Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century

Khalid Elhassan - October 25, 2017

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Leslie Harvey. Dirt City Chronicles

Leslie Harvey

Leslie Harvey (1944 – 1972), brother of 1970s glam rocker Alex Harvey, was a Scottish guitarist who played for a number of bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, most notably the blues-rock band Stone the Crows, which he had co-founded in 1969. Born in Glasgow, Harvey’s career was full of mishaps and misfortunes, culminating with the final one that took his life.

During the 1960s, Harvey had been asked to join The Animals but turned down the opportunity in order to stay with his brother’s band. The Animals went on to become superstars, with hits that became classics such as House of the Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. The gig with his brother’s band did not work out, so Harvey joined another band, Blues Council. However, soon after making their first album, the band’s tour van crashed, killing its lead vocalist and bassist, and the survivors went their separate ways.

In 1969, Harvey co-founded Stone the Crows, which steadily climbed the rock ladder and by 1972 was on the cusp of breaking out, fresh off a successful 1971 album, Teenage Kicks, and managed by Led Zepplin’s legendary Peter Grant. On May 3rd, 1972, the band were preparing for a show before a crowd at the Swansea Ballroom in Swansea, Wales, when Harvey’s bad luck struck one last time.

It was a rainy day, with puddles on the stage, when the unfortunate guitarist came in contact with a poorly grounded microphone to perform a soundcheck while tuning his guitar. Touching the microphone with wet hands, Leslie Harvey was electrocuted to death, live onstage before thousands of horrified onlookers. The band broke up soon thereafter.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Kurt Godel. The New Yorker

Kurt Godel

Kurt Godel (1906 – 1978) was an Austrian-American logician, philosopher, and mathematician considered to be in the same league as Aristotle as one history’s greatest logicians. He is best known for his Incompleteness Theorem, one of the 20th century’s most significant mathematical results, which posits that within any axiomatic mathematical system, there are propositions which can be neither proved nor disproved based on that system’s axioms.

Godel was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic. At age 6, he endured a bout with rheumatic fever, an inflammatory heart disease, which left him sickly for the remainder of his childhood, and with a lifelong concern about his health that grew into hypochondria, and eventually became a full-blown paranoia that would do him in.

Brilliant since childhood, by 1929 he had graduated from the University of Vienna, an intellectual hub of the world in those days, and joined its faculty the following year. His brilliance, however, was marred by a paranoia that kept him at a distance from the university’s other brilliant minds and left him convinced that the 20th century as a whole was hostile to him.

After publication of his Incompleteness Theorem, he became a celebrity within intellectual circles and traveled to the US many a time in the 1930s. There, he met and befriended Albert Einstein, and started lecturing at Princeton University. When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Godel’s friendship with Jewish intellectuals made him suspect, and between that and fear of getting conscripted into the Wehrmacht, he fled to the US, wherewith the help of Einstein, he got a position teaching at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, where he remained until his retirement in 1976.

His paranoia worsened as he aged, however, and he suffered bouts of mental instability, mainly a persecutory delusion that left him with an irrational fear of getting poisoned. As such, he would only eat food that his wife had prepared for him and then tasted first. When in 1977 she was hospitalized for 6 months and was unable to prepare his food, he refused to eat and literally starved to death – he was down to 65 pounds by the time he died.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Magazine article addressing why Stefan Edberg, who caused Wertheim’s death, doesn’t smile. STE Fans

Dick Wertheim

Richard “Dick” Wertheim (1923 – 1983) was a former tennis player who went on to become a linesman. Unfortunately nicknamed, or perhaps presciently so considering how he died, he suffered a fatal mishap while officiating the 1983 US Open Junior Boys title match between 17-year-old Stefan Edberg of Sweden, and 18-year-old Simon Youl of Australia.

On September 10th, 1983, Wertheim was seated in the official’s chair and officiating at the centerline during the Junior Boys’ title match when an errant serve by Edberg smashed a tennis ball directly into the official’s groin. The blow knocked Wertheim backward, causing him to fall off his chair and strike his head on the hardcourt surface below. Knocked unconscious, he was rushed to a hospital but died of injuries five days later.

Edberg, the teenager whose errant serve killed Wertheim, went on to become a tennis star and to hold the world’s number 1 men’s ranking in both singles and doubles but was forever after marked by the tragedy. Throughout his career, he was famous or infamous for almost never smiling, and the unfortunate 1983 Boys Junior title was one of the main reasons for his gloomy demeanor.

Wertheim’s family sued the United States Tennis Association for wrongful death, alleging neglect and failure to exercise a proper duty of care, and sought $2.25 million in damages. They won a $165,000 damages award from a jury, but it was later reversed by New York’s Appellate Division, which held that the tennis ball striking Wertheim’s groin was not the proximate cause of his death.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Brandon Lee. Alchetron

Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee (1965 – 1993) was an American actor and martial artist, and son of the legendary Bruce Lee. He had worked his way up the acting ranks, starring in a number of television films and low-budget films during the 1980s, before landing a breakthrough role in the movie The Crow but had the misfortune of meeting an unusual and tragic end during the course of its filming.

Lee began his film career at age 20, starting off as a script reader, and doing uncredited cameo roles. In 1986, he got a role in the ABC television film Kung Fu: The Movie, as David Carradine’s son. He then moved to Hong Kong, where he acted and starred in a number of movies. In the late 80s and early 90s, he also acted in a number of B-movies in the US, until 1992, when he landed a starring role in The Crow, a film adaptation of a popular comic series.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Brandon Lee with his father, Bruce Lee. Wikimedia

Early in the morning of March 31, 1993, one of The Crow’s pivotal scenes, the killing of Lee’s character, Eric Draven, by street thugs, was staged in Wilmington, North Carolina. Lee was to enter through a door, carrying groceries, and was to be met by actor Michael Massee, in his role as Funboy, who would shoot him with a revolver loaded with blanks.

Unfortunately, whoever was in charge of the props and safety did a poor job that day and failed to adequately check Massee’s revolver. Had they done so, they would have discovered a fragment of a dummy bullet lodged in the barrel, left there from an earlier firing. They did not, however, and when Massee fired the revolver, the charge from the blank bullet propelled the fragment out of the barrel to strike Lee, fatally wounding him and cutting his budding career tragically short.

Rest in Peculiarity: 12 Unusual Deaths in the 20th Century
Gary Hoy and the Toronto Dominion Center. Twitka

Gary Hoy

Gary Hoy (1955 – 1993) was a Canadian lawyer and a respected senior partner at a Toronto law firm. Before going to law school, Hoy had gotten a degree in engineering, and the robustness of modern building techniques was a subject of particular interest to him. He was peculiarly proud of the tensile strength of the windows at his office in the Toronto Dominion Center, a downtown high rise, and was in the habit of demonstrating the windows’ sturdiness by body checking them. As things turned out, and as he discovered on July 9th, 1993, it was an ill-advised habit.

That evening, Hoy was at a welcoming party being thrown for a group of incoming law student summer interns, in a conference room on the 24th floor of the high rise. Wishing to impress the interns with the office windows’ strength, Hoy sought to demonstrate that they were unbreakable by throwing himself at a glass wall. He had done so many a time before and always ended up bouncing off harmlessly.

As Toronto police detective described what happened next: “At this Friday night party, Mr. Hoy did it again and bounced off the glass the first time. However, he did it a second time, and this time crashed right through the middle of the glass“. He fell to his death 24 floors below.

His unfortunate death could have been averted had he left window tensile strength testing to the experts. As a structural engineer told the Toronto Star about Hoy’s peculiar methodology in the aftermath of the fatal mishap: “I don’t know of any building code in the world that would allow a 160-pound man to run up against a glass window and withstand it“.

Hoy’s auto-defenestration made the obscure law partner a greater celebrity in death than he had ever been in life. His unusual demise became the basis for sundry urban legends that were actually based on a true factual foundation. His death was featured in episodes of the TV shows Mythbusters and 1000 Ways to Die, garnered him entries in Snopes and Wikipedia, and won him a 1996 Darwin Award.