsed a short while later and died from the hemorrhage.[42]
  • 1926: Harry Houdini, the famous American escape artist, was punched in the stomach by an amateur boxer. Though Houdini had performed this stunt before, he was not prepared for the punch and complications from this injury may have caused him to die days later, on 31 October 1926. It was later determined that Houdini died of a ruptured appendix,[43] though it is contested as to whether or not the punches actually caused the appendicitis.[44][45]
  • 1927: Isadora Duncan, dancer, died of a broken neck when her long scarf caught on the wheel of a car in which she was a passenger.[46]



  • 1961: U.S. Army Specialists John A. Byrnes and Richard Leroy McKinley and Navy Electrician's Mate Richard C. Legg were killed by a water hammer explosion during maintenance on the SL-1 nuclear reactor in Idaho.[49][50][51][52][53]
  • 1966: Skydiver Nick Piantanida died from the effects of uncontrolled decompression four months after an attempt to break the world record for the highest parachute jump. During his third attempt, his face mask came loose (or he possibly opened it by mistake), causing loss of air pressure and irreversible brain damage.[54][55]


  • 1974: Basil Brown, a 48-year-old health food advocate from Croydon, England, drank himself to death by consuming 10 gallons (37.85 litres) of carrot juice in ten days, causing him to overdose on vitamin A and suffer severe liver damage.[57][58]
  • 1978: Kurt Gödel, the Austrian/American logician and mathematician, died of starvation when his wife was hospitalized. Gödel suffered from extreme paranoia and refused to eat food prepared by anyone else.[63]
  • 1979: Robert Williams, a worker at a Ford Motor Co. plant, was the first known human to be killed by a robot,[64] after the arm of a one-ton factory robot hit him in the head.[65]
  • 1979: John Bowen, a 20-year-old from Nashua, New Hampshire, U.S., was attending a New York Jets football game at Shea Stadium on 9 December. During a half-time show event featuring custom-made remote control flying machines, a 40-pound model plane shaped like a lawnmower accidentally dove into the stands, striking Bowen and another spectator, causing severe head injuries. Bowen died in the hospital four days later.[66][67]


  • 1981: David Allen Kirwan, a 24-year-old, died from third-degree burns after attempting to rescue a friend's dog from the 200 °F (93 °C) water in Celestine Pool, a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park on 20 July 1981.[68][69]
  • 1981: Boris Sagal, a film director, died while shooting the TV miniseries World War III when he walked into the tail rotor blade of a helicopter and was nearly decapitated.[70][71]
  • 1982: David Grundman was killed near Lake Pleasant, Arizona, U.S., while shooting at cacti with his shotgun. After he fired several shots at a 26 ft (8 m) tall Saguaro Cactus from extremely close range, a 4 ft (1.2 m) limb of the cactus detached and fell on him, crushing him.[71][72][73]


  • 1993: Garry Hoy, a 38-year-old lawyer in Toronto, Canada, fell to his death on 9 July 1993, after he threw himself against a window on the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre in an attempt to prove to a group of visitors that the glass was "unbreakable," a demonstration he had done many times before. The glass did not break, but popped out of the window frame, causing Hoy to plummet 24 stories to his death.[76][77]
  • 1997: Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College, died of mercury poisoning ten months after a few drops of dimethylmercury landed on her protective gloves. Although Wetterhahn had been following the required procedures for handling the chemical, it still permeated her gloves and skin within seconds. As a result of her death, regulations were altered.[78][79]
  • 1999: Jon Desborough, a physical education teacher at Liverpool College, died when he slipped and fell onto the blunt end of a javelin he was retrieving. The javelin passed through his eye socket and into his brain, causing severe brain damage and putting him into a coma. He died a month later.[80][81]

21st century[edit]



  • 2010: Mike Edwards, British founding member and cellist for the band ELO, died when a large round bale of hay rolled down a hill and smashed his van while he was out driving.[45][92][93]
  • 2011: Jose Luis Ochoa, 35, died after being stabbed in the leg at an illegal cockfight in Tulare County, California U.S., by one of the birds that had a knife attached to its limb.[94][95]
  • 2012: Edward Archbold, 32, a man of West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., died after winning a cockroach eating contest. The cause of death was determined to be accidental choking due to "arthropod body parts."[96][97]
  • 2013: Takuya Nagaya, 23, from Japan, started to slither on the floor and talk about becoming a snake. His mother took this to mean that he had been possessed by a snake demon and called for her husband, 53-year-old Katsumi Nagaya, who spent the next two days physically beating his son in an attempt to exorcise the demon. This killed Takuya.[98]
  • 2013: An unnamed Belarusian fisherman, 60, was killed by a beaver while attempting to grab the animal to have his picture taken with it. The beaver bit the man, severing a large artery in his leg.[99][100][101]
  • 2013: João Maria de Souza, 45, of Caratinga, Brazil, was killed while asleep, by a cow that fell through the roof of his house onto his bed.[102]
  • 2013: Kendrick Johnson, 17, of Lowndes High School, Georgia, was discovered trapped upside down in a rolled up gym mat in his high school gymnasium. Police had originally ruled that the cause of Johnson's death was accidental positional asphyxiation after he climbed in to retrieve a shoe and became trapped. The case has since been reopened and investigated as a possible homicide.[103][104][105][106]
  • 2014: Oscar Otero Aguilar, 21, of Mexico City, Mexico, accidentally shot himself in the head while posing for a “selfie” with a loaded gun.[107]
  • 2014: Peng Fan, a chef in Foshan, Southern China, was bitten by a cobra's severed head, which he had cut off 20 minutes prior. Fan had set the head aside while using the body to prepare a soup.[108] According to investigating police, the case was "highly unusual". The chef might have had a severe reaction to the bite.[109]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]