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Historical Figures Who Allegedly Died on the Toilet

I have worked in education and entertainment and am also an historian and businessman and currently studying at the Open University.

Edmund Ironside

South African medallion of Edmund Ironside

South African medallion of Edmund Ironside

England was a complicated place in 1016, with Saxons and Vikings controlling different parts of the country and no end of invasions, assassinations and wars.

Edmund Ironside was the son of Ethelred the Unready, the famously cowardly and useless king of England. Ethelred has gone down in history as one of the worse kings ever. Under Ethelred, the expression “Danegeld” came into the language, as the money that Ethelred paid to stop the Vikings taking over his kingdom. Ethelred paid but the invaders unsurprisingly wanted more.

In response Ethelred ordered the 1002 St Brice’s Day massacre of Scandinavian settlers across England. For some reason, this didn't go down well in Denmark, prompting the invasion of 1003 led by Sweyn Forkbeard. Ethelred escaped London, ordering his troops to pull down the bridge as they sailed up the river, this event believed to be the inspiration for the children's song "London Bridge is Falling Down". However, Sweyn died suddenly, and Ethelred returned to power. The Danes invaded again the following year led by Sweyn’s son Canute or Cnut depending on your sensibilities, who has gone down in history as the guy who tried to turn back the tide. This was intended to show his humility and lack of divine powers to sycophantic courtiers, but most people assume that he thought he was God. He cut a deal with Edmund that they would each rule their respective areas until the other died. No prizes for guessing the outcome.

In 1016, Ironside was sitting on the toilet when an assassin, hiding in the pit below, thrust his longsword up the king’s back passage and killed him instantly. Needless to say, later assassins found that hiding behind curtains or in cupboards was a much more preferable pre-murder strategy.

With Ironside out of the way, Canute took over as king of England, though one of Ethelred's other sons, Edward the Confessor would follow him and upon his death there would be a power struggle culminating in the Norman invasion and subsequent conquest of England by William I.


Teenagers and power. Bad combination

Teenagers and power. Bad combination

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was only called Elagabalus after his death. He has one of the worse reputations among the Emperors of Rome, and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition.

Appointing a 14 year old to the highest office of the empire was never going to bode well. With unlimited money and power, Elagabalus became notorious for sex scandal after sex scandal with lovers of both genders. He was married five times, which is quite something for someone who died aged 18.

One of his hobbies was serving his dinner guests exact replicas of the food he was eating but made of wood or ceramic. Woe betide anyone who complained.

Modern scholars believe he was possibly transgender as he is alleged to have tried to find a Roman physician to fit him with female genitalia. Whatever the truth of this, we do know that his cousin Alexander was tipped to replace him as emperor. After attempting to have Alexander assassinated, in 222 AD, Elagabalus threatened to arrest and execute any of his cousin’s supporters. By now Elagabalus's attitude and behaviour had alienated the entire Praetorian guard, who rose up against him. Elagabalus tried to flee but was found, along with his mother, hiding in the toilet. Both were chopped to bits, their remains thrown down the drain.

Lupe Valez

Her drowning in the toilet is probably an urban myth

Her drowning in the toilet is probably an urban myth

Not officially a death on the toilet but because of Kenneth Anger’s book, "Hollywood Babylon", the story is often told as fact.

One of the first successful Latin American film stars, Lupe Valez was born in Mexico and made her debut in the Laurel and Hardy silent short, “Sailors Beware!”. During the 1930’s, with the rise of talkies, (the new phenomenon of movies with sound), Valez became a star, particularly famous for the series of Mexican Spitfire films. Her jealousy and temperament was notorious. She gave co-star Libby Holman a huge black eye during the touring musical of “You Never Know”, attacked her lover, Gary Cooper with a knife, inflicting wounds that needed stitches, then tried to shoot him after their break-up. She then married swimmer and star of the Tarzan films, Johnny Weismuller, and their off-screen fights in private and public were also legendary.

Pregnant by Austrian actor Harald Ramond, Valez took an overdose after their break-up, leaving him a suicide note. The urban legend involves her not taking enough to kill herself, and needing to vomit, she rushed to the bathroom, allegedly slipped on the rug and got jammed head first in the toilet, where she supposedly drowned. However there is no proof of this and the autopsy report showed no sign of vomiting. Still, it’s a much more interesting story than a mundane overdose.

George II of Great Britain

The days of silly wigs. Still worn by the legal profession

The days of silly wigs. Still worn by the legal profession

England became Great Britain in 1707 under Queen Anne, who died childless in 1714. With no heirs, the closest family members were in Hanover, Germany and spoke no English. The Georgian era had begun.

George II became king in 1727 upon the death of his father, George I, whom he hated. When he was a boy, George’s mother was imprisoned in Germany by his father after committing adultery (as her husband had done on numerous occasions). George tried a daring rescue but was caught and sent packing by the guards.

George was popular as a young man, his public profile receiving a boost when he survived an assassination attempt at the Drury Lane Theatre. The last British king to be born abroad, he was also the last British king to lead an army into battle, at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 during the War of Austrian Succession. He was also the last monarch to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

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Famous for his hatred of the arts, he is quoted as stating “I hate all boets [sic] and painters”. However he did have some taste as he is also famous for patronising the composer and fellow German, Handel, who composed for his coronation.

George lived to see Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempted second Jacobite Rebellion which resulted in the massacre at Culloden, and to see Britain take its place as top dog on the world stage at the end of the Seven Year War.

In 1760 one morning, his valet heard a noise from the privy chamber “louder than the Royal wind” and a loud crash, and found the king dead from a ruptured cardio-ventricle. At 77, he was, until his grandson George III who succeeded him, the longest lived monarch of Britain.

Judy Garland

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Somewhere over the rainbow...

MGM’s leading lady of musicals and possibly the original gay icon, Francis Gumm became Judy Garland, allegedly after performer George Jessel commented that she and her sisters looked “prettier than a garland of flowers”.

Already paired with Mickey Rooney in several musicals, Judy was 16 when she followed the yellow brick road and ended up on TV every Christmas forever. A combination of unscrupulous studio bosses and lack of awareness of the detrimental effects of speed on young bodies and minds led MGM’s doctors to prescribe her amphetamines to keep up with her gruelling schedule, ensuring lifelong drug and psychological problems as well as alcohol dependency later on.

Despite her tragic image however, Lorna Luft claimed her mother was always laughing and joking, and Liza Minnelli said when they appeared at the London Palladium together in 1964 “I went from being onstage with my mother to being onstage with Judy Garland”.

By the end of her life, Judy was hopelessly addicted to barbiturates, finally dying on the toilet after an accidental overdose in 1969. Despite speculations of suicide, those in her circle claimed that her body simply wore out after years of abuse.

Evelyn Waugh

The stereotypes of England that you think of when you're growing up

The stereotypes of England that you think of when you're growing up

Probably most famous for his upper-class, stereotypically English novel, "Brideshead Revisited", like many novelists Waugh began his career as a school teacher.

After having a novel turned down and failing to obtain a dream job, he walked into the sea leaving a suicide note, but changed his mind after being attacked by a jellyfish.

After writing a successful biography on Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Waugh became a recognised author with his work, "Vile Bodies". Confusingly, he married a woman called Evelyn and the couple were known to their friends as “he-Evelyn and she-Evelyn” until their divorce in 1929.

Waugh later converted to Catholicism and no doubt, like most religious converts, became extremely tedious company. During the 1930’s, he travelled widely, working as a travel writer and reporter, covering the coronation of Haile Selassie and reporting from Abyssinia during Italian occupation. He became a commando during World War Two and participated in the evacuation of Crete.

Waugh hated the modern world and wrote using a quill pen, refusing to drive or use the telephone. It is doubtful he would have had a high regard for today's online world. Waugh was the classic “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” crusty old retired Colonel, and his abrasive manner alienated many people.

By the end of his life he was in poor health, dying on the toilet in 1966 of a heart attack. A Latin requiem took place for him in Westminster Cathedral the following week.

Lenny Bruce

Harassed to death

Harassed to death

Probably the first alternative comedian, Lenny Bruce was the first person ever to receive a posthumous pardon from New York state.

After service during World War II in the US navy, seeing action at Anzio, he was discharged after convincing his superiors he was homosexual, although he wasn't. In and out of trouble with the law, Bruce was arrested for impersonating a priest and collecting money for a leper colony, a percentage of which he kept. His use of the word “cocksucker” saw him prosecuted for obscenity, and though the charge failed to stick, he was now on the FBI radar and was frequently harassed and arrested on different trumped up charges.

In 1963 he was refused entry to the UK and was finally convicted of obscenity the following year, along with the owners of the New York club Bruce was playing at.

Blacklisted by virtually every nightclub in the USA and constantly harassed by the authorities, Bruce turned increasingly towards narcotics and was found dead on his bathroom floor in 1966 after an overdose of morphine. Phil Spector is alleged to have bought the negatives of the police photos to stop them being published in the newspapers. His influence on American comedy is incalculable.

Elvis Presley

Elvis the grass

Elvis the grass

Probably the most famous lavatorial death of all, Elvis’s rise from lowly trucker to god is well documented.

Despite his own drug habit, Elvis was very much against the whole counter-culture movement, which he had been a huge part of. He believed the Beatles to be a bad influence on the youth of the Western world with their drug taking, and was famously sworn in by Richard Nixon as an undercover agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. However, as the photograph of the two men went viral, it is very likely that the rock and roll fraternity just stopped inviting him to parties and ostracised him as an informer. It is unlikely that he ever took part in any undercover stings anyway.

Eventually succumbing to ludicrous amounts of prescription drugs and junk food, Elvis was only 42 when in 1977, he became a gift for conspiracy theorists across the world.

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