There’s something about writers and death: they just can’t seem to stop running into each other. Even if we put aside the well-covered topic of writers and suicide (also here and here), there’s an undeniable, inextricable link between life’s end and those who write–and sometimes, this link isn’t normal. We’re not talking about passing peacefully in one’s sleep here. We mean the link takes the form of a weird, grotesque thing (here’s a great Top 10 list). For instance, did you know Euripides was torn apart by the hunting dogs of Archelaus, the king of Macedonia? Digging even deeper into the demises of writers just yields more strangeness. So, here are the weirdest stories about writers and death.
1. Tennessee Williams choked to death on a bottle cap. In 1983, Williams was found dead with an eyedrops bottle cap blocking his larynx. An empty bottle of wine and several kinds of medications were also found, and their consumption was thought to have restrained his gag reflex.
2. Sir Francis Bacon died of pneumonia after stuffing a chicken with snow. In 1626, Bacon wanted to do a meat preservation experiment so he went out in a blizzard with a piece of meat. He died a month later.
3. Molière was seized by a coughing fit while performing one of his plays and died hours later. While performing his play The Imaginary Invalid (off-the-radar irony) for King Louis the 14th, Molière started coughing and gasping and, after a brief delay, resumed and eventually finished the play. He had been suffering from tuberculosis for years and died hours later.
4. Nathanael West and his wife died in a car accident after he ran a stop sign. In December 22, 1940, West, who was possibly distracted after hearing of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death the day before, ran a stop sign in California. He and his wife both died, and they were planning to fly to New York four days later to see a play in which his wife was the inspiration for the main character.
5. Daniel Defoe died while hiding from his creditors. Though all of the details are still unknown, biographers and historians agree that Defoe owed some people a lot of money at the end of his life. In a letter to his son (in which he lamented not being able to see him because he was hiding), Defoe claimed he was being perjured by a “contemptible enemy.”
6. Sir Thomas More cheered up his executioner. More was sentenced to be executed by decapitation for committing treason when he denied the validity of the parliamentary Act of Succession, stating “no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality.” When he ascended the scaffold he told his reluctant executioner the following: “Pick up thy Spirits, Man, and be not afraid to do thine Office; my Neck is very short, take heed therefore thou strike not awry for having thine Honesty.”
7. Aeschylus was killed when an eagle dropped a turtle and it hit him on the head. Though this happened in 456 BC and is apocryphal, the story says that the eagle was looking for a place to drop the turtle in order to kill it/crack it open, and mistook the tragedian’s bald head for a rock.
8. Poet Dan Andersson was poisoned by cyanide in a hotel fumigating for bedbugs. In 1920, the Hotel Hellman in Stockholm hadn’t cleared Andersson’s room as they were supposed to, and he was found dead late in the afternoon. Another man, an insurance inspector, also died.
9. Li Bai (aka Li Po) drowned trying to embrace the reflection of the moon. In 762 while on the Yangtze River, Li Bai was drunk, leaned over and saw the reflection of the moon in the water. He fell overboard and drowned, and the story has since become a Chinese legend.
10. Mark Twain birth and date of death both coincided with Halley’s Comet visits. The dates, 74 years apart, were predicted by Twain, who predicted he would “go out with it.”
11. Gustav Kobbé was hit by a landing plane while on a sailboat. In July 1918 off Bay Shore, Long Island, the music critic and author was sailing, a hobby of his. A landing seaplane didn’t see him, and struck and killed him instantly upon landing.
12. Julien Offray de La Mettrie ate himself to death. La Mettrie was a French philosopher and physician who thought of human beings as machines and was known for his hedonistic inclinations. At a feast thrown in his name by the French ambassador to Prussia, Lat Metterie died after eating a massive quantity of food.
Of course, not every writer meets a strange and bizarre end. Dostoevsky, for example, was only made to think he was going to be executed. The firing squad even pointed their rifles at him before the government basically said just kidding and told him to watch out. He only had to endure 4 years of penal servitude before writing some of the most enduring literature ever. Good things happen to those who wait!