—Tony Soprano, The Sopranos, recalling the death of a capo five years earlier
Death sucks. That's why most people are afraid of it. Some people die of old age, or gradually succumb to one of a number of illnesses. When death comes, the lucky among us will go out peacefully with dignity. Some of us might go out fighting the good fight, saving the lives of some unfortunate person whom our consciences cannot ignore and force us to help. They'll all die "good deaths" (and in some cases, heroic deaths).
This trope is not about those people.
This trope is about the people who die in ways that are, to put it completely bluntly, ridiculous and embarassing. The manner of their demise are the things you read about on websites dedicated to the Darwin Awards. The kind of death that ends up the punchline of a joke told by a standup comedian who specializes in Black Comedy.
This is a somewhat Subjective Trope in that, while we might find the way a person joined the Choir Invisible to be humorous and worth a laugh, to the person's family it is a tragedy. The bereaved naturally think you cruel and inhuman for laughing at such a tragedy. And it is a tragedy... someone has died, after all. But that doesn't stop it from being funny, when you think about it.
Sometimes overlaps with Cruel and Unusual Death when the death is not just embarassing, it's also horrific. (In fact, the whole point of many Cruel and Unusual Deaths is to completely humiliate the victim and tarnish his/her name forever.) Often overlaps with Death by Falling Over. See also Dropped a Bridge on Him. Contrast Dying Moment of Awesome, which may well be the exact opposite of this trope, as well as Great Way to Go, which is never combined with this trope. A Good Way to Die is pretty much the polar opposite of this trope.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked and unconcealed ahead. Beware.
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When defeated most villains pull the most undignified and ridiculous faces while being vaporized by energy attacks.
Preacher: Marseille, having learned that the organization he's been serving most of his life is a sham, and the heavily inbred descendant of Jesus dies when the Allfather, a man so enormously fat he caused a plane to fail a landing because he wasn't sitting in the middle is pushed from a helicopter, landing on them.
The racist asshole sheriff was forced by Jesse's voice-of-God command to "go fuck himself", and committed suicide after he severed his penis and, well, fucked himself.
Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross. His resurrection and ascension into Heaven is a well-fabricated lie to cover up his escape. He lived until he was 48 years old and was ran over by a offal cart and then, in fact, died.
Tulip's father Jake was shot in the back of the head while taking a shit in the wood. A fellow hunter confused him with a deer.
The Punisher: The Russian is (eventually) defeated when Frank manages to trip his morbidly obese neighbor onto him and weighing him down for twenty minutes. His second, final death is better, dropped out of a plane while chained to a nuclear bomb, laughing all the while.
In the side-story to The Authority Kev, an important British government official (actually an alien in disguise) demands to be given a prostitute. Kev's team take him to one of their houses, where the girl freaks out and runs away to reveal the guy wearing garters, tights and an orange shoved up his ass. The team shove him into the basement as they've been followed by paparazzi. Unfortunately, it also turns out the house's owner had rescued and kept an adult male tiger in the basement...
The Boys: Butcher reveals the less flattering details of superheroes deaths, including one who drowned in jizz. Another had a live hamster in his rectum.
George W. Bush decapitated himself in a bizarre incident involving a chainsaw at his ranch in Texas.
Incumbent President Robert "Dakota Bob" Shaefer was killed by a rabid wolverine released by Vic the Veep (he thought it was a pet rabbit). A Vough executive was chewed out for joking the animal was "the best at what he does".
Fanatical Nazi superhero and Captain Marvel/Thor knockoff Stormfront was stomped to death, in true Skinhead fashion, by people representing the allied forces during WWII.
Jennifer Blood: An Amoral Attorney is killed dressed in, again, tights and an orange up his ass, and seemingly while engaged in autoerotic asphyxiation.
Some characters in Watchmen die with in some inconvenient ways. Dollar Bill was killed by a regular thug when his cape got stuck in a revolving door. The Silhouette was found dead with her lesbian lover hacked up in their bed.
Jabba in Return of the Jedi is choked to death by a slave (Leia of course) using the very chain he restrained her with.
In Amélie, the title character's mother dies when a tourist committing suicide via freefall lands on her.
In Hot Rod, Rod had always thought his father died testing a jump for Evel Knievel. In reality, he choked on pie.
In the 1966 all-star comic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Wrong Box, ten of the twenty competitors for the tontine fall victim to this in a series of vignettes at the beginning of the film. In order:
Army sergeant Brian Allen Harvey orders his men to fire a cannon, oblivious to the fact that he is standing directly in the line of fire;
Amateur falconer Sydney Whitcombe Sykes is attacked by his own bird when he gives the order to kill;
Intrepid explorer Ian Scott Fife plants a Union Flag on a mountaintop which promptly gives way under him;
Dignitary Leicester Young-Fielding is hit squarely in the face by the ceremonial bottle of champagne at the christening of a ship;
Army officer Alan Frazer Scrope is sounding the charge on a trumpet when an African native arrow flies down the bell of the instrument;
Industrialist James Whyte Wragg, investigating claims that his coal mine is unsound, is crushed by falling debris after he taps a support post with his cane;
Big game hunter Oliver Pike Harmsworth tells his guide that he will not shoot a rhinoceros until it is actually charging, unaware that it is almost on top of him;
Vyvyan Alistair Montague, upon dropping a handkerchief to signal the start of a pistol duel, is turned on and shot by the two duellers;
Elderly, wheelchair-bound industrialist Derek Lloyd Peter Digby is pushed down a hill by his son, who wishes to inherit his fortune early;
Newly-knighted Sir Robert Park Collingwood is accidentally decapitated during the conferral of his knighthood by Queen Victoria.
"Ditto" Stiles, one of the High School teachers in the Nick Nolte/Ralph Macchio black comedy Teachers, suffers a fatal heart attack attack at his desk, in the middle of class. What makes his death qualify for this trope is that the class period ends, and three more class periods come and go, before anyone (be it a student or a fellow teacher) notices that he's dead.
Pincus of Ghost Town acquired his ability to see ghosts after a near-death experience during a colonoscopy.
Donald Gennaro from Jurassic Park getting eaten by a T-Rex while on the toilet.
All of the jihadis in Four Lions end up blowing themselves up in stupid ways.
The plot of World's Greatest Dad kicks off when the protagonist finds his Jerkass teenage son dead from auto-erotic asphyxiation and makes it look like a romantic suicide to avoid embarrassment.
Randal: That's nothing compared to how my cousin Walter died.
Dante: How did he die?
Randal: He broke his neck.
Dante: That's embarrassing?
Randal: He broke his neck trying to suck his own dick!
In Captain Ron, Martin and Katherine are having sex in the shower when: the door gets stuck, the drain gets clogged, and the shower handle breaks. The shower starts rapidly filling with water. They get rescued before they drown, but Katherine comments that would have been a very sucky way of dying.
The Ruling Class begins with Ralph Douglas Christopher Alexander Gurney, the thirteenth Earl of Gurney, accidentally hanging himself attempting auto-erotic asphyxiation. While wearing a tutu.
In The Tomorrow Series, Chris goes missing for most of a book. At the end of said book, the group find his totalled car and decomposing body, and it becomes apparent that he got drunk and rolled the car. Most of the other main characters die from Heroic Sacrifices.
Many of the villains in Carl Hiaasen's novels. The stand-out is one who drowned by being held underwater by a sexually-deviant dolphin that wanted to have its way with him.
Adrian Mole once met a somewhat mentally disturbed woman whose father died because a dog fell on his head in Torremolinos. Of course, everyone she tells this story will laugh about it, Adrian included.
In one Warhammer novel, an empire soldier is killed by the way of being impaled on the spikes of an ork warboss helmet. As in, the ork warboss discarded the helmet and it just happened to land on the soldier.
The Graham Greene humorous story "A Shocking Accident" involves a young man whose father died in an embarrassing manner- a pig fell out of a window and hit him on the head. The story describes the man's futile efforts to describe the circumstances of his father's death in a way that won't cause the listener to crack up with laughter. At the end of the story, he realizes that his girlfriend is the right partner for him when she listens to his description and responds seriously and with empathy. In a case of Strange Minds Think Alike, she inquires about what happened to the pig, which is the first thing the guy wondered when he was first told about his father's death.
In Anansi Boys, Mr. Nancy's was singing karaoke at an island bar at the time of his death, and as he dies, his last act is to pull off the bikini top of a comely audience member. It's clear that Nancy thinks of this as a great joke, but when his son, the protagonist learns about it, he sees it as yet another example of his father being embarrassing.
This occurs frequently in Tim Dorsey's Serge Storms books.
In David Eddings' The Shining Ones, a hit is put out on one Avin Wargunsson: diminutive and little-loved heir to the Thalesian throne who was abusing his power and was a general embarrassment to his country. The people assigned to the job decide on a whimsical method. They bring in a barrel of expensive red wine, claiming it is for him, open the barrel, then proceed to stick him inside and nail the lid shut. Given the general dislike of the guy, he isn't found until several days later. He was described as still being significantly purple during the funeral, and despite their best efforts, the entire congregation ended up breaking down in laughter. Anyone else who heard the story eventually ended up doing the same; it was that funny to them.
There was some regret by at least the two killers. They wasted a perfectly good barrel of wine!
In A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion kills his father while the latter is on the privy. He even shits himself when he dies. Making it worse, Tyrion killed him by shooting him in the bowels with an arrow. The dead prostitute in his bed didn't help.
Viserys dies after getting molten gold dumped on his head by Khal Drogo, after whimpering and begging for his life.
In the book Straight to Hell by Michelle Scott, Lilith Straight is killed while crossing the street because she was so busy texting a dirty picture to her stepsister that she walked in front of an oncoming car.
In the classic The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust", while dressed as "Peter the Peanut", Chuckles the Clown is killed by a rogue elephant who tried to "shell" him.
"You know how hard it is to stop after just one peanut!"
In Monarch of the Glen, an eccentric elderly character is pike-fishing with dynamite, when his dog (which he was training to fetch unsuccessfully all episode) decides he wants the explosives back. His last words are "Oh."
In the very first episode of Dead Like Me, George dies after getting hit by a toilet seat that broke off of Space Station MIR as it reentered Earth's atmosphere.
Dead Like Me had more than just George's death. The Gravelings caused Rube Goldberg-esque chain reactions that caused bizarre, comical, and very undignified deaths for many of the show's victims.
NewsRadio: A coworker no-one can remember, "Ted", is asphyxiated after hours when his tie gets caught in the copy machine.
In The X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", there's a psychic who can see how people are going to die. When Mulder asks how he's going to die, the psychic won't give a straight answer, but comments, "You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation."
Miss Blankenship dropping dead at the desk during Season 4 of Mad Men.
Lane Pryce tries to kill himself by pumping car exhaust into his brand new Jaguar but the car will not start. He ends up hanging himself on his office door and is not discovered for 12 hours. The other partners have to force his body aside to open the door so they can cut him down. It's definitely not how the dignified British gentleman would want to be remembered.
1000 Ways to Die frequently showcases this trope, as the show is all about deaths that are unusual, gruesome, or both. Examples include men being killed in toilet-related accidents, and other people being killed by or during sexual acts.
Dean: (on getting hit by a car): Did it look cool, like in the movies?
Sam: You peed yourself.
Dean: Of course I peed myself! Man gets hit by a car, you think he has full control over his bladder? Come on!
Gigi Cestone from The Sopranos suffers a heart attack while constipated on a strip club toilet and surrounded by porn magazines.
The series finale puts it best:
Tony: (to Agent Harris): Gigi died takin' a shit!
In Cheers, Carla's former Boston Bruin goalkeeper husband Eddie LeBec died after being run over by a Zamboni while trying to push a fellow cast member of the ice show he was reduced to working at out of the way. This death along with the subsequent revelation that he was a bigamist was deliberate on the part of the writers after Jay Thomas insulted Rhea Perlman's attractiveness on his radio show.
In Frasier, Roz tells Frasier the following story:
"Lupe Vélez, the movie star in the '30s. Well, her career hit the skids, so she decided she'd make one final stab at immortality. She figured if she couldn't be remembered for her movies, she'd be remembered for the way she died. And all Lupe wanted was to be remembered. So, she plans this lavish suicide - flowers, candles, silk sheets, white satin gown, full hair and makeup, the works. She takes the overdose of pills, lays on the bed, and imagines how beautiful she's going to look on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. Unfortunately, the pills don't sit well with the enchilada combo plate she sadly chose as her last meal. She stumbles to the bathroom, trips and goes head-first into the toilet, and that's how they found her."note This is actually an urban myth recounted by Kenneth Anger in the book Hollywood Babylon; police photos of Vélez released for the first time in May 2013 showed that she was found dead on the floor, not in her bed as she had hoped (and as her secretary claimed she had found her) but not headfirst in the toilet either.
True to the name, the "Stupid Deaths" skits on Horrible Histories showcase historical deaths that were extremely embarrassing.
Would have happened to the Doctor in the new-series episode The Empty Child, had his ploy not worked.
Doctor: Go to your room! I mean it. I am very, very angry with you. I'm very, very cross. Go... To... Your... Room!
(monsters turn around and go)
Doctor: I'm really glad that worked. Those would have been terrible last words.
The Vorta Keevan in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is introduced in a dramatic episode where he casually sacrifices his Jem'hadar troops to ensure his own survival. Then he dies in "The Magnificent Ferengi", in a chain of events that involves being hauled along to be traded for Quark's mother, accidentally shot during an argument over money, reanimated by remote control so they can trade him anyway, and finally left to continue bumping into a bulkhead on a deserted space station until either the electrical stimulation of his brain gives out, or his legs do. It's hard to feel sorry for him at any point in these proceedings.
There are a couple of these in Ghost Trick, but the prize has to go to Lynne being crushed to death by a giant roast chicken. And that's not even going in to the ways you can make some deaths into this, such as reclining a driver's seat, leaving him flailing helplessly on his back while his truck plows into a building and Cabanela dying from a hard hat launched at his face at bullet speed.It Makes Sense in Context.
Oh, we should remember Reach in this regard. Some Spartans sacrifice their lives to blow up enemy motherships. Some kill their slayers while impaled on their energy sword. And some... get shot in the head running from cover to cover. Ooops!
If you're rude to Conrad Verner in Mass Effect 2 he eventually storms off. A later news report states that while attempting to catch some youths riding the top of a bus, he fell off, struck several cars, and fell into the turbine of a bio-mass recycling center. That may or may not be a euphemism for a sewage treatment plant.
Devin Weston can have one of these, if the player chooses him to. A Corrupt Corporate Executive who uses his money and connections to bribe and intimidate the protagonists into doing a series of car theft jobs for him, then stiffs them on their final payoff just because he's important enough to do so. Later, when Michael thwarts another of his crooked business ventures, Weston sics his private army on them, then tries to turn the protagonists against each other. If ending C is taken, his private army is lured into an ambush and annihilated, and he's kidnapped from his mansion and stuffed into the trunk of his own luxury car, bound and gagged in his underwear, as the protagonists stand over him, taunting him over his failures to manipulate them and lecturing him about what an asshole he is and why America doesn't need men like him, before shoving him off a cliff. Shortly after, said car explodes ((Which is a Call Back to the 3D Era games, where cars that ended up upside down exploded.))
In "[S] Wake", in Homestuck, Dream Feferi barely has time to notice Jack before he unceremoniously slices her in two and leaves her for dead. The look on her face "kind of" diminishes the impact.
Dream Nepeta was stabbed three times, then kicked over with a "DOOF" sound effect.
In the same Flash (and the pages afterward), we also have Tavros, who challenged God Tier Vriska to a fight and lost immediately, despite being given a free shot—then was impaled on his own lance and pitched into an abyss to land hard enough to burst his new robo-legs with a look of dumb shock on his face.
Equius himself died with the most idiotic look on his face after being strangled.
Jade may well have topped all of the above: she was killed by bombs delivered via several tonnes of highly flammable shaving cream. SHAVING CREAM.
A piece called Australia: The Confusing Country (widely suspected to have been written by Douglas Adams) advises against putting your arm down a wombat's burrow as the wombat will think its burrow is collapsing and push up; crushing the arm between the wombat and the burrow roof and causing you to bleed to death. It then adds, "This is considered the third most embarrassing known way to die, and Australians don't talk about it much."
"Undignified Deaths" is a category in Chuck Shepherd's News Of The Weird column.
Survival of the Fittest has had a few of these over its run. The most notable example would be that of Carson Baye's in v3, where he stops to take a dump... only to learn that the area he's in has become a dangerzone. Cue Oh Crap.
SCP-426 causes people to believe they are and attempt to emulate the functions of a toaster, resulting in deaths by electrocution, malnutrition, blood loss the cause of which is censored, or ruptured organs from consuming ten kilos of bread at once.
When 682 was exposed to the toaster, it became a lethal example of Projectile Toast. Death by toast — delicious toast at that — is a pretty silly way to die.
Metalocalypse is another prime example: fans, employees, and other people who come into contact with Dethklok are constantly killed (or maimed) in some of the most ridiculous, unrealistic ways imaginable. This happens usually by accident.