Skip to main content

Quirk of history

The storytellers who met a strange end

Beware of the stick. Getty

Authors are used to “offing characters in creatively unconventional ways”, says Lorna Wallace in Mental Floss. But writers are also prone to deaths that are “stranger than fiction”. When the American short-story writer Sherwood Anderson snuffed it in 1941, the autopsy found that his intestine had been pierced by a three-inch wooden toothpick still stuck through an olive, which he had swallowed while enjoying a martini. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus was apparently killed when an eagle mistook his bald head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on it in order to get at the creature’s flesh.

The 16th-century Italian satirist Pietro Aretino – often credited with inventing the bonkbuster – reportedly laughed himself to death when the Duke of Urbino made a rude comment about a portrait of his naked wife. And while Mark Twain died of a heart attack, he’s unusual in having predicted it, almost to the day. “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835,” he said in 1909, “It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.” He got his wish: the comet’s “perihelion” – when it was closest to the sun – came just one day before Twain shuffled off this mortal coil.