The Quick 10: 10 People Who Laughed Themselves to Death


I think most of us have laughed so hard we can't breathe at some point in our lives, but these people took the mirth a step further: they actually stopped breathing. At least, that's how their stories go. I'll tell you the stories and let you decide if you think cackles can lead to coffins.

1. When A Fish Called Wanda was released in Denmark in 1989, a man named Ole Bentzen was so tickled by the scene where Ken gets chips up his nose that he laughed himself into oblivion. You see, Bentzen apparently had a similar experience around his dinner table when he and his family put pieces of cauliflower up their noses. The scene made him think of this cauliflower incident, which made him laugh so hard that his heartbeat allegedly escalated to between 250-500 beats a minute, causing a fatal heart attack. I believe this is the scene that did it:

2. Getting your pet intentionally drunk is rather cruel, if you ask me, but legend has it that it's been a pastime since at least the third century B.C., when Greek philosopher Chrysippus supposedly gave his donkey wine. When the bombed burro tried to eat some figs, Chrysippus laughed himself six feet under.

3. I occasionally laugh in my sleep (which really creeps my husband out), so this one hits close to home. In 2003, a man named Damnoen Saen-um started chuckling in his sleep. His belly laughs wouldn't stop, despite his wife's best efforts, and he passed away from what is believed to be either heart failure or asphyxiation.

4. In 1410, Martin I of Aragon apparently died of a pretty crazy combination: indigestion and uncontrollable laughing. I'm not sure how you would combine the two "“ I guess maybe he found diarrhea quite humorous. Then again, I guess a lot of people do.

5. If you're not familiar with British T.V., you may not know The Goodies (I didn't). It was a sketch humor-type of show written by three British comedians; it ran in the '70s and early "˜80s. In 1975, a bricklayer named Alex Mitchell was enjoying a skit in which a Scotsman, clad in a kilt and all, was fighting off a deadly black pudding using his bagpipes. It struck him particularly funny and he laughed for 25 minutes straight. His heart finally gave out and he collapsed on the couch, according to his wife. She later wrote The Goodies to thank them for making her husband's final moments so merry.

6. It's pretty hard to get snarky commentary in while you're laughing yourself to death, but that's exactly what Thomas Urquhart (a Scottish aristocrat) did in 1660 when he heard that Charles II had taken the throne.

7. In 1782, a lady named Mrs. Fitzherbert went out with her friends to see an opera called The Beggar's Opera. An actor called Mr. Bannister made his entrance in drag as "Polly," sending the audience into fits of laughter. While everyone else was able to move on and enjoy the rest of the scene, though, Mrs. Fitzherbert just kept laughing"¦ and laughing"¦ and laughing. She finally removed herself from the theater before the end of the second act and the Gentleman's Magazine reported the following week that "Not being able to banish the figure from her memory, she was thrown into hysterics which continued without intermission until she expired on Friday morning."

8. Zeuxis, a Greek painter, had just completed a painting of an old woman that he apparently found quite humorous. He laughed so hard at the depiction that he couldn't catch his breath and ended up choking to death.

9. Dirty jokes can kill you, people. Pietro Aretino, an Italian author, suffocated from the hysterics that ensued after his sister told him a dirty joke. Wouldn't you like to know what it was?

10. I think you can tell this one is urban legend for sure, but I like it, so I'm including it. A city slicker from Boston came down to visit New Mexico and wanted to show the real cowboys down there that he was just like them. He outfitted himself in brand new boots, jeans with creases still in them and a big cliché hat that clearly had come fresh from the store. Pecos Bill took one look at the guy trying to pass himself off as a real bronco buster and promptly guffawed himself into the Great Beyond.

When was the laugh time you briefly thought you were going to laugh yourself to death? I can't even remember I had one of those crying, hard-to-breathe gut-busters. I think I'm about due!