Death is inevitable, but the ways in which some people died is anything but garden-variety. Read about the ironic deaths of some more famous and not-so-famous people that have defied all logic, so much so that they have now become the stuff of legends.
10. General John Sedgwick
Union Army General John Sedgewick’s death on the battlefield is regarded as one of the Civil War’s biggest blunders.
A likeable career military officer and a teacher, General John Sedgewick met his untimely end during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House of the American Civil War in May 1864. The fateful day of his death, his corps were building fortifications next to Brock Road when Confederate snipers located around 600 metres away opened fire. After the first round of shots were fired, General Sedgwick’s men cringed. When the General saw that, he prompted them to not dodge the bullets and cried ‘They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance’, believing that the Confederacy used only short-range rifles. After a minute or so, General Sedgwick’s Chief of Staff Martin McMahon heard a dull thud. General Sedgwick lay dead on the ground, having been shot under the left eye by a British-made Whitworth sniper rifle. He had a smile on his face.
Don’t tempt fate, as ‘Uncle John’ learnt it the hard way.
- Queen Sunanda Kumariratana
Imagine not being able to save someone because you cannot touch them. That is exactly the tragedy that befell the Thailand royal family in 1880 when Queen Sunanda Kumariratana drowned in a boating accident.
King Rama V of the autocratic Chakri dynasty of Thailand, and Queen Sunanda’s husband, was a strict follower of the laws which forbade commoners to touch members of the Thai royal family. In May 1880 when the king was delayed in Bangkok, he sent his 19 year-old pregnant queen along with their daughter to the royal summer palace at Bang Pa-in. Unfortunately, the royal boat which the Queen was in travelling capsized. Due to the ‘no touch law’, the bystanders could do nothing but watch in horror as the Queen and the princess drowned. The king later built a pavilion in her memory.
The first recorded legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece was Draco (lived 621 BC), the unforgiving lawgiver who did away with the oral law and introduced a strict, written code of conduct. The new laws were written in letters of blood and were enforced strictly, and those who didn’t follow them were punished severely. In fact, the word ‘Draconian’ originates from the severity of Draco’s code of conduct. Despite this, he was considered honest and wise, and was apparently popular throughout Greece.
However, it was this adoration that turned out to be his ironical undoing. As Draco walked into an Aeginetan theatre, the Athenians threw hats, cloaks and scarves at him as a mark of honour and love. Draco died of suffocation underneath the mountain of clothes that were thrown at him.
Draco’s death may have been accidental at the time, but over the years opinion is also that he was killed deliberately. Till date, one cannot fathom whether the adulation was genuine or whether it was performed to mask up a public and a very daring homicide.
- Garry Hoy
39 year-old high-flying lawyer Garry Hoy had everything going for him. He was one of the best and brightest lawyers and a senior partner at Holden Day Wilson, Canada’s largest law firm in 1993.
However, it couldn’t stop him from plummeting to his accidental death.
Garry Hoy’s office was on the 24th storey of the Toronto Dominion Centre and that fateful morning, he was showing around a group of articling students. He then tried to show-off the tensile strength of the floor-to-ceiling glass window of his office by jumping at it. This was apparently a stunt he’d done many times before and had bounced off the glass safely all the previous times. That day, as took a second attempt, the ‘unbreakable’ glass popped out of its frame entirely and the students watched in horror as Hoy fell to his death. Clearly, the bullet-proof glass wasn’t idiot proof. Three years later, Holden Day Wilson folded as well.
Later that year, Garry Hoy won the Darwin Award, which are given to individuals who ‘eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival’.
6. Isadora Duncan
Barefoot American dancer Isadora Duncan had it all – fame, fortune and a love for scarves. Ironically, it was this very love that got her killed tragically.
On the unfortunate night in September 1927, Isadora Duncan was in Nice, France and wore a rich, flowing hand-painted silk scarf, a gift from her friend Mary Desti. She sat in an open sports car owned by French-Italian race car driver and mechanic Benoît Falchetto. As she got into the car, no one noticed that the loose ends of her trailing scarf fell outside the car. As the vehicle moved, the long scarf became entangled in the rear axle and open-spoked wheels of the car, and Duncan was thrown from the vehicle onto the cobbled streets. She was dragged for several yards before the chauffer realized what happened, but by that time, Duncan was dead. Today, pieces of the crimson, yellow and turquoise blue shawl are housed in the Special Collections of the University of California, Irvine.
Isadora Duncan’s death, ironically, was as memorable as her life was.
- Sigurd Eysteinsson
Imagine being killed by someone who’s already dead! In the case of Sigurd Eysteinsson, he ended up being killed by his dead enemy.
The first Earl of Orkney and one of the most powerful, Sigurd Eysteinsson, who was also known as Sigurd the Mighty met his death in the year 890 AD after he’d won a battle against native Maelbrigte Tusk ‘the Bucktoothed’. According to Viking lore, the battle was supposed to be fought with forty men on each side, but Sigurd treacherously brought along 80 to the battlefront. After winning the battle, he beheaded Maelbrigte and fastened his severed head to his saddle. While riding on the way back home, Maelbrigte’s bucktooth scratched his leg. The wound eventually became infected, killing the powerful Earl.
The phrase ‘Karma is a bitch’ couldn’t be more apt as it is in the case of Sigurd Eysteinsson.
4 .Paul Walker
Fast and Furious star Paul Walker’s untimely death is one of the most painful ironic deaths of recent times. The extremely talented and good-looking Hollywood actor was killed along with friend and advisor Roger Rodas when the Porsche they were travelling in crashed in Los Angeles in November 2013.
Walker gained stardom in Hollywood with his role as an undercover cop-turned-speed demon in the Fast and Furious franchise. The actor, who was a car and speed enthusiast both onscreen and off-screen, was at an event for the charity he supported at Santa Clarita. He eventually zipped off in the Porsche Carrera GT with Rodas at the wheel, cruising at a speed of more than a 100 miles/hour. It was only minutes later that people at the event heard a loud crash. The Porsche had hit the sidewalk, eventually hitting a tree and a lamppost before bursting into flames. It is said that both men died either on impact or due to the flames that engulfed the car.
Adrenaline junkie and speed freak – that’s how Paul Walker lived – and, ironically, died too.
3. Dr. Jesse William Lazear
Imagine orchestrating your own death. Dr. Jesse William Lazear ended up literally digging his own grave – just to be able to unearth something. The American entomologist, who co-discovered the transmission of yellow fever, died while conducting a yellow fever experiment on himself.
Yellow Fever was claiming millions of lives during the end of the 19th century, and physician Jesse Lazear, along with James Carroll, Walter Reed, and Aristides Agramonte, tried to unveil how the deadly disease was transmitted. Carroll and Lazear both contracted the disease during the experiment, although it was found in Lazear’s research later that he actually directly exposed himself to the mosquitoes thought to be causing Yellow Fever without Reed’s supervision. Unfortunately, Lazear became delirious, went into convulsions and finally passed away due to Yellow Fever on September 8th, 1900.
Jesse ‘The Crazy Bug Hunter’ Lazear literally gave his life to science.
- Archduke Franz Ferdinand
He was the first domino whose death triggered off one of the most violent wars in the history of mankind. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian throne was gunned down on June 28th 1914, along with his wife, in Sarajevo. However, what’s ironic is that he survived a previous assassination attempt on him just a few minutes earlier, and he could have even avoided his own death!
The times were dangerous and perilous. The Serbian terrorist group the Black Hand had sent out several feelers that they were plotting to assassinate the Archduke during his Sarajevo visit to take revenge for the Austrian annexation six years before. Moreover, the day of his tour was Serbia’s National Day, and his wife even pleaded him not to go. However, the Archduke decided to go ahead with his visit.
On that fateful morning at 10:15, the Archduke’s motorcade passed the streets where members of the Black Hand were hidden in the crowd thronging the streets. One of the assassins tossed the bomb towards the duke, but he saw it and threw it away, thus foiling the attempt. In the ensuing chaos, the group slipped away and one of the Serbians, Gavrilo Princip, entered the Schiller’s Café nearby. By a twist of strange fate, the Archduke’s limo appeared right outside the café – the driver had taken a wrong turn. This time, the bullets from Princip’s pistol found their way to the duke’s neck and the duchess’ stomach. Both were dead in half an hour.
It took but one wrong turn set off a chain of horrendous events that would be etched forevermore in world history.
1. Qin Shi Huang
Dying while looking for a way to be immortal is like paying for something you didn’t even use. The powerful First Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang began taking medicines to extend his life, but ended up dying in 210 BC, presumably of mercury poisoning.
Emperor Qin became famous for his humongous opulent mausoleum guarded by the famous terracotta army in Xian and for ordering the construction of what would become the Great Wall of China. The ruthless king became very unpopular during his reign, and evaded many unsuccessful assassination attempts on his life. The Emperor became so paranoid about death that he even had his doctors and scientists concoct life-extending immortality potions. Eventually, Qin Shi Huang started ingesting mercury pills, as prescribed by his doctors, theorizing that mercury would generate internal power within a person, rendering him immortal. Ironically, the 49 year-old Emperor died in 210 BC on his way to confer with an alchemist about developing an immortality elixir.
What began as a man’s quest for immortality ended as a paranoid man’s frenzy and lasted less than 50 years. Talk about irony.