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The Quick 10: 10 Celebrities Almost Felled By Food

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A really good opener for this Q10 would be to tell you about this time I was choking and had my life saved by some wonderful person who knew how to do the Heimlich. Unfortunately, I have no such story.

The celebrities below do, though. Can you imagine how embarrassing the obituary would be? "Carrie Fisher, famous for her portrayal as the iconic Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, passed away today after choking on a Brussels sprout that she was forced to eat because she was so stoned."

Needless to say, thank God these people were saved. Here are their stories, as researched by the always-wonderful Meg McGinn.

carrie1. Carrie Fisher. John Belushi set up and accompanied Carrie and Dan Aykroyd on a blind date, but passed out sometime during the evening. Carrie was apparently incredibly stoned, so stoned that Aykroyd forced her to eat, hoping it would help her come down a bit. Instead of Doritos, though, Carrie ate Brussels sprouts. And choked on one. Aykroyd gave her the Heimlich and then promptly proposed marriage.

2. If a choking incident could possibly be sexy, this was probably it (although I doubt it was): it involved a near-nude Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan. When they were filming a sex scene in Die Another Day, Pierce made Halle laugh and she started choking on some fruit (a fig, according to IMDB). Pierce has said that he was thinking about giving her the Heimlich, but was a little concerned about wrapping his arms around her while they were both practically naked. Luckily, he didn't have to make up his mind about the appropriateness of the situation "“ she coughed up the fig and they went on filming.

3. Who hasn't tried to swallow a pill dry (or even just not swallowed it right) and gotten that big lump stick in your throat? Cher is proof that mundane things like that happen to celebrities, too. She was backstage at the rehearsal of a Broadway play when she starting choking on a vitamin. She apparently tried to dislodge it with some bread, but when that didn't work, Robert Altman gave her the Heimlich.

liz4. Elizabeth Taylor. When Liz was married to Senator John W. Warner, the two of them were campaigning in Virginia when she got a chicken bone stuck in her throat.

She was rushed to the Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap, Va., where it was safely removed. She later donated part of her pay as a guest star on General Hospital to the real hospital that she credited with saving her life.

5. Tom Brokaw, to the rescue! When news anchor John Chancellor sent a chunk of Gouda down the wrong pipe in 1979, it was lucky that Tom was there. The Heimlich Manuever was only a few years old at the time, and the new technique had recently been demoed on his show. "[Chancellor] turned very red and then very gray," Brokaw said. So he performed the Heimlich and popped out the cheese, and Chancellor went on the air a few hours later as planned.

6. Ed Koch, the former mayor of NYC, was eating at a restaurant in Chinatown in 1981 when he choked on"¦ something. "I choked on what we said was watercress," he said six years after the incident. "There was a debate as to whether it was watercress or spare ribs. A vote was taken and the vote was watercress." Apparently, his staff was concerned that spare ribs would be offensive to some of his constituents.

dickie v7. Could famous coach and broadcaster Dick Vitale have been felled by a mere piece of unmasticated melon? Yup, he could have, if off-duty fireman John King hadn't been there. He was at Tropicana Field before a Devil Rays game in 2002, having dinner at their restaurant. "I was choking and turning colors," Dickie V. said, when King came over "and gave me a bear hug. Beautiful guy, too."

8. He's not the only sports broadcaster to be threatened by food that took a wrong turn. In the 90s, former USC QB Pat Haden was on broadcasting duty at a Rams/Falcons game when he was viciously attacked by some broccoli. His new on-air partner, Verne Lundquist, performed the Heimlich on him. It didn't look like anyone else was going to: "I'm not sure what I would have done if I hadn't known anybody in the restaurant. Nobody was running to help." Maybe the other restaurant patrons were UCLA fans.

barkin9. In 2006, Page Six reported that Ellen Barkin was eating dinner at the Sunset Tower Hotel's Tower Bar when she jumped up and screamed, "I'm going to die!" CAA agent Kevin Huvane gave her the Heimlich (what did people do before the Heimlich was invented?!) and popped out a piece of shrimp. Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone just watched from a couple of tables away. Guess he only does the action-hero thing if he's getting paid to do it, huh?

10. Long before John Hinckley, Jr., tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, a peanut tried to do him in. He was on an airplane headed around the campaign trail and casually tossed a peanut and caught it in his mouth "“ unfortunately, just as the plane was taking off. The force of the takeoff pushed his head against the seat and I guess lodged the peanut in a bad spot. Aide Mike Deaver rushed to help the future President, performed the Heimlich Maneuver that Reagan had taught him, and "the wayward nut popped quietly off the bulkhead." In typical Reagan fashion, he had a quip at the ready: "I'm sure glad I taught you that darn thing."

Obviously, I've left off President Bush choking and passing out because of a pretzel, but I think we all know about that one.

Have you narrowly avoided death by food? Tell us about it in the comments.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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