This is a list of unusual deaths - unique causes or extremely rare circumstances - recorded throughout history. The list also includes less rare, but still unusual, deaths of prominent persons.
* 456 BC: Aeschylus, Greek dramatist, according to legend, died when an eagle, mistaking his bald head for a stone, dropped a tortoise on it.
* 207 BC: Chrysippus, Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after watching his drunken donkey attempt to eat figs.
* 121 BC: Gaius Gracchus, Roman tribune, according to the ancient Greek historian Plutarch, was executed by assassins out to receive a bounty on the weight of his head in gold. One of the co-conspirators in his murder, Septimuleius, then decapitated Gaius, scooped the brains out of his severed head, and filled the cavity of his skull with molten lead. Once the lead hardened, the head was taken to the Roman Senate and weighed in on the scale at over seventeen pounds. Septimuleius was paid in full.
* 30 BC: Cleopatra, queen of Ptolemaic Egypt, allegedly killed herself with an asp snake bite to the mammary gland.
* 81: Roman emperor Titus is said to have died when a mosquito flew up his nose and picked at his brain.
* 260: Roman emperor Valerian, after being defeated in battle and captured by the Persians, was used as a footstool by their king Shapur I. After a long period of treatment and humiliation of this sort, he offered Shapur a huge ransom for his release. In reply, Shapur had molten gold poured down his throat. He then had the unfortunate Valerian skinned and his skin stuffed with straw and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple. Only after Persia's defeat in their last war with Rome three and a half centuries later was his skin given a cremation and burial.
* 453: Attila the Hun suffered a severe nosebleed and choked to death on his wedding night.
* 892: Sigurd I of Orkney, who had conquered much of northern Scotland, defeated and killed Maelbrigte of Moray, but died soon after, as, having strapped Maelbrigte's head to his saddle as a sign of triumph, he had his leg scraped by the latter's teeth - a wound which gave Sigurd bacteremia and septic shock.
* 895: Álmos, the top chieftain leading Hungarian tribes towards the Carpathian basin, was executed in a horse sacrifice on the border, and not allowed to enter the haven for ritual reasons - an ironic reflection of the fate of Moses, but in full accordance with the nomadic customs that called for a chieftain to be sacrificed if the tribe suffered any large-scale defeats (in this case the Pecheneg invasion).
* 1016: Edmund II of England was rumoured to have been stabbed in the gut or bowels whilst he was performing his ablutions.
* 1063: King Béla I of Hungary died when his tall wooden throne collapsed due to sabotage.
* 1190: Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, drowned in the Saleph River en route to the Third Crusade. It is believed that he suffered a heart attack from the shock of the cold water while he was drinking it. Weighed down by his armour, he drowned in water that was barely hip-deep.
* 1277: Pope John XXI was killed in the collapse of his scientific laboratory.
* 1327: Edward II of England, after being deposed and imprisoned by his Queen consort Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, was rumored to have been murdered by having a red-hot iron inserted into his anus.
* 1478: George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence reportedly drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine.
Early Modern Times
* 1514: György Dózsa, leader of a peasants' revolt in the Kingdom of Hungary, was roasted alive on a white hot iron chair. His captured companions were forced to eat his flesh.
* 1526: King Louis II of Hungary drowned in a stream under the weight of his own plate armour while fleeing the Ottomans after the lost battle of Mohács.
* 1532: Vlad Înecatul (Vlad the Drowned), Prince of Wallachia, got severely drunk and rode his horse into the waters of the Dâmboviţa River.
* 1534: Pope Clement VII died after eating the death cap mushroom.
* 1543: Pedro de Valdivia, a dreaded conquistador, was captured by Native Americans and supposedly executed by pouring molten gold down his throat to satisfy his thirst for treasures.
* 1543: João Rodrigues Cabrilho, Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain (discoverer of California), died of gangrene in a broken leg. He broke the leg when jumping from one of his ships to attack hostile natives.
* 1559: King Henry II of France was killed during a stunt knight's jousting match, when his helmet's soft golden grille gave way to a broken lancetip which pierced his eye and entered his brain.
* 1601: Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer, was once thought to have died of a bladder infection after refusing to leave for the bathroom during a banquet for the sake of good manners. However, newer research suggests that he died of mercury poisoning - likely because of his metal nose prosthetic.
* 1626: Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, and essayist, died of possible pneumonia after purchasing a chicken and stuffing it with snow to see if cold could preserve meat. Highgate is reputedly haunted by the chicken's ghost.
* 1671: François Vatel, chef to Louis XIV committed suicide because his seafood order was late and he couldn't stand the shame of a postponed meal. His body was discovered by an aide, sent to tell him of the arrival of the fish.
* 1687: Jean-Baptiste Lully, composer, died of a gangrenous abscess after piercing his foot with a staff while he was vigorously conducting a Te Deum.
* 1695: Henry Purcell, composer, died of a chill after returning late from the theatre one night and finding that his wife had locked him out. It is also possible that he died of chocolate poisoning.
* 1753: Professor Georg Richmann, of Saint Petersburg, Russia, was struck and killed by a globe of ball lightning while observing a storm.
* 1791 or 1793: Frantisek Kotzwara, double bass player and composer, erotic asphyxiation while with a prostitute.
* 1799: Constantine Hangerli, Prince of Wallachia, was arrested by a kapucu and a Moor, and immediately executed by being strangled, shot, stabbed, and decapitated in quick succession.
* 1834: David Douglas, Scottish botanist, who fell in a pit trap, was crushed by a bull that fell in the same pit.
* 1841: William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States, gave the longest inaugural address in the history of the United States on a particularly cold March day and subsequently caught a cold. He wore no coat, to display his virility. Despite some accounts, this address was not given in the snow, as at that time the presidential term began in March. The cold developed into pneumonia and killed him in a month.
* 1844: United States Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and the Secretary of the Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer along with several other dignitaries were killed when the Peacemaker, a new experimental breech-loading 12-inch naval cannon on board the USS Princeton, exploded while firing a salute. The Princeton's captain, the press and the public blamed the great naval engineer John Ericsson, who had to flee to Europe even though the faulty cannon was a product of one of his rivals.
* 1845: Josiah P. Wilbarger, a Texan pioneer, was scalped by Comanches in 1833 but survived, leaving his skull exposed. He lived 11 years until fatally striking his head against a low beam in his cotton gin.
* 1849: Edgar Allan Poe, famous American writer and poet, was found on October 7, 1849, at a Baltimore tavern in a state of delirium and wearing clothes he didn't own. He died in a Washington, D.C. hospital early the next morning, his last words being "Lord, help my poor soul." While the official cause of death was listed as "congestion of the brain", the actual cause for his death has been a matter of debate ever since. The current prevailing theory is that he was a victim of rabies.
* 1850: Zachary Taylor, twelfth President of the United States, following ceremonies on an exceptionally hot July 4, had eaten a large quantity of iced milk and cherries. He then fell ill with acute indigestion and died five days later, after only 16 months in office. This led to speculation he might have been poisoned which in turn led to his body being exhumed in the early 1990s (the medical examination showed he was not poisoned).
* 1864: John Sedgwick, Union general in the American Civil War, was killed by a distant Confederate sniper at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Among his last words to his men were "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!"
* 1867: William Bullock was accidentally killed by his own invention, the web rotary press.
* 1867: John A. Roebling, civil engineer and designer of bridges died of tetanus sixteen days after his foot was crushed by a ferry while overseeing the initial construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the East River.
* 1884: Allan Pinkerton, detective, died of gangrene resulting from having bitten his tongue after stumbling on the sidewalk.
* 1888: Charles-Valentin Alkan, composer and pianist, supposedly died when a bookcase collapsed on him when he was reaching for a copy of the Talmud from the top shelf (though the factuality of this event is disputed).
* 1898: Austrian empress Elisabeth (affectionately known as Sissi) was assassinated by a needlefile-wielding anarchist while boarding a ship. It is reported that she walked some dozen steps after being stabbed, her tight-fitting corset slowing down the internal bleeding.
* 1911: Jack Daniel, founder of the famous Tennessee whiskey distillery, died of blood poisoning from a toe injury he received after kicking his safe in anger when he could not remember its combination code.
* 1915: François Faber, Luxembourgean Tour de France winner, died in a trench on the western front of World War I. He received a telegram saying his wife had given birth to a daughter. He cheered, giving away his position, and was shot by a German sniper.
* 1916: Grigori Rasputin, Russian mystic, died of drowning while trapped under ice. Although the details of his murder are disputed, he was allegedly placed in the water through a hole in the winter ice after having been poisoned, bludgeoned and shot multiple times in the head, lung, and liver.
* 1916 : The English satirist, novelist and wit Saki was killed in France, during World War I by a sniper's bullet, having reportedly cried "Put that damned cigarette out!" to a fellow officer in his trench lest the glowing embers reveal their whereabouts.
* 1926: Barcelona's star architect Antoni Gaudi was run over by a tram. Cab drivers did not take him to a hospital immediately, not recognizing the ragged figure who had no money in his pockets. Gaudi was brought to a pauper's hospital, where he died some days later.
* 1927: J.G. Parry-Thomas, a British racing driver, was decapitated by his car's drive chain which, under duress, snapped and whipped into the cockpit. He was attempting to break his own Land speed record which he had set the previous year. Despite being killed in the attempt, he succeeded in setting a new record of 171 mph.
* 1927: Isadora Duncan, dancer, died of accidental strangulation and broken neck when her scarf caught on the wheel of a car in which she was a passenger. Her last words before the car drove off were Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire. (Farewell, my friends! I go to glory!)
* 1928: Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian physician, died following one of his experiments, in which the blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis was given to him in a transfusion.
* 1933: Michael Malloy, a homeless man, was murdered by gassing after surviving multiple poisonings, intentional exposure, and being struck by a car. Malloy was murdered by five men in a plot to collect on life insurance policies they'd purchased.
* 1935: Baseball player Len Koenecke was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher by the crew of an aircraft he had chartered, after provoking a fight with the pilot while the plane was in the air.
* 1938: Austrian author Ödön von Horvath was killed by a falling branch during a thunderstorm in Paris.
* 1940: Leon Trotsky, the Soviet revolutionary leader in exile, was assassinated with an ice axe in his Mexico home. His killer, Spanish-born Soviet agent Ramon Mercader, acquired the ice axe in Trotsky's own office after being invited in. After receiving a brutal blow to the head, Trotsky fought and literally took a bite out of his murderer.
* 1940: Tom Mix, Actor, Western Star was killed in a minor car accident by an aluminum suitcase which dislodged from the back seat of his car and smacked him in the back of the head.
* 1941: Sherwood Anderson, writer, swallowed a toothpick at a party and then died of peritonitis.
* 1943: Lady be Good, a USAAF B-24 bomber lost its way and crash landed in the Libyan Desert. Mummified remains of its crew, who struggled for a week without water, were not found until 1960.
* 1943: Critic Alexander Woollcott suffered a fatal heart attack during a discussion on Adolf Hitler. Listeners to the broadcast noticed that Woollcott, known for his wit, seemed strangely silent during much of it.
* 1944: Inventor and chemist Thomas Midgley, Jr., accidentally strangled himself with the cord of a pulley-operated mechanical bed of his own design.
* 1945: After surviving the Second World War, composer Anton Webern was shot by a drunk American sentry on the veranda of his son-in-law's house in Mittersill, Austria, when he had stepped outside to smoke his after-dinner cigar.
* 1953: Frank Hayes, jockey, suffered a heart attack during a horse race. The horse, Sweet Kiss, went on to finish first, making Hayes the only deceased jockey to win a race.
* 1958: Gareth Jones, actor, collapsed and died while in make-up between scenes of a live television play, Underground, at the studios of Associated British Corporation in Manchester. Director Ted Kotcheff continued the play to its conclusion, improvising around Jones's absence.
* 1960: Famed baritone Leonard Warren collapsed on the stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera of a major stroke during a performance of La forza del destino. The last line he sang was "Morir? Tremenda cosa." ("To die? A tremendous thing.")
* 1960: In the Nedelin disaster, over 100 Soviet rocket technicians and officials died when a switch was turned on unintentionally igniting the rocket. Red Army Marshal Nedelin was seated just 40 meters away overseeing launch preparations.
* 1967: A flash fire began in the pure oxygen atmosphere inside the unlaunched Apollo 1 spacecraft, killing its crew during a training exercise.
* 1967 Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die during a space mission.
* 1967: Harold Holt, the serving Prime Minister of Australia, vanished while swimming on a beach near Melbourne. His body was never found.
* 1968: Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, author, was accidentally electrocuted to death while taking a bath.
* 1971: Jerome Irving Rodale, an American pioneer of organic farming, died of a heart attack while being interviewed on the Dick Cavett Show. When he appeared to fall asleep, Cavett quipped "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?". The show was never broadcast.
* 1972: Leslie Harvey, guitarist of Stone the Crows was electrocuted on stage by a live microphone.
* 1973: Péter Vályi, finance minister of Hungary fell into a blast furnace on a visit to a steelworks factory at Miskolc.
* 1974: Christine Chubbuck, an American television news reporter committed suicide during a live broadcast on July 15th. At 9:38 AM, 8 minutes into her talk show, on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, she drew out a revolver and shot herself in the head.
* 1975: Vaughn Bodé, cartoonist, died while performing an act of autoerotic asphyxiation.
* 1977: Tom Pryce, a Formula One driver, and a 19-year-old track marshal Jansen Van Vuuren both died at the 1977 South African Grand Prix after Van Vuuren ran across the track beyond a blind brow to attend to another car and was struck by Pryce's car. Pryce was hit in the face by the marshal's fire extinguisher and was killed instantly.
* 1978: Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was assassinated by poisoning in London by an unknown assailant who jabbed him in the calf with a specially modified umbrella that fired a metal pellet with a small cavity full of ricin poison.
* 1978: Claude François, a French pop singer, was accidentally electrocuted when he tried to fix a broken light bulb while standing in a filled bathtub.
* 1979: Bill Stewart, an ABC News correspondent, and his interpreter were executed by a Nicaraguan National Guardsman during a checkpoint stop. The incident was captured on tape.
* 1981: A 19-year-old man named Jeff Bailey died of a heart attack after scoring 16,660 on the arcade game Berzerk. This was the first known instance of a video game-related death.
* 1981: A 25-year-old Dutch woman studying in Paris, Renée Hartevelt, was killed and eaten by a classmate, Issei Sagawa, when he invited her to dinner for a literary conversation. The killer was declared unfit to stand trial and extradited back to Japan, where he was released from custody within fifteen months.
* 1982: Vic Morrow, actor, was decapitated by a helicopter blade during filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie and was killed instantly, along with two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen.
* 1982: Vladimir Smirnov, an Olympic champion fencer, died of brain damage nine days after his opponent's foil snapped during a match, pierced his eyeball and entered his brain.
* 1983:Tennessee Williams, a major American playwright died choking on a bottle cap.
* 1983: Sergei Chalibashvili, a professional diver, died after a diving accident during World University Games. When he attempted a three-and-a-half reverse somersault in the tuck position, he smashed his head on the board and was knocked unconscious. He died after being in a coma for a week.
* 1983: Boris Sagal, a motion picture-director, died while shooting the TV-epic World War III on location; rather carelessly, he walked headlong into the tail-rotor blade of a helicopter and was mortally injured. (Ironically, Sagal had helmed the pilot episode for TV's Combat! twenty years earlier; this series had starred Vic Morrow, who had died in a very similar fashion the year before.) Boris was the father of three actresses: Katey Sagal from Married... with Children; twins Jean Sagal and Liz Sagal.
* 1984: Tommy Cooper, British television magician, died on stage of a heart attack at Her Majesty's Theatre during a live television routine. Most of the audience and viewers believed it was part of his act.
* 1984: Cats Falck, a Swedish TV reporter and her friend died in a car that fell into the water in a suburb of Stockholm. It was later found that this was a murder committed by Stasi, East German Secret police.
1984: Jon-Erik Hexum, an American television actor, died after he shot himself in the head with a prop gun during a break in filming. Whether he deliberately committed suicide or was simply unaware of the potentially deadly effects of the blank round was not determined.
* 1985: Karel Soucek, daredevil, was fatally wounded attempting to recreate his successful 1984 plunge over Niagara Falls. Soucek staged a fundraising stunt in the Houston Astrodome, the crux of which was having him, in his capsule, dropped 180 ft. into a tank of water. The falling capsule hit the rim of the tank causing the injuries from which he would die the next day.
* 1986: Jane Dornacker, a musician, actress and comedienne turned radio station traffic reporter, died after a helicopter owned by New York's WNBC-AM in which she was a passenger crashed into the Hudson River. The fatal crash occurred as Dornacker was delivering a traffic report, and was broadcast live on air. Her final words to the helicopter pilot Bill Pate, who survived, "Hit the water! Hit the water! Hit the water!", were heard by listeners.
* 1987: Dick Shawn, aged 63, an actor and comedian, died onstage on April 17, during a monologue about the Holocaust in San Diego, California. Due to the nature of his act, audience members were at first unaware that he had suffered a massive heart attack.
* 1987: R. Budd Dwyer, a Republican politician, committed suicide during a televised press conference. Facing a potential 55-year jail sentence for alleged involvement in a conspiracy, Dwyer shot himself in the mouth with a revolver.
* 1989: A Belgian teenager was killed by a crashing soviet MiG-23 fighter jet, which escaped from Poland on autopilot after the crew ejected over a false engine failure alarm.
* 1991: Redd Foxx, an American TV actor and comedian, died during a rehearsal on the set of the CBS sitcom The Royal Family from a heart attack. As a faked heart attack was a frequent gag used in Foxx's previous TV series, Sanford and Son, the rest of the cast thought he was joking around at first.
* 1993: Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, was shot and killed by a prop .44 Magnum gun while filming the movie The Crow. The scene involved the firing of a full-powder blank (full charge of gunpowder, but no bullet) at Brandon's character. However, unknown to the film crew/firearms technician, a bullet was already lodged in the barrel. The gun had previously been fired with a dummy round that had had all its gunpowder removed, but its primer charge left intact in error. The firing of the 'squib' lodged the bullet inside the barrel. When the full powder blank round was later fired, the bullet in the barrel shot out and fatally wounded Lee.
* 1994: Stephen Milligan, UK journalist and conservative politician, died due to autoerotic asphyxiation
* 1996: "The Engineer" Yahya Ayyash, chief Palestinian bombmaker of Hamas was assassinated by way of a Shin Bet (Shabak) rigged mobile phone, which detonated when he answered a call.
* 1996: Richard Versalle suffered a heart attack onstage at the New York Metropolitan Opera after delivering the line "Too bad you can only live so long" during a performance of The Makropulos Case.
* 1997: Karen Wetterhahn, an accomplished chemist and professor at Dartmouth College died slowly of mercury poisoning over the course of one year after accidentally allowing "a drop or two" of the toxic chemical dimethylmercury to fall onto her latex safety gloves.
* 1997: Micahel Hutchence of the Australian band INXS died of autoerotic asphyxiation (strangling himself while masturbating).
* 1997: David Bailey, an Irish man died when he was urinated on by a rat while attempting to retreive a lost golf ball from a ditch. Bailey apparently startled the rat, causing it to dart up his pant leg and urinate on him. After the incident, Bailey's companions urged him to immediately shower, but Bailey refused stating that he had no bites or scratches. He died two weeks later from kidney failure brought on by an acute case of leptospirosis.
* 1998: Tom and Eileen Lonergan were stranded while scuba diving with a group of divers off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The group's boat accidentally abandoned them due to an incorrect head count taken by the dive boat crew. The couple was left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters. Although their bodies were never recovered, they likely eventually died of dehydration, drowning, shark attack, or a combination thereof.
* 1999: Owen Hart, World Wrestling Federation or WWF (now World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) wrestler, died when he fell 78 feet while being lowered into the ring by a cable from the stadium rafters before a match onto a metal ring turnbuckle. He had been scheduled to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship that night.
* 2001: Bernd-Jürgen Brandes was stabbed repeatedly in the neck and then eaten by Armin Meiwes. Before the killing, both men dined on Brandes' severed penis. Brandes had answered an internet advertisement by Meiwes looking for someone for this purpose. Brandes explicitly stated in his will that he wished to be killed and eaten.
* 2001: June 1, Crown Prince Dipendra of Nepal, enraged from a dispute over his marriage arrangements (and possibly intoxicated), reportedly went on a rampage at dinner and massacred nearly the entire Royal Family, including his father the king. But in accordance with custom and tradition, Dipendra, then in a coma due to wounds sustained either from palace guards or a botched suicide attempt, became king for three days before dying on June 4. He was succeeded by his uncle, whose son mysteriously survived the massacre unscathed. The Uncle is also believed to have started the massacre and used the son of the king as a puppet to carry out his plans. (not naming source)
* 2001: Orchestral conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli collapsed at the podium of a heart attack while conducting an emotionally charged scene in Aida.
* 2003: Brian Wells, pizza deliveryman, was killed by a time bomb which was fastened around his neck. He was apprehended by the police after robbing a bank, and claimed he had been forced to do it by three people who had put the bomb around his neck and would kill him if he refused. The bomb then exploded, killing him.
* 2003: Brandon Vedas died of a drug overdose while engaged in an Internet chat, as shown on his webcam. This occured while demonstrating how "hardcore" he was. Although several users witnessed his death, there was little effort made to contact the police.
* 2003: Vitaly Nikolayenko, a Russian self-educated natural scientist and photographer notable for his extensive research on the ethology of Russian bears, was found dead at the Kronotsky state reserve, 110 miles north of Petropavlovsk. Authorities concluded that the cause of death was bear mauling.
* 2003: Timothy Treadwell, an American environmentalist who had lived in the wilderness among bears for thirteen summers in a remote portion of Alaska, was killed and partially consumed by bears, as was his girlfriend Amie Huguenard. The incident is chronicled in the documentary film Grizzly Man.
* 2005: Kenneth Pinyan, a Seattle, WA. man, died of acute peritonitis after submitting to anal intercourse with a stallion in the town of Enumclaw, WA. The man had done this before, but he delayed several hours to visit a hospital wishing to avoid official cognizance. The case led to the criminalization of bestiality in Washington.
* 2005: 28-year-old Korean Lee Seung Seop collapsed in an Internet cafe after playing World of Warcraft and Starcraft for almost 50 hours.
* 2005: 33-year-old pastor Kyle Lake of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, was electrocuted when he reached for a microphone while standing in the baptismal pool of the church.
* 2006: Steve Irwin, television personality and naturalist, died when his heart was pierced by a short-tail stingray barb while filming in Queensland's Batt Reef. Stingrays are rarely lethal to humans: there have been fewer than 20 confirmed cases of people being killed by the fish. Steve was the third to be killed in Australian history.
* 2006: A Canadian woman choked on marshmallows at a fair while taking part in a "Chubby Bunny" contest, and later died in hospital. Although there were medical personnel at the scene with suction equipment, it is believed that their efforts at resuscitation were hampered by the stickiness of the marshmallows.