5 People Who Died Proving Dumb Points
“If we blah blah blah,” says one famous argument, “that will be bad. Because that means our dear friend Blah Blah will have died for nothing!”
We hate that line of thinking, which makes less and less sense the more that you think about. In fact, when people die for something, it often just adds up to dying for a thing that killed them, and what are we celebrating that thing for? That thing’s deadly. Consider the following people, who were very passionate about proving something, so they died for something, but that just made their death dumber.
Air Is Safe, Said This Diver
If you’ve watched old movies and cartoons, you know about the life net, an old device firefighters used. People in tall buildings would leap onto a sort of loose trampoline, escaping the burning building while also avoiding breaking all their bones on the ground. Some people were too scared to make the jump, however. They believed that even if the net cushioned their fall, hurtling through that much air could still kill them, so it was best just to take their chances with the flames.
In 1885, a swimming instructor named Robert Odlum aimed to dispel these fears. You can fall through a whole lot of air without suffering any injury he said, correctly. To prove this, perhaps he could have jumped from a great height onto one of those nets, or with a bungee cord tied to his leg. Instead, he held a public stunt jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge into the water below. Hitting air doesn’t kill you, but hitting water certainly can, and so Robert Odlum died at the age of 33.
Though some divers survive leaping from such a height, Odlum hit at the wrong angle, rupturing a bunch of internal organs. As for his high-minded goal, even promoting life nets wasn’t as good of an idea as he thought. Again, yes, air doesn’t kill you, but it turned out people were right to mistrust life nets. So many bounced off them that fire departments later decided they were unsafe and phased them out. We switched to a far more reliable alternative: ladders.
A Vegan Died Trying to Prove Vegans Can Climb Everest
“It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak,” said Australian finance professor Maria Strydom in 2016. “We want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.” And so, she and her husband set off to climb Mount Everest. She made it within 15 minutes of the summit. Then altitude sickness kicked in — hard. The husband clambered to the top without her, came down, and they started the remaining descent together. She died on the way down.
The thing is, sure, vegans can summit Mount Everest. Exhibit A: the husband, Robert Gropel, who was also vegan. Or this woman who climbed Everest last year. Or this guy who did it before Strydom died, and who climbed it again one year later. Not to mention an unknown number of vegan sherpas, fortified solely through dal bhat.
But also, a vegan who tries to climb Everest might fail, or might die. Not even because they’re vegan but just because it’s Everest. Three other people died climbing Everest the same day as Strydom, for non-vegan reasons, and another three died earlier that month. By telling people she was climbing for veganism, Strydom unwittingly ensured all headlines about her death didn’t say “mountaineers tragically die” but “vegan dies from being vegan.” And plenty of people left the story more convinced than ever that vegans are made of popsicle sticks.
A Daredevil Blew Up in a Steam-Powered Rocket to Prove the Earth Is Flat
The first time Mike Hughes took off in a homemade rocket, things went poorly. It was 2014, his steam-powered rocket flew a quarter-mile over Arizona, then friends had to drag the injured man out. According to Hughes, he was stuck using a walker for two weeks after that. Here’s footage of that launch, with the quality of the text effects not necessarily inspiring much confidence in the production:
Hughes continued to fail to inspire confidence during subsequent launches in later years, for two reasons. One, it was a goddam homemade rocket, made out of scrap metal and occasionally banned from takeoff by the government. Two, his stated goal during this quest was to rise high enough above the Earth to visually confirm his belief that it was “shaped like a Frisbee.”
After a few attempts of varying success, Hughes shot off over California, and the parachute deployed too soon to properly slow his eventual descent. It crashed, and Hughes died. Afterward, his representatives said he’d never really believed in a flat Earth but had just claimed he did to raise funding. We’re not sure adventuring for the stated goal of proving something you don’t really believe makes his cause any nobler.
A Famous Hungarian Singer Wanted to Prove His Gun Had No Bullets
Two days into the new millennium, the artist with Hungary’s bestselling album died in a cock incident. The full story was a little different than that sentence makes it sound, but it was still pretty crazy.
The singer was Jimmy Zámbós. He was the bestselling artist that week because of his recent Christmas album, Christmas with Jimmy, and even without that, he was known as the King of Hungarian Pop. Early morning on January 2, 2001, the rooster in the home next to Zámbós’ was crowing loudly. Zámbós, according to police, poked his Beretta out the window and took a few shots at the noisy bird.
His wife had some understandable objections to this form of animal control (if nothing else, the gunshots surely were even worse for sleep than the crowing). So Zámbós ejected the magazine from the gun and then demonstrated all was safe now by putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger. A bullet was still in the chamber, and the shot killed him.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Never point your gun at someone unless you’re prepared to kill them, even if you think it’s unloaded, because it might not be. If that’s too long to remember, here’s a briefer version: Never point an unloaded gun at someone. At least you might sometimes have a reason to point a loaded gun, but if you think it’s unloaded, you can’t depend on it firing, and you also can’t definitely rule out it firing, so just don’t point it.
The Brontë Brother Made It a Point to Die Standing Up
You’ve all heard of Charlotte Brontë, and Emily Brontë, and maybe Anne Brontë. Today, let’s spare a thought for Branwell Brontë, the forgotten brother. True, he never wrote any books, but he did paint. For example, he did the painting below, which... uh, actually, looking at it, maybe it’s for the best that we’ve all forgotten Branwell Brontë.
Branwell didn’t do a whole during his life. One time, he got fired because he left to go drinking and someone robbed the place while he was gone. Then when he was 31, he came down with a fatal condition known as “being in the 19th century,” or a combination of tuberculosis and opium addiction. On September 24, 1848, he declared that to show the power of will, he was going to die standing up. And so, he got up and stood, to die.
You might be tempted to say, “Hey, if human will is so strong, how about you put some of that will toward the goal of not dying.” Still, standing to die made for quite a story. And who has a better story than Branwell the Brontë?