Death from laughter

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Chrysippus allegedly died of laughter after witnessing a donkey eating a fig.[1]
Der Tod des Dichters Pietro Aretino (The Death of the Poet Pietro Aretino) by Anselm Feuerbach

Death from laughter is an extremely rare form of death, usually resulting from either cardiac arrest or asphyxiation, that has itself been caused by a fit of laughter. Though uncommon, death by laughter has been recorded from the times of ancient Greece to modern times.

Usually, the phrase "dying from laughter" is used as a hyperbole.


Laughter is normally harmless. However, death may result from several pathologies that deviate from benign laughter. Infarction of the pons and the medulla oblongata in the brain may cause the pseudobulbar affect.[2] Asphyxiation caused by laughter leads the body to shut down from the lack of oxygen.

Laughter can cause atonia and collapse ("agelastic syncope"),[3][4][5][6] which in turn can cause trauma. See also laughter-induced syncope, cataplexy, and Bezold–Jarisch reflex. Gelastic seizures can be due to focal lesions to the hypothalamus.[7] Depending upon the size of the lesion, the emotional lability may be a sign of an acute condition, and not itself the cause of the fatality. Gelastic syncope has also been associated with the cerebellum.[8]

Notable cases[edit]

  • Zeuxis, a 5th-century BC Greek painter, is said to have died laughing at the humorous way in which he painted the goddess Aphrodite – after the old woman who commissioned it insisted on modelling for the portrait.[9]
  • Chrysippus, also known as "the man who died from laughing at his joke", is a 3rd-century BC Greek Stoic philosopher who died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his fermented figs; he told a slave to give the donkey undiluted wine to wash them down, and then, "having laughed too much, he died" (Diogenes Laërtius 7.185).[10]
  • In 1410, King Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughter triggered by a joke told by his favourite court jester.[11]
  • In 1556, Pietro Aretino "is said to have died of suffocation from laughing too much".[12]
  • In 1660, Thomas Urquhart, the Scottish aristocrat, polymath, and first translator of François Rabelais' writings into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had taken the throne.[13][14]
  • On October 14, 1920, 56-year-old Arthur Cobcroft, a dog trainer from Loftus Street, Leichhardt, Australia, was reading a five-year-old newspaper and was amused at the prices for some commodities in 1915 as compared to 1920. He made a remark to his wife regarding this and burst into laughter, and in the midst of it, he collapsed and died. A doctor surnamed Nixon was called in, and stated that the death was due to heart failure, brought by excessive laughter.[15][16][17][18]
  • During the night of October 30, 1965 in Manila, Philippines, a 24-year-old carpenter who was well-known for making his companions laugh was telling jokes to his friends. The joke, which the carpenter's friends told to the police, was so funny that it caused the carpenter to fall in a uncontrollable fit of laughter, from which he then fainted, was brought to the hospital, but died before he could be given medical help.[19][20] The book The Big Book of Boy Stuff by author Bart King recounts the incident in anecdotal form, where the carpenter was instead told the joke by his friends rather than himself, and "laughed until he cried, collapsed, and then died."[21]
  • On March 24, 1975, Alex Mitchell, from King's Lynn, England, died laughing while watching the "Kung Fu Kapers" episode of The Goodies, featuring a kilt-clad Scotsman with his bagpipes battling a master of the Lancastrian martial art "Eckythump", who was armed with a black pudding. After 25 minutes of continuous laughter, Mitchell then slumped on the sofa and died from heart failure. His widow later sent The Goodies a letter thanking them for making Mitchell's final moments of life so pleasant.[22][23][24][25] Diagnosis of his granddaughter in 2012 of having the inheritable long QT syndrome (a heart rhythm abnormality) suggests that Mitchell may have died of a cardiac arrest caused by the same condition.[26]
  • In 1989, during the initial run of the film A Fish Called Wanda, a 56-year-old Danish audiologist named Ole Bentzen reportedly laughed himself to death.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Inwood, B. and Gerson, L.P. (2008) The Stoics Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, p. 6
  2. ^ Gondim FA, Parks BJ, Cruz-Flores S (December 2001). "'Fou rire prodromique' as the presentation of pontine ischaemia secondary to vertebrobasilar stenosis". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 71 (6): 802–804. doi:10.1136/jnnp.71.6.802. PMC 1737630. PMID 11723208.
  3. ^ Reiss AL, Hoeft F, Tenforde AS, Chen W, Mobbs D, Mignot EJ (2008). Greene E (ed.). "Anomalous hypothalamic responses to humor in cataplexy". PLOS ONE. 3 (5): e2225. Bibcode:2008PLoSO...3.2225R. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002225. PMC 2377337. PMID 18493621.
  4. ^ Nishida K, Hirota SK, Tokeshi J (2008). "Laugh syncope as a rare sub-type of the situational syncopes: a case report". J Med Case Rep. 2 (1): 197. doi:10.1186/1752-1947-2-197. PMC 2440757. PMID 18538031.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unflagged free DOI (link)
  5. ^ Totah AR, Benbadis SR (January 2002). "Gelastic syncope mistaken for cataplexy". Sleep Med. 3 (1): 77–78. doi:10.1016/S1389-9457(01)00113-7. PMID 14592259.
  6. ^ Lo R, Cohen TJ (November 2007). "Laughter-induced syncope: no laughing matter". Am. J. Med. 120 (11): e5. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.07.019. PMID 17976409.
  7. ^ Cheung CS, Parrent AG, Burneo JG (December 2007). "Gelastic seizures: not always hypothalamic hamartoma". Epileptic Disord. 9 (4): 453–458. doi:10.1684/epd.2007.0139 (inactive 1 August 2023). PMID 18077234.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of August 2023 (link)
  8. ^ Famularo G, Corsi FM, Minisola G, De Simone C, Nicotra GC (August 2007). "Cerebellar tumour presenting with pathological laughter and gelastic syncope". Eur. J. Neurol. 14 (8): 940–943. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1331.2007.01784.x. PMID 17662020. S2CID 10940256.
  9. ^ Bark, Julianna (2007–2008). "The Spectacular Self: Jean-Etienne Liotard's Self-Portrait Laughing". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Laërtius, Diogenes. Lives, Teachings and Sayings of the Eminent Philosophers, with an English translation by R.D. Hicks (1964–1965). Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: Harvard UP/W. Heinemann Ltd.
  11. ^ Morris, Paul N. (October 2000). "Patronage and Piety: Montserrat and the Royal House of Medieval Catalonia-Aragon" (PDF). p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-03-04.
  12. ^ Waterfield, Gordon, ed. First Footsteps in East Africa, (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1966) p. 59 footnote.
  13. ^ Brown, Huntington (1968). Rabelais in English Literature. Routledge. p. 126. ISBN 0-7146-2051-3.
  14. ^ The History of Scottish Poetry. Edmonston & Douglas. 1861. p. 539, footnote 4.
  15. ^ Laughter causes death, The Argus (October 18, 1920)
  16. ^ Died of Laughter, The Register (October 18, 1920)
  17. ^ Death Follows Laughter., Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (October 21, 1920)
  18. ^ Died Laughing., The Sydney Stock and Station Journal (October 22, 1920)
  19. ^ Morreu o contador de piadas, Diario de Noticias (October 30, 1965)
  20. ^ Kingston Gleaner, Sunday, October 1965, p. 3. "Manila, Oct. 30 - A 24-year-old carpenter died laughing here last night, the police reported. They said the man was telling his friends a joke which was so funny that he could not stop laughing. He laughed until he collapsed. Friends rushed him to a hospital but he was dead." Kingston Gleaner (October 31, 1965)
  21. ^ King, Bart (2004-07-15). The Big Book of Boy Stuff. Gibbs Smith. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-4236-1118-9. More recently, a 24-year-old carpenter in the Philippines was told a joke by a friend. The carpenter thought the joke was so funny, he laughed until he cried, collapsed, and then died.
  22. ^ "The Last Laugh's on Him". Urban Legends Reference Pages. 2007-01-19. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
  23. ^ Ross, Robert (2000). The Complete Goodies. London: B T Batsford.
  24. ^ "A Goodies Way to Go – Laughing". Eastern Daily Press. Norwich. 29 March 1975.
  25. ^ Staveacre, Tony (1987). Slapstick! The Illustrated Story of Knockabout Comedy. Angus & Robinson.
  26. ^ Singh, Anita (21 Jun 2012). "Man who died laughing at Goodies had Long QT syndrome". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  27. ^ "10 People Who Literally Died From Laughter". 17 March 2015.
  28. ^ King, Darryn (2018-07-12). "'Just a Concoction of Nonsense': The Oral History of A Fish Called Wanda". Vanity Fair Blogs. Retrieved 2021-10-04.

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