The Strange Deaths of 20 Interesting People

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Despite our best efforts, Death, in all its myriad and weird forms, is constantly lurking around the corner. But who knew a toothpick could be so dangerous? Or that one's trademark scarf, draped so dramatically around your neck, could be conspiring to kill you?

Here, adding to the list of things one should worry about -- cellphones causing cancer, the probability of a car accident, the potential for being struck by lightning whilst enjoying a game of pick-up soccer on an unfortunately situated field -- is a long list of the strange deaths of interesting people. Take heed and keep an eye on those toothpicks.

1. King Adolf Frederick of Sweden ate himself to death in 1771: His last meal included lobster, caviar, cabbage, smoked herring, and Champagne, followed up by 14 servings of his favorite dessert, semla in hot milk.

2. Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton detective agency, died from an infection incurred after he bit his tongue.

3. Jack Daniel, purveyor of fine whiskey, died from an infection sustained after kicking his safe and busting his toe.

4. Isadora Duncan, an early 20th century modern dancer, was killed by her trademark scarf while riding in a convertible car. The long scarf blew back and wrapped around a tire axel, breaking Duncan's neck.

5. Vic Morrow, lead actor from the television series Combat!, was decapitated by a helicopter blade during a stunt for The Twilight Zone: The Movie gone way bad. Two Vietnamese children also died in the accident, prompting the film industry to institute stricter child labor laws.

6. Tycho Brahe, 16th century Danish nobleman and astronomer, supposedly died of a bladder infection after holding it way, way too long during a banquet. Good story, but not true: A 1996 report showed that though Brahe did become ill after the banquet with symptoms similar to a bladder infection, he actually died of mercury poisoning. Brahe and his assistants frequently used mercury in alchemical experiments, however, how the mercury got into his system in such a concentrated dose remains a mystery.

7. Tennessee Williams, longtime alcoholic and author of some of the most enduringly bleak plays of the 20th century, choked on an eyedropper bottle cap in 1983.

8. Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio, died of peritonitis "“ an infection of the lining of his stomach, suffered after he swallowed part of a toothpick.

9. Norman "Chubby" Chaney, one of the original Little Rascals, died as a result of a glandular disorder at the age of 21. Evidently, what made him a popular character on the show "“ his weight, which at one point topped 300 pounds on his 4-foot 7-inch frame "“ was actually contributing to his death.

10. Attila the Hun died of a nosebleed on his wedding night "“ he passed out drunk and drowned in his own blood,

11. Sir Francis Bacon died after trying to preserve a chicken in snow; the famous scientist contracted pneumonia after the successful experiment and died a few months later.

12. Aeschylus, Greek playwright, died after an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head. The tortoise reportedly lived.

13. Chrysippus, Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after getting his donkey drunk and watching it attempt to eat figs.

14. A bug allegedly flew into Roman emperor Titus's nose and, for the next seven years, happily ate at his brain. According to the Babylonian Talmud, it was the size of a bird when he died.

keithcolor.jpg15. Keith Relf of the Yardbirds was electrocuted by his own electric guitar.

16. According to Karl Shaw's book 5 People Who Died During Sex and 100 Other Terribly Tasteless Lists, Emperor Claudius of Rome choked on a feather he'd been using to induce vomiting during a banquet in 54 AD. Other historians say he was poisoned by his wife, Agrippina.

17. Playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was perhaps better known in his day than even contemporary Shakespeare, died in 1593 after a fatal argument in a tavern over a bill "“ he was stabbed in the eye.

18. King Henry I died in 1135 of food poisoning after overdosing on lampreys, a parasitic eel-like marine animal popular in British cuisine during the Middle Ages. Because he died while in France, his remains were sewn into the hide of a bull and shipped back to England for burial.

19. Bobby Leach cheated death when he made the historic (and historically stupid) trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, the second person to do so, but he wasn't so lucky on dry land. The stuntman slipped on an orange peel and fractured his leg "“ which then became infected. Despite the amputation of the gangrenous limb, Leach still died only two months later.

20. Draco, Greek lawmaker whose stringent legal code gave rise to the word "draconian," died somewhere in the 7th century BCE, supposedly after particularly masterful speech: He suffocated under the mounds of hats and cloaks thrown upon him by admiring Greeks, as a show of appreciation.

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February 25, 2009 - 7:14am
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