List of unusual deaths
This is a list of unusual deaths. This list includes only 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."
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.
- 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.
- 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 still had him in a stranglehold. Since the opponent had conceded defeat, Arrichion was proclaimed victor posthumously.
- c. 475 BC: Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, in one account given by Diogenes, is said to have been devoured by dogs after smearing himself with cow manure to cure his dropsy.
- 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 bald 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.
- 401 BC: Mithridates, a soldier who embarrassed his king, Artaxerxes II, by boasting of killing his rival, Cyrus the Younger (who was the brother of Artaxerxes II), was executed by scaphism. The king's physician, Ctesias, reported that Mithridates survived the insect torture for 17 days.
- 288 BC: Agathocles was murdered by a poisoned toothpick.
- 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. British classicist Alan Cameron speculates that Philitas died from a wasting disease which his contemporaries joked was caused by his pedantry.
- 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.
- 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).
- 258 AD: The deacon Saint Lawrence was roasted alive on a giant grill during the persecution of Valerian. Prudentius tells that he joked with his tormentors, "Turn me over—I'm done on this side". He is now the patron saint of cooks, comedians, and firefighters.
- 1063: Béla I of Hungary, when the Holy Roman Empire decided to launch a military expedition against Hungary to restore young Solomon to the throne, was seriously injured when "his throne broke beneath him" in his manor at Dömös. The King—who was "half-dead", according to the Illuminated Chronicle—was taken to the western borders of his kingdom, where he died at the creek Kanizsva on 11 September 1063.
- 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. 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.
- 1346: John of Bohemia, after being blind for 10 years, died in the Battle of Crecy when he tied his army's horse reins to his own and charged. He was slaughtered in the ensuing fight.
- 1387: Charles II of Navarre, known as "Charles the Bad". The contemporary chronicler Froissart relates that the king, suffering from illness in old age, was ordered by his physician to be tightly sewn into a linen sheet soaked in distilled spirits. The highly flammable sheet accidentally caught fire and Charles later died of his injuries. Froissart considered the horrific death to be God's judgment upon the king.
- 1567: Hans Steininger, the burgomaster of Braunau (then Bavaria, now Austria), died when he broke his neck by tripping over his own beard. The beard, which was 4.5 feet (1.4 m) long at the time, was usually kept rolled up in a leather pouch.
- 1601: Tycho Brahe contracted a bladder or kidney ailment after attending a banquet in Prague, and died eleven days later. According to Kepler's first hand account, Brahe had refused to leave the banquet to relieve himself because it would have been a breach of etiquette. After he had returned home he was no longer able to urinate, except eventually in very small quantities and with excruciating pain.
- 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.
- 1667: James Betts died from asphyxiation after being sealed in a cupboard by Elizabeth Spencer, at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in an attempt to hide him from her father, John Spencer.
- 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, called "hetvägg". He is thus remembered by Swedish schoolchildren as "the king who ate himself to death."
- 1854: William Snyder, a 13 year old, died when a circus clown swung him around by his heels.
- 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.
- 1903: an unnamed person was beaten to death with a bible during a healing ceremony gone wrong in Honolulu.
- 1919: The Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, occurred in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts when a large molasses storage tank burst, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 people and injuring an additional 150. The event has entered local folklore, and for decades afterward residents claimed that on hot summer days the area still smelled of molasses.
- 1923: George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who financed Howard Carter's search for Tutankhamun, died at age 56 from a mosquito bite on his face, which he later cut while shaving. The bite became seriously infected with erysipelas, leading to blood poisoning and eventually pneumonia. Some attributed his death to the so-called curse of the pharaohs.
- 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, 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 haemorrhage.
- 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.
- 1957: Mary Jane Barker, 4, was found dead in the closet of a vacant ranch house 2 blocks from her home on March 3, 1957. A dog had also gone missing, and bounded out of the closet alive upon her discovery. The death was ruled an accident due to starvation and exposure, but many still suspect murder. The press surrounding this case led to the first calls about Philadelphia's Boy in the Box.
- 1958: Gareth Jones, actor, collapsed and died between scenes of a live television play, Underground, at the studios of Associated British Corporation in Manchester, England. Director Ted Kotcheff continued the play to its conclusion, improvising around Jones's absence. Jones's character was to have a heart attack, which is what Jones suffered during the performance.
- 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.
- 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.
- 1971: Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev, Soviet cosmonauts, died when their Soyuz-11 spacecraft depressurized during preparations for re-entry. These are the only known human deaths outside the Earth's atmosphere.
- 1974: Basil Brown, a 48-year-old health food advocate from Croydon, England, drank himself to death by consuming 10 gallons (38 litres) of carrot juice in ten days, causing him to overdose on vitamin A and suffer severe liver damage.
- 1977: Tina Christopherson, a woman reportedly having the IQ of 189, died when she fanatically drank 4 gallons (15 litres) of water a day to combat stomach cancer.
- 1977: Tom Pryce, a driver in the 1977 South African Grand Prix, was killed after being struck on the head by a fire extinguisher when his car, travelling at 170 mph (270 km/h) hit and killed 19 year old Frederick Jansen Van Vuuren, a marshal who was running across the Kyalami race track to extinguish a burning car.
- 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.
- 1979: Robert Williams, a worker at a Ford Motor Co. plant, was the first known human to be killed by a robot, after the arm of a one-ton factory robot hit him in the head.
- 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 (18 kg) model plane shaped like a lawnmower accidentally dived into the stands, striking Bowen and another spectator, causing severe head injuries. Bowen died in the hospital four days later.
- 1981: Boris Sagal, a Ukrainian-American film director, died while shooting the TV miniseries World War III in Portland, Oregon, when he walked into the tail rotor blade of a helicopter and was partially decapitated.
- 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.
- 1982: Vladimir Smirnov suffered fatal injuries during the World Fencing Championships, when his opponent's blade broke during a match. The broken blade went through the mesh of Smirnov's mask, through his eye orbit, and into his brain. Smirnov died nine days later.
- 1983: Truls Hellevik, a diver undergoing decompression aboard the oil rig Byford Dolphin, was accidentally exposed to an eight-atmosphere change in air pressure. The resultant pressure wave caused him to be forced through a partly opened door, bisecting his body; additionally, the instantaneous massive expansion of his internal bodily gases caused expulsion of most of his internal organs. Official investigation of the incident led to changes in some diving-bell resurfacing procedures.
- 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, and Hoy fell to his death.
- 1995: Russell Phillips, a driver in the NASCAR Sportsman Division, crashed during a 100-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 6, 1995. His vehicle was forced onto its right side, and the roof pressed along the catch fence separating the track from the stands. The cabin of the vehicle, and Phillips' body inside it, were grated away, resulting in dismembered body parts and metal debris littering the track. The race was completed after a lengthy red flag to clean up, but the incident brought about the end of the Sportsman Division the next year.
- 1997: Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College, died of dimethylmercury poisoning ten months after a few drops of the substance 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.
- 1999: Kemistry, an influential drum and bass DJ, died after a cat's eye flew through the windshield of a car in which she was a passenger and struck her in the head. A van directly in front of the car had dislodged the cat's eye.
- 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.
- 2001: Bernd Brandes, a Berlin engineer, was willingly slaughtered so that he could be butchered and eaten by aspiring cannibal Armin Meiwes. Brandes had responded to an internet advertisement which Meiwes had placed for this purpose.
- 2001: Ana Louise North, a student at the University of Otago died while riding inside a wheelie bin down Baldwin Street.
- 2005: Kenneth Pinyan died from injuries caused by anal sex with a stallion.
- 2006: Steve Irwin, the international celebrity known as the "Crocodile Hunter", died from being pierced hundreds of times in a few seconds by the barb of an 8-foot stingray in chest-deep water, just as he and his cameraman were filming the final shot of the stingray swimming away from them 
- 2007: Humberto Hernandez, a 24-year-old Oakland, California, resident, was killed after being struck in the face by an airborne fire hydrant while walking. A passing car had struck the fire hydrant and the water pressure shot the hydrant at Hernandez with enough force to kill him.
- 2008: Judy Kay Zagorski, a 57-year-old Pigeon, Michigan, woman boating off the Florida Keys, was involved in what was described as a freakish accident when a 75-pound (34 kg) spotted eagle ray leapt out of the water and struck her in the face. The collision knocked Zagorski over, causing her to strike her head on the deck, where she died of blunt force craniocerebral trauma. The ray also died.
- 2008: David Phyall, 50, the last resident in a block of flats due to be demolished in Bishopstoke, near Southampton, Hampshire, England, decapitated himself with a chainsaw to highlight the injustice of being forced to move out.
- 2008: A 43-year old mother of four in Ireland died from having sex with a German Shepherd dog owned by a man she met in an online fetish chatroom. The semen of the dog triggered a fatal allergic reaction similar to that of a peanut allergy. The owner of the dog was later criminally charged in 2011 under Ireland's national anti-bestiality laws, the first such case in Irish legal history ever since the said laws were passed in 1861. 
- 2010: Mike Edwards, 62, a founding member and cellist for the band Electric Light Orchestra, died when a large round bale of hay rolled down a hill and collided with the van he was driving.
- 2010: Jimi Heselden was a British entrepreneur, who in 2010 bought Segway Inc., maker of the Segway personal transport system. Heselden died in 2010 from injuries apparently sustained falling from a cliff while riding his own product.
- 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 was holding a knife.
- 2012: Edward Archbold, 32, 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."
- 2012: Geoffrey Haywood, 65, pretended to be blind for pity. One day, he fell into a ditch and died. He apparently did not see it. The coroner working on this case said it was the most extraordinary case he had seen in 30 years.
- 2013: Takuya Nagaya, 23, from Japan, started to slither on the floor and claim he had become a snake. His mother took this to mean that he had been possessed by a snake, and called for her husband, 53-year-old Katsumi Nagaya. Katsumi spent the next two days head-butting and biting his son "to drive [out] the snake that had possessed him" but instead causing his death.
- 2013 : Roger Mirro, 56, from the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Illinois, died when he was crushed by a dumpster at the condominium complex where he lived. Mirro was looking for his cellular phone, which he thought he had dropped into a bag of garbage already discarded in the trash compactor, but the dumpster was activated and Mirro died.
- 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.
- 2013: 41-year-old Hugo Avalos-Chanon died after falling into an industrial meat blender at a meat processing plant in Clackamas County, Oregon. Avalos-Chanon worked for a contractor, DCS Sanitation Management, that was hired by Interstate Distributors to do work at its plant. His wife, children, and parents sued both DCS Sanitation Management and Interstate Meat Distributors for a total of over $5 million.
- 2013: 45-year-old João Maria de Souza was crushed by a cow falling through the roof of his home in Caratinga, Brazil (the cow having climbed onto the roof from an adjacent hillside). His wife (who was lying in bed next to him) and the cow were both unharmed. The death was labeled as "bizarre".
- 2013: Kendrick Johnson, 17, American student at 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.
- 2013: Miguel Martinez, 14, in Lubbock, Texas, was impaled through the chest by the horn of a bull statue. He had been playing hide and seek at night in front of the National Ranching Heritage Center.
- 2014: Peng Fan, a chef in Foshan, Southern China, was bitten by a cobra's severed head, which he had cut off 20 minutes earlier. Fan had set the head aside while using the body to prepare a soup. According to investigating police, the case was "highly unusual". The chef might have had a severe reaction to the bite.
- 2015: Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, 24, in Henderson, Nevada, U.S., working as a salon employee died when she used a cryotherapy machine alone without assistance. The report states that she did not have the level setting at the proper height, did not get enough oxygen, and suffocated and froze herself to death. The coroner who examined Ake-Salvacion's body described her death as a "freak accident."
- 2015: Robin Wahlgren, 28, a Swedish student at the University of New South Wales and his Swedish friend rode a shopping trolley down a steep road in Randwick, Sydney with a speed limit of 60 km/h (37 mph), reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph) before hitting an oncoming car and getting flung out of the trolley. He died at the scene while his friend was seriously injured. It was labelled as a "freak accident".
- 2015: James Shay, 58, from Browns Mills, New Jersey was found partially lodged in the donation bin outside the Country Farms Convenience Store on Pemberton Browns Mills Road. Police said their investigation revealed that he was trying to get items out of the bin when he lost his footing and got trapped in the opening. The Burlington County Medical Examiner ruled the death accidental and determined that the cause of death was compression of the neck.
- 2016: Caitlin Clavette, 35, a Boston-area school teacher driving near the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel, was struck and killed by a dislodged manhole cover, which crashed through the windshield of her car. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker called the incident "bizarre." 
- 2016: Irma Bule, 29, an Indonesian Dangdut singer known for performing with live snakes, died in the middle of a concert after being bitten by a king cobra and refusing treatment.
- 2016: Anton Yelchin, 27, a Los Angeles actor known for portraying Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot series, and for several other prominent roles, was found pinned between his car and a brick wall. His driveway is on an incline and his car was found still running and in neutral.
- 2016: Robert Mwaijega, 47, a fisherman in Southern town of Kyela, Mbeya Region in Tanzania, died after one of the live fish that he had caught flip-floped and jumped into his mouth, squeezing itself down his throat into his chest and ended up killing him.
- 2016: A seven-year-old girl died after being struck by a stone thrown by an elephant from its enclosure at Rabat Zoo in Morocco.
- Dancing Plague of 1518
- Darwin Awards
- Death by coconut
- Death from laughter
- Execution by elephant
- List of causes of death by rate
- List of inventors killed by their own inventions
- List of people executed for witchcraft
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- List of wheel-well stowaway flights
- Spontaneous human combustion
- 1000 Ways to Die
- Toilet-related injuries and deaths
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Fatal accidents did occur as in the case of Arrhichion, but they were very rare...
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Heracl[t]ius, the Ephesian, fell into a dropsy, and was thereupon advised by the physicians to anoint himself all over with cow‑dung, and so to sit in the warm sun; his servant had left him alone, and the dogs, supposing him to be a wild beast, fell upon him, and killed him.
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The unusual nature of Aeschylus's death...
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Ctesias, the Greek physician to Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, gives an appallingly detailed description of the execution inflicted on a soldier named Mithridates, who was misguided enough to claim the credit for killing the king's brother, Cyrus...
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Charles II. King of Navarre, by a vicious life in his youth, fell into a paralytic distemper in his old age, that took away the use of his limbs. His physicians directed him to be sewed up in a sheet that had for a considerable time been steeped in strong distilled spirits, to recover the natural heat of his benumbed joints. The surgeon having sewed him up very close, and wanting a knife to cut off the thread, made use of a candle that was at hand to burn it off; but the flame from the thread reaching the sheet, the spirits wherewith it was wet immediately taking fire, burnt so vehemently, that no endeavours could extinguish the flame. Thus the miserable King lost his life in using the means to recover his health.
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The substance itself gives the entire event an unusual, whimsical quality.
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