10 Famous People Who Died on the Toilet
Let’s face it – none of us are getting out of here alive. I’m guessing most of us would prefer to shuffle off this mortal coil with some shred of dignity. Dying on the toilet is not dignified. And yet, many famous people have succumbed in this way. A life of glamour and money...ended in humiliation – it’s really rather sad.
Medical Reasons for dying on the toilet
So why do people die like this? If you are constipated and have to strain to do...what has to be done, it’s not just the abdominal muscles that are contracting to help you along the way. The chest muscles also contract which can affect the way the heart beats. If you already have a heart condition, this can prove fatal. If you throw drugs into the mix - and many of these folk did - your heart has even less chance of surviving this exertion.
#1 Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
Let’s start by getting the big one out of the way. Most people know that the King, Elvis Presley, died on the throne...or did he?
It’s true that Elvis died in his bathroom at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee on August 16th 1977. The death was recorded by the Coroner as due to Cardiac Arrhythmia. This means that his heart was beating irregularly before it finally stopped. Taking too many prescription drugs can cause this but the Doctors chose to leave out this information. When this unsavoury possibility became known, Elvis’ father, Vernon, had the autopsy report sealed and it will stay that way until 2027 – fifty years after Elvis died.
In 2009, Dr. George Nicopolous who was Personal Physician to Elvis also seemed keen to turn public opinion away from a drug related demise. In his book ‘The King and Dr. Nick’ he wrote that when Elvis strained on the toilet, he may have squashed his abdominal aorta, which could have caused his heart to beat irregularly. This might have made his blood pressure fall causing him to fall to the floor. Nicopolous noted that Elvis was face down in a deep pile carpet which he claimed may have caused him to suffocate.
The medical investigator stated that Elvis had been using the toilet but had “stumbled or crawled several feet before he died”. So whether Elvis did in fact die while seated on the toilet depends on the medical investigator’s definition of ‘several feet’. Elvis may have passed away while straining and then toppled to the floor – or felt faint and tried to crawl for help. We may never know for sure.
Was the cardiac arrhythmia which caused his heart to stop caused by constipation, weight gain or drugs – or a combination of all three? We won’t know for sure until 2027 and even then, some people will probably believe that he’s still alive – but that’s another story.
#2 Judy Garland (1922-1969)
Judy Garland was probably best known for playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She was hugely successful but her boss at the time – Louis B Mayer, the owner of MGM studios – called her ‘my little hunchback’ and ‘that fat kid’. Not surprisingly, she took the Benzedrine that was given to her to control her weight and ended up with low self esteem. Judy kept on taking the tablets, moving on to Dexedrine and Dexamyl for over 30 years and eventually the drugs and booze killed her.
On 15th March 1969, Judy married her fifth husband, Mickey Deans, at Chelsea Register Office in the Kings Road in swinging London. Judy said “This is it. For the first time in my life, I am really happy. Finally, I am loved.” Sadly, she wasn’t that loved. She’d invited hundreds of celebrities but only fifty of them turned up. Her daughter, Liza Minnelli, who had just turned 23, phoned Judy to say that she couldn’t make it but would come to the next one. A journalist who did attend wrote that the wedding was “the saddest and most pathetic party I have ever attended”.
On the evening of Saturday June 21 1969, Judy was watching television with her husband, at their home in Chelsea. They had an argument which ended when Judy ran out into the street. This wasn’t all that unusual and Mickey let her go. At 10.40am the following morning, Mickey took a phone call for Judy and couldn’t find her in the house. Realising that the bathroom door was locked, he climbed along a ledge outside so that he could look through the window. Judy was dead on the toilet. At only 47, she died from an overdose of barbiturates.
More people made an effort for her funeral than her last wedding. Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Mason and Lana Turner all showed up. Judy was $4 million in debt and so Frank Sinatra paid for the funeral. He commented “Judy will now have a mystic survival. She was the greatest.”
As a fitting epitaph, there was a tornado in Kansas on the day that Judy died.
#3 King George II (1683 - d 1760)
By the morning of 25th October 1760, the 76 year old King was blind in one eye and his hearing was failing. Nevertheless, he awoke at 6am, as was his usual custom. He drank a cup of hot chocolate and then went to his ‘close stool’ alone. His valet heard a crash and rushed into the room to find his master dead on the floor. A post mortem (they did those in 1760 - who knew?) showed that an aortic aneurysm (a thinning of a very major blood vessel) had ruptured. His death was officially pronounced as having been caused by “over exertions on the privy”.
He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on 11 November 1760. Following his instructions, the side of his and his wife’s coffins were removed as he wished their ‘remains to mingle’. Rather romantic, if a little messy.
#4 Edmund II aka “Edmund Ironsides” King of England (980 – 1016)
Edmund reigned from April 23 to November 30, 1016. At this time, England was divided. Edmund reigned over the West and Wessex and Canute had the North and East.
It is said that a servant of Edmunds turned traitor to gain a reward from Canute. Edmund had a large house in Gloucestershire. The servant placed a sharpened stake in the King’s privy and waited out of sight. When the unsuspecting Edmund came in, the servant extinguished the candle and Edmund sat down, impaling himself of the stake. He was rushed to a nearby Monastery for help but it was too late.
The servant went to Canute and admitted to the murder but he didn’t get a reward as he’d hoped. Canute had him hanged – allegedly from the highest oak tree that could be found.
#5 Lenny Bruce (1925 - 1966)
Lenny Bruce was an American comedian. Before he became famous he served in the American Navy. When he decided he wanted out of that way of life, he dressed in womens’ clothing and was given an honourable discharge. This inspired the character of Corporal Klinger in the TV show M*A*S*H.
His career as a comedian was chequered. People either hated or loved him. His groundbreaking monologues were laced with multiple profanities and vulgarities and inspired Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks. Bruce was arrested in San Francisco in 1961 for using a profanity banned by the California Obscenity Code. The resulting trial was a landmark to protect freedoms laid out in the First Amendment. Bruce was eventually acquitted but the trial had bankrupted him. Clubs were told their licences would be revoked or they would have to pay a heavy fine if they booked him – so very few did. He had talked himself into being unemployable.
He wasn’t just arrested for using rude words. He took huge amounts of drugs and was busted many times for possession. He was known to enjoy orgies and to live an immoral life. Eventually and inevitably, it caught up with him. In 1966, he was found dead in his toilet, at his home in the Hollywood hills. His trousers were around his ankles and he still had a tourniquet on his arm. Lenny Bruce was just 40 years old.
#6 Don Simpson (1943 – 1996) Film Producer
Don Simpson had it all. He worked at Warners and by 1981 he was appointed President of Worldwide Production at Paramount. He’s probably best known for his pairing with Jerry Bruckheimer, which produced blockbuster films such as Top Gun, Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop and An Officer and a Gentleman.
By the time he died, Simpson was worth just over 10 million dollars. That sounds a lot until you learn that his drug habit cost around 600,000 dollars every month. And this had been going on for a long time. When his former boss at Paramount, Michael Eisner was called with the news of Simpson’s death, he responded ‘I’ve been waiting for this call for 20 years’.
Simpson did try to kick the habit a few times but couldn’t finish rehab. Ironically, one of his Doctors Stephen Ammerman, died of a drug overdose in 1995 - in Simpson’s pool house. The death is alleged to have finished his partnership with Bruckheimer. Even though Ammerman was dead, there were plenty of other Doctors to fall back on. After Simpson died, Police found 2,200 pills and tablets neatly stored alphabetically in a bedroom cupboard next to the bathroom where Simpson died.
In the three years prior to his death, authorities discovered that 15 Doctors and 8 pharmacies had supplied Simpson with around 15,000 various medications. So many drugs – so little time.
Simpson he had suffered from irregular heartbeats so badly that Doctors had warned him that he may suffer Sudden Death. Eventually, his body gave out and he died on his toilet, while reading a biography of Oliver Stone. The cause of death was given as a heart attack due to combined drug use. The autopsy found 28 different varieties of drugs in his body.
#7 Evelyn Waugh English novelist (1903 – 1966)
Evelyn Waugh is probably best known as the author of Brideshead Revisted which was made into an extremely popular TV series. Remember those scenes of halcyon sun kissed youth and the love that dare not speak its’ name between the sublimely pretty Anthony Andrews and an extremely young Jeremy Irons... Waugh had gone through experiences of homosexuality while at Oxford University.
Evelyn Waugh also had the distinction of marrying a lady called Evelyn – although the marriage didn’t last. She-Evelyn contracted double pneumonia on their honeymoon and He-Evelyn never recovered when his wife committed adultery.
As Waugh neared fifty, he suffered from rheumatism, deafness and became manically depressed when he was bored. He took a trip to Ceylon in 1954 in hopes of getting some writing done but was beset by insomnia, which he had suffered with for years. He self medicated with bromide and chloral, followed by a crème de menthe chaser. This caused horrible hallucinations which made him hear voices and drove him mad. On his return, the medical diagnosis was bromide poisoning and once the bromide stopped, so did the voices. The experience took shape in another Waugh classic, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.
Waugh was an enthusiastic Catholic and on Easter day in 1966 he and members of his family enjoyed mass before returning to his home, Combe Florey in Somerset, England for lunch. Waugh went to the downstairs toilet where his body was discovered shortly afterwards. He had suffered a huge heart attack.
#8 Catherine The Great (1729-1796)
Myths abound about the way this Empress of Russia passed away. The most popular myth is that she died while enjoying sexual relations with a horse via an ingenious system of pulleys. While this is an entertaining, if eye-watering thought, it’s sadly not true. In Catherine’s day, accusing someone of sexual depravity was the quickest way to blacken their reputation. Catherine was known to have had a voracious sexual appetite but none of her paramours were equine.
Others have it that she died on the toilet. This is much nearer the truth, but again, not completely true. On November 16th, 1796, Catherine’s valet, Zakhar Zotov was not summoned as usual. He went in search of his mistress and found her on the floor of her toilet. Zotov called for help and with two helpers, raised Catherine from the floor. As they did so, she gave a small moan and lapsed into a coma from which she never recovered. She died the following day. So although she died in her bed, she took her last waking breath in her water closet. So, she is included in this list with a little artistic licence and to debunk a myth.
#9 Lupe Velez (1908 – 1944) Mexican film actress.
Lupe was one of the first actresses from Mexico to make it in Hollywood. She got her big break at the age of 19 when Douglas Fairbanks hired her to be in his new film The Gaucho and signed her up for five years with his studio. He also had an affair with her which put the lid on his legendary pairing with Mary Pickford.
You may never have heard of Lupe but she did hang out with some very famous people. She had liaisons with Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Dempsey, Jimmy Durante and Errol Flynn. There was also an affair with Gary Cooper which was so volatile and tempestuous that he had a nervous breakdown during their relationship. Despite this, he managed to have an affair with Marlene Dietrich at the same time. As an exhausted Cooper got onto a train to leave for Chicago, Lupe turned up and tried to shoot him - several times. Luckily for both of them, she missed. She went on to have a volatile on/off five year marriage with Johnny Weissmuller (of Tarzan fame) which finally hit the rocks in 1939. Somehow, the unpredictable actress still found the time to star in nearly fifty films.
Some five years later, Vélez hooked up with little known actor Harald Maresch and became pregnant. To her dismay he wouldn’t marry her. Lupe was a Catholic and was now in a terrible situation. She couldn’t abort the child and couldn’t bear the humiliation of an illegitimate child. She decided to end it all but in a glamorous way befitting her stardom. She wrote a note to Harald
"To Harald: May God forgive you and forgive me, too; but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's, before I bring him with shame, or killin'(sic)him.
and then prepared her huge bedroom with hundreds of flowers and candles which reflected back from the mirrored walls of her thirty foot bedroom. She dressed in blue satin pyjamas and took seventy five Seconal tablets and lay down to die. She awoke shortly afterwards and staggered to her equally glamorous onyx bathroom to be sick.
Here, accounts of her death vary. Some say that as she leaned over the toilet to be sick, she slipped – breaking her neck and drowning. Others have it that she was found by the woman who had been her friend and secretary for the last ten years, Beulah Kinder. Maybe there is truth in both – Beulah could have found her and somehow got her mistress onto the bed to avoid embarrassment...but we will never know. ‘The Mexican Spitfire’ had blazed her way through life and was dead at just 36.
#10 Michael Anderson Godwin
In 1978, Michael Anderson Godwin was in prison for robbery. While out on work release, he committed a sexual assault and murder and was duly sentenced to the Electric Chair. However, in 1981, he was found not guilty of the sexual assault and his death penalty was reduced to life imprisonment.
That same year, Godwin was in his cell at The Central Correctional Institution in Columbia. Prisoners were allowed a small TV but no speakers – to avoid annoying fellow internees. Ear-phones were allowed but Godwin’s had stopped working. He tried to mend them but didn’t have any tools. He decided to strip the insulation off the wired with his teeth (you can see where this is going...). For reasons best known to himself, Godwin was sitting naked on a metal toilet at the time. As he plugged the wires into a terminal in the back of the TV, Godwin was electrocuted.
And that wasn’t a one off. Laurence Baker of Philadelphia had been sentenced to death for fatally shooting Robert Limerick on Christmas Day 1979. In 1986 the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence, reducing it to life imprisonment. Ten years later, Baker rigged up a pair of homemade headphones to watch TV. Just like Godwin, he was sitting on a metal toilet and was electrocuted.
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