Death from Laughter Through the Ages

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Death from laughter may sound silly, but it is a very real albeit extremely rare way to die. It usually results from cardiac arrest or asphyxiation (deficient oxygen supply) caused by a fit of laughter.

Throughout history there have been cases as far back as ancient Greece. These days, death from laughter can and does still happen.

Historical Accounts of Death from Laughter

5th-century BC Greek painter Zeuxis died laughing at the humorous way he painted the goddess Aphrodite for an old woman… who insisted on modeling for the portrait.

3rd-century BC Stoci philosopher Chrysippus died of laughter after witnessing a donkey eating his figs. He told a slave to give the donkey some wine to wash them down and then, “…having laughed too much, he died” (Diogenes Laertius 7.185).

Egyptian ruler Cleopatra claims that one of her retainers (a person in service of a noble) died from laughing after witnessing her husband’s death.

King Martin of Aragon died from an unusual combination of uncontrollable laughter and indigestion in 1410.

Italian author and playwright Pietro Aretino died of “suffication from laughing too much” in 1556.

Scottish aristocrat, polymath (A.K.A. Renaissance Man), and translator Thomas Urquhart is said to have died laughing when he heard that Charles II (the king of England) had taken the throne.

In 1799 a pauper (very poor person) named William Cushing died from “a fit of excessive laughter, which lasted five minutes” in Norwich, England.

In 1893 a farmer named Wesley Parsons laughed himself to death over a joke in Laurel, Indiana. After laughing for nearly an hour he died two hours later.

The most recent notable death occurred on March 24th, 1975 when Alex Mitchell from King’s Lynn, England died laughing while watching an episode of The Goodies. In this particular episode, named “Kung Fu Kapers” a kilt-wearing Sctosman with bagpipes battled a master of the Lancastrian martial art “Eckythump”, who was armed with black pudding.

After nearly 25 minutes of continuous laughter, Mitchell slumped over on his couch and died from heart failure. His widow sent The Goodies cast and crew a letter thanking them for making his last moments of life so pleasant.

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