: Lads, say a prayer, I'm afraid Harry Beaton is dead! Tommy
: Looks like he fell on a rock and it crushed in his head.
Someone pushes someone over, they bang their head on something and are killed instantly. This seems to be the best way to pull off involuntary manslaughter
without making the guy who did it unsympathetic.
Depending on the context, death by falling over may be seen as a particularly "un-dramatic" way to check out. It's fine if the show's realistic (or if the focus is on the 'death by accident' plot), but try to write off a major character or villain (particularly in an action series) in this way and the fans will see the invisible bridge
that knocked him over. It just can seem a little anticlimactic in fiction.
Somewhat Truth in Television
, since it's actually not uncommon for people to die in this way, especially if stairs are involved.
The main risk is that a blood vessel will rupture and bleed into the brain or skull, causing pressure to build so the delicate tissue doesn't get enough oxygen. Depending on the severity of the bleed, it can take anywhere from minutes to hours for death to occur. A person with a slow bleed may even be able to function normally for a while
, until the headache and other symptoms overwhelm them. Often the person's life can be saved if they get medical attention quickly enough.
See also Instant Death Bullet
, Railing Kill
, Disney Villain Death
, Made of Plasticine
, and Staircase Tumble
. May or may not overlap with Undignified Death
. Contrast Hard Head
, Tap on the Head
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Happens to Hyatt in Excel Saga. She need not fall from any sort of height, however. She just falls over where she stands and dies. And then gets up and usually apologizes. note
- Used in Bokurano when the amiable soccer player Waku is nudged off the Humongous Mecha the rest of the group is standing on. Bonus points: the coldest member of the group compliments the accidental pusher on having — accidental or not — experience in killing someone. Revealed as subverted, as he was quite dead beforehand.
- Vision of Escaflowne: In an early episode, a sadistic prison-camp warden died from falling backwards onto a rock.
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water: The Big Bad forces Nadia, Jean and others to stand up on top of very tall pillars. At some point, said Big Bad activates a remote control and moves the pillar Jean is standing on; he plummets to the ground and dies. The spirits of the Atlanteans that are trapped in Nadia's Blue Water rebel, and use their remaining powers to revive Jean.
- Black Jack: Used (with gruesome explicitness for the first example) for some of the Super Humans.
- Mobile Suit Gundam:
- Tem Ray, Amuro's father, falls down a flight of stairs in his exuberance at seeing the Gundam defeating Zeon forces in a battle near Side 6. Although his fate is left ambiguous in the TV series, the Compilation Movie later confirmed he did indeed die from falling down the stairs.
- Iselina stood on top of a ship, about to (try to) shoot Amuro to avenge Garma, when she randomly faints, falls off the ship, and dies.
- Mobile Suit Victory Gundam: This is how Chronicle Asher dies. More exactly, during the Grand Finale he escapes from his destroyed mobile suit, only to end up splattered on the ground..
- Almost happens in the Fruits Basket manga, when Tohru Honda falls off a cliff during her final confrontation with Akito. Both of them get better later: Tohru survives the fall and recovers nicely, Akito has a Heel-Face Turn.
- In the first Fey Kingdom sketch in Nichijou, Smug Snake Dolph believes his rebellion's success is in his grasp. Then he trips over his own feet and gets declared dead on the spot.
- Subverted in Another. Yukari Sakuragi slips and falls down the school stairs, but what kills her is getting her neck pierced by the metal end of her umbrella, which opened in the worst moment possible. Later it is played realisticly straight with another person.
- Averted in Mawaru-Penguindrum. Asami Kuho gets pushed down some elevator stairs by Kanba's Clingy Jealous Girl Masako, but aside of minor injuries she lives to tell.
- Queen Harumiyah dies this way in Kemono no Souja Erin. Her ship is attacked by Touda in an assassination attempt, but she gets hurt only from falling and hitting her head. It takes a few days until she dies.
- Kuina, childhood friend of Roronoa Zoro in One Piece, was an excellent swordsman. She was good enough that Zoro himself never beat her in a spar. Then one day, she tripped going down the stairs and broke her neck. Zoro, humiliated and heartbroken that she died so suddenly without him ever having the chance to prove himself, made this the justification for his entire life - to become a swordsman so great that even Heaven would know who he is.
- In the manga Kirara, when the 48-year-old ghost of Konpei travels back in time to see Kirara as a highschool student again (and seeing the adult Kirara who died before their wedding), the older Kirara reveals that he died at age 48 after a bad trip.
- Anya's Ghost: Emily died by falling down an unused well and breaking her neck. Disturbingly, it wasn't the actual fall that killed her; the injury left her unable to move or call for help, so she just languished down there till she died of thirst.
- How Zoe from Morning Glories kills a teacher who appeared to be raping her best friend. Gets a bit less sympathetic when the two girls incinerate him in the school furnace.
- Damien Wayne/Robin caused this to happen to Nightwing in the Injustice: Gods Among Us tie-in comic - he threw a stick at him, Dick fell down, his neck hit a rock, boom, dead. Many fans complained about how unrealistic it was that an acrobat didn't know how to fall safely.
- In one issue of The Brave and the Bold, the Metal Men die one by one in this fashion, though in most of the cases it was more like "death by falling into something that's dangerous anyway", like a smelting pool or exposed electrical wiring. Lead got the worst of it — he exploded while trying to reach something on a high shelf. The Atom later discovers that the issue's villain was behind it, having used gadgetry to induce dizziness in and weaken the constitutions of the Metal Men.
- One character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comic Fearbook meets her demise when she trips over a piglet, falls through a second story railing and hits her head on the ground, breaking her neck.
Films — Animation
- In the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo knocks Quasimodo's mother over on the steps of the cathedral, and she goes down so decidedly it almost looks like she's already dead when her head hits the stone.
- In Freddie as FRO7, Freddie's dad dies when he falls over a short hill when his evil sister in snake form spooks his horse.
Films — Live-Action
- Occurs in the Irish film Dead Bodies — twice.
- Death at a Funeral: where the titular death happened like this. Although the victim isn't really dead.
- In the film version of The Canterville Ghost, the titular ghost is doomed to walk the earth for killing his wife. Tormented by guilt and still in love with her, he describes her death as an accident: "We argued. I struck her. She fell - down the stairs." (Of course, in the original story the murder was perfectly intentional and the ghost cheerfully unrepentant).
- Happens in the original Night of the Living Dead, with the leading lady's brother knocked over by a zombie and hitting his head on the corner of a tombstone. He got better, sort of.
- Happens twice in Sex & Death 101. During an argument, Miranda Storm slips on spilled wine and breaks her neck. Also, Gillian De Raisx's husband hits his head and dies after tripping on her dropped pencil.
- Happens in Con Air. It's the 'crime' that puts Nicolas Cage away in the first place.
- Cage's character was a trained soldier, so his move can be considered a Touch of Death.
- It was probably Dr Woodrue's intention to kill Pamela Isley this way in Batman & Robin. Instead she became a mix between a plant and a drag show reject. When will they ever learn?
- Invoked deliberately in The Hunt for Red October: Captain Ramius of the titular submarine disposes of his unwanted political officer by slamming his neck into the corner of a table, then spills some of his tea on the deck.
- Subverted in Misery. During the final fight scene, Annie falls and hits her head on the typewriter, and Paul assumes she's dead. As he's crawling out of the room, however, she attacks him again, and he manages to kill her for real this time by bashing her head in with a small statue.
- In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun pushes away a zombified woman and she impales herself on a post. He momentarily panics about being a murderer before she gets back up.
- The first death of a villain in Die Hard uses this trope, when John McClane gets in a brawl with one of the terrorists, before both of them tumble down a flight of stairs. Of course, John, being John McClane, survives, but the terrorist doesn't. It helps that McClane had been wrapping his arms around the guy's neck for the majority of the fight, including the fall.
- The husband in Death Becomes Her pushes his wife down the stairs. Of course, since she just took an immortality potion, she becomes undead.
- In the turning point of the 1940 film version of Rebecca, Rebecca is revealed to have died this way. While trying to provoke her husband, Maxim de Winter, into killing her, she stumbled and struck her head on some heavy ship's tackle. (In the book by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca succeeds in provoking Maxim into shooting her, but the Hollywood Production Code would have required that he be brought to justice for murder, so her death was re-written to be a freak accident.)
- In Sin Nombre, Lil' Mago follows his Attempted Rape of Martha Marlene with a slap. She bangs her head on a rock and doesn't move again.
- The Russian in the Thomas Jane Punisher film. Stabbing doesn't even slow him down. Crowbar to the head barely fazes him. Grenades are ineffective. A tumble down the stairs? Goodnight, sweetheart.
- Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller has a character fall down and hit his head on a rock. A friend tries to put him back on his feet, then recoils when he feels blood and/or brain matter on the back of the dead man's head. This leaves the man's new mail-order bride suddenly alone in unfamiliar surroundings.
- The title character in The Man with the Iron Fists is forced to flee from America when his pulling a bag out from under a white man's feet causes the man to fall and puncture the back of his skull on the corner of an anvil.
- Giselle of The Haunting Of Whaley House dies this way courtesy of a set of stairs and a Jump Scare ghost.
- In Into the Woods, Jack's Mother dies when the Steward pushes her to the ground and she hits her head on a log. In the stage show, the Steward actually clubs her with his cane.
- Will does this to what looks like a burglar at the start of The Subtle Knife.
- Also happens in one of the Deryni novels, The Quest for Saint Camber. One of the characters says "Death should be more difficult".
- It happens at least twice in the Deryni series. Rhys Thuryn dies this way in Camber the Heretic, and Tiercel de Claron is killed in The Quest for Saint Camber when Conor shoves him down a flight of stairs during an argument.
- Mercedes Lackey's sword-and-sorcery pair Tarma and Kethry manage this by accident while trying to avoid a fight with a surly drunk. As it turns out, the drunk in question is the corrupt local lord. As a bonus, a bard decides to spin the tale as a valiant, chivalrous fight against a tyrant, for the sake of good. Since the pair are trying to make a living as mercenaries, a reputation for ''pro bono'' hero work doesn't exactly help.
- Subverted in The Second Opinion, a medical thriller. Thea, the main character, ends up tackling Gerald down the stairs. He survives, but then Thea's brother Dimitri shows up and shoots him because he had no further use for him.
- In Frank G. Slaughter's A Savage Place, an old woman died because when she fell (shoved by her psychotic son, although he had no intention of killing her), her chin hooked over a chair arm in a way that resulted in her neck snapping.
- Occurs in The Time Thief, when the boy who keeps assaulting Anjali pushes Tom and causes him to crack his skull on the wall. Also ends up triggering The Tar Man's Berserk Button.
- The Bible:
- In Chapter 4 of the First Book of Samuel, when the already very old Hebrew priest Eli learned the Philistines had stolen the Ark of the Covenant and killed his two Jerk Ass sons, he fell over out of shock and broke his neck. (And his newly-widowed, pregnant daughter-in-law went into labor.)
- How Judas died, in one version. The first, in the Gospel of Matthew, depicts him as committing suicide after betraying Jesus. The other, in the Acts of the Apostles, said he used the bribe to buy a farm, but fell down and, to quote, Burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. Yeah, there's a reason everyone goes with the first one.
- Happens twice in Warrior Cats:
- An elder, Graypool, is flustered when a large tomcat snarls in her face, so she takes a step backward, only to lose her footing on the steep riverbank and hit her head on a rock.
- During a battle, a dog accidentally runs into Rainflower; she falls and hits her head on a rock. This one's a little more realistic in that she doesn't die instantly; her son debates whether to first fetch the medicine cat or drive away the dog. He chooses to fight off the dog first, and in that amount of time, she dies, and he feels responsible for her death.
- After all the battles and adventures he's been in, Prince Arutha of Krondor dies by breaking a hip falling off his horse. Off-page, no less.
- "The Killing of Georgie" by Rod Stewart.
- A possible (but very ignominious) end to any player in Blood Bowl who pushes his/her luck when going for it (moving more than your movement stat in a round). Since any fall can break armour and any armour break can lead to some form of permanent injury, some unlucky rolls can lead to moving too fast leading to death.
- Rolemaster and it's cut down cousin Middle-earth Role Playing have a success or failure chart for "moving maneuvers" - any maneuver your character attempts that falls outside normal everyday activity. A complete failure requires a roll on the failure table where it was remotely possible to die instantly if you were attempting an "absurd" maneuver and rolled extremely badly.
- In BattleTech, there's two ways to do this. If a Battlemech falls down, there's a slim chance it will land on its head and the cockpit (and possibly the pilot inside) will be damaged or destroyed. And whether or not that happens, the Mechwarrior has to make an additional Piloting roll to see if they take damage from being jostled about in general (the dreaded "seatbelt check").
- Harry Beaton in the musical Brigadoon dies this way while trying to run away from Brigadoon. (If he had succeeded, he would have doomed the entire town.) It is revealed later that his fatal fall happened when Jeff accidentally tripped him up.
- In The Movie, Jeff gets incredibly drunk, mistakes Harry in a tree for a pheasant, and shoots him.
- Ace Attorney
- Phoenix Wright is accused of pushing a victim toward a broken (live) electricity cable in his third game. Yes, him. This is before he became a lawyer. Mia Fey is his lawyer and saves him from death row, which sparks his decision to become a lawyer.
- In the third case of the first game, the victim actually died by falling off the steps of a studio trailer... onto a spiky fence surrounding a flowerbed, ouch. And ironically, said victim had himself killed someone accidentally that way five years previously.
- The first case of the second game has the victim being pushed from a 9 feet high walkway in a park causing him to snap his neck. This case incidentally, subverts the reason why this trope is usually invoked: The killer in this case had a extremely unsympathetic motive, namely that the victim was murdered simply for being a cop.
- In Shadowgate, if your torch ever went out, you would automatically "trip over something" and die.
- This is how Josh dies in Silent Hill: Homecoming.
- In Nethack, you may trip going down the dungeon stairs when over-encumbered. Do this with 1 HP left...
- Or while carrying a cockatrice corpse...
- You can also hurt yourself (sometimes fatally) by slipping while trying to ride a mount. The Knight character class starts with a saddled pony, so it's possible to get killed in this fashion on the very first turn.
- This walkthough video of Hitman: Blood Money - two targets are killed by being thrown over a three foot stair railing. There is no additional drop - just flipping the guys over the railing.
- This is the cleanest method of execution you can pull off, and is usually justified by there being water or ice behind the railings, so they drown.
- In the white chamber, this was how Sarah's first victim died. That one was an accident; the rest, not so much.
- It's possible to die in Dungeon Crawl by falling down the stairs if you attempt to do so while confused.
- Sometimes in the Grand Theft Auto games, in particular Grand Theft Auto: Vice City you can take damage and even die from falling off/tripping on the curb, more likely so if you have an adrenaline powerup.
- In Resident Evil 4, an axe-wielding villager lunges at Leon, who counters by throwing him against a wall. The villager lands awkwardly and breaks his neck.
- In Blood Bowl, a player that tries to run extra distance stands a chance of falling. If they fall, they have a chance of inuring themselves. If they injure themselves, it can end up being a critical injury. A couple of these critical injuries are fatal. That's right, a particularly unlucky Blood Sport player can end up dead on a perfectly flat playing field with nobody anywhere near them.
- In World of Warcraft, if your health is already low from combat or a fall from a greater height, it's possible to die from a short fall, such as jumping down a flight of stairs.
- According to Atelier Iris 3, this is how Pamela became a ghost: She was trying to get something out of an upper cabinet shelf, fell off the stool she was standing on, and broke her neck.
- Of all the many, many ways to die in King's Quest V, one of them includes falling off a flight of stairs that's barely as tall as you are (Graham even does his "falling to his death" scream, only to get cut off when he hits the ground.)
- The island in which V3's Survival of the Fittest's competition seems to be inhabited by some rather malevolent rocks. Brenden Bedard is killed when he trips and hits his head on a rock, Andy Walker falls into a river, hits his head on a rock, and drowns, and Abel Williams is accidentally tripped by his traveling companion and gets a rock to the face for it. This trope is also played with when Kathy Holden playfully pushes her friend Becky Holt onto the ground... and into a bear trap.
- It happens a fair bit during V4 as well. Edward Belmont hits his head on a rock after being whacked with a stick by Rachel Gettys. Jake Crimson suffers a slow death, having struck his head on a cinder block when pushed over by Garry Villette, and Timothy Skula dies when he hits his head on a rock after being shot by Ilario Fiametta.
- This is how Ĉon Flux dies in one of her episodes.
- How Bart meets his end in the The Simpsons' rendition of Hamlet. After Bart (playing Hamlet) kills Cladius, he starts to walk off to celebrate life, only to slip on a pool of blood and die.
- Also how Maude Flanders dies, getting knocked off some bleachers by a bazooka-fired t-shirt.
- The sad thing is that in Real Life, death doesn't have to be dramatic, and all you need to do is trip and roll a one on your reflex save.
- Babies actually are built to be more resistant to head injuries (compared to adults) because the human race would not be around if this trope was in full play at that age.
- It ought to be noted, too, that in fact the trope description is only particularly accurate where first-rate modern medical aid is obtained promptly—and there's still a chance that you could fall down the stairs in a modern hospital, landing right outside the neurology department, and still end up in the morgue from the injuries. See Hard Head and Tap on the Head for details, but basically? Every so often, the only way the injury gets detected at all is when the medical examiner sectionsnote the brain during the post-mortem.
- While still being a school teacher, philosopher Martin Heidegger accidentally killed a pupil by a single slap on the cheek. It's unclear what actually caused it, but under certain conditions even minimal force can be lethal.
- Dr. Robert Atkins, of diet fame, died slipping on ice and smacking his head.
- Actress Natasha Richardson fell while skiing and hit her head, and though she was up and lucid shortly thereafter, the injury eventually killed her.
- Actor William Holden died after slipping on a throw rug in his home while drunk and gashing his forehead on a bedside table; he remained conscious for half an hour, and had he realised the severity of his injury, he might have been able to summon medical help in time.
- Kurt Vonnegut died of brain injuries several weeks after falling and hitting his head.
- South West Trains in the UK recently started a safety poster campaign: "What went through the mind of the person who slipped on the platform? The floor."
- This is pretty much exactly what happened to Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar.
- Actor Gary Coleman died this way after falling down a set of stairs, hitting his head, and going into seizures afterwards.
- This is how Harry Carry, the radio announcer died, after hitting his head on a table.
- This may have happened to King Tut.
- A certain Darwin Award winner died from slipping on his own feces in jail.
- Averted with insects. Their carapaces are sturdy enough, and their size small enough, that neither the fall nor the sudden stop at the end will kill them. Their light weight means that the impact force from hitting at terminal velocity is less than the fracture rating of their exoskeleton. Conversely, extremely large animals such as elephants can easily be crippled and/or killed by a short fall due to the impact force of their large mass.
- Most small creatures that have a sufficiently high ratio of cross-sectional area to mass will be mostly unaffected by long falls. Rats and mice might be dazed; pretty much anything smaller has to be trying to die to be injured by a fall. Larger animals can take advantage of this law of nature too, from gliding lizards widening their body to avoid splatting on the forest floor, to humans using parachutes.
- The cause of death for Manga author Kaoru Tada, of Aishite Night and Itazura Na Kiss fame. She and her family were moving into a new home when Mrs. Tada slipped, hit her head on a granite table, and her severe brain injuries left her in a coma. She died three weeks later.
- Ian Tomlinson died this way during the G20 protests in London (which he took no part in) after being pushed to the ground (for no reason whatsoever) by PC Simon Harwood. Most people would have survived, but Tomlinson had severe liver problems thanks to a lifetime of heavy drinking, and the fall ruptured his liver and killed him. Harwood was found not guilty in court but dismissed from the police for gross misconduct.
- Voice actor Tsuyoshi Takishita, usually known as his role of Sima Yi in Dynasty Warriors series died this way in March 10th 2013, slipping and falling while on the way home and succumbing to his injuries.
- Also happens to another voice actor, Kaneto Shiozawa, after he fell down from the stairs of his house. He initially showed no sign of serious injuries, but he later fell unconscious and died the next day of a cerebral contusion.
- Although a bit bigger than a normal fall, Caleb Moore had a "slow bleed" variety with his snowmobile crash at the X Games, so that he walked away from the crash that killed him.
- Marshal Alexandre Berthier, Napoleon's chief of staff, fell from a third-story window in the Bavarian town of Bamberg. Historians are still divided as to whether it was an accident or suicide (a more outlandish possibility is that he was murdered by members of a secret society).
- Happened to the Chilean reporter, writer and radio personality Santiago "Tito" Mundt in 1971. He had gone out for lunch with some co-workers and they went to have a smoke on a building's terrace, Mundt suddenly slipped and tipped over the safety barrier, then his falling body hit a windowshill, and ended up crashing on a taxi that had stopped on the streets to pick up a passenger...
- A very real danger for people with Narcolepsy, a neurological disorder where the brain fails to regulate the sleep/wake cycle properly.