Has anyone ever died of laughter?

In the classic family film Mary Poppins, we hear that the aged banker, Mr Dawes Senior, has died laughing at a joke. Could this possibly happen in real life?

Picture of Chrysippus of Soli

Well, ask the wife of bricklayer, Alex Mitchell. In 1975, while Alex was enjoying the television show, The Goodies, he started uncontrollably laughing. His wife watched as he guffawed for 25 minutes straight, before collapsing. After the initial shock, his wife was so grateful his end was joyous, she wrote a thank-you letter to the astonished cast.

Advertisement

Great entertainment also felled a Mrs Fitzherbert in 1782, who became hysterical after watching The Beggar’s Opera at the theatre, while the Italian renaissance poet Pietro Aretino popped his clogs reacting to a particularly risqué joke. A mixture of laughter and shock claimed the Scottish polymath Thomas Urquhart – who hooted himself into an early grave after hearing of King Charles II’s restoration to the throne in 1660.

Advertisement

Yet, the oddest anecdote relates to Chrysippus of Soli, an Ancient Greek Stoic philosopher renowned for his moral seriousness. Allegedly, after his donkey ate a pile of figs, he joked that it should be given wine to help wash them down. He found his quip so hilarious, he keeled over on the spot.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine