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.


Death may result from several pathologies that deviate from benign laughter. Infarction of the pons and medulla oblongata in the brain may cause pathological laughter.[1]

Laughter can cause atonia and collapse ("gelastic syncope"),[2][3][4][5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

Notable cases

  • Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt in 51–30 BC, said her retainer died from laughter after witnessing her husband's death.
  • 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.[8]
  • 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).[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • In 1556, Pietro Aretino "is said to have died of suffocation from laughing too much".[11]
  • 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.[12][13]
  • 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."[14]
  • 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.[15]
  • 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.[16][17][18][19][20] 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.[21]
  • In 1989, Ole Bentzen, a Danish audiologist, who was observing a screening of the 1988 comedy film A Fish Called Wanda, laughed uncontrollably at a scene where Michael Palin's character has food stuffed into his nose and mouth, to the point that his heart rate rose to an estimated 250–500 beats per minute, leading to a fatal heart attack.
  • According to Greek mythology, the seer Calchas died after another seer's prediction about his death seemed to turn out incorrect, thus fulfilling the prediction.
  • In the video game Fallout, a gangster named Victor may die from laughter after speaking to a player character whose intelligence statistic is too low.
  • 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 the protagonist's feet until death 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 toxin (named "Smilex" in this film) is cut short when one of the reporters begins laughing hysterically, before collapsing dead with the characteristic rictus.
  • At the end of the film Mary Poppins, Mr. Dawes, Sr. is said to have died laughing after being told a joke.
  • 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 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."[22]
  • 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.[23]
  • Pecos Bill died of laughter upon seeing a "city-slicker" try to swagger into a bar.[24]
  • 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.[25]
  • The third installment 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".
  • In the 2014 film Até que a Sbórnia nos Separe, the man laughing uncontrollably and dies in heart failure during votation of Caos Building.
  • In The Sims 4, if a Sim is "Hysterical" for too long death is a serious possibility.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Toon Patrol has died from laughing except for Smart Ass (whom Eddie Valiant kicks in the crotch, sending him into the reservoir of Judge Doom's Dip).
  • In Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, J.P. Cubish "died laughing" and left his entire fortune to Daffy Duck.

See also


  1. Gondim FA, Parks BJ, Cruz-Flores S (December 2001). "'Fou rire prodromique' as the presentation of pontine ischaemia secondary to vertebrobasilar stenosis". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 71 (6): 802–804. doi:10.1136/jnnp.71.6.802. PMC 1737630. PMID 11723208.
  2. Reiss AL, Hoeft F, Tenforde AS, Chen W, Mobbs D, Mignot EJ (2008). Greene E, ed. "Anomalous hypothalamic responses to humor in cataplexy". PLoS ONE. 3 (5): e2225. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002225. PMC 2377337. PMID 18493621.
  3. Nishida K, Hirota SK, Tokeshi J (2008). "Laugh syncope as a rare sub-type of the situational syncopes: a case report". J Med Case Reports. 2 (1): 197. doi:10.1186/1752-1947-2-197. PMC 2440757. PMID 18538031.
  4. Totah AR, Benbadis SR (January 2002). "Gelastic syncope mistaken for cataplexy". Sleep Med. 3 (1): 77–8. doi:10.1016/S1389-9457(01)00113-7. PMID 14592259.
  5. Lo R, Cohen TJ (November 2007). "Laughter-induced syncope: no laughing matter". Am. J. Med. 120 (11): e5. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.07.019. PMID 17976409.
  6. Cheung CS, Parrent AG, Burneo JG (December 2007). "Gelastic seizures: not always hypothalamic hamartoma". Epileptic Disord. 9 (4): 453–8. doi:10.1684/epd.2007.0139. PMID 18077234.
  7. Famularo G, Corsi FM, Minisola G, De Simone C, Nicotra GC (August 2007). "Cerebellar tumour presenting with pathological laughter and gelastic syncope". Eur. J. Neurol. 14 (8): 940–3. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1331.2007.01784.x. PMID 17662020.
  8. Bark, Julianna (2007–2008). "The Spectacular Self: Jean-Etienne Liotard's Self-Portrait Laughing".
  9. Laertius, Diogenes. Lives, Teachings and Sayings of the Eminent Philosophers, with an English translation by R.D. Hicks (1964-1965). Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: Harvard UP/W. Heinemann Ltd.
  10. Morris, Paul N. (October 2000). "Patronage and Piety: Montserrat and the Royal House of Medieval Catalonia-Aragon" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-03-04.
  11. Waterfield, Gordon, ed. First Footsteps in East Africa, (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1966) p. 59 footnote.
  12. Brown, Huntington (1968). Rabelais in English Literature. Routledge. p. 126. ISBN 0-7146-2051-3.
  13. The History of Scottish Poetry. Edmonston & Douglas. 1861. p. 539.
  14. "The Gentleman's Magazine". May 1799.
  15. "10 truly bizarre Victorian deaths". BBC News. 25 December 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  16. "The Last Laugh's on Him". Urban Legends Reference Pages. 2007-01-19. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
  17. Ross, Robert (2000). The Complete Goodies. London: B T Batsford.
  18. "Man Dies Laughing at The Goodies". Daily Mail. London. 29 March 1975.
  19. "A Goodies Way to Go — Laughing". Eastern Daily Press. Norwich. 29 March 1975.
  20. Staveacre, Tony (1987). Slapstick! The Illustrated Story of Knockabout Comedy. Angus & Robinson.
  21. Singh, Anita (21 Jun 2012). "Man who died laughing at Goodies had Long QT syndrome". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  22. Moyne, translated by Coleman Barks, with Reynold Nicholson, A.J. Arberry, John (2004). The essential Rumi (New expanded ed.). New York, NY: HarperOne. ISBN 0-06-250959-4.
  23. Lord Dunsany, The Three Infernal Jokes in Tales of Wonder (1916)
  24. "The Death of Pecos Bill: A New Mexico Tall Tale retold by S. E. Schlosser". August 2010. Retrieved Apr 2, 2015.
  25. Collodi, Carlo. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Chapter 20
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