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Can You Really Die Laughing?

Published by Sylvia Clare in Offbeat
July 6th, 2008

Can you laugh yourself to death? Here’s the truth behind the myth.

Urban legend tells of people who die laughing, and death by laughter appears several times in history.

A Little Humor Can Kill You

In the third century BC, the Greek philosopher Chrysippus allegedly died of laughter, while watching his drunken donkey try to eat figs.

Italian political satirist Pietro Aretino is famous for translating the works of Rabelais. He’s also known for inventing modern porn literature. Legend has it that Pietro died of suffocation in 1556, from laughing too hard.

A Mrs. Fitzherbert attended a performance of the “Beggar’s Opera” in 1782. She burst into uncontrollable laughter at the character of Peachum, and had to leave the theater. Mrs. Fitzherbert couldn’t stop laughing, and died about thirty-six hours later.

Can You Really Die Laughing?

During a bout of laughter, the diaphragm expands and contracts, drawing air into the lungs. Extreme laughter pushes the diaphragm beyond its normal limits. The diaphragm weakens, causing suffocation.

Unaccustomed levels of laughter make the heart beat faster for a longer period of time, and can result in heart failure.

Laughter can also trigger existing respiratory or heart conditions.

The term “fatal hilarity”, or death by laughter, first appeared in 1596.

Modern Deaths by Laughter

Two of three modern deaths by laughter were due to British comedy – strange, but true!

In March 1975, a bricklayer in England was watching the television show “The Goodies”. When a Scotsman in a kilt used bagpipes to fend off a nasty black pudding, Alex Mitchell burst into uproarious laughter. After laughing for twenty-five minutes, he had a heart attack. In a letter to the Goodies (a British comedy trio), his widow thanked them for making Mitchell’s last moments so pleasant.

In 1989, in Denmark, Ole Bentzen died of laughter while watching John Cleese in the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda”. Examiners estimated his heart rate at 250 to 500 beats per minute, before he expired.

Case number three happened in Thailand. In 2003, a 52-year-old Thai ice cream salesman laughed himself to death in his sleep. He laughed continuously for two minutes. His wife tried to wake him, but he stopped breathing and died.

You really can die laughing, but you probably won’t. There are only ten recorded cases of fatal hilarity in history.

If you’re going to die, you might as well die laughing.

Liked it
  1. Carl Megill
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 9:52 am

    This must fall into the odd but true category. Very informative. I certainly hope no one dies from reading one of my articles.

  2. Alfred C.P.
    Posted July 26, 2008 at 3:28 am

    Yes, i agree it must fall into the odd but true category. WELL, you won’t die by visiting my website. http://www.alfred-cp.piczo.com

  3. me
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    haha, I’m glad that even though at times I burst out laughing for .5-1 hour I haven’t suffocated yet =)

  4. Posted January 9, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Interesting read..I wouldn’t want to sufficate from laughing! I laugh a lot too…when I was little I would try to laugh so hard so I could float up to the ceiling like they did in mary poppins!

  5. diggggy
    Posted January 16, 2009 at 1:04 am

    i almost died from laughing !

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