Death from laughter

You have to hand it to Wikipedia. Their content becomes more agreeably bizarre by the minute, as in the excerpts from Death from laughter below. I’ve added a few notes here and there. Here is an excerpt from the comedy sketch that finished off Alex Mitchell of Kings Lynn.

The Goodies- The Battle of Ecky Thump
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On 24 March 1975, Alex Mitchell, from King’s Lynn, England, died laughing while watching the “Kung Fu Kapers” episode of The Goodies, featuring a kilt-clad Scotsman with his bagpipes battling a master of the Lancastrian martial art “Eckythump”, who was armed with a black pudding.

After 25 minutes of continuous laughter, Mitchell finally slumped on the sofa and died from heart failure. His widow later sent The Goodies a letter thanking them for making Mitchell’s final moments of life so pleasant.Diagnosis of his granddaughter in 2012 of having the inheritable long QT syndrome (a heart rhythm abnormality) suggests that Mitchell may have died of a cardiac arrest caused by the same condition.


In 1410, King Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughter triggered by a joke told by his favourite court jester. [Wiki doesn’t elaborate on this. The king had eaten an entire goose for dinner. The jester’s name was Borra. This was the joke: “In the next vineyard, I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if someone had so punished him for stealing figs.”]

One ancient account of the death of Chrysippus, the 3rd-century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, tells that he died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine with which to wash them down, and then, “having laughed too much, he died” (Diogenes Laërtius 7.185). [With this and the preceding story, it’s useful to know that ‘fig’ was and still is a lewd synonym for the female genitalia in Mediterranean culture, and therefore central in the jester’s repertoire.]

In 1799, William Cushing, a pauper who lived in the parish of St Andrew’s, Norwich, England, died from “a fit of excessive laughter, which lasted five minutes.” [The report in The Monthly Mirror, Vol viii, 1799: “Norwich – An inquisition was on Sunday, 21st April, taken by Mr. Marks, the coroner, on the hody of William Cushing, a pauper, who was taken with a violent fit of laughing, at the Hole in the Wall public house, in St. Andrew’s, which continued above five minutes, when he dropped down and expired. Juror’s verdict ‘Died by the visitation of God.'”

In 1556, Pietro Aretino “is said to have died of suffocation from laughing too much”. [Pietro Aretino is buried in the church of San Luca in Venice. As a result of his reputation as a pornographer and satirist, the church became a place of pilgrimage for nonconformists of various sorts, such as libertines, non-believers, journalists and free thinkers. His epitaph was striking: “Here lies Aretino, the Tuscan poet, that spoke poorly of everyone, except God, whom he said he ‘did not know’.” This was later recast by local wags as follows: “Here lies Aretino, the Tuscan poet , that every one spoke poorly about, except God, who apologized saying: ‘I do not know him’!” Having heard an off-colour joke, Aretino fell over and took a fatal bump to the head.]

Zeuxis, a 5th-century BC Greek painter, is said to have died laughing at the humorous way in which he painted the goddess Aphrodite – after the old woman who commissioned it insisted on modeling for the portrait.

In 1660, Thomas Urquhart, the Scottish aristocrat, polymath, and first translator of François Rabelais’s writings into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had taken the throne.

On October 14, 1920, 56-year-old Mr. Arthur Cobcroft, a dog trainer from Loftus Street, Leichhardt, Australia, was reading a five year old newspaper and was amused at the prices for some commodities in 1915 as compared to 1920. He made a remark to his wife regarding this, and burst into laughter, and in the midst of it he collapsed and died. A doctor named Nixon was called in, and stated that the death was due to heart failure, brought by excessive laughter.