Death from laughter
Death from laughter is a rare form of death, usually resulting from cardiac arrest or asphyxiation, caused by a fit of laughter. Instances of death by laughter have been recorded from the times of ancient Greece to the modern day.
Laughter can cause atonia and collapse ("gelastic syncope"), which in turn can cause trauma. See also laughter-induced syncope, cataplexy, and Bezold-Jarisch reflex. Gelastic seizures can be due to focal lesions to the hypothalamus. Depending upon the size of the lesion, the emotional lability may be a sign of an acute condition, and not itself the cause of the fatality. Gelastic syncope has also been associated with the cerebellum.
Historical deaths attributed to laughter
- Zeuxis, a 5th-century BC Greek painter, is said to have died laughing at the humorous way he painted the goddess Aphrodite – after the old woman who commissioned it insisted on modeling for the portrait.
- 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 Laertius 7.185).
- In 1410, King Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughter.
- In 1556, Pietro Aretino "is said to have died of suffocation from laughing too much".
- 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.
- 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."
- In 1893, farmer Wesley Parsons laughed to death over a joke told in Laurel, Indiana. He laughed for nearly an hour. He then died two hours after the incident.
- 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.
Fictional deaths attributed to laughter
- J. P. Cubish from Daffy Duck's Quackbusters.
- The Toon Patrol in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
- In "The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eeek", from the Give Yourself Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine, it is possible to get an ending where chimpanzees tickle your feet until you die of laughter.
- Kenny McCormick, a character on South Park, suffers said fate in the fifth-season episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die" while he watched a video of Cartman singing "I'm a Little Piggy" and oinking.
- Ana in the play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl.
- Jerry's friend, Fulton, in the Seinfeld episode entitled "The Stand-In".
- In the Batman franchise, famed villain The Joker often kills his victims using a poison that causes uncontrollable and quickly fatal fits of manic laughter – the victim's corpse is often left with a huge ghastly smile reminiscent of the Joker's own. In the 1989 film, a news broadcast reporting a scheme involving this very toxin (named "Smilex" in this film) is cut short when one of the reporters begins laughing hysterically, as if amused by the sinister plot, before collapsing dead with the characteristic rictus.
- At the end of the film Mary Poppins, Mr. Dawes, Sr. played by a heavily made-up Dick Van Dyke, is said to have literally died laughing after being told a joke: "I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith." "Really? What's the name of his other leg?"
- In the musical and film Little Shop of Horrors, a character asphyxiates on laughing gas and his last words are "I've laughed myself to death".
- In the Six Feet Under episode "Parallel Play", a teenage girl dies laughing after making a prank phone call.
- In Episode 12 of Season 1 of 1000 Ways to Die, a man dies after laughing continuously for 36 hours at an unknown joke.
- In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the heroes cross a "Chasm of Death" filled with gas fumes that induce uncontrollable laughter, frequently killing those who try to cross the chasm.
- In the Monty Python sketch The Funniest Joke in the World, the British win the Second World War by translating a lethally funny joke into German and transmitting it to German troops and two Gestapo officers.
- In the story "Laughter" from the book Double Dare to be Scared, the boy (which the story is about) literally laughs his head off after getting touched by a fairy.
- In Coleman Barks' translation of Jelaluddin Rumi's poem "Dying, Laughing", from his collection of poems The Essential Rumi: "He opened like a rose that drops to the ground and died laughing."
- Twenty-two men in a London club, and all the people in a courtroom, in The Three Infernal Jokes by Lord Dunsany. The joke-teller was immune.
- Pecos Bill died of laughter upon seeing a "city-slicker" try to swagger into a bar.
- Shi Eun died from laughter while watching a comedy movie in a theatre in the Korean TV series drama named God's Quiz in its episode 8 of season 1.
- The Serpent in Carlo Collodi's classical book The Adventures of Pinocchio died of laughter after seeing Pinocchio stuck in the mud.
- The third instalment in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel series, Life, The Universe and Everything, featured a character named Prak who had been exposed to an extraordinary dose of truth serum, and as a result had recited "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" over an extended period. When he meets Arthur Dent he goes into fits of laughter so severe that they kill him over the course of the next several days.
- In the 1932 film The Mummy, a young Egyptologist ignores the warning of a curse written on a casket and opens it, within which he finds and transcribes the Scroll of Thoth. After reading it, he restores to life the mummy of Imhotep. The curse upon him, he begins laughing uncontrollably, and is later mentioned to have died laughing "in a straightjacket".
- Kuru, also known as "laughing sickness"
- Laughing gas
- Paradoxical laughter
- Tickle torture
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- Collodi, Carlo. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Chapter 20