Follow TV Tropes


Fictionalized Death Account

Go To
In real life, Hitler was not killed by Frankenstein's Monster. note 

"Goldstone has succumbed to a temptation felt by other authors: the temptation to construct his counterfactual scenario by finding someone to kill (or, one might add, not to kill)."
Carla Gardina Pestana (a historian discussing another historian's work)

In a work of fiction based on a true story, sometimes a Historical Domain Character is killed off in a way which departs drastically from his or her passing in real life. This may be justified if the work is a Secret History or Alternate History; otherwise, it's a rather flamboyant example of Artistic License – History. Top marks if the fictional death differs notably in terms of both cause and date.

Note that this trope doesn't cover instances where the death is altered, but is still ultimately recognisable as a fictionalization of the real death. For example, the Hammer film Rasputin the Mad Monk makes some notable changes to Rasputin's historical murder, most obviously replacing his actual assassins with fictional stand-ins and having Rasputin successfully kill some of them before going down, but the sequence is still broadly similar to the accepted account.

The inversion of this would be when a historical figure's death doesn't take place when it did in real life - either because the story depicts their historical death as being faked or otherwise misreported, or when it simply avoids the matter altogether.

Essentially this is the Based on a True Story version of Death by Adaptation or Dies Differently in Adaptation (or Spared By Adaptation, for the inversion).

Compare Real Event, Fictional Cause. See also Celebrity Casualty, where a fictional version of someone who's still alive at the time of production gets killed off.

As a Death Trope, expect unmarked spoilers ahead.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Adolf: While it seems like Hitler will commit suicide the way he did in reality, he gets assassinated by Acetylene Lampe in the middle of his attempt. That being said, the way it happened leads everyone else to reasonably but incorrectly assume the Führer took his own life, putting it in the Secret History variation of this trope.
  • In Shut Hell, Genghis Khan ultimately dies by a ballista bolt.
  • In Vinland Saga, a number of both Danish and English royal figures from the early 11th century whose deaths are not solidly documented get what are probably fake, or at least more dramatic deaths than what happened in real life.
    • King Sweyn Forkbeard, whose cause of death is not known for certain but is generally recorded as having died from falling off a horse, is instead killed by a supporter of his son Canute after the king and the prince became political enemies. While some do speculate about foul play in Sweyn's death, most don't claim that Sweyn was killed by a descendant of a possible inspiration for King Arthur in the midst of a victory celebration.
    • King Aethelred II, who died of disease in real life and had poor health documented for years before his death, is instead poisoned, and disease is just an excuse.
    • Similarly, Aethelred's son Edmund "Ironside" is also strongly implied to have been poisoned. Some of the lurid historical accounts from around that era claim he was violently assassinated while on the toilet, while more reliable ones make no mention of murder, leading most modern historians to conclude that Edmund most likely died as a result of lingering wounds suffered in the wars against Cnut.

    Comic Books 
  • In the graphic novel series Chronin, a Japanese-American history student named Mirai from the 2040s participates in a program to travel through time and experience a small piece of history. Unfortunately she becomes Trapped in the Past and her time machine is lost, which means being stuck trying to pass herself off as a Rōnin in Bakumatsu Period Japan, just a few years before the revolution that will depose the Tokugawa Shogunate, restore the Emperor, and begin the process of modernizing Japan succeeds. Mirai knows that one of her fellow students went rogue and became involved in aiding the revolutionaries in an attempt to speed up their rise to power. Imagine her shock when near the end of the first volume she witnesses about a half dozen of the most important and influential leaders of the revolution killed by the shogunate, despite the fact that some of them should not have died for decades and were supposed to have large roles in reshaping Japan after the revolution. With horror she realizes that someone on the side of the Tokugawa has acquired her lost time machine and is determined to make sure that the revolution doesn't succeed.
    Hatsu: Pardon me for interrupting, but I ask you again: who were those men?
    Mirai: The men whose heads you saw were all big-time shishi patriots. There are important things they're all supposed to do, like... Takasugi is supposed to be Choshu's expert on western military science. Inoue and Kido are supposed to convince Satsuma and Choshu, who like, do not get along right now, to team up and overthrow the shogunate. And like we said, Ito and Inoue are supposed to be on an expedition in England, and that expedition is supposed to play a big part in convincing them to model the new Japanese government on how people do things in Europe. I mean, I can't overemphasize how important these guys were. Ito was the Prime Minister of Japan four times...
    Gilbert: He was for us. He won't be for Hatsu.
  • The page image comes from Flashpoint, which explicitly takes place in an Alternate History.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Hitler was incinerated by the original Human Torch, with his dying words being to tell his aide to tell everyone he had committed suicide.
  • The real Elizabeth I died of natural causes, but in Marvel 1602, she ends up being poisoned by Otto von Doom.
  • In The Unknown Soldier #268, the Soldier infiltrates Adolf Hitler's bunker, killing him and assuming the dictator's identity to call off the deployment of a secret weapon. He then makes Hitler's death look like a suicide so people will assume Hitler took the coward's way out.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Piers Gaveston in real life was condemned as an outlaw and executed by beheading on the order of some unruly nobles during the reign of Edward II. In Braveheart, his thinly-veiled stand-in "Philip" dies from being pushed out of a castle window by Edward I.
  • The Death of Stalin: Dr. Lydia Timashuk's fate is unexplained in the finished film, but a Deleted Scene shows her getting blown up by a land mine while trying to flee Stalin's dacha. The real Timashuk died of natural causes thirty years after the film takes place.
  • Dracula Untold: Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror is killed by Vlad the Impaler at the movie's climax. The real Mehmed died of either illness or poisoning while out on campaign against the Mamluks of Egypt, a few years after Vlad's death.
  • The Hammer film Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde shows William Burke lynched by a mob in London in the same year as the Jack the Ripper murders. In reality, he was formally executed in Edinburgh fifty-nine years before the Ripper killings.
  • During the course of The Fall, Roy, a crippled stuntman from the early days of Hollywood, spends his days telling a fantastical tale to Alexandria, a very curious five year old girl who is also in the hospital with him. In this story within a story, a group of adventurers band together to seek revenge on a Spanish colonial governor (named Governor Odious), who has wronged them all. Randomly, the group includes a young Charles Darwin, and while there is no given era for the story, the simple fact that Darwin is such a young man probably encourages the viewer to think that of all the characters he at least is safe, since Darwin famously lives into old age. Instead, when an increasingly depressed and bitter Roy abruptly starts turning the story into a Downer Ending where everyone in the main cast dies, Darwin is the first of the adventurers to perish, as he is shot by the bestial soldiers of Odious. This a major warning that nobody is safe.
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire has Marcus Aurelius poisoned as part of a scheme by Commodus to gain the Imperial throne, while Commodus himself dies in combat against the fictional Livius.
  • Gladiator does this twice, first to Marcus Aurelius (shown killed by Commodus; actually died of plague) and then to Commodus (shown killed in combat by the fictional Maximus; actually murdered in his bath by a wrestling coach named Narcissus).
  • In Hellboy (2004), Adolf Hitler is mentioned to have faked his death in 1945 and still led his own occult movement until his actual death (which only the BPRD knows) in 1958.
  • Inglourious Basterds. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels are assassinated in June 1944, almost a full year before their actual deaths by suicide. Martin Bormann and Herrmann Goering also die in the chaos instead of committing suicide while trying to escape the fall of Berlin in 1945 or to deny the executioners at Nuremberg in 1946, respectively.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Manson Family member Susan Atkins dies from being mauled by a dog, thrown through a window, and set on fire. The real Atkins died of brain cancer in prison many years later.
  • In Shadow of the Vampire a few people involved with the filming of Nosferatu are killed, while in real life they had careers that lasted a few more decades.
  • The Jidaigeki film Shoguns Samurai begins with Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, dying 8 years before his historical death of a sudden illness (actually he is poisoned by retainers loyal to his oldest son, who they feared would be passed over to be the next shogun), creating a brief but bitter Succession Crisis between the oldest son Iemitsu and Tadanaga, a younger and more talented brother who had been favored by his parents. The film ends with Yagyu Jubei revealing that after he learned of the immoral schemes conducted by Iemitsu and Jubei's father Muennori (who is Iemitsu's most powerful backer and responsible for Iemitsu's success), which included murdering friends of Jubei to cover up those schemes, he's taken revenge by assassinating Iemitsu just before he could take up the title of shogun and thus ended the Tokugawa line. The film closes with narration saying that this is, of course, impossible, as historically Iemitsu was shogun for almost twenty years and the Tokugawa shogunate continued for over two hundred... unless that history is a lie...
  • Titanic (1997): William McMaster Murdoch is shown shooting himself in the head. Some eyewitness accounts claim gunshots could be heard during the sinking, but there's no evidence that anyone on the ship used a gun to kill themselves, and Charles Lightoller insisted he saw Murdoch die from being swept overboard while trying to free Collapsible A.
  • The Untouchables (1987): Al Capone's henchman Frank Nitti dies from being thrown off a courthouse roof during his boss's tax evasion trial. The real Nitti committed suicide over a decade later.
  • The infamous witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins probably died of consumption, although one account has him ironically tried and executed for witchcraft by an unnamed individual. The film Witchfinder General ends with him being axed by a fictional Roundhead, before another Roundhead puts him out of his misery by shooting him. (The missing link? The film is based on a novel by Roland Bassett, in which Hopkins is ironically tried and executed for witchcraft by... the fictional Roundhead.)
  • In Wonder Woman, General Erich Ludendorff is killed by the title character in 1918. The real Ludendorff died of cancer in 1937.

  • 20 Years After: While the death of King Charles I goes as recorded (he was beheaded after someone volunteered to do so, as the original executioner couldn't be found), the events leading up to it are fictional, with the musketeers almost managing to break the king out (by digging a tunnel and kidnapping the executioner) if it wasn't for Mordaunt disguising himself and doing the deed to avenge himself.
  • The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: There are a few cases; since this is an Onion book, they're naturally played for laughs.
    • John C. Breckenridge is said to have been murdered by James Buchanan with a golden scimitar.
  • The Dennis Wheatley novel The Second Seal has Dragutin Dimitrijević strangled to death by the dashing but entirely fictional Duc de Richleau in 1914. He was actually shot for treason in 1917.
  • The Spear by James Herbert portrays Himmler as having faked his death, and eventually dying some time after the war. Not that it makes much difference.
  • Young Sherlock Holmes: In Red Leech, John Wilkes Booth survives the burning barn. The man shot and killed is a co-conspirator of Booth's whose badly burned body was mistaken. Booth manages to escape, although badly burned. At the end of the novel, he is confined to an insane asylum where he will live out the rest of his life and die in anonymity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder loved the "secret history" version of this trope.
    • The Black Adder creatively kills off King Richard III in the first episode, implying that he was accidentally killed by his idiot nephew after winning the Battle of Bosworth Field instead of dying while losing the battle.
    • Queen Elizabeth I has her throat slit in the final episode of Blackadder II, with Master of Disguise Prince Ludwig the Indestructible spending the rest of her reign pretending to be her.
    • The final episode of Blackadder the Third sees the Duke of Wellington assassinate the Prince Regent (believing him to be Blackadder) in a fit of rage; Blackadder, who is pretending to be the Prince, decides to maintain the charade.
    • Blackadder Goes Forth had the Red Baron (THE Red Baron) shot with a pistol in a basement jail cell by his British counterpart, Lord Flashheart, during a monologue.
  • Deadliest Warrior: The show's premise means that any episode that features historical figures going head-to-head will result in one of them dying. Some examples:
  • The Great is by its own admission "an occasionally true story" about the life of Catherine the Great, so this is employed liberally. Two of the most notable examples are Catherine killing the Ottoman Sultannote  and Peter III falling through ice when in reality he was imprisoned snd died under mysterious circumstances after Catherine overthrew him.
  • I, Claudius: Augustus dies from being poisoned by his wife Livia. Historians generally agree that the real Augustus died of natural causes.
  • Pennyworth: In reality, Jimmy Savile succumbed to pneumonia in 2011. In this series, though, the British government has him publicly executed during the 1960s.
  • Psychoville inverts this trope by revealing that Tony Hancock actually faked his suicide in 1968 and became Oscar Lomax, one of the series' regular characters. It then plays the trope straight when Lomax/Hancock is murdered.

  • Billy Joel's song "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" claims Billy was captured alive and hanged. In reality, Billy was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
  • Elton John's "Indian Sunset" says Geronimo was killed while trying to surrender. Actually, Geronimo survived this and died of pneumonia years later.

  • Because William Shakespeare frequently either didn't have the true facts at hand or used Artistic License to make a better story, his plays based on real-life people often have these.
    • Macbeth: The historical Duncan I of Scotland was killed in battle, but in the play, he's murdered in his sleep by Macbeth. The real Macbeth himself was apparently killed by Malcolm, but Shakespeare's Macbeth is killed by Macduff. Meanwhile, Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth commits suicide offstage after a guilt-induced mental breakdown, while the time and circumstances of the real woman's death are unknown.
    • Antony and Cleopatra: Enobarbas simply dies of despair over his disloyalty to Antony, which some productions change to a suicide. The historical Ahenobarbus died of an illness, which was only rumored to have been caused by his remorse. Cleopatra's handmaiden Iras also drops dead with no explanation, presumably also Death by Despair, just before the queen and her other servant Charmian use venomous snakes to poison themselves: according to Plutarch, the real Iras poisoned herself along with Cleopatra and Charmian, and like Charmian she was still alive, though dying, when the dead Cleopatra was found.
    • Richard II: The title character is murdered by Sir Piers Exton. The historical king is believed to have starved to death in prison, though whether he was deliberately starved by Henry IV or committed suicide by refusing food is debated.
  • In Schiller's play The Maid of Orleans and Verdi's opera Giovanna d'Arco, Joan of Arc is killed on the battlefield rather than burned at the stake.
  • In Assassins, John Wilkes Booth commits suicide when the barn he's hiding in is surrounded and set on fire. Some productions restore the historical version by having him shot by a Federal soldier.
  • At the end of Salome, both Oscar Wilde's play and the opera based on it, Salome is executed by order of her stepfather Herod Antipas, whose soldiers crush her beneath their shields. Little is known about the historical Salome, daughter of Herodias, but she presumably wasn't executed and definitely didn't die as a young maiden in her mother's household; she was married twice, first to an uncle and then to a cousin, and had three sons with her second husband.

    Video Games 
  • Zig-zagged in the Assassin's Creed series. While most of the villains are genuine historical figures who indeed died around the time the story is set, the parts about them being killed by a white-robed Assassin are, of course, purely fictional. Rodrigo Borgia is poisoned by his son Cesare turning his own murder attempt against him, which was a rumor that many people believed through history, though in truth, he died of malaria, and neither of them really poisoned anyone. His death in the game is instant rather than slow, lingering, and gruesome as it was in real life). Cesare himself is recorded in history to have died in the siege of a particular city, while in the game he is thrown off of its walls.
  • Oda Nobunaga has been subjected to the villain treatment numerous times throughout Japanese Media, including the various ways he dies. The video games Sengoku Basara and Onimusha perhaps being the most notable.
  • Ryse: Son of Rome features three of these. The above-mentioned Commodus (here depicted as a son of Emperor Nero), fights Player Character Marius (disguised as the Revenant Zombie centurion Damocles) in the Colosseum, only to be beheaded right in front of his father. Boudica, instead of taking poisons after being captured by the Romans, invades the capital with War Elephants, and after losing a one-on-one battle with Marius, has her head taken off. And Nero, the Big Bad of the game... doesn't lose his head, but he doesn't kill himself as per real life. As a Prophecy Twist on the statement that Nero can only die by his own sword, Marius tackles Nero off a ledge so that he falls and lands on the marble sword forged for a gigantic sculpture of Nero himself, so that he ends up Impaled with Extreme Prejudice. Funnily enough, Marius did give Nero a sword earlier, so that he could Face Death with Dignity... but the Dirty Coward instead ran off to alert his guards, and stabbed Marius In the Back with that sword instead.
  • In Wolfenstein 3-D, Hitler is actually assassinated by OSA agent BJ Blazkowicz, despite wearing Power Armor and wielding More Dakka.

    Visual Novels 
  • Hakuouki liberally employs the inversion, with the water of life as a handy plot device to explain how the various members of The Shinsengumi survive the events of their historical deaths by being transformed into furies.

    Web Original 
  • The American Dream: An American Officer ISOTed to the Revolutionary War:
    • Benedict Arnold dies in battle, while his counterpart from the original timeline survived the Revolutionary War.
    • Francis Marion is executed by hanging, rather than dying of natural causes.
  • The Biden Express:
    • Rudy Perpich and Al Franken are assassinated in Sarajevo.
    • Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet die in an IRA bombing.
    • Dick Cheney suffers a fatal heart attack after an ugly argument with Newt Gingrich.
  • Blue Skies in Camelot:
    • John Connally is shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in a failed attempt to assassinate JFK.
    • Bob Dylan dies in a motorcycle crash.
    • Ian Smith is murdered in 1966 by members of the Rhodesian Security Forces after Salisbury is put under siege by the British.
    • Mao Zedong is assassinated by Lin Biao.
    • Leonid Brezhnev is murdered by the KGB for attempting to overthrow Khrushchev.
    • Pierre Trudeau, Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif and a few others who didn't die that way IOTL are killed by the Manson family.
    • Charles Manson is shot dead by his girlfriend after trying to persuade her to kill their infant son to make their escape easier.
    • George Romney is assassinated by Arthur Bremer.
  • Disaster At Leuthen: Frederick the Great dies when he falls off a horse, instead of passing away in his sleep.
  • The Footprint of Mussolini:
    • Miklós Horthy is murdered by the SS after being overthrown, unlike IOTL where he lived until 1957.
    • Adolf Hitler and several other high-ranking Nazis are killed in Operation Valkyrie, a plot they survived IOTL.
    • While Erich von Manstein survived the war IOTL, this timeline sees him executed by the Nazi government.
    • Rudolf Höss and Josef Mengele are killed in reprisals at Auschwitz that never happened IOTL.
    • Multiple high-ranking Nazis, most prominently Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, are executed at the Nuremburg trials despite not having been tried (at least not there) in our timeline.
    • Mao Zedong is publicly hanged in Shanghai after a trial by Nationalist China. Many of his supporters, meanwhile, are killed over the course of a purge by the PLA: Zhou Enlai is shot in the streets of Beijing in broad daylight, Liu Shaoqui is mauled to death by a crowd, and Deng Xiaoping shoots himself to avoid being murdered or executed.
    • Polina Zhemchuzhina dies in the Gulag. While she was sent there IOTL, she survived her ordeal long enough to be released.
    • Josef Stalin dies when Nikita Khrushchev has him disconnected from his life support.
    • Jackie Robinson is lynched by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
    • Saddam Hussein is shot dead in Mosul and his corpse hung from a lamppost.
    • Gamal Abdel-Nasser dies from drinking coffee poisoned with cyanide.
    • Jiang Qing succumbs to dehydration and exhaustion while hiding from invading Nationalist Chinese forces in a bunker.
    • IOTL, Italo Balbo died in a friendly fire incident in 1940. This timeline's version of Balbo is killed when his plane gets blown up by the vengeful son of a Sicilian Mafioso.
    • Idi Amin is killed in a firefight in Nairobi.
    • Robert Mugabe is killed in a joint Rhodesian-Katangan military operation.
  • A Giant Sucking Sound: Rather than dying of natural causes, George H. W. Bush is assassinated by Iraqi security forces.
  • Kentucky Fried Politics:
    • Brian Epstein is killed by members of the Manson Family, rather than dying of an overdose that might've been a suicide.
    • Michael Jackson dies when his mansion at Neverland Ranch burns down.
    • Elizabeth Taylor dies in a car crash at 33.
    • Instead of being killed by police, Charles Whitman is shot dead by a sniper in the Cuban War, believed to have been Lee Harvey Oswald.
    • Jeffrey Dahmer is killed by John Wayne Gacy at the age of 17 instead of being beaten to death in prison by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver at 34.
    • Charles Manson is gunned down by MI6 and Interpol agents.
    • Jim Jones still commits suicide, but by cyanide pill in Brazil instead of by gunshot in Guyana.
    • George Lincoln Rockwell is killed in prison by a fellow inmate, rather than being assassinated by John Patler over ideological differences.
    • Jeffrey Epstein dies in a plane crash while trying to flee prosecution.
  • McGoverning:
    • Ariel Sharon is killed by Egyptian commandos during the Yom Kippur war.
    • Carlos the Jackal is gunned down in Vienna.
    • Saddam Hussein is assassinated by a Red Army Faction terrorist in Algeria, rather than being executed.
  • A More Personal Union: Francis Drake dies when he rams a ship full of gunpowder into the Spanish Armada. He died of dysentery IOTL.
  • New Deal Coalition Retained:
    • Fidel Castro is killed in a coup by Che Guevara.
    • Augusto Pinochet falls out of a helicopter to his death, though it's suspected he may have been pushed.
    • Hafez al-Assad is arrested and summarily executed by Mustafa Tlass and a group of officers loyal to the latter.
    • Indira Gandhi still dies violently, but the perpetrator is her son Sanjay, rather than some Sikh bodyguards.
    • Richard Nixon is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.
    • Ted Bundy ends up becoming president, and is eventually murdered in a conspiracy by his own cabinet when they uncover his crimes.
  • Orange Tempest: Antonin Scalia suffers a fatal heart attack while having sex with his wife, rather than passing away in his sleep.
  • In Player Two Start, Osama bin Laden dies in a gunfight with American and Pakistani forces 9 years before his OTL death.
  • The Selma Massacre:
    • MLK is gunned down by Alabama state troopers instead of being assassinated by a lone wolf sniper.
    • Cassius Clay (better known OTL as Muhammad Ali) dies in a terrorist bombing.
    • George Wallace dies in a plane crash.
    • LBJ gets assassinated, rather than dying of a heart attack.
  • The Shield Of Liberty:
    • Instead of being murdered by his half-brothers, Shaka is run through with a sword by Zebulon Pike.
    • Andrew Jackson is assassinated by agents of the Golden Cross Society.
  • The Sons of Inti Shall Not Perish: Francisco Pizarro dies in a battle against the Inca. The real Pizarro died violently as well, but not in combat against any Native American tribe or nation; instead, he was assassinated by supporters of Diego de Almagro II.
  • That Wacky Redhead: Robin Williams dies of a cocaine overdose in 1980, rather than hanging himself in 2014.
  • Twilight Of The Red Tsar:
    • Kim Il-Sung, Matyas Rakosi, Nikita Khrushchev and Georgy Zhukov are among the victims of Stalin's renewed wave of purges.
    • Mao Zedong dies in a drunken fall down some stairs.
    • Valko Chervenkov is brutally killed by Mossad agents in retribution for his actions during the Second Holocaust.
    • Gamal Abdel Nasser is assassinated by British commandos.
    • Ayn Rand gets murdered by neo-communist author Martin Thompson.
  • Weber's Germany: The Veterinarian Totalitarian
    • Adolf Hitler dies from long-term complications of a gunshot wound sustained in the Beer Hall Putsch.
    • Heinrich Himmler is killed in a street brawl rather than committing suicide by cyanide pill.

    Web Video 
  • Epic Rap Battles of History:
    • Hitler is chopped in half by Darth Vader, which obviously never happened in real life.
    • Alexander the Great ends up being poisoned by Ivan the Terrible. While there are suspicions that the real Alexander was poisoned, most historians believe he died of disease; in any case, there's obviously no way Ivan was involved.

    Western Animation 
  • BoJack Horseman: Since this is a universe where all animals are anthropomorphic, the famed racehorse Secretariat didn't die from being euthanized in 1989. Instead, he committed suicide years earlier by jumping off a bridge.


    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


Oliver Cromwell (WolfWalkers)

Oliver Cromwell (The Lord Protector) dies by falling in 1650 instead of illness in 1658

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / FictionalizedDeathAccount

Media sources: