4 Famous Deaths That Were Stranger Than You Thought

Some untimely deaths you've taken at face value are way weirder than the news lets on.
4 Famous Deaths That Were Stranger Than You Thought

You've heard all the conspiracy theories: Kurt Cobain was murdered, Bill Hicks just became Alex Jones, Andy Kaufman is greeting customers at your local Walmart right now, and so on. But some celebrity deaths that you've taken at face value are actually weirder than you thought. Like ... 

Elliot Smith

Suicide is always a tragedy, but in Elliott Smith's case, you couldn't exactly call it a shock. His one song that you definitely know is called "Miss Misery." His other song you might know is entirely because it was such a downer that it was used in a movie suicide scene. (Heads up if you haven't seen The Royal Tenenbaums -- it's rough.) Oh yeah, he was also a chronically depressed drug addict who constantly talked about killing himself.

Elliot Smith

Alexis/Wiki Commons

He had this one track called "Suicide Machine," and it was one his happier songs.

If his death in 2003 didn't really surprise anyone, then the manner of it definitely did. According to the only person known to have been present, Smith's girlfriend at the time, the couple had been having an argument that ended with Smith threatening suicide. She locked herself in the bathroom and, some time later, heard a scream. When she came out, she found Smith with a knife sticking out of his chest. He had apparently stabbed himself in the heart. Courtney Love called it "the best suicide I ever heard of," and she would know.

But that's exactly what initially raised questions. Although it's not unheard of, that particular method of suicide is exceedingly rare for obvious reasons. Then the coroner's report came back, noting a suspicious lack of hesitation wounds. Generally, when a person intentionally injures themselves so gruesomely, they'll stop and start a few times while their determination dukes it out with their survival instincts, leaving other, shallower wounds. Smith had none. He also had "possible defensive wounds" on his hands and under his arm, meaning injuries that could have come from attempting to fight off a knife-wielding attacker. He also hadn't bothered to take off his shirt first. All of these findings, in the coroner's opinion, "raise the possibility of homicide."

Naturally, a lot of people pointed the finger at Smith's girlfriend, who admitted to removing the knife and subsequently had to shut down her band's website because she was receiving so many death threats through it, but it's not impossible that Smith was attacked while she was in the bathroom by an assailant with deeply ironic timing. Maybe it was drug dealers; Smith had purportedly been hanging out with "a lot of creepy people—some very negative, dangerous people." Maybe it was a business associate; he'd certainly pissed off plenty of them with his increasingly erratic behavior. Maybe he was just a tragically tortured man with a penchant for shoving his hands into rose bushes. A good decade and a half later, the investigation into his death is still open.

Keith Flint

All of us who nostalgically revisit Hackers on a semi-frequent basis -- and that's all of us, right? -- fondly remember The Prodigy as the group who brought techno into the mainstream and the Flock of Seagulls hairstyle back from the dead, but if you've thought about them at all lately, it was probably when you heard about the death of that very same unconventionally coiffed man, singer Keith Flint, in 2019. He was found in his home on March 4, apparently having hanged himself; police found no evidence of foul play or third-party involvement. Everyone twirled their glow sticks a little slower that night, but nobody seemed to have any questions.

That is, until the Essex senior coroner announced a few months later at an inquest hearing that she had recorded an "open conclusion" to the matter of Flint's manner of death. "I've considered suicide," she said. "To record that, I would have to have found that, on the balance of probabilities, Mr. Flint formed the idea and took a deliberate action knowing it would result in his death. Having regard to all the circumstances, I don't find that there's enough evidence for that." The evidence that he was under the influence of multiple drugs and alcohol might have something to do with that, but she also found "insufficient evidence" that he hadn't just been "larking around and it all went horribly wrong."

Keith Flint of the band The Prodigy performs on stage during the Big Day Out 2009 at the Claremont Showgrounds on 1 February 2009 in Perth, Australia.

ParaDoxus/Wiki Commons

Our man's starting fires in the great beyond now.

So in other words, what the hell? It has to be one of those things, right? Is this just a deeply philosophical coroner? She concluded that "We will never quite know what was going on in his mind on that date, and so that's why I'm going to record an open conclusion," but surely that could be true of every suicide victim. A coroner is not the person you want ruminating on the nature of intent, but she specifically said didn't find "on the balance of probabilities" that Flint intended to die, nor that he was too blitzed to know what he was doing. So does she question the police's findings regarding foul play? She's not saying. One can only imagine how passive-aggressive relations between British coroners and police must be.

Paul Williams

You might not know the name Paul Williams, but you definitely know his voice. As a person, he's most well known from the miniseries The Temptations, beloved by avid VH1 viewers and toddlers on TikTok. The movie treated the facts of the Motown group's lives more like guidelines, but it more or less stuck to the official story of Williams's 1973 death: suicide by gunshot in his car after an argument with his girlfriend (though it moved the scene of the incident to an abandoned parking lot rather than an alley a few blocks away from his girlfriend's house). Williams certainly was troubled -- chronic illness and alcoholism had forced him to quit The Temptations, a failed business venture left him in debt, and his girlfriend was not his wife, who existed, just to complicate matters further.

Paul Williams of The Temptations performs on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Bernie Ilson, Inc.

He had been led astray, thanks to the temptations. 

But a number of strange details call into question the coroner's ruling of "apparent suicide." Williams was found with the gun in his right hand, but his fatal wound was on the left side of his head, requiring a feat of frankly unnecessary acrobatics to make suicide plausible. The gun also had fired two bullets, only one of which made its way inside Williams, and a shattered glass bottle was found near his left hand, as if he'd dropped it in surprise. He also hadn't bothered to get fully dressed before driving off in anger just a few blocks down the street, which points to an alternative theory: a boyfriend or husband who may have caught Williams with his (their?) girlfriend. After all, she was his side piece. Perhaps she also had a main ... piece? What are we calling those now?

Brittany Murphy

Unlike most sudden celebrity deaths, no one saw Brittany Murphy's coming. She was young, apparently healthy, and didn't seem to have many problems at all. After she collapsed in her bathroom and subsequently died in 2009, the word on the street was a secret drug problem, but it turned out to have been pneumonia, of all things, complicated by anemia (seemingly due to heavy periods) and, yes, several drugs, but the kind that make you stop coughing, not the fun-yet-dangerous kind.

That was weird enough -- what otherwise healthy 32-year-old dies of pneumonia? -- but it got weirder after a Hollywood Reporter editor and family friend wrote that Murphy's husband, Simon Monjack, had tried to convince him to write a book claiming that Murphy "literally died of a broken heart caused by the shoddy way she had been treated in Hollywood," realizing later "that much of what Simon told me -- about his family, education, marriage and career—was exaggerated or simply fabricated." Murphy's mother, Sharon, who lived with the couple, denounced the Hollywood Reporter article, but she was also photographed with Monjack looking very sad but also very cuddly. If you were an old-timey noir detective, you would absolutely start thinking the husband did it.

Brittany Murphy celebrating Brittany's birthday)

Luisa Pisani/Wiki Commons

Somehow, uh, with pneumonia?

But then, just six months later, Monjack also died of pneumonia and anemia, so the coroner (and the public) began considering outside factors. After toxic mold in the home was dismissed as a potential cause of the occupants' respiratory troubles, Murphy's father requested samples of her hair for independent testing and claims that the resulting lab report shows evidence of heavy metal poisoning.

You might be starting to think this is a black widow/mother situation, but despite general shadiness, Sharon Murphy sure is acting the opposite, up to and including arguing publicly with the coroner who keeps saying the couple's deaths aren't suspicious. (Oh yeah, he also insists the lab results cited by Murphy's father don't show evidence of poisoning.) She was also identified as the probable anonymous person in the coroner's report of Monjack's death who pointed out "her side" of the bed where he died, but even TMZ acknowledged that sharing a bed doesn't necessitate sexual activity, and that would be a really dumb thing for a vengeful lover to draw attention to. These days, she believes it was mold, and it's probably the best answer we're going to get. The home had previously belonged to Britney and Justin, and it would be nice to have something to blame for all that.

Top image: Universal Pictures

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