Curses are as old as history, with some fervently believing in their power to generate evil circumstances. The Bible is filled with them, both Old Testament and New. Even Jesus of Nazareth uttered a curse when he encountered a fig tree which, to his disappointment, contained no figs. His curse ensured nobody else would eat from that tree either.
Curses continue to affect people of all cultures, and there are as many ways to protect oneself from them as there are curses themselves. But some of them are little more than nonsense. Here are ten such, which have long been believed and cited, though on closer examination they have little basis in fact.
10. The Curse of Tutankhamun
The curse of Tutankhamun, like the preceding Curse of the Pharaohs, or Mummy’s Curse, was mainly the creation of a media beset with competition, eager to sell newspapers. When Howard Carter’s expedition discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922, it set off a media frenzy. When Carter entered the tomb in late November, accompanied by George Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, who financed the expedition, the frenzy hit a peak. More than 5,900 artifacts were eventually excavated from the tomb. They did not find a document or any other item describing a curse promising an early death to any desecrating the tomb, though later events led the press to report they had.
The following spring, Lord Carnarvon cut himself shaving, according to some slicing a mosquito bite which had already become infected. On April 5, 1923 Lord Carnarvon died of sepsis, caused by his infected wound, and though he had been in ill health for over two decades, the media seized upon the curse of King Tut. Several other deaths followed among the excavators, but according to the British Medical Journal The Lancet at a rate which did not exceed that of normal for a population sampling of similar size. Howard Carter lived for another 16 years, dying at the age of 64, of natural causes.
The Curse of King Tut both built upon and expanded on tales of curses enacted by the ancients to protect their final resting places and the items they took with them on their journey to the other world. Since the excavation, Tut’s mummy, and many of the items excavated from his tomb, have toured the world. Whenever the displays reach a new destination the media faithfully reproduces the legend of the Curse of King Tut, titillating their audience with threats of doom. But there is little evidence to support there ever was a curse, and less that the curse was found in writing by Carter and his team.
9. The Curse of Tippecanoe
Tippecanoe refers to William Henry Harrison, an American general who led the forces which defeated those of Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, temporarily ending the power of Tecumseh’s Confederation. According to legend, Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, was to blame for the Indian’s defeat, and he responded by placing a curse on the Presidency, though it would be another 29 years before Harrison would be elected President. Others claim the Shawnee leader had nothing to do with the alleged curse on the American Presidency. It came to be known as the Curse of Tippecanoe because 1840, the year it began, saw the election of Harrison, the Hero of Tippecanoe, to the Presidency.
According to the curse, every American President elected to office in a year ending with zero would not survive their term in office. Harrison was the first American President to die in office in 1841. The next elected in the prescribed period, Abraham Lincoln, died in office, but after being inaugurated to his second term in 1865. 1880 saw the election of James Garfield, assassinated in his first term. 1900 saw the same for William McKinley. 1920 brought the election of Warren Harding, who died of heart related problems during his first term. In 1940 FDR was elected (his third term), and though he died in office it was in his fourth term, having served 12 years and one month as President.
1960 and the election of John Kennedy was the last time the “curse” arose, with JFK being assassinated during his third year in office. Since then it has spared Ronald Reagan (1980), George W. Bush (2000) and as of this writing Joe Biden (2020). The Curse has been bandied about by the media every 20 years or so, but it has in truth little power beyond entertainment value. More interesting coincidence than curse, the Curse of Tippecanoe is a strange quirk of American history.
8. The Curse of Rosemary’s Baby
For the uninitiated Rosemary’s Baby was a 1968 American psychological thriller directed by Roman Polanski. It starred Mia Farrow in a role in which she suspects her neighbors are members of a Satanic cult, and covet her soon-to-be-born baby for use in rituals. Originally Polanski wanted his then fiancée, Sharon Tate, to play the lead role, but ultimately decided she did not have the star power to carry the vehicle at that stage in her career. Nonetheless, Tate became a victim of a so-called curse which afflicted the movie and some of its players and workers, at least according to some.
Supporters of the curse include within it the famed Dakota Building in New York, used in the filming, and the site of John Lennon’s murder 12 years later. Tate was murdered by the Manson family, and Polanski fled to France and exile after being held for 42 days on felony charges for drugging and raping a child. Composer Krysztof Komeda, who wrote the soundtrack for the film, died after a fall from a cliff while intoxicated.
The film’s producer, Robert Evans (who also produced The Godfather), got into trouble for trafficking cocaine, earning himself a suspended sentence in exchange for making anti-drug public service announcements. So, while bad things happened to some of the people involved with the film, it hardly appears to be from supernatural causes, and the two main stars, Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, seemed to have gotten away unscathed.
7. The Curse of Macbeth
To utter the name Macbeth, or to read or quote a line within the play, while in a theater where the play is not currently in production, is to bring down a curse upon the transgressor and all others present, according to theater lore. One source for the curse was Shakespeare’s use of the three witches and their incantation in the play. The curse was placed on the play because the Bard used a real incantation in his script, evidently a faux pas among witches and non-witches. At any rate, according to the Royal Shakespeare Company, the curse has affected the play since its first performance circa 1606.
As is well known, during the 2022 Oscars, Chris Rock came onstage, only to be slapped by Will Smith after Rock made comments considered demeaning to Smith’s wife. What is less well-known is that just moments before Rock had congratulated Denzel Washington for his performance in The Tragedy of Macbeth, speaking the forbidden word in the process. So maybe the curse led to the viral moment which left audiences stunned and gave Twitter a burst of activity.
There’s actually no way to debunk this curse, because there is nothing to refute. Witches do appear in MacBeth (Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…), and whether they recite a genuine incantation is known only to their fellow witches. The play does have a long history of questionable, violent, and even fatal events occurring during its many productions, including films. Perhaps the best way to debunk the curse is through experimentation. Next time you are in the theater, simply utter the name Macbeth aloud, and await events. Good luck.
6. The Curse of the Bermuda Triangle
A writer by the name of Vincent Gaddis gave birth to the term Bermuda Triangle, in a 1964 article which appeared in Argosy Magazine. Later writers took up the mantle, describing the borders of the triangle, altering them when necessary to fit their theses. By the 1970s the triangle was a major topic in paperback books, documentaries, fiction, and other forms of entertainment, written and on film. The truth is, the Bermuda Triangle is no more prone to strange occurrences and disappearances than any other like-sized area of the ocean in the world. It just had better publicity.
The US Coast Guard does not officially recognize the Bermuda Triangle, though that has no effect on breathless media reports of Coast Guard searches within the triangle when circumstances warrant. The headlines simply draw more attention with the words Bermuda Triangle appear. One of the most famous events within the triangle, the loss of US Navy Flight 19, continues to feature in triangle lore as an unexplained disappearance in clear weather of well-trained Navy pilots on a simulated bombing mission. In fact, though the flight began in clear weather, by the time the pilots radioed they were lost the weather had deteriorated badly, and the Navy has long explained the loss of the flight as pilot error on the part of the flight’s leader.
The Bermuda Triangle is a classic example of an urban myth created by faulty reporting, circular reporting, deliberate falsehoods, and sensationalism. This does not mean there hasn’t been losses of ships and aircraft within the loosely defined and flexible boundaries of the region. Ship’s, boats, and aircraft are lost to the sea in all the waters of the world, virtually every day, and many without a trace to explain what happened. But in the Bermuda Triangle it hasn’t happened any more than it has anywhere else, especially considering the heavy amount of traffic in the area, much of it driven by untrained, amateur boaters.
5. The Curse of King Casimir IV
Fifty years after the opening of the tomb of King Tut in Egypt, another team of archaeologists and excavators planned to open the tomb of Polish King Casimir IV. Casimir IV ruled in the 15th century, and his reign was described as both “successful and peaceful”, though he accomplished relatively little of note during his time on the throne (1447-1492).
Following the opening of the tomb, which had been avidly followed by the media, several members of the excavating team developed lung disorders. This led to speculation in the media of a curse, calling to mind the media frenzy over the Curse of King Tut half a century earlier. According to some sources at least fifteen members of the archaeological party entering the tomb died of mysterious, inexplicable lung diseases, and King Casimir’s curse surpassed that of Tut.
It turned out the tombs of the two kings shared a common denominator, but it wasn’t a curse. At least not a supernatural curse. It was fungi, Aspergillus Flavus, found in both tombs. The fungus led to a condition known as aspergillosis, particularly in those with already compromised lungs or immune systems. Additional fungi which contributed to the diseases suffered by those who entered Casimir’s tomb were also identified. Casimir IV’s “curse” was unknown science, rather than supernatural activity.
4. The Curse of Tamerlane
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was an admirer of the Mongol chieftain and war leader Tamerlane, also known as Timur. Timur was the first ruler of the Timurid Dynasty in the late 14th and early 15th century. At his death he was interred in a mausoleum known as Gur-e-Amir in modern day Uzbekistan. In 1941 Uzbekistan was a Soviet Socialist Republic, subject to the whims of Stalin, who ordered the mausoleum opened in 1941, allegedly to ensure the bodies within were of Tamerlane and his sons and other relatives. Stalin assigned the task to Mikhail Gerasimov, a noted Soviet anthropologist.
Gerasimov, in the presence of local officials, opened the vault containing Timur’s remains on June 20, 1941, despite warnings etched into the walls of the mausoleum against desecrating the grave. Local officials also warned against his doing so. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the first steps in a war which led to the deaths of millions. To many, the curse of Tamerlane led to the carnage visited upon the Soviet Republics and the rest of Eastern Europe, as well as in Germany.
Those attributing the Eastern Front to the curse of Tamerlane ignore the fact that the German High Command began planning what they called Operation Barbarossa in the early summer of 1940, following the fall of France. Hitler committed Germany to the invasion by the end of 1940, six months before the Soviet excavators opened Tamerlane’s tomb. So, the Curse of Tamerlane certainly didn’t trigger the disaster which befell Eastern Europe in the summer of 1941, as many have attested over the years.
3. The Curse of Superman
Numerous actors have played the Man of Steel on television and in feature films. Events which occurred with two of them should give pause to others who consider the role, at least for those who believe in the Curse of Superman. It begins with actor George Reeves, whose film career began with considerable promise when he appeared with Vivien Leigh in the opening scenes of Gone With the Wind, portraying one of the Tarleton twins. By the 1950s Reeves had achieved success, and acclaim, for his role as Superman. Yet he found himself typecast in the role, and sought for ways to escape into others. Unfortunately, his shooting schedule prevented him from accepting other roles. Reeves died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1959, though some have questioned whether it was really a suicide.
The next major actor affected by the so-called curse was Christopher Reeve (no relation) who played Superman/Clark Kent in four films in the 1970s and 1980s. Reeve suffered a horseback riding accident in 1995, paralyzing him from the neck down, confining him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He died in 2004, just 52 years of age. Others cited for being affected by the curse include Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve films. In 2002 she told the Daily Telegraph the curse was “newspaper-created rubbish”. Supporters of the curse believe it goes much deeper, affecting even the creators of Superman, Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel.
Despite the urban legend of the curse, it appears to have been limited to just two of the actors who actually portrayed the Man of Steel. Others, including Dean Cain, Henry Cavill, Brandon Routh, and Tom Welling, have thus far been evidently exempt from the curse. Actors who preceded George Reeves, which included Bud Collyer, who voiced Superman on radio, and Kirk Alyn, who played him in serials in the 1940s, also escaped the curse. But Lee Quigley, who appeared as the baby who became Superman in the 1978 Christopher Reeve film, died of solvent abuse in 1991, only 14 years of age.
2. The My Way Curse
One wonders what Sinatra would think of the notion that one of his most popular songs is cursed, bringing death to those with the temerity to sing it in public. But such is the case in the Philippines, where local legend describes the My Way Curse. According to the curse, beginning around 2002, singers of the song in karaoke bars (called videoke in the Philippines) have been shot and killed, and several other incidents of violence have occurred. Often, they are caused by off-key renditions, repetitive performances, and in some cases, evident premeditation. At least one security guard shot and killed a singer after he failed to heed a warning to stop his performance of the song.
The exact number of killings attributed to the My Way Curse varies depending on sources. At least one appeared to be a premeditated assassination of a barangay (roughly a district chairman), who chose to sing the song at a Christmas party. While there have been incidents of karaoke violence triggered by other songs in other countries, the My Way Curse appears to be localized to the Philippines, and has lasted over 20 years. In the 2010s several of the thousands of karaoke bars in the Philippines removed the song from their repertoires, but the killings have continued sporadically since.
There are several possible explanations why the Sinatra classic, which was written by Paul Anka, could be a catalyst for violence. One is the arrogance of the lyrics themselves, delivered while the singer faces “the final curtain”. Sinatra’s version has been called “America’s Anthem of Self-determination”. But the curse seemingly didn’t harm Frank, who released his version of the song in 1969. And there is nothing mysterious or supernatural about the killings, they mostly share the common thread of a disgruntled listener and alcohol. More of a social phenomenon than a curse, the My Way Killings continue, along with karaoke related violence across much of the so-called civilized world.
1. The Conqueror Curse
Of the roughly 220 people who worked on the 1956 John Wayne vehicle The Conqueror in the Utah desert, 91 contracted some form of cancer, and of those 46 died of cancer or its complications. Among them were Wayne, co-star Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Lee Van Cleef, director Dick Powell, and several others, most of them in the 1960s and early 1970s. This led to a belief the film, in which Wayne played Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, was cursed. Most of the exterior scenes of the film were shot at Escalante, a desert area about 135 miles downwind of the site of the US government’s 1953 Operation Upshot-Knothole nuclear weapons tests.
In 1980 a biology professor at the University of Utah cited the high rates of cancers and subsequent deaths following the production as an “epidemic”. This led to the Curse of the Conqueror, in which those who worked on the film were doomed to be stricken. But the numbers don’t add up. Statistically, the odds of contracting cancer for American males is about 40.2%, and the odds of it being fatal about 20.5%, very near the rates suffered by The Conqueror’s crew. In 1956 the odds were higher, treatments were less advanced, and many of those stricken were heavy smokers, including Wayne, Hayward, and Van Cleef (Agnes Moorehead being a notable exception, a teetotaler and non-smoker, she contracted fatal uterine cancer).
The deaths created a reputation for the film which led to its producer, Howard Hughes, purchasing nearly every available print, effectively removing it from distribution for many years. Nor were the critics particularly kind, even before the “Curse” surrounding the film appeared. In 2013, The Guardian revisited the film, with little kind to say about anything surrounding it. Whether or not radiation exposure led to sickness and death among the film’s crew is still argued. But there is little argument over the quality of the film, which is generally regarded as one of John Wayne’s worst.