Eight (and a half) People Whose Jobs Actually Killed Them

We've all made those offhand comments: "This job is killing me," "I'd rather die than go to work this morning," and my personal favorite, "This job is sucking my will to live." But sometimes people's jobs really do kill them. I'm not too worried about myself; there probably aren't a whole lot of freak writing accidents (fatal writer's block? Paper cut to the wrist?) But racecar drivers, rock stars, baseball players and jockeys are all rather hazardous professions that sometimes cause on-the-job deaths. So next time you compare work to dying a slow death, think about these guys and remind yourself that your job isn't so bad.

1. Frank Hayes, Jockey

Hayes got the last laugh when he beat 20-1 odds to win at Belmont Park in 1923. At least, he would have gotten the last laugh if he was still alive when the race was over. Hayes was not a jockey by trade - he was actually a stablehand who managed to talk the owner of a horse into letting him ride. Sweet Kiss, the horse, came in first, but Hayes had a heart attack and died during the race. He was strapped on to Sweet Kiss well enough that he stayed upright right across the finish line. Even though the horse was a proven winner, no one wanted to ride it after that, nicknaming him "Sweet Kiss of Death". To date, Hayes is the only deceased jockey to win a race.

2.Les Harvey, Guitarist

In May 1972, Scottish band Stone the Crows lost their guitarist Les Harvey during a concert when he was electrocuted by a microphone onstage. His hands were wet and the microphone wasn't grounded. This makes Harvey part of the 27 Club, which you can read up on in my previous post on curses that seem to be working.

3. Jane Dornacker, Traffic Reporter

jane.jpgPoor Jane Dornacker survived one helicopter crash in 1986, only to be killed by another one six months later. Dornacker was a traffic reporter for WNBC Radio in New York City. In the first crash, her helicopter landed in the Hackensack River and both she and the pilot were able to swim to shore. The second crash, however, proved to be fatal. The copter stalled in midair, plummeted, struck a chain link fence and ultimately ended up in the Hudson River. It sank in 15-20 feet of water, where she and the pilot were trapped for nearly 15 minutes. She died on the way to the hospital. The pilot survived. Before Jane's days as a reporter, she was a rock star, comedian and actress.

4. Ray Chapman, Shortstop

chapman.jpgImagine being hit in the head by a 100 mph fastball, no helmet. Yeah, not good. That's what happened to Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman on August 16, 1920, when he was beaned in the temple by a spit ball thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. He actually tried to walk to the clubhouse on his own, but collapsed before he could make it.

Surgery revealed that his brain was damaged on both sides - both from where the ball hit, of course, and also from when the force of the impact made his brain hit his skull on the other side of his head. Chapman died a few hours after the surgery. The 1920 Indians went on to win the World Series.

5. J.G. Parry-Thomas, Race Car Driver

Everyone knows about NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt's untimely death at the 2001 Daytona 500, but Welsh driver J.G. Parry-Thomas predated him by about 65 years. In 1927, Parry-Thomas was trying to break the land-speed record of 174.22 mph. Around 170 mph, a exposed chain on the car snapped, pretty much decapitating him. Although there are varying reports, from what I gather, he set a personal speed record but did not beat the world record.

6. Tiny Tim, Singer/Ukulele Player

Tiny Tim almost died on stage "“ he had a heart attack during a concert in Minneapolis on November 30, 1996. He had been warned earlier that year that his heart was in a very fragile condition and that he should no longer perform, but he kept playing concerts anyway. He died later that day at a local hospital after doctors had attempted to resuscitate him for more than an hour.

7. "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, Guitarist

dimebag.jpgYet another musician who died on stage in recent years is "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, Pantera's lead guitarist. Although it wasn't the job that actually killed him, it was the fame that came with being part of Pantera that caused a crazed fan to gun down Dimebag Darrell during a 2004 concert. The man who shot him was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that the band could read his mind and was stealing songs from him.

8. Joe Burrus, Escape Artist

Before David Blaine, there was Joe Burrus. Burrus was an escape artist who idolized Houdini "“ fitting, then that he died exactly 64 years after his hero. On Halloween in 1990, Burrus was chained and handcuffed inside a clear acrylic coffin seven feet below ground. The coffin was topped with dirt, followed by concrete. The concrete had not quite filled the hole when suddenly it dropped by about two feet, making it clear that the plastic coffin underneath had broken. By the time rescue workers pulled Burrus out of his self-made grave, he was already dead. Hopefully David Blaine takes this lesson to heart.

Not quite "on the job" but worth a mention anyway:

8.5. Thomas Midgely, Jr., Inventor

Thomas Midgely, Jr., was a celebrated inventor and chemist, who, among other things, discovered Freon (that stuff used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems). When he was diagnosed with polio and left disabled in 1940, he just couldn't suppress his inventor's spirit "“ he built a pulley system to move him in and out of bed. Unfortunately, it was this system that did him in "“ he accidentally strangled himself with one of the cords.

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These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
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Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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