Here are eleven people who are no longer with us, but who died in ways we can never forget.
Life is a terminal condition that only ends one way. Whether or not we can come to terms with that inevitability determines how much humor and empathy we are capable of in life. Rather than seeing this as a mockery of the following people who died ironically, I prefer to think of it as a tribute to the men (and woman) who went out of their way make their demise audacious enough that the rest of it can use their stories to stare down our own mortality with tongues planted firmly in cheeks.
11. David Grundman
On February 4th, 1982 a 24-year-old short order cook living in Phoenix, Arizona decided to blow off some steam by going out to the dessert for some ‘plugging’ – the local slang term for using giant saguaro cacti as shooting targets, despite the fact that the plants are legally protected. Grundman had spent time in prison in his native New York for robbing a person he lured under the guise of making a narcotic transaction, but when he decided to start over in Arizona after being released, he apparently still wasn’t deterred by legal consequences. After Grundman and an accomplice easily toppled a smaller specimen, they decided to move onto a larger target. Grundman stood directly beneath a twenty seven foot saguaro and fired two shotgun blasts, which caused the plant to break immediately, crushing the young marksman below instantly. Grundman went out looking to mindlessly destroy living things and became his own target.
10. Michael Scaglione
The 26-year-old Scaglione was playing a round of golf with some friends in the City Park West Municipal Golf Course in New Orleans on April 15, 1982 – when his passion drove a wedge between his sportsmanship and continued existence. Having, presumably, made a disappointing swing, the young man became irate and decided to take it out on his equipment. As he smashed his club against his golf cart, the head of the sporting device became dislodged and made its way into his neck, severing his jugular vein. Had he not removed the object he may have survived, but instead he died a short time later in the hospital. Scaglione was playing a game for the purpose of having fun, but instead died as a product of his own rage.
9. Ivan Lester McGuire
The thirty five year old veteran skydiver was filming students making their first jumps on April 2nd, 1988 when a combination of fatigue and equipment overload resulted in his horrifying death. Investigators believe that McGuire, who was an instructor and had made over 800 jumps, had become tired and stressed from numerous previous jumps. As if this was not enough to scatter his mind, he was also carrying some relatively bulky filming equipment, which may have led him to believe he was wearing his parachute when he jumped. He was not. Video shows him speeding toward the ground as he reaches down for his rip cord, only to find it isn’t there. I have done some pretty dumb things before and had to live for a bit with the anticipation of consequences to come, but for McGuire those moments of fear and frustration must have seemed like a lifetime unto itself. It must have only made it worse to realize that his expertise in skydiving would highlight the cosmic sarcasm of his death for years to come.
8. Basil Brown
In 1974 the 48-year-old London health food advocate and enthusiast decided he was gonna unlock the secrets of youth with carrot juice. Lots and lots and lots of carrot juice. During his ten day bender he consumed approximately 70 million units of Vitamin A, which caused him to turn bright yellow. It also caused severe damage to his liver in the form of cirrhosis, a condition usually associated with years of consuming too much alcohol. There is a point in the continuum between life and death where, if you try too hard to live, you get the opposite result. Brown never even saw that point as he soared over it in a magnificent leap of fresh squeezed faith.
7. Mark Gleeson
The 26-year-old man from Headly Down, Hampshire had been disappointed by a visit to his doctor on March 9, 1996 – when his healthcare provider informed him that there was not much that could be done to mitigate the snoring Gleeson suffered as a result of sinus damage from an earlier automobile accident. Deciding to end the plague of sleeplessness his condition reigned on his family, Gleeson and his wife concocted a plan to quiet his nocturnal noises using tampons, sleeping pills and wine. The tampons were placed in his nose to cure his snoring, while the medication and alcohol were intended to help him sleep despite the fact that he had tampons shoved up his nose. Apparently the second part of the plan was partially a success, because as Gleeson slept that night he asphyxiated without ever waking up. However medical experts said that the measures he took to sleep may have also reduced his ability to breathe. Despite the absurdity of the scheme there can be no doubt that Gleeson’s snoring is eternally cured.
6. Lisa Goetz
In September of 2000 a Burger King employee from Valparaiso, Indiana stepped up to the plate to illustrate that men don’t have the ironic death market entirely cornered. Goetz and another employee devised a scheme to rob their store, by staging the inside job to look like a random robbery. As Goetz voluntarily sat tied up in the freezer, her partner set fire to the building and escaped with $4,000. The plan was that the fire would trigger alarms, which would alert the fire department, and when Goetz was discovered shortly after she would tell police a story about some masked marauders who had taken the money and locked her in the freezer to die. When the fire department showed up many hours later than expected they found Goetz still inside the freezer, suffering from hypothermia, which she died of a short time later in the hospital. Investigators found there was no reason Goetz could not have walked out of the freezer at any time. There is dedication to the bit, and then there is a whole other level of commitment most of us will never have the stomach for, and in ultimately pursuing the latter, Goetz had it her way.
5. Spade Cooley
Cooley was an actor famous for playing a cowboy, as well as a country musician, who was incredibly popular in the 1940s and 50s. That all came to and end on April 3rd, 1961 when he murdered his wife Ella Mae as punishment for asking for a divorce, after she had suffered years of abuse and infidelity from her husband. He was quickly charged with the crime and sentenced to life in prison. However in 1968, with assistance from a good old boy network led by Governor Ronald Reagan, another fake film cowboy, Cooley was granted a parole which would see him freed in 1970. However on November 23rd, 1969 he was granted a furlough in order to perform for the Alameda County Deputy Sherriff’s Association. After an initial performance that the audience seemed to enjoy, Cooley went backstage for an intermission, expressing his joy at still being appreciated by fans. He told several friends present that, “I feel like today is the first day of the rest of my life.” Immediately after speaking those words he clutched his chest and died of a fatal heart attack. The lesson from Cooley, and the following entries to this list, is this: Always think about what you are going to say before you say it, or you are tempting the God of Irony to smite you with an almighty punchline.
4. Major General John Sedgwick
On May 9, 1863 the experienced Union military leader, who had been decorated multiple times from numerous previous engagements, found himself surrounded by Confederate forces. As sharpshooters fired from hidden positions, his troops began to scatter, which infuriated Sedgwick so much he admonished his men mockingly that, “They [the enemy] couldn’t hit an elephant at that distance.” As soon those words left his mouth a bullet penetrated his skull, killing him instantly.
3. Garry Hoy
On July 9th, 1993 a bright, successful Toronto lawyer decided to perform one of his favorite party tricks for a group of potential apprentices visiting his firm. Enamored with the miracles of modern architecture, Hoy liked to demonstrate the durability of modern building materials and methods by hurling himself into the interior of the window on the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower. He had performed this trick many times before, and after his first display for the visiting legal students, decided to give it a second go. Hoy was right, the glass did not break. However the frame holding that glass in place gave way and sent Hoy spiraling to his death hundreds of feet below.
2. Clement Vallandigham
Vallandigham was a fifty year old politician and lawyer, as well as a shameless northern supporter of slavery, who earned his place on this list while defending a murder suspect in 1871. The Yankee bigot planned to demonstrate that the victim had actually shot himself, and while conferring with other counselors outside of the courtroom, practiced a demonstration which would prove how it was possible the victim could have shot himself. During this presentation the gun went off, and Vallandigham died from his self-inflicted gunshot wound the next day. The demonstration did lead to his client being acquitted of the crime, however he also died of a gunshot wound four years later in a saloon.
1. Tommy Woodward
In the early morning hours of Friday, July 3rd, 2015 a 28-year-old man who had spent the entire night drinking and playing games with friends at a local bar in Orange, Texas decided to go for a swim in Adams Bayou, located adjacent to the tavern. He was warned by the bartender not to, as a rather sizeable and vicious alligator had recently appeared in the area, but since locals were used to swimming with the large amphibious reptiles, even giving some of them cute names, he ignored her advice. Actually, he did not just ignore her warning, he issued a direct challenge to the universe in response to it. “Fuck that alligator.” Woodward then jumped into the water and was immediately demolished by the herculean jaws of the ancient animal he had flippantly dismissed a moment earlier. Woodward has become the poster child for people who ignore valid warnings of danger, and is often reduced in the media to a bumbling fool. However I like to think of Tommy as carefree champion of YOLO, and radical acceptance guru, who was determined to milk every possible ounce of joy out of his existence no matter what it cost. Quality over quantity. Mad respect, brother.
Bonus – Me
Listen, you don’t write something like this without realizing that it will eventually bite you in the ass. I can almost guarantee that my death will be so hilariously ironic it will make the 11 other deaths on this list seem downright morose. On top of that I will also have been the guy who wrote this, so double whammy. Yet whether that happens immediately after I hit ‘publish’ or 30 years from now – I will not live in fear of the inevitable. Nor will I attempt to hobble over that line as a feeble shadow of myself, addicted to my own continuity, no matter how pointless, painful and sad it has become. Like Tommie Woodward I shall raise my fist to the God of Irony and dare that motherfucker to make an example of me every chance I get. That is, unless, there are cacti AND alligators involved. Fuck that ironic death. Oh, shit…
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