Death from laughter

Death from laughter is a rare form of death, usually resulting from cardiac arrest or asphyxiation, caused by a fit of laughter. Instances of death by laughter have been recorded from the times of ancient Greece to the modern day.


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.[2]

Laughter can cause atonia and collapse ("gelastic syncope"),[3][4][5][6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Notable cases

  • According to Greek mythology, the seer Calchas died of laughter, after another seer's prediction about his death seemed to turn out incorrect, thus fulfilling the prediction.
  • In the video game Fallout, a gangster named Victor may die from laughter after speaking to a player character whose intelligence statistic is too low.
  • In "The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eeek", from the Give Yourself Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine, it is possible to get an ending where chimpanzees tickle the protagonist's feet until death of laughter.
  • Ana in the play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl.
  • Jerry's friend, Fulton, in the Seinfeld episode entitled "The Stand In".
  • In the Batman franchise, famed villain The Joker often kills his victims using a poison that causes uncontrollable and quickly fatal fits of manic laughter – the victim's corpse is often left with a huge ghastly smile reminiscent of the Joker's own. In the 1989 film, a news broadcast reporting a scheme involving this toxin (named "Smylex" in this film) is cut short when one of the reporters begins laughing hysterically, before collapsing dead with the characteristic rictus.
  • At the end of the film Mary Poppins, Mr. Dawes, Sr. is said to have died laughing after being told a joke. Unlike most examples, this is presented as a positive, his son stating that he "had never look so happy in all his life."
  • In the musical and film Little Shop of Horrors, a character asphyxiates on laughing gas and his last words are "I've laughed myself to death".
  • In Episode 12 of Season 1 of 1000 Ways to Die, a man dies after laughing continuously for 36 hours at an unknown joke.
  • In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the heroes cross a "Chasm of Death" filled with gas fumes that induce uncontrollable laughter, frequently killing those who try to cross the chasm.
  • In the Monty Python sketch The Funniest Joke in the World, the British win the Second World War by translating a lethally funny joke into German and transmitting it to German troops and two Gestapo officers.
  • In Coleman Barks' translation of Jelaluddin Rumi's poem "Dying, Laughing", from his collection of poems The Essential Rumi: "He opened like a rose that drops to the ground and died laughing."[9]
  • Twenty-two men in a London club, and all the people in a courtroom, in The Three Infernal Jokes by Lord Dunsany. The joke-teller was immune.[10]
  • Pecos Bill died of laughter upon seeing a "city-slicker" try to swagger into a bar.[11]
  • Shi Eun died from laughter while watching a comedy movie in a theatre in the Korean TV series drama named God's Quiz in its episode 8 of season 1.
  • The Serpent in Carlo Collodi's classical book The Adventures of Pinocchio died of laughter after seeing Pinocchio stuck in the mud.[12]
  • The third installment in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel series, Life, The Universe and Everything, featured a character named Prak who had been exposed to an extraordinary dose of truth serum, and as a result had recited "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" over an extended period. When he meets Arthur Dent he goes into fits of laughter so severe that they kill him over the course of the next several days.
  • In the 1932 film The Mummy, a young Egyptologist ignores the warning of a curse written on a casket and opens it, within which he finds and transcribes the Scroll of Thoth. After reading it, he restores to life the mummy of Imhotep. The curse upon him, he begins laughing uncontrollably, and is later mentioned to have died laughing "in a straitjacket".
  • In the 2014 film Até que a Sbórnia nos Separe, the man laughing uncontrollably and dies in heart failure during votation of Caos Building.
  • In The Sims 4, if a Sim is "Hysterical" for too long, death is a serious possibility.
  • In the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant performs a slapstick-based musical number that causes most of the Toon Patrol to die of laughter.
  • In Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, J.P. Cubish "died laughing" and left his entire fortune to Daffy Duck.
  • In the South Park episode Scott Tenorman Must Die, Kenny dies of laughter after seeing an embarrassing video of Cartman.

See also


  1. Dilouambaka, Ethel. "This Greek Philosopher Died Laughing at His Own Joke". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  2. Gondim FA, Parks BJ, Cruz-Flores S (December 2001). "'Fou rire prodromique' as the presentation of pontine ischaemia secondary to vertebrobasilar stenosis". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 71 (6): 802–804. doi:10.1136/jnnp.71.6.802. PMC 1737630. PMID 11723208.
  3. Reiss AL, Hoeft F, Tenforde AS, Chen W, Mobbs D, Mignot EJ (2008). Greene E (ed.). "Anomalous hypothalamic responses to humor in cataplexy". PLoS ONE. 3 (5): e2225. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002225. PMC 2377337. PMID 18493621.
  4. 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): 197. doi:10.1186/1752-1947-2-197. PMC 2440757. PMID 18538031.
  5. Totah AR, Benbadis SR (January 2002). "Gelastic syncope mistaken for cataplexy". Sleep Med. 3 (1): 77–8. doi:10.1016/S1389-9457(01)00113-7. PMID 14592259.
  6. Lo R, Cohen TJ (November 2007). "Laughter-induced syncope: no laughing matter". Am. J. Med. 120 (11): e5. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.07.019. PMID 17976409.
  7. Cheung CS, Parrent AG, Burneo JG (December 2007). "Gelastic seizures: not always hypothalamic hamartoma". Epileptic Disord. 9 (4): 453–8. doi:10.1684/epd.2007.0139 (inactive 2019-08-20). PMID 18077234.
  8. 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. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1331.2007.01784.x. PMID 17662020.
  9. Moyne, translated by Coleman Barks, with Reynold Nicholson, A.J. Arberry, John (2004). The essential Rumi (New expanded ed.). New York, NY: HarperOne. ISBN 0-06-250959-4.
  10. Lord Dunsany, The Three Infernal Jokes in Tales of Wonder (1916)
  11. "The Death of Pecos Bill: A New Mexico Tall Tale retold by S. E. Schlosser". August 2010. Retrieved Apr 2, 2015.
  12. Collodi, Carlo. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Chapter 20
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