Autodidact: self-taught


Odd Deaths

by V. L. Craven

Death may be an eternal being, and therefore given to boredom, but he still tries to entertain himself occasionally.

These come from a variety of places, and there are far more on this Wikipedia article.

401 BCE: Mithridates, a soldier condemned for the murder of Cyrus the Younger, was executed by scaphism, surviving the insect torture 17 days.

270 BCE: Philitas of Cos, Greek intellectual, is said by Athenaeus of Naucratis to have studied arguments and erroneous word-usage so intensely that he wasted away and starved to death, Alan Cameron speculates that Philitas died from a wasting disease which his contemporaries joked was caused by his pedantry.

207 BCE: Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosophy, is believed to have died of laughter after watching his drunken donkey attempt to eat figs.

415: Hypatia of Alexandria, Greek mathematician and pagan philosopher, was murdered by a Christian mob by having her skin ripped off with sharp sea-shells; what remained of her was burned. (Various types of shells have been named: clams, oysters, abalones, etc. Other sources claim tiles or pottery-shards were used.)

892: Sigurd the Mighty of Orkney strapped the head of his defeated for Ma-el Brigte, to his horse’s saddle. The teeth of this head grazed against his leg as he rode, causing an infection that killed him.

1258: Al-Musta-sim was killed during the Mongol invasion of the Abbasid Caliphate. Hulagu Khan, not wanting to spill royal blood, wrapped him in a rug and had him trampled to death by his horses.

1410: Martin I of Aragon died from a lethal combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughing.

1514: Gyrgy Duzsa, Szekely man-at-arm and peasants’ revolt leader in Hungary, was condemned to sit on a red-hot iron throne with a red-hot iron crown on his head and a red-hot sceptre in his hand (mocking at his ambition to be king), by Hungarian landed nobility in Transylvania. While Dazsa was still alive, he was set upon and his partially roasted body was eaten by six of his fellow rebels, who had been starved for a week beforehand.

1599: Nanda Bayin, a Burman king, reportedly laughed to death when informed, by a visiting Italian merchant that ‘Venice was a free state without a king.’

1649: Sir Arthur Aston, Royalist commander of the garrison during the Siege of Drogheda, was beaten to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers thought concealed golden coins.

1660: Thomas Urquhart, Scottish aristocrat, polymath and first translator of Rabelais into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had taken the throne.

1673: Moliere, the French actor, and playwright, died after being seized by a violent coughing fit, while playing the title role in his play Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac)

1753: Professor Georg Wilhelm Richmann, of Saint Petersburg, became the first recorded person to be killed while performing electrical experiments when he was struck and killed by a globe of ball lightning.

1925: Zishe (Siegmund) Breitbart, a circus strongman and Jewish folklore hero, died as a result of a demonstration in which he drove a spike through five one-inch (2.54 cm) thick oak boards using only his bare hands. He accidentally pierced his knee and the rusted spike caused an infection which led to fatal blood poisoning. He was the subject of the Werner Herzog film, Invincible.

1926: Harry Houdini, a famous American escape artists, was punched in the stomach by an amateur boxer who had heard that Houdini could withstand any blow to his body above his waist, excluding his head. Though this had been done with Houdini’s permission, complications from this injury caused him to die days later, on October 31, 1926. It was later determined that Houdini died of a ruptured appendix.

1933: Michael Malloy, a homeless man, was murdered by gassing after surviving multiple poisonings, intentional exposure, and being struck by a car. Malloy was murdered by five men in a plot to collect of life insurance policies they had purchased.

1945: Scientist Harry K. Daghlian, Jr. accidentally dropped a brick of tungsten carbide onto a sphere of plutonium while working on the Manhattan Project. This caused the plutonium to come to criticality; Daghlian died of radiation poisoning, becoming the first person to die in a criticality accident.

1958: Gareth Jones, actor, collapsed and died while in make-up between scenes of a live television play Underground, at the studios of Associated British Corporation in Manchester. Director Ted Kotcheff continued the play to its conclusion, improvising around Jones’ absence.

1959: In the Dyatlov Pass incident, nine ski hikers in the Ural Mountains abandoned their camp in the middle of the night, some clad only in their underwear despite sub-zero weather. Six died of hypothermia and three of unexplained injuries. The corpses showed no signs of struggle, but one had a fatal skull fracture, two had major chest fractures, and one was missing her tongue. Soviet investigators determined only that ‘a compelling unknown force’ had caused the deaths, barring entry to the area for years.

1971: Jerome Irving Rodale, an American pioneer of organic farming, died of a heart attack while being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show. According to urban legend, when he appeared to fall asleep, Cavett quipped ‘Are we boring you, Mr Rodale?’ Cavett says this is incorrect; the initial response was fellow guest Pete Hamill saying in a low voice to Cavett, ‘This looks bad.’ The show was never broadcast.

1977: Tom Pryce, a Formula One driver at the 1977 South African Grand Prix was killed when he was struck in the face by a track marshal’s fire extinguisher. The marshal, Jansen van Vuuren, was running across the track to attend to Pryce’s teammate’s burning car when he was struck, and killed instantly, by Pryce’s car.

1978: Janet Parker, a British medical photographer, died of smallpox ten months after the disease was eradicated in the wild, when a researcher at the laboratory Parker worked at accidentally released some virus into the air of the building. She is believed to be the last smallpox fatality in history.

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 him him in the head.

1981: Kenji Urada, a Japanese factory worker, was killed by a malfunctioning robot he was working on at a Kawasaki plant in Japan. The robot’s arm pushed him into a grinding machine, killing him.

1981: Paul Gauci, a 41-year-old Maltese man, died after welding a butterfly bomb to a metal pipe and using it as a mallet, thinking it was a harmless can.

1983: Four divers and a tender were killed on the Byford Dolphin semi-submersible, when a decompression chamber explosively decompressed from 9 atm to 1 atm in a fraction of a second. The diver nearest the chamber literally exploded just before his remains were ejected through a 24 in/60 cm opening. The other divers’ remains showed signs of boiled blood, unusually strong rigor mortis, large amounts of gas in the blood vessels, and scattered haemorrhages in the soft tissues.

1986: Over 1,700 were killed after a limnic eruption from Lake Nyos in Cameroon, released approximately 1000 million cubic metres of carbon dioxide the quickly descended the lake and killed oxygen dependent life within a 15 mile/25 kilometre radius, including three villages. The same phenomenon is also blamed on the deaths of 37 near Lake Monoun in 1984.

1995: A 39 year old man committed suicide in Canberra, Australia by shooting himself three times with a pump action shotgun. The first shot passed through his chest and went out the other side. He reloaded and shot away his throat and part of his jaw. Breathing through the wound in his throat, he again reloaded, held the gun against his chest with his hands and operated the trigger with his toes. This shot entered the thoracic cavity and demolished the heart, killing him.

1998: Every player on the Basanga soccer team at a game in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The field was struck by a fork of lightning, hitting and killing the entire team instantly. Nobody on the opposing team was struck by the bolt.

2003: Dr Hitoshi Christopher Nikaidoh, a surgeon, was decapitated as he stepped on to an elevator as Christus St. Joseph Hospital in Houston, Texas on August 16, 2003. According to a witness inside the elevator, the doors closed as Nikaidoh entered, trapping his head inside the elevator with the remainder of his body still outside. His body was later found at the bottom of the elevator shaft while the upper portion of his head, severed just above the lower jaw, was found in the elevator. A subsequent investigation revealed that improper electrical wiring installed by a maintenance company several days earlier had effectively bypassed all of the elevator’s safeguards, and thus enabled it to move under any circumstances.

2007: Humberto Hernandez, a 24-year-old Oakland, California resident, was killed frombeing struck in the face by an airborne fire hydrant while walking on a sidewalk; a passing car blew a tyre and swerved onto the sidewalk, striking the fire hydrant. The force of the water pressure shot the 200-pound hydrant at Hernandez with enough force to kill him.

2008: David Phyall, 58, the last resident in a block of flats due to be demolished in Bishopspoke, near Southampton, Hampshire, England, cut his own head off with a chainsaw to highlight the injustice of being forced to move out.

2008: James Mason, 73, of Chardon, Ohio, died of heart failure after his wife exercised him to death in a public swimming pool. Christine Newton-John, 41, was seen on video tape pulling Mason around the pood and preventing him from getting out of the water 43 times.

2009: Vladimir Likhonos, a Ukrainian student, died after accidentally dipping a piece of homemade chewing gum into explosives he was using on another project. He mistook the jar of explosive for citric acid, which was also on his desk. The gum exploded, blowing off his jaw and most of the lower part of his face.

2009: Sergey Tuganov, a 28-year-old Russian, bet two women he could continuously have sex with them both for twelve hours. Several minutes after winning the $4,300 bet, he suffered a heart attack and died, apparently because of having ingested an entire bottle of Viagra just after accepting the bet.

2010: Vladimir Ladyzhensky, a competitor from Russia, died in the World Sauna Championships in Finland, after he had spent 6 minutes in a sauna that had been heated up to 110c/230F. The other finalist, a 5-time champion Timo Kaukonen, was taken to the hospital after suffering from serious burns on his body. Because of this incident, no further World Sauna Championships with be held.

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