List of unusual deaths
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."
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 was still strangleholding him. Since the opponent had conceded defeat, Arrichion was proclaimed victor posthumously.
- 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, was executed by scaphism. The king's physician, Ctesias, reported that he survived the insect torture for 17 days.
- 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 Kinizsa 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 1923: George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, died aged 56 after a mosquito bite on his face, which he cut while shaving, became seriously infected with erysipelas, leading to blood poisoning and eventually pneumonia. Some have alleged his death is attributable 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 hemorrhage.
- 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, though it is contested as to whether or not the punches actually caused the appendicitis.
- 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 (37.85 litres) of carrot juice in ten days, causing him to overdose on vitamin A and suffer severe liver damage.
- 1977: Tom Pryce, a Welsh Formula 1 driver, was killed when struck on the head by a fire extinguisher when his car, travelling at 170 mph (270 km/h) hit and killed 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 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.
- 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, leading to instantaneous massive expansion of his internal bodily gasses, causing him to explode into many small parts which rained down upon the rig; 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.
- 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: 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.
- 2007: Humberto Hernandez, a 24-year-old Oakland, California, U.S., 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: 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.
- 2010: Mike Edwards, 62, was a founding member and cellist for the band ELO; he died when a large round bale of hay rolled down a hill and smashed his van while he was out driving.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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: 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: 45-year-old João Maria de Souza was crushed by a cow falling through the roof of his home in Caratinga, Brazil (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.
- 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, reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h 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".
- 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 mummies
- List of people executed for witchcraft
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- 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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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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