This is a list of unusual deaths, including unique or extremely rare causes of death recorded throughout history, as well as less rare but still unusual causes of death of prominent persons.
Ancient Age

Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosopher, is believed to have died of laughter after seeing a donkey eating figs.

Cleopatra, beautiful queen of Ptolemaic Egypt, allegedly killed herself with an asp snake bite.

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.

Attila the Hun suffered a severe nosebleed and choked to death on his wedding night.

Middle Age

King 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 shoved up his anus.

Gheorghe Doja, leader of the Romanian Peasants' Revolt, was roasted alive on a white hot iron chair. His captured companions were forced to eat his flesh.

Vlad Înecatul (Vlad the Drowned), Prince of Wallachia, got severely drunk and rode his horse into the waters of the Dâmbovita River.

Pedro de Valdivia, a dreaded conquistador, was captured by Native Americans and executed by pouring molten gold down his throat to satisfy his thirst for treasures.

King Henry II of France was killed during a stun knight's jousting match, when his helmet's soft golden grille gave way to a broken lancetip which hit him right through the eye.
Early Modern Age

William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States, gave the longest inaugural address in the history of the United States in heavy snow and subsequently caught a cold. It developed into pneumonia and killed him in a month.

Allan Pinkerton, detective, died of gangrene resulting from having bitten his tongue after stumbling on the sidewalk.

Charles-Valentin Alkan, composer and pianist, died when a bookcase collapsed on him when he was reaching for a copy of the Talmud from the top shelf.

Austrian empress Elisabeth (affectionately known as Sissi) was assassinated with a nailfile while boarding a ship.
Modern Age

Jack Daniel, founder of the famous Tennessee whiskey distillery, died of blood poisoning due to a toe injury he received after kicking his safe in anger when he could not remember its combination code.

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.

Sherwood Anderson, writer, swallowed a toothpick at a party and then died of peritonitis.

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.


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.

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.

Vic Morrow, actor, was decapitated by helicopter blade during filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie and was killed instantly, along with two child actors.

Jessica Savitch, NBC television news anchor, drowned after the car she was riding in fell into a canal, flipping over and sinking in mud, sealing the doors shut.

Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, was shot and killed by a prop .44 Magnum 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 already in the barrel shot out and fatally wounded Lee.

Owen Hart, WWF (now WWE) wrestler, died when he fell 78 feet while being lowered into the ring by a cable from the stadium rafters before an upcoming match. He had been scheduled to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship that night.
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