Death from laughter

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

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

Pathophysiology[edit]

Death may result from several pathologies that deviate from benign laughter. Infarction of the pons and[vague] the medulla oblongata in the brain may cause pathological laughter.[2]

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 modeling for the portrait.[9]
  • 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 with which 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's writings into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had taken the throne.[13][14]
  • In 1799, William Cushing, a pauper who lived in the parish of St Andrew's, Norwich, England, died from "a fit of excessive laughter, which lasted five minutes."[15]
  • 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 named Nixon was called in, and stated that the death was due to heart failure, brought by excessive laughter.[16][17][18][19]
  • 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 finally 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.[20][21][22][23][24] 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.[25]

See also[edit]

References[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.
  5. ^ Totah AR, Benbadis SR (January 2002). "Gelastic syncope mistaken for cataplexy". Sleep Med. 3 (1): 77–8. 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): 453–8. doi:10.1684/epd.2007.0139 (inactive 2020-11-10). PMID 18077234.CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of November 2020 (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): 940–3. 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 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. ^ "The Gentleman's Magazine". May 1799. p. 271.[failed verification]
  16. ^ Laughter causes death, The Argus (October 18, 1920)
  17. ^ Died of Laughter, The Register (October 18, 1920)
  18. ^ Death Follows Laughter., Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (October 21, 1920)
  19. ^ Died Laughing., The Sydney Stock and Station Journal (October 22, 1920)
  20. ^ "The Last Laugh's on Him". Urban Legends Reference Pages. 2007-01-19. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
  21. ^ Ross, Robert (2000). The Complete Goodies. London: B T Batsford.
  22. ^ "Man Dies Laughing at The Goodies". Daily Mail. London. 29 March 1975.
  23. ^ "A Goodies Way to Go — Laughing". Eastern Daily Press. Norwich. 29 March 1975.
  24. ^ Staveacre, Tony (1987). Slapstick! The Illustrated Story of Knockabout Comedy. Angus & Robinson.
  25. ^ Singh, Anita (21 Jun 2012). "Man who died laughing at Goodies had Long QT syndrome". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2015.

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