5 People Who Literally Died Doing What They Loved
“They died doing what they loved” is a pretty common refrain whenever someone gets booted off this mortal coil instead of shuffling off peacefully. Now, I’m not totally sure I’m in on it, given that, no matter what activity it occurs during, I don’t think anyone loves grievous physical injury and sudden reckoning with their legacy. Plus, if they loved that thing so much, you’d have to think their preferred choice would be maintaining the ability to continue doing it instead of waking up with a shot heart at the bank of the River Styx. The whole thing rings of humans, who are famously terrified of death, trying to shoehorn some poetry into a guy turning into a road marking on a NASCAR track.
That said, I could also see it being better than some other options. There’s no guarantee where or when we go, and it probably is a lot more palatable for everybody involved if you were in good spirits at the time, versus getting hit with an aneurysm while holding a sheaf of documents at the DMV. At the very least, it makes for a much better story and a much less depressing obituary. For a lot of the activities that usually get brought up as an example, it’s also probably just a fulfillment of the bet you were making that a fun dangerous thing probably wouldn’t kill you.
Anyway, here are five people who died doing what they loved…
When reports of television star and animal lover Steve Irwin’s passing hit the news, I think most people’s reaction was similar. An initial burst of surprise, followed by a second bit of surprise about the fact that this was in any way surprising. As far as occupations go, “Crocodile Hunter” isn’t one that inspires planning for retirement. Anybody who ever watched Irwin interacting with the world’s decidedly more dangerous animals, though, can attest to the pure glee and joy he showed while attempting to close out each episode with the same amount of extremities he came in with.
If anything, the most shocking part of his death was that it came from an animal without a surplus of extremely sharp teeth. Sadly enough, the deadly encounter with a stingray that would pierce Irwin’s heart and kill him wasn’t even what they had planned on filming. They were planning on finding a tiger shark for a show called Ocean’s Deadliest, a segment that was canned when they couldn’t track a tiger shark down. When they pivoted to getting some film of a stingray, most of the people on set probably thought they were in for a calmer day than expected, but they were very wrong.
Surfing, like skateboarding, is a sport I’m perfectly happy to experience via video clips. They’re both undeniably cool, but viewing them invariably comes with bail vids that show exactly what would happen if I put the integrity of my bones and body at the whim of my shamefully uncoordinated ogre-like body. Big-wave surfing, even among a group of already doctor-unrecommended sports, is on another level. But I’m sure, at the same time, without the risks, it wouldn’t provide the same level of satisfaction.
In the case of big-wave surfer Mark Foo, we actually have his acknowledgement of his likely end in his own words. He’s famous for a variety of quotes, the most ominous one being, “If you want the ultimate thrill, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.” A quote that, though I haven’t been able to confirm, might have been cribbed from surf masterpiece Point Break. In the movie, the quote goes on to cement its place on this list, adding, “It’s not tragic to die doing what you love.” The sea acquiesced on his request when Foo died after wiping out on some of the famously fatal waves at California’s Pillar Point.
If we’re talking about people who get enjoyment out of regular wagers with death itself, the practice of free soloing has to be up there. Rock climbing, especially on the scale (no pun intended) of the best in the business, is already highly dangerous. Knowing that, participating in a sub-discipline that’s identified literally by not allowing the use of any safety equipment is a pretty straightforward handshake made with the idea of irreversible consequences.
So when free solo climber Scott Dewey died in a fall in Eldorado Canyon, his friends were maybe more at peace than anyone would expect after a tragic accident. Discussing his death, his climbing partner emphasized not only his love of climbing and free soloing, but his love of the specific canyon he was climbing when gravity had finally had enough. I’m not sure there are many pursuits in the world that require more of a personal mental waiver for participation, and you have to think he was at peace with the possibility.
I, personally, am not a fan of horses. They’re far too large and too strong to be trusted, and I feel like I can see the underworld through their black eyes. Many people love the creatures though, and one of those was career jockey Frank Hayes. When the time came for Hayes to have his final moments, one would have to think he’d be somewhat happy that they occurred not only participating in his beloved sport, but that the horse he died on would do him one final solid and win the race.
That’s right, Frank Hayes holds the bittersweet, singular title of being the only jockey to ever win a race while dead. Not only that, this win was both Hayes’ first and last race as a jockey after being elevated from the role of stablehand. While seated astride a horse named Sweet Kiss, Hayes suffered a heart attack and passed away at some point during the race, with onlookers only realizing this fact as he tumbled off the horse after crossing the finish line. It’s a little strange, given that if someone was going to die of a heart attack during a race, you’d think it would be the one actually running.
I don’t have much experience with any of the other disciplines on this list, but the final entry is one that I, and most people, can salute with a knowing nod. That’s the tale of Charles Majawa, who passed away doing the dirty with a sex worker in Malawi. Death during sex isn’t anything too new, but usually the actual final blow (so to speak) is attributed to heart failure or the like. The police report of Charles Majawa, however, declared his official cause of death as “excessive orgasm.”
Unfortunately, the article does not include her number.