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Death from laughter refers to a rare instance of death, usually resulting from cardiac arrest or asphyxiation, caused by a fit of laughter. Instances of death by laughter have been recorded from Ancient Greece to the modern day.

Pathophysiology Edit

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]

Historical deaths attributed to laughter Edit

  • 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.
  • 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 common fig; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine to drink to wash them down with, and then, '...having laughed too much, he died' (Diogenes Laertius 7.185).[8]
  • In 1410, King Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughter.[9]
  • In 1556, Pietro Aretino "is said to have died of suffocation from laughing too much".[10]
  • 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.[11][12]
  • 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.[13][14][15][16][17] 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 long QT syndrome.[18]
  • In 1989, Ole Bentzen, a Danish audiologist, died laughing while watching A Fish Called Wanda. His heart was estimated to have beaten at between 250 and 500 beats per minute, before he succumbed to cardiac arrest.[19]
  • In 2003, Damnoen Saen-um, a Thai ice cream salesman, is reported to have died while laughing in his sleep at the age of 52. His wife was unable to wake him, and he stopped breathing after two minutes of continuous laughter. He is believed to have died of either heart failure or asphyxiation.[13]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Gondim, FA, Parks BJ, Cruz-Flores S et al. (December 2001). "Fou rire prodromique" as the presentation of pontine ischaemia secondary to vertebrobasilar stenosis. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 71 (6): 802–804.
  2. Reiss AL, Hoeft F, Tenforde AS, Chen W, Mobbs D, Mignot EJ (2008). Anomalous hypothalamic responses to humor in cataplexy. PLoS ONE 3 (5): e2225.
  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).
  4. Totah AR, Benbadis SR (January 2002). Gelastic syncope mistaken for cataplexy. Sleep Med. 3 (1): 77–8.
  5. Lo R, Cohen TJ (November 2007). Laughter-induced syncope: no laughing matter. Am. J. Med. 120 (11): e5.
  6. Cheung CS, Parrent AG, Burneo JG (December 2007). Gelastic seizures: not always hypothalamic hamartoma. Epileptic Disord 9 (4): 453–8.
  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.
  8. Laertius, Diogenes (1964-5). Lives, Teachings and Sayings of the Eminent Philosophers, with an English translation by R.D. Hicks, Cambridge, Mass/London: Harvard UP/W. Heinemann Ltd.
  9. Paul N. Morris, Patronage and Piety Montserrat and the Royal House of Medieval Catalonia-Aragon, October 2000
  10. Waterfield, Gordon, ed. First Footsteps in East Africa, (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1966) pg. 59 footnote.
  11. Brown, Huntington (1968). Rabelais in English Literature, Routledge.
  12. (1861) The History of Scottish Poetry, Edmonston & Douglas.
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Last Laugh's on Him. Urban Legends Reference Pages. URL accessed on 2007-06-23.
  14. The Complete Goodies — Robert Ross, B T Batsford, London, 2000.
  15. Man Dies Laughing at The Goodies, "Daily Mail", London (29 March 1975)
  16. A Goodies Way to Go — Laughing, "Eastern Daily Press", Norwich (29 March 1975)
  17. Slapstick! The Illustrated Story of Knockabout Comedy — Tony Staveacre, Angus & Robinson 1987
  18. [1] Man who died laughing at Goodies had Long QT syndrome
  19. 9 People Who Died Laughing - Death - Book of Lists - Canongate Home (version archived by the Internet Archive)

External links Edit

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