The 5 Most Deliciously Undignified Deaths in the History of Wealth Disparity
If you’re someone in possession of a huge amount of money or power, there’s naturally going to be a target on your back. If you’re the rich or powerful one, you’ll probably chalk this up to jealousy or the general idea of “haters.” This is much easier than looking back on your life with a level eye and weighing your sins, so it’s obviously the preferred route.
However, whenever death finally comes a-calling, it’s a force that’s famously unbribable. Money will let you fight it off for a while with expensive medicine, and you’ll probably be buried wearing a small country’s GDP in finery, but you can’t stop it. The exact manner of your death, too, outside of one frowned-upon and drastic action, is also out of your control. Whether you leave this mortal coil looking like an absolute idiot is, unfortunately, up to the universe, no matter how proper and lavish a life you led.
Here are five rich people who met a sincerely undignified end…
Some of the entries on this list are just plain unlucky. The end of Adolf Frederick, the King of Sweden, was no one’s fault but his own. Even worse, it was a death so over-the-top with symbolism that you’d think you were reading the synopsis of a Saw spin-off set in 1771, not an actual story from history. It should be said that, compared to many rulers, King Frederick was considered a good ruler, and Sweden prospered under him.
With that in mind, he must have sideswiped some sort of very powerful witch with his royal carriage, given how he went out. During a feast before Lent, Frederick reportedly went absolutely HAM on every meat you could think of. Then, with his belt probably creaking like a haunted-house door, he decided to have a light dessert of champagne and 14 separate servings of semla, a cream-filled flour pastry, each in their own bowl of hot milk and raisins. After putting away a meal that would raise the blood pressure of a Golden Corral regular, Frederick died of “digestive problems,” which I assume is a nice way of saying, “He exploded instead of digesting anything.”
King Charles VIII
As a tall fella, I’ve been known to bop my head on obstacles here and there. A tree branch, a low doorway, a hanging chandelier or a party decoration. I argue that this comes not from clumsiness, but from the fact that there’s way more shit in the way up here. Regardless, smacking your dome on any random outcropping is never a moment of pride. It’s pretty much impossible to do it without seeming sort of like you’re still getting the hang of walking.
Well, now that I know the sad story of King Charles VIII, I can forever tell myself confidently, “It could be worse.” The French king, while on his way to watch a game of an early relative of tennis known as “palm,” smacked his head on a door lintel. He seemed okay, if woozy, after the door-skull introduction, but that proved incorrect when he collapsed and died shortly thereafter, possibly from a brain bleed. Historians have tried to cast doubt on this exact sequence of events, because they’re fun-hating nerds who can’t abide a good story. For all the arguing, they also haven’t disproven it, so I choose to live a life in which a king Jackass’d himself into an early grave.
King George II
If you think decking yourself on a doorway is an undignified death for a king, just know that King George II would probably pay every cent he had to switch places with the guy. Charles VIII may have suddenly gone face-down in a pile of hay and horse manure, but at least he had his pants on. King George II died in possibly the most classic of undignified positions: pants around ankles, grunting out some medieval meal of the past.
He’d had a good run, being 76 years old when death came knocking on his bathroom door. That’s a respectable age even today, much more so in the 1700s. Given his advanced years, however, especially without modern medicine, sooner or later, something had to give. That thing was his aorta, which he split while chopping a particularly large log on his private toilet. It’s the kind of death even a doctor can’t clean up with medical language, and his autopsy report listed the cause of death as “straining on the toilet.” That’ll temper a legacy.
Duke Jing of Jin
Fortunately or unfortunately depending upon on which side you’re on, another powerful ruler, one from more than a millennium earlier, beats out King George II when it comes to restroom fatalities. This man was Ji Ju, or Duke Jing of Jin, a Chinese ruler who ruled from 599 to 581 B.C. At the very least, he’d probably tell George to be happy that he died on the right side of the toilet.
Duke Jing’s reign ended with him suffocating to death inside a pit filled with human excrement. When a death makes you consider regular drowning a blessing, that’s pretty bad. Worse yet, when it happened, it also involved him being publicly proved wrong. A shaman had predicted that Duke Jing would not live to see the new harvest, and when he did, he brought that same shaman back to watch him eat a bowl of porridge made from the wheat, and had him executed. The shaman turned out to only be a couple minutes off when, running to the latrine with a gut full of urgently digested porridge after the meal, the duke tripped and fell into the waste below, where he died.
False Dmitry I
So far, the indignity for these fat cats has come at the moment of death. The final moments of False Dmitry the First in Russia were standard fare, but the moments directly after, well, they were pretty rough. Dmitry had risen to the throne of Tsar in Russia via false claims, and when he got there, he spent the majority of his time pissing pretty much everyone in Russia off. He ignored Russian customs and violated all manner of religious law, all but directly asking the people of Russia, “What are you gonna do about it?”
Well, here’s what they did about it: They murdered him in the street. Once he was dead, they desecrated his body in a public square, and placed a jester’s mask on his corpse. After they’d had their licks, they burned what was left of his body. Even in ash form, they weren’t quite done, though: They gathered up his ashes and fired them out of a cannon. Gonna go ahead and guess that the funeral was a closed-casket affair.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.