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Myth, scandal, and rumor surround the deaths of many famed individuals throughout history. The Roman Senator Lucius Flavius Clio is alleged to have died choking on a single hair in a cup of milk.

One account of Alexander the Great (who loved to party) maintains the Great King died after a massive bender of booze and food consumption unbroken by sleep, exacerbated by a fever.

Attila the Hun is also believed to have choked to death while eating, which is not unheard of for larger-than-life leaders.

There are lots of these questionable accounts through history – Mozart may have died from his love of undercooked pork chops – but there are others that leave little doubt food and drink were a major contributor to a person’s death.

The following 10 food deaths range between the famous who died because of what (and how much) food they ate and recent famous cases of everyday people whose perilous consumption contributed directly to their deaths.

1. US President Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)

Cholera Morbus/Gastroenteritis

President Zachary Taylor
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

The sudden death of the 12th US President Zachary Taylor remains the subject of some conjecture, although the role of food in his demise isn’t.

During sweltering conditions on 4th of July celebrations of 1850, Taylor consumed a large quantity of cherries and iced milk and then returned to the White House, where he quenched his thirst with several glasses of water.

Later that night the President, a hero of the Mexican War nicknamed “Rough and Ready” became unwell, eventually dying four days later.

Taylor’s physicians described the cause of death as cholera morbus, a bacterial infection of the small intestine that he likely picked up from the milk.

Other scholars believe Taylor’s illness to be brought about by gastroenteritis caused by the cherries acidity in combination with the poor sanitary conditions in D.C. at the time.

2. Henry I, King of Great Britain (c. 1068-1135)

A Surfeit of Lampreys

King Henry I
Image Source: Historic UK.com

The British King Henry I is one of the most famous rulers to have died directly from the results of eating.

Henry died in 1135 at approximately age 67. The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon wrote that the King quickly became ill from “eating a surfeit of lampreys.”

He died less than a week later having never recovered.

It’s believed Henry’s personal physicians had implored him to stop eating the eel-like fish as it had caused him previous health complications.

3. Bando Mitsugoro VIII (1906-1975)

Blowfish Poisoning

Image by zoosnow from Pixabay

Bando Mitsugoro VIII was a Japanese Kabuki theater superstar. He was so good, and so famous in Japan that he was named a National Living Treasure in 1973.

In his pomp, Mitusugoro was a cross between Robert Deniro, Al Pacino, and Hugh Jackman in acting chops and star power, but it didn’t stop an ugly little fish from doing him in.

In 1975, while out at a restaurant with friends, Mitsugoro ate fugu (blowfish) confident that the poisonous delicacy couldn’t harm him.

Blowfish contains tetrodotoxin, a poison causing symptoms of numbness and paralysis 20 minutes to three hours after ingestion. These spread to the whole body, in serious cases leading to death by respiratory failure.

Mitsugoro, who ate the fish illegally (even now chefs need a specific license to prepare fugu) died just eight hours after eating a variety of poorly prepared fish livers.

4. ‘Mama Cass’ Elliot (1941-1974)

Heart Failure

Mama Cass Album Cover
Image Source: Anthony Easton via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Mama Cass Elliott was an American singer best known for having been a beloved member of the Mamas and the Papas, where her beautiful voice laid the platform for many of their songs.

Elliott, who released 5 solo albums, was touring in England at the time of her death, staying at the house of fellow pop singer Harry Nilsson.

Elliott, who battled with her weight since age 7, died tragically from heart failure at 32. The rumor was that she choked on a ham sandwich in bed at the age of 32.

5. Jennifer Strange (1979-2007)

Water Intoxication

Water Bottles Grouped
Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay

This incident was famous for making headlines worldwide, not for the fame of the person who died.

In 2007, 28-year-old mother of three Jennifer Strange died from water intoxication after participating in Sacramento Radio station’s KDND-FM’s contest “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.”

The competition called for the participants to drink as many water bottles as they could without going to the bathroom, in order to win a Nintendo Wii, with Strange believed to consume over 7.5 liters in a short time.

Despite Strange having signed a waiver to compete, it was found that the competition was not even legal and her husband sued the owner of the radio station for wrongful death. A judge awarded Mr Strange $16.5million USD and 10 people involved in the competition were fired.

6. Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Burst Bladder

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tycho Brahe was an interesting fellow and legendary loose unit.

He was a Danish Nobleman and noted astrologist famed for his comprehensive cataloguing of the stars and planets, but often got into kerfuffles with other nobles.

At one stage Brahe lost his nose in a duel, and from then on wore a prosthetic nose made from brass. He was exiled from Denmark at the time of his death due to run-ins with the King.

Brahe died under suspicious circumstances after a banquet in Prague, where he was living as a guest. While originally thought to have been poisoned, it turns out Brahe – who was exhumed twice by curious authorities (1901 and 2010) – died from a burst bladder.

According to a first-hand account from his offsider Johannes Kepler, he had refused to relieve himself during the function as it was a breach of etiquette but died in agony a few days later.

7. Jim Fixx (1932-1984)


Person Road Running
Image by kinkate from Pixabay

Jim Fixx brought running into the fitness regimes of Americans everywhere with his bestselling 1977 book, “The Complete Book of Running”. He ran up to 80 miles a week. That, combined with his penchant for fast food, killed him.

Fixx, who had been almost 215 pounds or so (100 kilos) and a relentlessly heavy smoker, had taken up running at 35 but hadn’t bothered to make changes to his diet (he did quit the smokes).

Fixx died while running his daily route aged 52, his arteries almost completely clogged from a lifetime spent eating junk food, which spurred on those diets where exercise was combined with healthy diet choices.

8. Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden (1710-1771)

Burst Stomach

Image: Painting by Gustaf Lundberg via Wikimedia Commons

From all accounts, he was a good fellow that could eat like a sumo wrestler, which is probably a good thing because he couldn’t do much as King, with real power in the hands of his court (the Riksdag) rather than the Crown.

According to his Wikipedia page, Adolf Frederick died after having a massive dinner of “lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, topped off with his favourite dessert: hetvägg, made of semla pastries served in bowls of hot milk.”

I find this impressive for two reasons: that’s a massive meal with a lot of different tastes, and it’s also a highly detailed list, considering the King’s entry isn’t a huge one. The Britannica Encyclopedia in 1911 just said that he died of ‘surfeit,’ or too much.

It’s been written Adolf Frederick ate 14 of the desserts before stumbling off to bed and dying of a burst stomach. Got to love a guy that’s happy to go out eating his faves!

9. Basil Brown (1926-1974)

Carrot Juice Addiction

Basil Brown was a British health food enthusiast that took things too far.

Over a ten-day period in 1974, Brown consumed over 70 million units of vitamin A.

Brown had basically smashed carrot juice blend after carrot juice blend and washed them down with garden variety multivitamins.

This dietary regime quickly poisoned him. Brown, who unsurprisingly had turned an unhealthy shade of orange, died of cirrhosis of the liver due to his “carrot juice addiction.

10. Natasha Harris (1980-2010)

Death by Coca Cola

Cola Soft Drink
Image by Ernesto Rodriguez from Pixabay

Natasha Harris, a 30-year-old mother of eight from Invercargill, New Zealand, died from a heart attack caused by her addiction to Coca Cola.

The pathologist who testified at her inquest said that Harris likely suffered from low potassium, caused by poor nutrition, and the “toxic levels of caffeine” didn’t help.

Ms Harris drank up to 10 litres per day, New Zealand coroner David Crerar estimated – which works out to more than twice the recommended daily caffeine consumption and more than 11 times the recommended sugar intake.


There are some very strange deaths on this list, most of which could have been avoided with better living conditions and smarter health choices.

And it doesn’t delve into accounts of alcohol intoxication deaths, poisonings, and assassinations where food was involved.

In any case, it’s a great reminder to make smart choices regarding what and how much you consume!

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