There is something about food that causes some people to do some pretty bizarre things. Look no further than the big Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest for evidence of this. That’s a fairly benign example. Below, meet ten people (and animals) who seem to have completely lost their heads when it comes to various items of food and drink, leading to their own demises.
10. Michael Warner
It’s well-known that alcohol is a good servant but a cruel master. A hard-core alcoholic will do anything to get his fix and avoid withdrawal symptoms, and sometimes those desperate measures prove to be even more dangerous than “normal” drinking. 58-year-old Michael Warner of Lake Jackson, Texas, was an alcoholic, but a medical condition often made it painful for him to consume alcohol by mouth. But according to his wife Tammy, Warner was also a lifelong enema addict and sometimes used enemas to get his alcohol fix. At his request, she administered a sherry enema to him on May 21, 2004.
Michael Warner was dead the next day. An autopsy concluded that he’d died of acute alcohol poisoning. His blood-alcohol level was 0.47, six times the legal limit for driving. Tammy Warner was charged with her husband’s death, but because he had requested that she give him the enema and there was apparently no intent to harm him, charges were later dropped.
9. Janet Rudd
32-year-old Canadian Janet Rudd was described by her friends as shy and quiet, not the type of person you would expect to do something as silly as enter a Chubby Bunny contest. A Chubby Bunny contest involves people putting marshmallows into their mouths and saying “Chubby Bunny.” They try to see how many marshmallows they can cram in and still get the words out intelligibly. It is usually harmless, though ridiculous, fun but it does carry a risk.
Janet Rudd and her sister were running a stall at a fair in Ontario in September 2006 when Rudd decided to enter the nightly Chubby Bunny contest. It isn’t clear how many marshmallows she put in her mouth, but it was certainly too much; she collapsed backstage and when paramedics arrived with suction equipment, they couldn’t budge the mass of gooey candy filling her mouth and throat. After Rudd’s death, the fair’s organizers banned Chubby Bunny contests.
8. Andrew Lee
Another example of competitiveness and food coming together with disastrous results. England’s Andrew Lee was an excellent cook who enjoyed sharing dishes with his family and friends. He also enjoyed a good contest, so it wasn’t surprising when, in September of 2008, he challenged his girlfriend’s brother to see who could eat the hottest chili sauce. Unlike in Janet Rudd’s case, this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. Lee’s father planted extra-hot red chili peppers for him, and on the appointed day, Lee picked them and mixed them into a pasta sauce. His friend only ate a spoonful, but Lee ate the whole plateful and was declared the winner.
All seemed well till Lee went to bed around 2:00 A.M., when he began itching all over. His girlfriend scratched his back for him till he fell asleep, but when she woke up in the morning he was dead. The cause of death was apparently a heart attack. Experts have warned about the dangers of pepper spray, essentially a very concentrated form of hot sauce, for years. It’s been well-known to cause respiratory and skin irritation, but Andrew Lee may well be the first case of death as a direct result of the consumption of chili peppers.
7. Dhaou Fatnassi
Not many of us relish the thought of eating raw eggs. Rocky Balboa drank them straight for a protein kick, and some people mix them into milkshakes for the same reason, but without having to taste the egg. Of course now, we’re advised that eggs are often contaminated with salmonella, which is only destroyed by thorough cooking. Dhaou Fatnassi, 20, of Kairouan, Tunisia, must have been especially desperate for money, because in December of 2012 he bet an undisclosed sum that he could eat 30 raw eggs in one sitting. He almost collected. Fatnassi managed to finish off 28 raw eggs before he collapsed with severe stomach pains and was rushed to a hospital. He died shortly afterwards, and the cause of his death, while officially undetermined, no doubt was something to do with his egg-eating bet.
6. Mitsugoro Bando
Kabuki actors enjoy an almost cult-like status in Japan, and Mitsugoro Bando was one of the most revered. His status allowed him to indulge his taste for fine dining, and his favorite dish was the wildly expensive and also extremely risky fugu. The fugu, or pufferfish, is an ugly fish that is able to inflate itself to the size of a basketball when alarmed. Its flesh is considered a delicacy in Japan, but there’s a catch; the fugu is loaded with deadly tetrodotoxin, which causes a creeping numbness and paralysis while leaving the mind totally and terrifyingly clear. Eventually the respiratory muscles are paralyzed and death results. The only sure cure for fugu poisoning is to make the victim vomit immediately after he’s consumed the fish.
Fugu chefs are highly trained and regulated, and they remove the fish’s skin, liver and ovaries, where the poison is most concentrated. But accidents do occasionally happen. In January of 1975, Mitsugoro Bando apparently demanded that his fugu be served with the most toxic parts intact; an alternative version claims he may have believed he was ordering a less-toxic variety of pufferfish. He not only ate his own serving of fugu, but also ate the fugu of his four dining companions. He died soon after and the very competitive fugu market suffered a catastrophic downturn.
5. Walter Eagle Tail
Despite the popularity of hot-dog-eating contests, very few people have actually been injured while taking part. That changed on July 3, 2014, with the death of 47-year-old Walter Eagle Tail. Eagle Tail was trying to win a hot-dog-eating contest put on by the Chamber of Commerce in Custer, South Dakota when he began to choke. Paramedics were at his side instantly but it was too late. A friend characterized Eagle Tail as a fun-loving, kind man who enjoyed a good joke. She said of his involvement in the contest, “Walter was just being Walter. He was just having a good time.” No word on whether any future hot-dog-eating contests will be held in Custer, but a pie-eating contest later that day was cancelled.
4. A Python
It isn’t just people who bite off more than they can chew. Other animals occasionally do the same thing, with predictably unfavorable results. A 13-foot Burmese python was discovered dead in Florida, minus its head and with its body torn open. Inside the snake was an equally dead six-foot alligator. Scientists theorized that the snake tried to eat the live gator, and suffered its disastrous injuries in the process. A different school of thought believes it more likely that the python successfully ate the alligator but that a second gator then arrived and decapitated the python; opponents of this theory point out that the head was severed more cleanly than gators usually sever things with their rolling and twisting action.
3. Anton the Polar Bear
So far everybody on this list has met their end by eating too much of something generally considered edible. Anton is a different case. A resident of a zoo in Stuttgart, Germany, Anton died in February of 2014 after he ate a purse and a coat that somehow fell into his enclosure. Incredible as it seems, the zoo has experienced such misfortune before; an elephant seal named Charlie died after swallowing a teddy bear that was either dropped or thrown into his pool, and a hippo was killed by swallowing a tennis ball. Zookeepers have also retrieved many pairs of children’s shoes from exhibits.
2. Edward Archbold
This time it’s a human who stretches the definition of what’s edible, to his own detriment. Cultures around the world consider insects a valuable and tasty part of their diet, but this attitude has never caught on in the West; most of us shudder at the very idea. So in October of 2012, when a Florida pet shop wanted an attention-grabbing gimmick to attract customers, the idea of a contest to see who could eat the most live cockroaches and worms must have seemed like a sure thing. The winner would get a python (alligator not included) and would then of course have to buy snake supplies from the store.
Six contestants took up the challenge. One of them was Edward Archbold, 32, described as “a smart, good guy” by a work friend. Archbold won the contest, but he didn’t get to enjoy his victory: he collapsed and died just after being declared the winner. An autopsy revealed that he had died of “aspiration of gastric contents.” His airway was blocked with roach parts, in other words. An investigator describes seeing video of the contest in which Archbold appears to try to breathe and swallow at the same time. Such a feat is, of course, impossible.
1. Andrew Thornton
We can live for weeks without food, but we can die if we go without water for as little as a day, if conditions are especially harsh. We’re urged to stay hydrated, but few of us realize that there can be too much of a good thing, even water. Our kidneys are responsible for filtering our blood and maintaining the proper balance of water and electrolytes, but drinking too much water over too short a period of time can cause the kidneys to become overwhelmed and shut down. This in turn causes the blood to become waterlogged and cells to swell with fluid, particularly dangerous with brain cells. This cerebral edema causes severe headache, vomiting, mental confusion and sometimes death.
44-year-old Andrew Thornton, a British warehouse worker, died in 2007 after he reportedly drank ten liters (about two-and-a-half gallons) of water over eight hours for three days. Thornton had been troubled by gingivitis for years but had avoided medical treatment. He preferred the numbing effects of water on his inflamed gums. He continued drinking water steadily even as he began to suffer repeated vomiting as a result of water intoxication.
Aimee was thinking about lunch when she started writing this list, but now she’s kind of lost her appetite.