LaughingAside from dying in your sleep, dying of laughter might seem like the perfect way to go. And although it sounds like the stuff of fiction, on rare occasions it has been known to happen in real life.

The Greek soothsayer, Calchas, was said to have died of laughter during the Trojan wars. When planting grapevines he was supposedly told by another soothsayer that he would never get to drink the wine he produced from his grapes. Once the wine was eventually made and ready to drink, Calchas invited the soothsayer along. After the soothsayer repeated his prophecy Calchas began a fit of laughter that resulted in him choking to death!

Other famous Greeks to have reportedly died in this way are the philosopher  Chrysippus, who died of laughter after giving his donkey wine to drink and then watching it attempt to eat figs, the Greek painter, Zeuxis, who was laughing at one of his own paintings of an old woman when he choked to death, and the Greek writer of comedies, Philemon who is said to have died laughing at the telling of one of his own jokes!

The British have also notched up a small tally of such deaths. The Scottish writer Thomas Urquhart supposedly died laughing when he was told of the restoration to the throne of Charles II. An English widow, Mrs. Fitzherbert, joined in a throng of laughter at the theatre one night in 1782 while watching The Beggar’s Opera. Apparently she was forced to leave the theatre when she became unable to stop laughing. The woman’s hysterical laughter is said to have continued until she died two days later. An English bricklayer, Alex Mitchell, was watching his favorite TV show, The Goodies, in 1975 when he began a fit of uncontrollable laughter that lasted half an hour and resulted in a heart attack and the death of Mr. Mitchell.

But perhaps the most recent case of death by laughter is that of Ole Bentzen, a Danish physician who was watching the film A Fish Called Wanda in 1989 when he laughed so hard his heartbeat reached between 250 and 500 beats a minute, causing Ole Bentzen to suffer a heart attack and die.

Thankfully these deaths are few and far between, but as Mrs. Mitchell said of her husband when she wrote to The Goodies to thank them, at least the last few moments in these people’s lives were happy ones.