Malcolm Forbes wrote a fascinating book about the deaths of famous people. Here are a few of the unusual stories he found.
Claim to Fame: One of the great minds of the late 16th century. A statesman, philosopher, writer, and scientist. Some people believe he’s the real author of Shakespeare’s plays.
How he died: Stuffing snow in a chicken.
Postmortem: One afternoon in 1625, Bacon was watching a snowstorm. He wondered if snow might be as good a meat preservative as salt . . . and decided to find out. With a friend, he rode through the storm to a nearby peasant’s cottage, bought a chicken, and had it butchered. Then, standing outside in the cold, he stuffed the chicken with snow to freeze it. The chicken never froze, but Bacon did. He caught a serious chill and never recovered. He died from bronchitis a few weeks later.
Claim to Fame: Greek playwright in 500 BC. Many historians consider him the father of Greek tragedies.
How he died: An eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.
Postmortem: According to legend, an eagle was trying to crack open a tortoise by dropping it on a hard rock. It mistook Aeschylus’s head (he was bald) for a rock and dropped it on him instead.
Claim to Fame: An important Danish astronomer of the 16th century. His groundbreaking research enabled Sir Isaac Newton to come up with the theory of gravity.
How he died: Didn’t get to the bathroom on time.
Postmortem: In the 16th century it was considered an insult to leave a banquet table before the meal was over. Brahe, known to drink excessively, had a bladder condition – but failed to relieve himself before the feast started. He made matters worse by drinking too much at dinner, and was too polite to ask to be excused. His bladder finally burst, killing him slowly and painfully over the next 11 days.
Jerome Irving Rodale
Claim to Fame: Founding father of the organic food movement, creator of Organic Farming and Gardening magazine. Founded Rodale Press, a major publishing company.
How he died: On the “Dick Cavett Show,” while discussing the health benefits of organic food.
Postmortem: Rodale, who bragged “I’m going to live to 100 unless I’m run down by a sugar-crazed taxi-driver,” was only 72 when he appeared on the “Dick Cavett Show” in January 1971. An eyewitness at the show recalls: “Rodale said that doctors had given him six months to live thirty years ago, but because of the food he ate he would live to be a hundred . . . . A little later in the show he appeared to have fallen asleep, and Cavett and guest Pete Hamill chuckled about it – until they realized he was dead.” Cause of death: a heart attack. The taped show was never aired.
Claim to Fame: The guru of jogging. Author of the bestselling Complete Book of Running, which started the jogging craze in the 1970s.
How he died: A heart attack . . . while jogging.
Postmortem: Fixx was visiting Greensboro, Vermont. He walked out of his house and began to jog. He’d only gone a short distance when he collapsed and died, the victim of a massive coronary.
William Henry Harrison
Claim to Fame: Ninth President of the United States, elected in 1841.
How he died: Pneumonia, contracted while giving his inaugural address.
Postmortem: The 67-year-old Harrison’s advanced age had been an issue in his race against incumbent president Martin van Buren. Perhaps because of this – to demonstrate his strength – he rode on horseback in his inaugural parade without a hat, gloves, or overcoat. Then he stood outside in the snow and spoke for more than one and a half hours, delivering his inaugural address. Needless to say, this weakened him, and a few weeks later he caught pneumonia. Within a week he was delirious, and on April 4 – one month after his inauguration – he died. He served long enough to keep just one campaign promise: not to run for a second term.