¿CÓMO DEMONIOS MURIERON?

(Traducción al español en progreso!!!) Como filósofo (tengo papeles que lo afirman) siempre me han interesdao las así-llamadas ‘Preguntas Grandes’. Yo mismo, en cuanto a La Muerte, no creo que quede nada de nosotros después de la vida (excepto genética- y meméticamente) Aristóteles dijo ‘No llames feliz a ningún hombre hasta que haya muerto’. Nunca sabía si tomar esto como: ‘La Muerte es la Felicidad Absoluta’(en el sentido de descanso y reposo, supongo) o; espera hasta el final de la película antes de juzgarla’ – por decirlo así.

De todas maneras, estoy de acuerdo con el poeta galés Dylan Thomas (últimas palabras: "18 doble whiskies... creo, señores, que es un record!") cuando dice:

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rage at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright 
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight 
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

 

O, como lo dijo Shakespeare; “El resto es silencio”.

Aquí encontrarás muchos tipos de fines abajo, todos fuera de lo normal en algún aspecto.

No pierdo la oportunidad de atacar al automóvil, como verás (Cuando miren hacia atrás al siglo XX…)

Y la sección de Suicidas es al final, como este tipo de muerte es el que menos entiendo. Se ha argumentado que el suicidio es la conclusion lógica a la condición humana, pero francamente Schopenhauer y Camus pueden irse a hacer puñetas

1. MUERTES VIOLENTAS

 

En la primera sección, una recpilación de muertes de todos tiempos y lugares. Una cosa que teienen en común es que a tí no te gustaría que te pasara lo mismo:

 

Rasputin – Este monje ruso es - por lo m4enos por leyenda - el Rey de los Asesinados. Cianura, balas en el pecho, luego la cabeza y aún así no murió, así que le tiraron al río helado dentro de un saco. Se escapó pero murió de frío en la ribera. Casi nada de esto es cierto. Su estancia en una secta que creía en la auto-mutilación genital le habría preparado algo, supongamos, pero al final fueron dos balass que acabaon con él - como si de una persona normal se tratara. Es posible que tampoco folló con la Tsarina Alexandra – aunque sí tuvo amantes entre otras damas de la alta sociedad rusa. 

 

Enrique Granados, the Spanish composer, died in a torpedo attack on the S.S. Sussex in the year 1916. Having travelled to the USA to perform Goyescas, he was invited to record the work (which caused him to miss his boat back to Spain)and was returning on the rescheduled voyage, when the Sussex was torpedoed by a German U-boat. In a failed attempt to save his wife Amparo, whom he saw flailing about in the water some distance away, Granados jumped out of his lifeboat and drowned.

 

William I (The Conquerer) was killed because his horse bucked after stepping in the burning cinders of a town that he had set light to. It was only a slight buck, but the king landed on the saddle pommel and died due to internal bleeding.

 

Federico García Lorca - When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, García Lorca left Madrid for Granada. Presumably Lorca hoped that his brother-in-law, who was the socialist mayor of Granada, would be be able to protect him; but the move would ultimately prove to be an unwise decision. In late summer both Garcia Lorca and his brother-in-law were captured by the Nationalist army. Both were summarily executed, shot by Falange militia on August 19, 1936 and thrown into an unmarked grave in or around Víznar and Alfacar, near Granada.

 

Edward II – Here, as with Rasputin, legend intervenes- Edward largely being remembered for having had a red hot poker stuffed up his arse. There seems little doubt that he was assassinated. On 3 April, Edward II was imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where, it was generally believed, he was murdered by an agent of Isabella and Mortimer on 11 October 1327. And unfortunately, as with Rasputin, the truth is almost disappointing. The popular story that the king was assassinated by having a red-hot poker thrust up his fundament has no basis in accounts recorded by Edward's contemporaries
Adam Murimuth, The closest chronicler to the scene in time and distance, stated that it was 'popularly rumoured' that he had been suffocated. The Lichfield chronicle, equally reflecting local opinion, stated that he had been strangled.

 

PUNISHMENT
Here again humanity displays all its... er, humanity, in devising novel ways for the criminal to receive his just desserts. Perhaps our first candidate should be in the REVENGE section, but no – let's commemorate one of the first victims of a specially-designed toff-dispatcher – the guillotine.

 

Danton – Robespierre (himself later guillotined without trial, having tried to fisrt kill himself by jumping out of a window then with a pistol shot in the face) had this 'dangerous element' guillotined on the 5th April 1794, during the Terror that followed the revolution (as Terrors will, almost as night follows day, though this being one of the very first we weren't to know that then).
Also in the REVENGE section, we might expect to find the name of M. Guillotine himself, but no! Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was in fact against the death penalty. And he didn't even invent the machine (that was Antoine Louis). After a speech to the Assembly he made a throwaway remark ("Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!"). This led to a popular song and to his name being forever associated with this execution device. Guillotin himself died of anthrax at the age of 75.

 

Back in the year 817 – Bernard of Italy revolted (against his brother, Louis the Pious) but... failed. He was tried in 818 and sentenced to death but, following the common Carolingian pattern, this was commuted to blinding, from which, however, he died anyway (as also seems to have been the common fate of the blinded – CT)
- Christopher Wickham – The Inheritance of Rome, Ch 16, P.395

 

Boethius 524/525 CE - The method of Boethius' execution varies in the sources; he was perhaps killed with an axe or a sword, or was clubbed to death. According to another version a rope was attached round his head and tightened till his eyes bulged out, then his skull was cracked. We hope that the author of 'The Consolations of Philosophy' found some final consolation in all of this.

 

For a truly ironic and elaborately thought-out punishment, how about that meted out in 1514 to György Dózsa, peasants' revolt leader in Hungary. His Price of Failure was to be 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 his ambition to be king), by Hungarian nobles in Transylvania. While Dózsa was still alive, his partially roasted body was force-fed to six of his fellow rebels, who had been starved for a week beforehand. No detail unplanned in that episode.

 

In 401 BC: Mithridates, a soldier condemned for the murder of Cyrus the Younger, was executed by scaphism, surviving the insect torture for 17 days. Scaphism, for the interested, is a particularly gruesome Persian torture. In Plutarch's (and who better's?) words:
Taking two boats framed exactly to fit and answer each other, they lay down in one of them the malefactor that suffers, upon his back; then, covering it with the other, and so setting them together that the head, hands, and feet of him are left outside, and the rest of his body lies shut up within, they offer him food, and if he refuse to eat it, they force him to do it by pricking his eyes; then, after he has eaten, they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, pouring it not only into his mouth, but all over his face. They then keep his face continually turned towards the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the multitude of flies that settle on it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat and drink must needs do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed.

 

Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, was beheaded after the Peasants' revolt of 1381. After EIGHT attempts (reputedly Mary, Queen of Scots' head was remarkably difficult to detach as well, whereas Charles I's came of "with one clean stroke") – The skull can still be seen in the Church of St Gregory in Sudbury.
(As a footnote to this Guinness Book of Records attempt, Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury, is reported to have needed ten strokes before decapitation was achieved).

 

IN BATTLE
As we will all now know (but not then), dying in battle is not glorious. Wilfred Owen (one of the War Poets below) concluded his most famous poem:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori
Here are some of War's most interesting and/or tragic victims:

 

Anton Webern should maybe feature in the Bad Luck section as this was not exactly 'in battle'. On 15 September 1945, during the Allied occupation of Austria, he was shot and killed by an American Army soldier following the arrest of his son-in-law for black market activities. This incident occurred when, despite the curfew about to go into effect in three-quarters of an hour, he stepped outside the house so as not to disturb his sleeping grandchildren, in order to enjoy a few draws on a cigar given him that evening by his son-in-law. The soldier responsible for his death was U. S. Army cook Pfc. Raymond Norwood Bell of North Carolina, who was overcome by remorse and died of alcoholism in 1955.

 

George Butterworth, also killed by a sniper's bullet, this time in 1916 in the trenches of the First World War. He was only 31 years old. I came to know of Butterworth thanks to his hauntingly beautiful piece "The Banks of Green Willow". This astonishingly bucolic romance is made only sadder and sweeter by the knowledge of what happened to its young composer. (See also Antoine de Saint Exupery)

 

Among the many great and good who died so senselessly are Albert Wright, a painter from my home town of Bolton, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon.
Sassoon survived the War and died in 1967. Here I briefly offer you the deaths of the other two of this famous poetic triumvirate.
Wilfred Owen: In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. His decision was probably the result of Sassoon's being sent back to England, after being shot in the head in a so-called "friendly fire" incident, and put on sick-leave for the remaining duration of the war. Sassoon was violently opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, threatening to "stab him in the leg" if he tried it. Aware of his attitude, Owen did not inform him of his action until he was once again in France.
Owen was killed on the 4th November, 1918 exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice.
Rupert Brooke sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915 in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island of Skyros in the Aegean on his way to the landing at Gallipoli. He was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on Skyros, Greece. According to his friend William Denis Brown
...I sat with Rupert. At 4 o'clock he became weaker, and at 4.46 he died, with the sun shining all round his cabin, and the cool sea-breeze blowing through the door and the shaded windows. No one could have wished for a quieter or a calmer end than in that lovely bay, shielded by the mountains and fragrant with sage and thyme.

 

Thereby bringing to a close his own prophecy:

 

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

 

For anybody wanting more evidence of the ravages of this war, a tour through the country villages of Great Britain will show up thousands of War Memorials, each with a roll-call of names of men, most of whom were well under 30 years of age. Whole villages were left without men for many years in some cases.
The English Civil War (yes, we had one) features quite a lot in How On Earth Did They Die? And sure enough, here in the battle section we find Sir Arthur Aston, Royalist commander of the garrison during the Siege of Drogheda in 1639, who was beaten to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers thought concealed golden coins.

 

In a much earlier battle (162 BC) Eleazar Maccabeus was crushed to death at Beth-zechariah by a war elephant that he believed to be carrying Seleucid King Antiochus V. Charging into battle, Eleazar rushed underneath the elephant and thrust a spear into its belly, whereupon it fell dead on top of him. We often speak of decisions being taken 'in the heat of the battle'. Maybe that was the origin of the expression, as it wasn't particularly well thought out.

 

One of the world's most famous Warriors died foolhardily while charging against an enemy alone. Cesare Borgia had to race to catch up with his own army as they pursued the fleeing forces of Beaomonte's men in Viana, then overtook them, and followed them into a valley where he was ambushed by three knights: "In the ensuing melée, one of Beaumonte's knights managed to plunge his lance under Borgia's arm at a point where it was unprotected, savagely wounding him and at the same time unseating him from his horse. Borgia staggered to his feet but was quickly overwhelmed by his three assailants , who fell on him with their daggers, stabbing him to death in a frenzy.
Not realizing who he was, the knights then stripped him of his shining crested armour, chain mail, boots and fine garments – leaving him bloodied and naked with more than two dozen stab wounds. In a parting gesture, one of the knights placed a flat stone over the exposed genitals of his butchered body.
Borgia had died on this obscure field of battle on the 12th March, 1507, at just thirty one years old". – Chapter 26 (P. 368) of The philosopher, The Artist and The Warrior, by Paul Strathern.

 

REVENGE
Revenge is a dish best served cold, say the Sicilian Mafia (according to Hollywood films). Well, I wouldn't know about that, but this may be the most satisfying section of this list for those with any notion of justice.

 

I had the idea for this section while reading about Norfolk Island, the notorious penal colony in Australia, reserved for the 'worst cases' and replete with tortures of the most ingenious kind. I was satisfied to learn that one of the commandants (and chief torturers) ended up being beaten to death at the hands of his own victims when they rebelled. It would be lovely to think that Matthew Hopkins ended up the same way. This self-styled Witchfinder General (i.e. a state-backed sadist) was reputedly killed by amob of angry villagers who objected to him coming in and burning their women to death. A similar story is told of the villagers of Teruel in Aragón who stoned the representatives of the Spanish Inquisition on their visit to that particular location. However, while in the popular imagination Matthews was subjected to his own swimming test and executed as a witch, in fact he died in his home town of Manningtree, Essex, possibly of tuberculosis.

 

Back in the Middle Ages (if we can still say that) the 15-year old Secondotto Monferrato (was) a maniac who got his sexual excitement from asphyxiating young male retainers. ...while he was energetically strangulating a servant, he was killed by one of his own soldiers.
- Frances Stonor Saunders – Hawkwood, Ch 11, P.139

 

I include Thomas Midgley in the Revenge section, because, as the proponent of putting lead (Tetraethyllead) in petrol and chlorofluorocarbons, he is possibly the single most dangerous man the twentieth century produced. The environmental historian J. R. McNeill has remarked that Midgley "had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth's history". Wikipedia tells us how he eventually died:
In 1940, at the age of 51, Midgley contracted poliomyelitis, which left him severely disabled. This led him to devise an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55
I'm sure Mr Midgley was not working with evil intent and the noxious effects of his two major contributions weren't known until after his death... but still...

 

Nicolae Ceauçescu, on the other hand, was an out and out baddie. Responsible for the reign of fear in his native Romania, he attempted to flee (reminiscent of Louis XVI during the French revolution) but was captured by police who handed him (and his wife) over to the army. A firing squad put paid to him in the end.
The Italian dictator Mussolini was similarly captured by the mob in mid-flight and similarly executed. After being shot, kicked, and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down on meathooks from the roof of an Esso gas station. The bodies were then stoned by civilians from below.

 

This maltreatment of the already-dead has a precedent in the disinterred corpse of English Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell which was dragged around London, 'tortured', had its head cut off and put up on a Spike some eighteen months after his spirit had left his body. A sign of the changing times, we can suppose.

 

From 892 we even have a case of retroactive posthumous revenge when Sigurd the Mighty of Orkney strapped the head of his defeated foe, Máel Brigte, to his horse's saddle. The teeth of the head grazed against his leg as he rode, causing a fatal infection.

 

More recently, dictator-wise, Saddam Hussein was hanged on the 20th December, 2006; the result of the ruling of the interim Iraqi government. Another ruthless leader brought to justice by the changing tides of history. The poor fellah had to hide in a hole in the ground at a farmhouse near Tikrit for weeks while he was being searched for. hat'll teach him for being despot of an oil-rich country. When will they learn?

 

And from Medieval Times we hear of cases of captured mercenaries in 14th C Italy. One was dragged through the mud, his bottom flayed and symbolically wiped before being executed, while another was tied to a post and used as target practice by the villagers who threw stones, daggers and skewers at him 'until he expired'
(From 'Hawkwood – Diabolical Englishman' by Frances Stonor Saunders, P. 70, Chapter 5 'Betrayal')

 

The French Revolution is here in this section too. It was the 13th July 1793 when Charlotte Corday, Girondin sympathiser, sought an audience with the anti-Girondin Jean Paul Marat who conducted his meeting from his bathtub due to a skin condition. After giving him a list of leading names, Charlotte took out a kitchen knife and stabbed him to death – something she had tried to do some 4 days earlier at a meeting. "I killed one man to save a hundred thousand" she said in her defence just before the blade of the Guillotine fell to sever her head from her body.

 

To stay with the Revolutionary theme, let's go to Russia – To the 12th of March, 1917, with Russia in economic meltdown and the first stirrings of revolution in the air. Despite huge posters ordering people to keep off the streets, vast crowds gathered in St Petersburg and were only dispersed after some 200 had been shot dead, though a company of the Volinsky Regiment fired into the air rather than into the mob, and a company of the Pavlovsky Life Guards shot the officer who gave the command to open fire. Nikolai and his family were eventually killed (shot) by the Bolsheviks at a house in the Urals where they had been taken 'for protection'.

 

Perhaps most satisfyingly of all, in this section, the Arab world gives us the case of Ibn-al-Zayyat ('Abbasid Vizir, 833 – 836) who died in a torture machine designed by himself. (I have been unable to find details of the machine itself. CT)
(Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome Ch 14, P.238)

 

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2. BAD LUCK

 

Sometimes you can plan and plan and yet a bolt from the blue will see you off. Or, as in the case of Basil Brown, a 48-year-old health food advocate from Croydon, who drank himself to death with carrot juice, the very means of your salvation can be the method of your destruction.

 

According to the Occitan Song of the Albigensian Crusade, Simon de Montfort died after being struck by a rock from a catapult: the blow to his steel helmet smashed his eyes, brain, forehead and upper teeth to pieces. (But it is not the fate of Bold Sir Simon that interests us here in the BAD LUCK section – CT). One peril of hurling rocks at heavily fortified places was that they could rebound. During a popular revolt in Siena in 1371, a rock was thrown at the tower of the Palazzo Pubblico, but it fell back into the crowd below and landed on a poor pignattaio (pine-nut gatherer) called Pasquino.

 

- Frances Stonor Saunders – Hawkwood, Ch 11, P.139

 

The Roman playwright Aeschylus had a very famous death. He was the one who had a tortoise dropped on his head by an eagle. Which is bad luck, but at least eagles fly. In 1999 Dominguez Garcia was killed by an airborne cow in Vacaville (well, well – that's 'Cow-ville' in Spanish), California. The animal had strayed onto the highway and was struck by another vehicle, launching it into his lane where it crashed through his windscreen.

 

Back in the summer of 1939, French art dealer Ambroise Vollard (who gave Picasso and Cézannne their first one-man shows) was being driven back to Paris by his chauffeur, Marcel. He was dozing, when the car crashed. The impact causing a small bronze by the sculptor Aristide Maillol, an artist loved by Vollard and loathed by Picasso, to shoot forward, hitting Vollard in the side of the neck, fracturing his cervical vertebrae. Vollard died later that night in a Versailles hospital - killed - literally, by a work of art.

 

Meanwhile, the sculptor of the Killer Artwork, Aristide Maillol died in a car accident five years later. Picasso, who automatically interpreted any coincidences or unacceptable occurrences as signs of an evil destiny at work, took Vollard's death as proof that he was surrounded by evil forces. He swore never again to allow his own chauffeur, also called Marcel, to drive him, travelling by train to Paris to attend Vollard's funeral

 

The man who burgled English artist Francis Bacon's (chronic asthma followed by heart attack in Madrid in 1992, if you were wondering) became his homosexual lover and model for many of his most famous paintings. Ramon Navarro on the other hand had no such luck. The burglars that entered his home one night in the 1960's ended up beating the Hollywood star of the Twenties to death with a lead dildo that had been given him by Rudolph Valentino. Rudolph himself died of appendicitis and gastric ulcers at the age of 31.

 

Back in England, in the year 1100, William II was killed on a hunting trip by an archer who confused him with prey, but this almost seems commonplace compared with what happened to the beautiful and talented dancer Isadora Duncan. Off for a tryst in Nice at the height of her fame, she stood up (I imagine) in the open-topped car she was in. The wind caught her silk scarf, which got wrapped around the spokes and axle of the wheel and strangled her to death.

 

Rather more mundanely, in 1277 Pope John XXI was killed when the ceiling of an extension of the great fortress of Viterbo fell on him while he was working in his own special room, waiting for the Fortress to be repaired. Another timely death by masonry ocurred on the 3rd of February, 1945, while Nazi Monster and Judge Roland Freisler was conducting a Saturday session of the People's Court, when American bombers attacked Berlin. Government and Nazi Party buildings were hit. The best version of his death has him crushed under a marble column while still clutching his legal papers. Nobody mourned this particular cunt's passing. And the man he was about to prosecute went on to hunt for Nazis after the war.

 

Still on the demolition theme, 1063: Béla I of Hungary died when his wooden throne collapsed upon him.

 

Bad luck plays a place in sport without Death having to come into it, of course. But Death is never far away, it seems. Dieter Strack, 74, a German athletics official died after being struck in the throat by a javelin at an athletics event in Düsseldorf, Germany. He had gone to measure a throw but was hit by a javelin thrown by a 15-year-old athlete. In another sports-related misadventure, John White – a one-time famous Spurs footballer had that unluckiest of deaths - killed by lightning. Though not as unlucky as the entire Bena Tshadi team of 1988 when they played against Basanga (Democratic Republic of the Congo). All of them were killed by lightning while everyone on Basanga, the home team, survived. The unluckiness of lightning apart, however, sometimes you bring it on yourself. In 1360, hundreds of English soldiers were retreating after attempting to attack the French in Paris. Suddenly they found themselves in the middle of a thunderstorm. Their armour acted as a lightning conductor and many of them were fried alive while still mounted on horseback.

 

6th century BC: Legend says Greek wrestler Milo of Croton came upon a tree-trunk split with wedges. Testing his strength, he tried to rend it with his bare hands. The wedges fell, trapping his hands in the tree and making him unable to defend himself from attacking wolves, which devoured him.

 

564 BC: Arrichion of Phigalia, Greek pankratiast, caused his own death in order to win 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.

 

Still in Ancient Greece, in 620 BC Athenian law-maker Draco was smothered to death by gifts of cloaks showered upon him by appreciative citizens at a theatre on Aegina

 

In 210 BC Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, died after ingesting several pills of mercury in the belief that it would grant him eternal life.

 

In 1755 Henry Hall died from injuries he sustained after molten lead fell into his throat while looking up at a burning lighthouse.

 

And in 1871, Clement Vallandigham, a lawyer and Ohio politician, was demonstrating how a victim may possibly have shot himself while drawing a weapon from a kneeling position when he shot himself in the process. Though the defendant, Thomas McGehan, was ultimately cleared, Vallandigham died from his wound.

 

If killing yourself by simulating killing yourself is not unlucky enough, imagine how the guy who threw himself out of an unbreakable glass window must have felt on his 24-storey fall to the pavement. Plenty of time for Garry Hoy to wonder, as he fell to his death on July 9, 1993, why he hadn't bothered to check that the glass (which didn't break) had not been securely fastened into its frame. I don't know how many sales he made on the strength of that performance. I can't even say whether they went up or down. An argument could be made for both possibilities.

 

1387: Charles II of Navarre after having been wrapped in bandages soaked in brandy in an attempt to cure an illness, was burned alive when a servant accidentally set the bandages on fire.

 

1870: Alain de Monéys, French aristocrat, was cooked and eaten alive by the villagers of Hautefaye, Dordogne, during a reported case of mass hysteria.

 

And to finish off, and in the 'Wrong Place at the Wrong Time' Category, the seven people who were killed in the London Beer Flood of 1814 (some drowned, some died from injuries, and one succumbed to alcohol poisoning). 323,000 gallons (1,468,000 L) of beer in the Meux and Company Brewery burst out of its vats and gushed into the streets.

 

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3. THE ADMISSIBLE KILLER: THE CAR

 

Some decades ago, The Society of Authors of Crime Novels decided that the best manner to escape conviction for a murder would be to run someone over and kill them in a car. As it can almost always be argued that the death was accidental, the sentences handed out to murderers who drive cars is almost always lenient. If there is any at all.

 

One fine day – the 23rd of September, 1899, a certain H. H. Bliss was crossing the road in New York and suddenly became a "First" in the history of transport. The first person (of so, so many) to be killed by a car. However, some 30 years earlier, in 1869 Mary Ward, a passenger in a steam car built by her young cousins, fell from the car and was crushed under its wheels, making her the first person to die in a road accident involving a powered vehicle.
Since then, of course, the body-count has been rising unstoppably.

 

The French-Algerian existentialist philosopher (and Algerian national goalkeeper) Albert Camus died on 4 January 1960 at the age of 46, in a car accident near Sens, in Le Grand Fossard in the small town of Villeblevin. In his coat pocket was an unused train ticket. He had planned to travel by train with his wife and children, but at the last minute he accepted his publisher's proposal to travel with him

 

French chauffeur Henri Paul drove Lady Diana and Dodi Fayed into a concrete pillar in an underground tunnel in Paris while being pursued by press photographers. He and his two passengers died instantly. The body-guard survived.
Best-selling poet and pop musician Marc Bolan met his end aged 29 in 1977.
The car has taken quite a few sportsmen from us. Laurie Cunningham, the first English player to be signed by Real Madrid. On the 15th of July, 1989, he killed himself in his car in the Sierra de Madrid. He was a Rayo Vallecano player at this time.
One of my childhood heroes, Chelsea footballer Peter Houseman (who played in the first game I ever saw) moved to Oxford later in his career where he died with his wife and two friends on the A40 as they returned from a fund-raising event.

 

Ayrton Senna da Silva, of course, drove for a living. The three-time Formula One champion was killed while at work in the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. From the world of music, Scott LaFaro (25 años), Bill Evans' bassist. This incident - together with his brother's suicide - knocked the stuffing out of Evans who later died aged 51 after wrecking his body with cocaine and heroin in what a friend described as "the longest suicide in history".

 

James Dean must be one of the automobile's most famous victim. He died in a car crash with the magnificently named Donald Turnupseed (who survived) while driving his famous Spyder to a race meet. Having already been issued tickets for speeding earlier in the journey.

 

And from the world of comedy,Sam Kinison, the American comedian was killed by a drunk driver in 1992
Another car death relates to Stalin's fellow bandit-friend from childhood, 'Kamo'. Simon Ter Petrossian (as he was really called; 'Kamo' was a nickname given to him to mocj his bad Russian pronunciation. He was quite probably educationally subnormal) was killed while cycling through his native village, provoking the comment that 'it was odd that the only van in the village collided with the only bicycle'.
Adam Ndlovu the Zimbabwean footballer died in a car crash on the 15th December 2012 and Metallica's bassist Cliff Burton died when the band's tour bus over-turned in rural southern Sweden in 1986.

 

And to finish off with, here's a sort of car death to make one wonder at the richness and unpredictability of human behaviour. In 2004 Francis "Franky" Brohm, 23, of Marietta, Georgia was leaning out of a car window and decapitated by a telephone pole support wire. The car's intoxicated driver, John Hutcherson, 21, drove nearly 12 miles (19 km) to his home with the headless body in the passenger seat, parked the car in his driveway, then went to bed. A neighbour saw the bloody corpse still in the car and notified police. Brohm's head was later discovered at the accident scene.

 

AND OTHER MEANS OF TRANSPORT...
Much as I dislike the car, it isn't the only means of transport capable of, ahem, carrying people away (and I haven't even counted boats)

 

Antoni Gaudí was done in by a tram in Barcelona in 1926 while on his way to pray and confess, and thereby leaving the Sagrada Familia unfinished and argued about to this day. He might have survived had he been given immediate assistance, but people assumed from his dress that he was a tramp. I can sympathise with that. Similarly, twenty years earlier, Marie Curie's (aplastic anemia brought on by long-term exposure to radiation) husband Pierre Curie fell under a horse drawn cart in Paris and his skull was crushed by its wheels.
Rock 'n Roll star Jiles Perry Richardson Jr (The Big Bopper) died along with Buddy Holly (aged 23), Ritchie Valens (aged 18), when they were jettisoned from the plane, landed yards from the wreckage and lay there for ten hours as snowdrifts formed around them. "The Day the Music Died" as one headline put it.

 

Folk/country singer and musician John Denver crashed his own plane into the Pacific Ocean. A qualified pilot, he was not legally entitled to fly at the time de to problems with alcohol.

 

Antoine de St Exupéry the author of The Little Prince, was a different kind of plane-crash victim. He was flying a reconnaissance mission over Nazi Germany and simply never returned. The Best Guess is that he was shot down but his body was never found.

 

Modifying the airborne transport a little, we move on to the helicopter. On the 22nd October, 1996 Matthew Harding (Chelsea FC Director, a millionaire self-made businessman ) died in a crash while returning from Chelsea's game at Bolton. He was 43. His name lives on at Stamford Bridge as the old North Stand has been re-named in his honour.
The film director: Boris Sagal didn't even have to be aboard his helicopter for it to kill him. While shooting the TV miniseries World War III in 1981, he walked into the tail rotor blade of a helicopter and was decapitated.

 

Back to public transport and the inauguration of the first ever passenger train service between Manchester and Liverpool. Local MP Edward Huskisson was one of the invitees to attend this grand event. Rushing back to speak to one of the onboard passengers, he fell under the wheels of Stephenson's Rocket on this, its inaugural voyage.

 

Sadly, even my beloved bicycle has been responsible for seeing off one of the world's finest musicians. At the age of 44, Ernest Chausson was out for a bicycle ride outside his property in Limay when he lost control of the bike on a downhill slope and crashed into a brick will. He died instantly

 

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4. SHOWBIZ DEATHS

 

Harry Houdini was one of the world's greatest showman – escapologist, and (not very successful) actor. I had always thought he died on stage, but Jaques Price, an eyewitness to the incident, describes it thus: "On the afternoon of October 22, 1926, two McGill University students visited Houdini's dressing room. According to reports, Houdini was looking through his mail, when one of the students, J. Gordon Whitehead, asked Harry if he could indeed withstand any blow to the abdomen, as the magician had previously proclaimed. Harry responded that he could, if given time to brace himself, at which point Whitehead hit Houdini four times in the abdomen, under the impression that Houdini had indeed braced himself for the blows"
Houdini went on to give that night's show in great pain and later died of peritonitis attributed to the blows to the chest.
1925: Zishe (Siegmund) Breitbart, a circus strongman and Jewish folklore hero, died after demonstrating he could drive 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.

 

While with famous strongmen and showmen, England's hero Captain Webb was primarily famous as a swimmer (he was the first man to swim the English Channel between England and France). His final stunt was to be a dangerous swim through the Whirlpool Rapids on the Niagara River, a feat many observers considered suicidal. On the 24th July, 1883 he jumped into the river from a small boat and began his swim. Accounts of the time indicate that in all likelihood Webb successfully survived the first part of the swim, but died in the section of the river located near the entrance to the whirlpool.

 

England and Wales can also offer two of the most truly showbiz deaths. Eric Morecambe AND Tommy Cooper both died on stage in front of an audience. Well, almost –
On 15 April 1984, Cooper collapsed from a heart attack in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act on the London Weekend Television variety show Live From Her Majesty's. Morecambe's case was almost a replica. He was doing the curtain call at his last ever gig at The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury. His wife, Joan, who was in the audience, recalled that Morecambe was "on top form". He joked to the audience about his childhood, his career, and Tommy Cooper who had died six weeks earlier. Morecambe said he would hate to die like that. But, that night, after his sixth six curtain call, and with a cheery "That's your lot!" to the audience, he left the stage. He then walked into the wings, said "Thank goodness that's over." and died of his third heart attack.
The actor Gareth Jones, also died live on TV in 1958. He collapsed and died between scenes of the play, Underground in Manchester. Director Ted Kotcheff continued the play to its conclusion, improvising around Jones' absence.
More recently, in 1984 Jon-Erik Hexum, an American television actor, died after he shot himself in the head with a prop gun loaded with a single blank cartridge. Hexum was playing Russia Roulette during a break in filming. 1993: Actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee (and no one knows how he died! Shall we put him in a set with Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley and perhaps even Hitler; the set of People who aren't Really Dead According to Certain Conspiracy Theory Nuts?), was shot and killed by a prop gun during the making of the movie The Crow. The accident happened after a mistake in prop handling procedures: In a prior scene a revolver was fired using a cartridge with only a primer and a bullet, but the primer provided enough force to push the round out of the cartridge into the barrel of the revolver, where it stuck. The gun was then reused to shoot the death scene of Lee's character. This time it was reloaded with a blank cartridge that contained propellant and a primer. When actor Michael Massee fired the gun, the bullet was propelled into Lee.
1939: Finnish actress Sirkka Sari managed to die without the aid of a firearm when she fell down a chimney into a heating boiler. She had mistaken the chimney for a balcony

 

DRUGS (alcohol)
Of course, no real showbiz artiste can stay off the sauce for long, it would seem. The list of deaths due to alcohol would be long and tedious, so here are just three famous cases (and one closer to home).

 

Back to football again for our first victims of the legally-accepted but highly addictive social lubricant. Manuel Francisco dos Santos, better known as Garrincha ('the Wren') was one of Brazil's greatest footballers but succumbed to alcoholism, dying at the age of 50 of cirrhosis of the liver. His fall from grace and death are commemorated in a beautiful song I only heard once and haven't been able to trace.

 

There must surely be a long list of ex-footballer alcoholics. Perhaps the most famous case in England is of the Northern Irish George Best, Manchester United star who drank himself to death in 2005. Thus giving rise to the expression " XXXX (insert player name) isn't fit to lace Georgie Best's drinks".

 

But everyone's favourite death-from-alcoholism, of course is the police agent, head of the Untouchables during the Prohibition, Elliot Ness. It would be so nice to believe the story but there is no proof either way and there is no one alive today to say for sure. In the 1940s, when the stories came out, it was common for men to drink a few scotches, even during the day

 

RIP here for my half.brother Michael Stansfield who unfortunately qualified for inclusion in this section at the age of 45 after a life exposed to wine, which wasn't even fashionable back then. Unless you were a chef. Which he was.

 

DRUGS (tobacco)

 

The ground-breaking American comedian Bill Hicks – died of emphysema brought on by tobacco addiction (qv. English theatre critic and practising masochist Kenneth Tynan who also died of emphysema in a cloud of smoke, refusing to give up as his doctor had ordered him)

 

Three of The Marlboro men – (now 4; CT, February 2014) - who were used to advertise Marlboro cigarettes in a long-running and successful campaign to persuade adolescents to commit themselves to a life-long toxic addiction – died of......... (drum roll) Cancer ! Of course. Thus earning Marlboro cigarettes, specifically Marlboro Reds, the nickname "Cowboy killers". And let us not forget that at the funeral of one of them, one of the company bosses, on being asked why he wasn't smoking, said "smoking is for niggers and poor people". (Citation needed, as they say on Wikipedia).

 

DRUGS (others)

 

Time to leave booze and fags and look at some proper drugs. And we don't have to look far. In fact, this section is probably peopled by people whose demise you already know of anyway:

 

How about Jimi Hendrix (choked on his vomit after barbiturate overdose following an amphetamine spree), Janis Joplin (heroin overdose) for starters? Or Sid Vicious (heroin overdose in a New York bedroom with girlfriend Nancy Spungen who he had apparently stabbed to death), Amy Winehouse (drug abuse, though largely alcohol), and Alan Wilson the Canned Heat singer (barbiturate overdose after two failed suicide attempts). Yes, all drug OD'd at the height of their fame, and who knows whether Man of Mystery Jim Morrison did as well? Then there was Ian Curtis – Lead singer of Joy Division (Later 'New Order') and heroin addict. Curtis hanged himself with the kitchen washing line in his mother's house while listening over and over again to "Idiot" by The Stooges. And to top the list, Kurt Cobain – The Nirvana frontman shot himself with a shotgun.
But one other thing unites all the people in the previous paragraph. They all died at the same age – TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD.
So here, in a brief parenthesis, are a few others who died far too young while flying high:

 

Brian Jones – Founder member of the Rolling Stones was asked to leave the band due to his drug dependencies. A month later he was found drowned in the swimming pool of his house(death by misadventure).
Robert Johnson – The mysterious early bluesman (poisoned by whisky laced with strychnine that was offered to him by the husband of a woman he was flirting with... possibly) A curiously parallel death to that of Pope John XII (Octavius) (c 937 – 14 May 964) who was beaten to death by the enraged husband of one of his lovers during a stay outside Rome.
Jean Michel Basquiat – From urban graffiti artist to neoxpressionist/primitivist millionaire, a heroin Speedball Overdose carried him off.
Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man) – the truly tragic Mr Merrick may have died attempting to sleep lying down as normal people do. He had to sleep in a sitting position so the weight of his head did not asphyxiate him or such his spine. I cried watching the David Lynch film which, apparently, is pretty accurate, biographically.
Bobby Sands – IRA hunger striker. Finally gave in to death while in Maze prison and became a martyr for the Republican cause. One unfortunate knock-on effect of his death was the murder of (Eric and Desmond Guiney) a milk deliverer and his son, who became caught up in the ensuing riots and were stoned to death by the mob.
(Rupert Brooke (q.v.) was also 27 when he died)
Nor do drug-debauched deaths have to be either lonely or even intentional affairs. During the Dancing Plague of 1518 in Strasbourg, a woman (and eventually up to 400 other people) uncontrollably danced until they all died of stroke and exhaustion. The reason for this occurrence is still unclear.

 

In this section we also say RIP Pete Clarke, who I knew at Reading University. Having fulfilled his dream of visiting S America he rather unwisely brough some cocaine back in his stomach in a concom which subsequently burst.

 

And also RIP Mauricio Aznar, Zaragoza musician who had problems with heroin. His brother, also an addict, committed suicide and it was too much for Mauricio, who followed suit.

 

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5. ILLNESS

 

A very mundane way to go, all things considered. But as we are all – incredibile dictu – living longer and longer, in the end it will be the thing that does for the most of us. I suppose if it's coming to get you it's coming to get you, but the following examples might give a few clues as to how to avoid getting ill in the first place.

 

The philosopher (and lens-grinder) Gottfried Leibniz was poisoned by the fumes given off by the Chemicals in his lens laboratory, much in the style of Marie Curie (qv). Bad Biblical King Herod died due to gangrene of the cock. Scotland's national football team manager Jock Stein suffered a heart attack after watching his side draw 1-1 with Wales (aged 62), while Ivan Grozny (Ivan the Terrible) – died of a stroke aged 54 while playing chess and in 1940 Marcus Garvey died due to two strokes after reading a negative premature obituary of himself in which it was claimed he had died "broke, alone and unpopular".
One who did die alone, though hugely popular, was Alfred Hawthorne Hill (you may know him netter as one of our most enduring comedy exports, Benny Hill) died at the age of 68 on 20 April 1992 while sitting in his armchair watching TV. His death wasn't discovered until nearly three days later.
Now for a really spectacular case of ill-timed illness, we have to go back to the days of the Roman Empire where we meet the 'heretic' Arius. This controversial theologian, according to Socrates Scholasticus "as he approached the place called Constantine's Forum, where the column of porphyry is erected, a terror arising from the remorse of conscience seized (him), and with the terror a violent relaxation of the bowels: he therefore enquired whether there was a convenient place near, and being directed to the back of Constantine's Forum, he hastened thither. Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died. The scene of this catastrophe still is shown at Constantinople, as I have said, behind the shambles in the colonnade: and by persons going by pointing the finger at the place, there is a perpetual remembrance preserved of this extraordinary kind of death".
Many Nicene Christians asserted that Arius's death was miraculous—a consequence of his allegedly heretical views. Several recent writers, far removed from the event, have guessed that Arius may have been poisoned by his opponents
In a similar case in 1601, legend has it that Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe died of complications resulting from a strained bladder at a banquet. As it was considered extremely bad etiquette to leave the table before the meal was finished, he stayed until he became fatally ill. This version of events has since been brought into question as other causes of death (murder by Johannes Kepler, (died rather boringly after an illness, aged 59), suicide, and mercury poisoning among others) have come to the fore. And also because, frankly, the 'legendary' story is difficult to believe.
1884: Allan Pinkerton, detective, spy, and founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, died allegedly when he contracted gangrene after slipping and biting his tongue; however, conflicting reports indicate that he died of a stroke instead.
Even stubbed toes have managed to carry off two of Humanity's Finest. In 1911 Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel, a famous American distiller, died from blood poisoning as a result of an infection in one of his toes. The toe became infected after he damaged it while kicking his safe in anger because he could not remember the combination.
And in 1687 Jean-Baptiste Lully, the French composer, died of a gangrenous abscess after piercing his foot with a staff while he was vigorously conducting a Te Deum. It was customary at that time to conduct by banging a staff on the floor.

 

René Descartes died on 11 February 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden, where he had been invited as a tutor for Queen Christina of Sweden. The cause of death was said to be pneumonia; accustomed to working in bed until noon, he may have suffered damage to his health from Christina's demands for early morning study (the lack of sleep could have severely compromised his immune system – M. Descartes features elsewhere on this web site among the list of People Who Hate Mornings)
And I read this about the philosoopher and left-wing (religious!) activist Simone Weil (d. 1943, aged 34), in "Filosofía Hoy", Nº 14, P. 13. "(Weil) contracted tuberculosis due to malnutrition brought about by her refusal to eat more food than that allotted to the troops on the front line". Very noble, but what use are you dead?

 

The circumstances of Tchaikovsky's death remain a mystery. It was believed for many years that he died of cholera and there were over 8 completely different "eyewitness" reports of him taking that "fateful sip of un-boiled water." It is believed that Tchaikovsky may have had an illicit relationship with a young nobleman/royal he was tutoring at the time and several alumni from the School of Jurisprudence held a Court of Honor to discuss the punishment options of which two were proposed: exile from Russia (something Tchaikovsky could not bear) or suicide with a cover-up. It's more widely accepted that to protect both his and the school's reputations, Tchaikovsky was forced – like Socrates - to commit suicide.

 

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6. SPECIAL CASES

 

This category is really a depository for deaths that didn't quite fit in any of the other categories. Split sides, crushed by tunnels made of newspaper, self-starved and self-drowned, or fucked to death by man or beast; there's something here for all the family.

 

Many of the early Christian Saints were in fact certifiable in today's terms. A good case in point is that of Saint Catherine of Siena. This unfortunate woman suffered a sort of anorexia known as 'Inedia', which, in layman's terms, is not eating until you die of starvation.
c. 98: Saint Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum, was roasted to death in a brazen bull during the persecutions of Emperor Domitian. Saint Eustace, his wife and children supposedly suffered a similar fate under Hadrian.
Not enough women dying spectacularly up to now. Let's start to put that right with the famous case of Hypatia of Alexandria, the Greek mathematician, philosopher and last librarian of the Library of Alexandria, was murdered in 415 by a Christian mob that ripped off her skin with sharp sea-shells. Various types of shells have been named, including clams, oysters and abalones. Other sources claim tiles or pottery shards were used.

 

Far away from the gruesome misericordia of Catholicism – in fact right at the other end of the spectrum – we find Chrysippus: Legend has it, the man was partying with his donkey and the donkey had a little too much to drink. The inebriated donkey then tried to eat some figs. On seeing this, apparently, Chrysippus started laughing so hard he keeled over and died. (The same fate supposedly befell Martín of Aragón – according to Wikipedia: Martin died, in Valdonzella in 1410, reportedly due to indigestion and uncontrollable laughter. According to tradition, Martin was suffering from indigestion on account of eating an entire goose when his favorite jester, Borra, entered the king's bedroom.When Martin asked Borra where the jester had been, the jester replied with: "Out of the next vineyard, where I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if someone had so punished him for stealing figs." This joke caused the king to die from laughter" So... another fig-related joke was responsible!).
1947: The Collyer Brothers, extreme cases of compulsive hoarders, were found dead in their home in New York. The younger brother, Langley, was crushed to death when he accidentally triggered one of his own booby traps that had consisted of a large pile of objects, books, and newspapers. His blind and paralyzed brother Homer, who had depended on Langley for care, died of starvation some days later.
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.
And in another case of almost extreme self-will, in 2005 28-year-old Lee Seung Seop, from South Korea, collapsed of fatigue and died after playing the videogame StarCraft online for almost 50 consecutive hours.
IN the year 762, Li Po (Li Bai), Chinese poet and courtier, supposedly tried to kiss the reflection of the Moon beside the boat in which he was travelling, fell overboard and drowned.
In 1478 George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, was executed by drowning in a barrel of Malmsey wine at his own request.
In 1983, American author Tennessee Williams died when he choked on an eyedrop bottle-cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York. He would routinely place the cap in his mouth, lean back, and place his eyedrops in each eye.
In 1667 James Betts died from asphyxiation after being accidentally sealed in a cupboard by Elizabeth Spencer, at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in an attempt to hide him from her father, John Spencer.
In 2002 Richard Sumner, a British artist suffering from schizophrenia, went into a remote section of Clocaenog Forest in Denbighshire, Wales, handcuffed himself to a tree and threw the keys out of his reach. His skeleton was discovered three years later. There were signs that he may have later changed his mind.
In 2005 Kenneth Pinyan from Seattle, Washington, died of acute peritonitis after receiving anal intercourse from a stallion. The case led to the criminalization of bestiality in Washington state. From which we learn that bestiality WASN'T a crime in Washington State until after 2005!!
Jimi Heselden, British owner of the Segway motorized scooter company, was killed when he accidentally drove off a cliff on a Segway at his estate at Thorp Arch near Boston Spa.

 

Claude François (1939-1978), the composer of Sinatra's most famous song My Way was electrocuted when he tried to fix a broken light bulb while standing in a filled bathtub. His early death brought a wave of public sympathy for the French star, completely ignoring the stupidity of his actions. Hugo Wolf attempted to drown himself before requesting admission to an insane asylum where he eventually died completely and utterly mindless. Bedrich Smetana also ended his life (like philosophy genius Nietzsche, maths genius Georg Cantor and comedy genius Phil Silvers) in an insane asylum emulating Nietzsche in dying of syphilis, as well. And while still with artists, Rossini (another of those People Who Hate Mornings) who was born on February 29, 1792, was extremely superstitious and particularly wary of Friday the thirteenths. He died in the year 1868 on Friday November 13th.

 

In 1994, the star of the TV series Kung Fu, David Carradine died from autoerotic asphyxiation, as did Stephen Milligan, a British politician and Conservative MP for Eastleigh. Michael Hutchence, Australian singer-songwriter and member of rock band INXS sought his sexual thrills similarly. His death was ruled as suicide by the coroner but was believed by his family and partner to be the result of autoerotic asphyxia. There would HAVE to be some religious bloke in this section, and sure enough the Reverend Gary Aldridge, of Montgomery's Thorington Road Baptist Church, died June 24, 2007 from "accidental mechanical asphyxia"; he was "found hogtied, wearing two complete wet suits, including a face mask, diving gloves and slippers, rubberized underwear, and a head mask."
But surely the King of the Unfortunate Deaths (or, according to Richard Pryor, fortunate deaths – (Richard, of course died of a heart attack in 2005, having survived setting himself on fire while freebasing cocaine some 25 years earlier)) we hail: Uroko Onoja, a Nigerian businessman, died after being forced by five of his six wives to have sex with each of them. Onoja was caught having sex with his youngest wife by the remaining five, who were jealous of him paying her more attention. The remaining wives demanded that he also have sex with each of them, threatening him with knives and sticks. He had intercourse with four of them in succession, but stopped breathing before having sex with the fifth.

 

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7. SUICIDE

 

'Jumpers' – the unofficial name for Thames suicides – are the responsibility of the River Police – an odd one since they have not committed any crime. (Their) involvement dates back to an era when suicide was defined by Samuel Johnson as 'self-murder; the horrid crime of destroying one's self', and regarded as a contravention of God's will. Well into the eighteenth century, suicides would be posthumously convicted by the courts. Most had their goods confiscated by the state. In some cases, the cadavers would then be 'executed' before having their twice-killed corpses buried under the high road with a stake driven through their chest – presumably as a way of encouraging their descent into the fires of Hell.
Most suicides were simply declared mad. Those who did not succeed were hauled off to prisons or asylums. Astoundingly, it took until 1961 before suicide was officially decriminalized.
From Chapter Six (Royal Fish; P. 209) of 'The Wreckers' by Bella Bathurst

 

To that I can only add that for a time the punishment for attempted suicide was death. Work that one out.

 

Alan Turing – committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple, after being forced to take hormone treatment to 'cure' his homosexuality. Turing was, if anyone can be said to be, the Inventor of the Computer. A warm, affable man who would run a marathon in his ordinary shoes on a whim, could not understand the hatred towards homosexuals and would be overt about it in an age when this wasn't done. After working on the Enigma machines that crucially cracked the German code – though curiously enough he is not even mentioned in the film 'Enigma' – rather than being rewarded for his work, he was driven to depression and suicide by his forced hormone treatment. Thanks for winning us the war, Alan! At least by leaving us in that way he can be grouped with another of Humanity's Greats: the Ancient Greek philosopher (or anti-philosopher) Socrates. Had up on charges of 'corrupting the youth' Socrates was offered an escape route but preferred to take his own life nobly rather than submit himself to Athenian justice. Hermann Goering – was another who chose to end it all. This time, in order to avoid being hanged as he was sentenced to do by the Nurmeberg War Trials in 1946. While alone in his cell, someone slipped him a potassium cyanide pill, which he gratefully accepted. His boss.man Adolf Hitler had already committed suicide, as far as anyone knows, in his bunker in Berlin a year earlier. Though the body has never been found... or has it? Theories abound.

 

Cleopatra, Yukio Mishima and Emily Davison – also ended their lives with a Grand Gesture – The Egyptian queen allowed a poisonous asp to bite her, thus mirroring the actions of her lover Marcus Antonius who had just lost the Battle of Actium to Octavian. (Mark Antony committed suicide by stabbing himself with his sword in the mistaken belief that Cleopatra had already done so. When he found out that Cleopatra was still alive, his friends brought him to Cleopatra's monument in which she was hiding, and he died in her arms). The right-wing nationalist writer Mishima, however, chose to commit Seppuku in November 1970, after failing to oust the Japanese government in a coup d'état, while feminist protester Davison threw herself under the King George V's horse as it was competing in the Epson Derby race. Unlike Cleopatra and Mishima, however, it's not clear that her suicide was intentional.

 

Towards the end of his life, domestic troubles increased the Spanish poet M José de Larra's pessimism, and, in consequence of a disastrous love-affair, he committed suicide in February 1837.

 

As a teenager (and still today) I loved the cover of Hawkwind's (all still alive: UPDATE – Huw Lloyd Langton died of cancer aged 54, Dec 2012, RIP) Hall of the Mountain Grill, along with the classic gatefold sleeve cover of In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson (all alive except for Ian Wallace who died of cancer aged 60). Barney Bubbles, the Hawkwind cover artist, committed suicide in London on 14 November 1983 by gassing himself, trapping the fumes in a plastic bag he placed over his head. At least he saw some of the fruits of his work. Barry Godber died just as his artwork was to be found in every record shop window in England in 1970.
Staying with the arts, classical composer Robert Schumann – had already attempted suicide aged 44 when he succumbed two years later to – syphilis? Mercury poisoning? Colloid cyst? Very much the same list of causes that were posited as possibly leading to Schubert's death, too, at the age of only thirty one.
One of my all-time favourite musicians, English singer-songwriter Nick Drake, was dead at the age of 26 due to an overdose of anti-depressants (accidental? He was very unhappy at any rate. Somewhere there is film of me reciting one of his lyrics at his grave at Tanworth-in-Arden, where we went on a cycling homage).

 

In 1811, the German romantic poet Berndt Heinrich von Kleist went to Berlin where he fell under the spell of the musician and intellectual Henriette Vogel, who was terminally ill. He agreed to die with her so shot himself – after shooting Henriette – on the banks of the Kleiner Wannsee near Potsdam. He was 34. She was 31. Very romantic.
John Kennedy Tool, author of 'A Confederacy of Dunces', aged 31, drove up a deserted track in Biloxi, Mississippi, and gassed himself to death in his car. Disappointed by the first (and only) rejection of his work, he decided to end it all. 12 years later, thanks to the tireless efforts of his mother (who appears in the book) it won the Pulitzer Prize.

 

Van Gogh's suicide and ear-cutting off are very well known (though some say the shot to the chest was accidental), as is Hemingway's blowing his machista brains out at the age of 61 (which was reported at the time as accidental).
Also from the world of literature and shotguns, hippie favourite short story-writer Richard Brautigan was a depressive not helped by alcohol who shot himself in the head with a .44 Magnum.

 

American actress Jane Seberg (on every anniversary of her son's death) tried to kill herself with pills and alcohol, finally succeeding and not being discovered until ten days later, (á la Benny Hill qv) and Jean Harlow's newly married husband at least TRIED to kill himself (but failed) by chopping his penis off on their honeymoon, possibly owing to extreme performance anxiety.
Perhaps the most spectacular suicide ever was that of Christine Chubbuck, an American television news reporter, who, in 1974 committed suicide during a live broadcast on July 15. Eight minutes into her talk show on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, she shot herself in the head with a revolver.

 

And I'm not even sure if this last one really counts as suicide. On January 23, 1973, Terry Kath of the rock band Chicago, took an unloaded .38 revolver and put it to his head, pulling the trigger several times on the empty chambers (during a sort of 'Russian Roulette', it was rumoured). Kath was warned several times to be careful, but he then picked up a semiautomatic 9 mm pistol and, leaning back in a chair, said to road manager Johnson, "Don't worry, it's not loaded". After showing the magazine to Johnson, Kath replaced the magazine in the gun, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger. There was a round in the chamber, and he died instantly. It was the week before his 32nd birthday

 

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8. GOOD OLD-FASHIONED MURDER

 

In 1960, Inejiro Asanuma, 61, the head of the Japanese Socialist Party was stabbed to death with a wakizashi sword by extreme rightist Otoya Yamaguchi during a televised political rally
In 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was assassinated under Blackfriars Bridge in London with a specially modified umbrella that fired a metal pellet with a small cavity full of ricin into his calf. A real James Bond-type affair. It was in all the papers!

 

Andrés Escobar Saldarriaga (13 March 1967 – 2 July 1994), the Colombian soccer player was murdered by a member of a drug cartel on his return home from the World Cup in the USA where he had the misfottune to score an own goal. A certain Humberto Muñoz Castro took esception to this and shot him in a discotheque.

 

Of course, if you're really famous, the English language honours you by converting murder into assassination (see Interesting Etymologies). And there you will find Abe Lincoln, John Lennon, Franz Ferdinand, and oh so many more.

 

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9. A PEACEFUL DEATH AFTER A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE

 

As the old joke says, it's better to die peacefully in your sleep like my grandfather, than screaming in terror and panic, like the passengers on the bus he was driving at the time.
To finish off this empirical reflection on death, let's not forget that you CAN call some men happy when they are dead (cf Aristotle).

 

So, to give hope to all of us, let us say a Happy RIP to two legendary comedians who reached the age of 100 or more: Bob Hope and George Burns

 

While from the world of music (and three more disparate examples it would be hard to find), who can have led better lives than the other-wordly Sun Ra, the affable Bing Crosby - who even died on a golf course on Boxing Day - and the inventor and developer of the Les Paul guitar; Les Paul

 

 

 

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