5 Tiny Things That Took Out Bona Fide Badasses
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” is a saying with serious staying power. That’s because it’s got everything going for it that you could possibly desire. First off, and possibly most importantly, it’s fun to say. It’s short and poppy, and saying it gives you the little dancing-tongued feeling all the best sayings do. Second, it taps into the evergreen human love for an underdog. Watching the successful succeed is just too expected to really tug at the soul. Finally, and maybe least important when it comes to etymological staying power, it’s reliably true.
It’s enjoyable enough metaphorically, but maybe even more so when it’s describing a literal big fella getting upended. There’s not an action movie out there that doesn’t understand that at some point, you need a big bruiser of a man to walk out after enough standard-fare goons get put in a Batman blender. The most satisfying of all is when, despite their prodigious size and spookiness, they’re taken down with a single, unlikely strike. This isn’t exclusive to fiction, either. Occasionally, some of the world’s biggest and baddest have been killed by one tough break, too.
Here are five badasses taken down by a single tiny oopsie-daisy…
Attila the Hun’s Deadly Nosebleed
The dude’s name is practically a go-to reference for anyone big and violent. You don’t get a nickname like “Scourge of God” by building orphanages. He was known for being a fearsome leader and warrior, at the head of the mighty Huns. He fought a lot, and lost very little. These weren’t cupcake countries he was taking on, either. You don’t start shit with the Romans unless you’re pretty confident you can back it up.
When your day-to-day involves that much mano-a-mano combat, you expect to leave this earth in the midst of a bloody battle. There was plenty of blood involved in his death, but strangely, no battle. He wasn’t beheaded, bisected, bashed senseless, any of the gruesome fates you might imagine. What undid Attila the Hun was one very unfortunate nosebleed, after excessive feasting, and therefore drinking, on (one of) his wedding nights. While passed out after celebrating his latest nuptials, Attila basically drowned in his own nosebleed. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s badass or not.
Sigurd the Mighty, Killed By A Tooth
Sigurd Eysteinsson, known more dramatically and conveniently as Sigurd the Mighty, was a famous Viking warlord. Being a Viking at all pretty much makes you a badass, full stop. If you’re able to climb the ranks of some of history’s greatest warriors and become their head honcho, buddy, you’re pretty low on everybody’s dark-alley-encounter list. When your ticket to heaven is dying in the heat of battle, not a lot of your warriors are eager to cry “uncle.”
To die off the battlefield was cowardly, and got you a one-way ticket to Helheim, instead of glorious Valhalla. One has to hope they were able to make an exception for Sigurd, given the extremely unlucky circumstances of his death. After defeating Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, who probably would have much preferred “Mael Brigte the Mighty,” he hung his decapitated head from his horse’s saddle. Unfortunately, his corpse had clearly not gotten the memo that the battle was over, and those eponymous buck teeth cut into Sigurd’s leg, creating an infected wound that would later kill him.
Allan Pinkerton’s Self-Inflicted Tongue Bite
Infection is no joke. Even the smallest wound can knock off pretty much anybody through the power of untreated sepsis. It’s like the “Michael’s Secret Stuff” of minor injuries. Another formidable victim claimed by infection was the founder of the Pinkerton Agency, Allan Pinkerton. The Pinkertons are a group mostly looked on now with derision thanks to their (well-earned) historical reputation as violent union-busters. Outside of the less-than-laudable work of beating morale into tired workers’ heads, though, their founder Allan Pinkerton was a pretty impressive guy.
He chased Wild West outlaws across the country, and was an abolitionist who assisted the Underground Railroad. Getting both criminals and the government pissed off at you at the same time is a bold choice, and maybe one that would have led to his death. We’ll never know, because someone beat his enemies to the punch: Pinkerton himself. Despite a life filled with physical confrontation, the “first private eye” died from tripping on the sidewalk and biting his tongue, which became gangrenous. At least it was long before social media, so he could at least die without “ALLAN PINKERTON CRAZY FACEPLANT” videos being part of his legacy.
Bobby Leach Slips Up Big-Time
Nobody gets shorter shrift than the world’s daredevils and stuntmen. They throw themselves purposely into danger on an inadvisably frequent basis, and don’t receive much more for it than a bunch of people going, “That was nuts, dude!” So when Bobby Leach went over Niagara Falls in a barrel of his own design, he didn’t get much out of it except a bunch of broken ribs, the honor of “first man (and second person) to survive… that,” and unquestionable balls of steel.
The problem, of course, with surviving something you really, absolutely shouldn’t have, is that you’re now a lightning rod for irony. You’re a walking target for poetic justice, a man inviting the universe to balance itself through your ceased existence. You’ve spit in the face of fate, and fate, in Bobby’s case, retaliated with a precisely placed orange peel — on which Leach slipped, breaking his leg, and things only went downhill from there. It led to an infection, which led to an amputation, which led to the untimely death of one Bobby Leach. The guy challenged death, won, and then got killed by a bit of trash you’d find in a poorly managed Jamba Juice.
Thousands of Soldiers Killed By A Boot
So far, we’ve looked at a couple of unlikely, but single deaths. In World War I, though, one poorly designed item led to an estimated 75,000 American casualties. That item was the U.S. M1917 military combat boot. Truthfully, it was a good boot in many ways except one very important one: waterproofing. Getting stuck smack-dab into the mud and standing water that filled World War I trenches was not an ideal environment for a boot made almost entirely of leather. That, combined with war not affording too many chances to air out those delicate tootsies, caused an epidemic of aptly named “trench foot,” where constant moisture, even at relatively normal temperatures, straight up dissolves the flesh off your feet. The universal solvent, indeed.
YouTube channel Rose Anvil does an excellent breakdown from a bootmakers’ perspective as to exactly why these boots sucked so goddamn bad in wet conditions. No prior cobbling knowledge is needed, however, to realize that for a boot to cause tens of thousands of casualties and be completely replaced in one year’s time, is definitely not the result the military had requested. They came up with new boots that handled modern war’s wetness at least a bit better, and soldiers went back to having intact feet.
If you’re a hands-on history buff, though, don’t worry, you can still get it!
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.