5 Messed-Up Reasons People Faked Their Own Death

Pay your taxes or fake your death, never both
5 Messed-Up Reasons People Faked Their Own Death

If you’re well-adjusted mentally and properly medicated, thinking about death should not be an enjoyable affair. If the idea of getting pulped by a city bus brings you a deep peace and longing, I encourage you to seek out a mental-health professional. Fantasizing about faking your own death, though? Now there’s an enjoyable bit of theory-crafting. Sure, it would be devastating to your family and friends, but the fantasy of popping up in a small town with a brand new mustache, sitting on a creaky porch with a dog and a hot mug of coffee, and never paying taxes again? Pretty nice.

For any relations or acquaintances reading this who are now worried I’m going to skip off the grid, don’t be. If I was, I certainly wouldn’t have written and published the above paragraph, establishing a clear, inconvenient paper trail. I’m perfectly happy with keeping my current, valid driver’s license. Some people, though, do decide to take the path less living. Most of the time, it’s the predictable reasons: money problems, legal problems, legal problems involving money. But sometimes the thing that sends them into a fake permanent snooze is more unusual.

Here are five people who faked their death for weird reasons…

Friedrich Gulda


This ones real. I checked.

If you combine the 1950s and the worlds of classical piano, what you end up with is both a time and a profession that doesn’t embrace the unusual. Between the two, you’ve got a whole lot of sensible formal wear and an emphasis on proper etiquette. Pianist Friedrich Gulda had the ivory-tinkling proficiency to rise straight to the top of the hoity-toity world of fine piano music, but unfortunately, he was not nearly boring enough.

He was known for a bit of mischief, like performing a concert in the nude, and more unseemly, performing with jazz musicians. Maybe his most outlandish escapade, though, was faking his own death — both to see how people would react and to promote an upcoming concert. The Austrian Press Agency, after receiving a fax with the news, announced his death in March 1999. This was quickly retracted, and after some basic snooping, they found that Gulda was not only alive, but most likely sent the fax himself. Conveniently enough, he had the perfect opportunity to make his return already set up: a concert titled “Resurrection Party” on April 5th.

Timothy Dexter

Public Domain

Hat much?

If Friedrich Gulda had a couple screws loose, colonial businessman/politician/philosopher Timothy Dexter was an unassembled IKEA flatpack strewn across a living room. The dude’s general insanity was rivaled only by his incredible luck in business, making him someone who was included in high society by requirement but the presence of which was barely tolerated. He got rich buying obsolete forms of currency that the Constitution unpredictably made valuable again, got richer trapping and selling stray cats overseas and wrote a book that contained zero punctuation marks.

The man is possibly history’s greatest example of a wild card. In his words, he was “the first in the East, the first in the West and the greatest philosopher in the Western world.” In the words of his peers, he was “grotesque and idiotic.” I think it should have been pretty clear what the public opinion of him was, but he apparently wanted more concrete proof, and decided to cross over to the spirit world to find out. He faked his own death just to observe his funeral, Tom Sawyer-style, and see how many people showed up. Then he caned his wife (yikes) for not crying enough.

Joan of Leeds

Wikimedia Commons

But we were having so much fun!

Sometimes, we find ourselves in an unfortunate situation of our own design. One that leaves us with nothing to say except, in the words of a famous illusionist, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” A 14th century nun named Joan of Leeds made that exact realization when the nun life turned out not to her liking. Sure, you might get free room and board and an unlimited supply of knuckles to sharply rap a ruler on, but you also, importantly, have to be a nun.

This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment crime of opportunity, either. It’s not like somebody left the nunnery gate open and she took off, weird hat a-flapping. This was an extensive plan, one that involved her making a dummy of herself to take her place in any cursory corpse inspections. We don’t know exactly why she ran away, but we do have a recorded guess from an archbishop: “carnal lust.” Can’t blame her, that’s good stuff!

Aleister Crowley

Public Domain

Safe to say the man had a flair for the dramatic.

The reasons that the above twice-departed felt the need to pretend they’d died are unusual, but ultimately understandable. Famous sex wizard Aleister Crowley, on the other hand, seems to have faked his own death purely for the fuck of it. Best guesses as to any possible reasoning outside of pure dark curiosity are that it was an attempt at a literal ghosting of a lover and travel companion.

His friend, poet Fernando Pessoa, delivered a suicide note to police informing them the infamous magic man had thrown himself off a cliff and would no longer be occupying the current plane. The cliff in question? Boca do Inferno in Portugal, which translates as “Mouth of Hell.” With a name like that, he might have just felt compelled, given how well it all fit together. After all, a bit of light fraud is a small price to pay for a published headline like “Famous Wizard Throws Himself into Mouth of Hell.”

Mr. Peanut


The bigger they are, the louder they crack.

In a Super Bowl commercial in 2020, Planters killed off its mascot Mr. Peanut in an ad where he dropped off a fragile cliffside branch in order to decrease its weight and save Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes, because that’s what advertising is now. His cracked corpse, coughing up blood and him-butter, served to create a social media campaign for people to buy more peanuts, I guess. Then, a year later, unsurprising in any way except for what seems to be Planters declaring a belief in the soul and reincarnation, they brought him back. All this because not enough people remember that peanuts are a food they can buy.

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 PodcastsSpotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.

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