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He's Dead, Jim

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"He's dead, Jim.
He's gone and died.
He's croaked off.
I'm not sure why."
Julia Ecklar, "He's Dead, Jim"'

Characters (and meta-wise, the audience) are able to tell the instant another character has died even though such a determination can actually be quite difficult and mistakes are made even by experienced physicians (e.g. people Waking Up at the Morgue). How accurately depends on a few factors:

  • Whether the character is a trained physician
  • Whether the character is supernatural
  • Whether the character doing the checking is even human.
  • Whether the character being checked is even Human

Rarely is anyone ever just unconscious or in a coma, unless they're recurring and merely Left for Dead by the bad guy, supernatural, about to be Waking Up at the Morgue, or in some cases, someone deliberately faked someone else's death by lying to the others.

This, of course, is a reference to Leonard "Bones" McCoy's frequent (and frequently parodied) line in Star Trek, although it could debatably be justified by various types of Applied Phlebotinum.


Characteristic methods used to determine a character's death involve checking the pulse at one of a few places on the body, listening for a heartbeat. Other methods involve:

  • nonresponsiveness on the part of the deceased; no reaction even to things that would prompt an instant, disgusted flinch from someone was still alive and conscious, such as insects crawling on them or animals taking bites.
  • an arm dropping/hand falling open (for added pathos, letting go of something significant the character was holding)
  • eyes unblinking (either Dies Wide Open or Big Sleep), no reflexive response to a direct touch on the eye
  • a struggling character's limbs slowing down and eventually stopping, especially if the person had been fighting to survive/escape whatever was killing them
  • Advertisement:
  • no visible breathing or heartbeat (at least in non-supernatural situations)
  • obviously fatal injury and copious amounts of blood, such as decapitation or the neck turned all the way around
  • the dying person complaining of the cold just before going quiet
    • The skin of the victim going cold.
    • The victim's skin, especially the face, turning pale.
  • lividity (the skin takes on a reddish-purple coloration as the blood settles in the lowest place on the body).
  • comically, their souls visibly depart their bodies, or their eyes turn to x's.

A common variation on this trope is when the character's death is shown metaphorically, mainly for the benefit of the audience:

  • a light begins to blink and fizzle. If it stays on when all is said and done, the character will survive. If it goes out, he's a goner.
  • if the character's vehicle was in a crash, a single wheel may remain in motion. If that wheel stops spinning, the character has died.
  • the EKG in the hospital flatlines, leaving the dull tone.
  • a flower loses a petal and the camera tracks its fall to the tabletop.
  • something important to the character falls to the ground, possibly breaking. They may drop it themselves.
  • The sun goes behind a cloud. Or the scene dissolves to clouds, invoking Fluffy Cloud Heaven.

Since this is one of the Death Tropes, expect Unmarked Spoilers.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Full Metal Panic!! The Second Raid uses the arm-drop with Yu Lan, one of the Creepy Twins.
  • Naruto:
    • When Asuma dies, one of the flowers Kurenai is watering back in Konoha falls off its stem.
    • Other examples in earlier arcs include breaking pottery and the Hokage statues cracking. Among the fandom, flashbacks are also widely interpreted as very dangerous symptoms.
  • Subverted in Gintama when Tsukyo gets shot down by the Hyakka's kunai in the Yoshiwara is Burning arc and her pipe falls from Gintoki's katana to the floor. However, it turns out she's Not Quite Dead
    • Played straight in the Mitsuba arc, where Mitsuba's hand falls from Sougo's face when she dies. Cue Tearjerker scene where Sougo grabs her limp hand and puts it back on his face.
  • In Death Note, not one second after his initial onset of heart attack, the stirring spoon L always holds falls down.
    L: "Everyone, the Shiniga..." — *heartbeat*
  • In Noir after Chloe dies, one of Altena's three candles representing the three Noir "saplings" goes out, and she seems to instantly know what it means.
  • Happens in Dragon Ball Z, particularly during the Saiyan saga. The one closest to the letter of this trope is Krillin listening for Yamucha's heartbeat after he was killed by a saibaman.
  • When Portgas D. Ace bites the big magma fist in One Piece, his "vivrecard" (a paper imbued with his life force) burns to ashes.
  • Subverted in Tiger & Bunny. Kotetsu is a bit miffed that the other heroes didn't even bother to check his pulse before concluding he was dead.
    • They even played this up, having a signal monitoring Kotetsu's vitals disappear. Turns out, Kotetsu's vitals were fine, but the suit transmitting the signal was destroyed.
  • Done briefly in Puella Magi Madoka Magica and later taken back when Madoka throws Sayaka's soul gem away, causing Sayaka to lose control of her body until the gem was retrieved.
  • Towards the end of the Yu-Gi-Oh! Monster World arc, Bakura pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice, and Yami Yugi determines that he is dead by putting his hands on him. Or Only Mostly Dead, anyway. He's quickly brought back to life thanks to a part of his soul having been conveniently in a Tabletop RPG game piece.

  • In an interesting nod to this trope, in The Ronless Factor, Doctor James Possible is the one who actually tells Kim that Ron is dead when she wakes up after the accident.

     Film - Animated 
  • Multiple examples in The Book of Life. This is a movie about the Day of the Dead. The Candlemaker explains that every shining candle in his cave of souls is a life.
    • The Candlemaker shows Manolo's candle, snuffed too early.
    • Carlos' candle is blown out on screen to avoid a Family-Unfriendly Death when he takes on Chakal and his banditos by himself.
  • Disney:
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2: Happens with Stoick. Head to the chest to listen for the heart (through fur and armor), check. Lifeless hand dropping when raised, check. Justified since he has just taken a point-blank plasma blast from the Brainwashed and Crazy Toothless meant for his son. Viking Funeral follows.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Played in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Barbossa, as he is shot through the chest, says "I feel... cold." and collapses.
  • Averted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Spock dies. McCoy is present and is one of the two major characters tackling Kirk to stop him from opening the radiation shield doors to reach a dying Spock. The original script had McCoy saying "He's Dead, Jim" but DeForest Kelley refused to say the line, knowing it would cause audiences to laugh instead of cry. It's left to Scotty to tell Kirk "He's dead already."
  • In The Princess Bride, Miracle Max isn't really inclined to help, so does the "pick up a body part" version, though he knows better.
    • He was Only Mostly Dead anyways...
      • Could have been checking for rigor mortis, which a real corpse would have had by that point.
  • ¡Three Amigos!. The Invisible Swordsman is dead, but we don't know until one of the Amigos lifts and drops his invisible arm, creating a very nice puff of dust in the process.
  • Star Wars: when Vader is choking the Rebel, we see a close-up of his feet, but it's only to establish that Vader is holding him up in the air; his legs are never kicking even when he dies (well, at least we don't see it).
  • Citizen Kane has the hand falling and dropping the snow globe.
  • I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. After a man is shot multiple times, sad music starts to play. When the Heroes ask his girlfriend how he is, she says "He's dead! Can't you hear the music?"
  • In Carry On... Up the Khyber a soldier appears to be dead so they pull a sheet over his face. He then sits up and goes: "That's right, suffocate me!" then dies for real.
  • Rather egregious at the end of Green Street, since it's averted another time in the same film: one character gets glassed in the throat, and his mates drag him out of the fight and speed to the hospital, y'know, like you would - but another one, at the climax, gets beaten to a bloody pulp, and those very same mates stand around grieving while he's still breathing. Maybe the accent annoyed them too.
  • Used in the movie version of Clue when the guests discover the missing Mr. Boddy, who is now officially dead - Wadsworth picks up one of his arms, lets it drop, and comments "Well, he's certainly dead now."
  • Transformers: After the US Army has little to no effect at bringing down the Decepticon Brawl, Bumblebee pelts him with shots from his own weapon, eventually scoring a direct hit on his spark, killing him and having his dead body collapse and crash through a wall next to where the soldiers were taking cover. One of the lines that follow from the soldiers: "OK, the tank is definitely dead now."
  • The falling-and-shattering-object version was used twice—with the same object—in The Lord of the Rings films. Except that neither of the characters involved actually dies...they're just trying to make you nervous.
  • The Matrix
    • The Matrix. After Neo has apparently been shot to death, Agent Smith tells another Agent to "Check him." The other Agent puts a finger to Neo's neck (apparently checking his pulse), then immediately says "He's gone."
    • The "arm falling" version occurs in The Matrix Reloaded when the Keymaker dies. Somewhat justified in that his chest was full of Agent Smith's bullets at the time.
  • In Dead Man Walking, the titular dead man walking flatlines and his eyes drop open when he is executed.
  • The Walden Media The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film plays with this trope, as many of the lords they encounter are pretty obviously dead (skeletal remains and such). The hilarious thing is that Caspian can recognize all of them immediately, even though some of them have no features left to recognize them. Either the guy really did his homework, or he ought to be the lead in CSI: Narnia.
  • Spider-Man 2: Doctor Octavius is proven to die when the lights in his Doc Ock arms go out and don't try to get him to safety.
  • In Like Flint. Flint can tell whether a man is dead just by holding and looking at his face briefly.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World begins with ex-convict Jimmy Durante careening down a desert highway and flying off a cliff. A number of fellow motorists run down to aid him, but he's clearly dying. As he gasps his last breaths, he tells them the location of a large sum of stolen money he's buried, then fades out...and sits up deliriously shouting at Sid Caesar 'Tell me it don't make no difference, Aunt Belle!'. He's reassured and dies...kicking a bucket downhill. Truck driver Jonathan Winters declares "That guy's dead. You better believe it!"
  • Early in The Wrong Box, bedridden old Masterman Finsbury receives word that he and his brother Joseph are the last two members of a tontine (a contract where a large sum of money is awarded to the last survivor) - he weakly tells grandson Michael "I believe the time...has last." and placidly drifts into unconsciousness. Michael solemnly draws a sheet over the old man's head...and a beat later the old man swats it off and angrily chides Michael for his poor observation (and Michael is a medical student.) He meant it was time to do in his brother Joseph and collect the money.
  • In The Cider House Rules, Dr. Larch's ether bottle shatters when he dies from overdose, and the liquid is tinted pink with his blood. Earlier, Fuzzy's death has him go still in a Big Sleep.
  • In The Hobbit, Bilbo's sword glows blue whenever there are orcs or goblins nearby. When Gollum drags away a wounded goblin and starts bashing its head in with a rock, the sword's glow becomes dimmer and eventually flickers out.
  • The overly brief examination of the hero's body in D.O.A..
  • Witness for the Prosecution ends with a nurse feeling the male victim's pulse for nine seconds upon which she declares him dead.
  • Se7en has the memorable case of the "Sloth" murder victim being treated as a textbook case of "really freaking obviously dead", given that he's in an advanced state of decomposition, and accordingly everyone acts as if he's a corpse. And then he starts moving and rasping.
  • A subversion happens in Hot Fuzz: Danny takes a bullet for Nick, and then gets caught in an explosion. Nicholas murmurs repeated reassurances to his friend, only for the scene to dissolve to fluffy clouds and a Time Skip to One Year Later. Nick brings flowers to the cemetary but they're for the gravestone of Danny's long-dead mother. Danny's fully recovered and ready to rock.
  • Subverted in The Quick and the Dead. Spotted Horse boasts that he's Immune to Bullets and has the scars to prove it. The male protagonist Cort takes him down with a single bullet (he's only allowed one) during their Quick Draw competition. The doctor without even approaching the body says casually, "He's dead." Cort turns to walk away...
    Spotted Horse: Spotted killed... (staggers to his feet) a bullet...
  • Invoked in House of Games, when during a Massive Multiplayer Scam the Fake Mark fakes his death and one of the cons declares him dead after checking the pulse for five seconds.
  • Black Hawk Down: Delta Force veteran Hoot is able to tell at a single glance that the head-shot Sgt. Pilla is dead, while the rest of the Rangers in the Humvee are still struggling with the fact when Lt. Col. McKnight inquires on their status. Although, this has more to do with Hoot's professionalism and experience than with medical confusion, since Pilla's head wound is gruesome. There's more of a struggle involved in Mark Bowden's book, where the Hoot-equivalent was not riding in the Humvee, and the Rangers struggle for a while (the words "how can you tell? Are you a medic?" are mentioned).
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Dr. Jennings slumps and his hand opens, spilling two metal vials. Polly tells Sky Captain "He's dead" without checking his life signs.
  • In Smilin' Through, Dr. Owen doesn't even examine poor Moonyeen, shot in the stomach at her wedding. He takes one look at her and shakes his head negatively when Sir John asks for his help.
  • Robocop 2. After Hob is seriously wounded Robocop takes his hand. Finally Hob's grip relaxes and his hand falls open, so Robocop knows he's dead and leaves him.
  • Count Yorga: Six examples
    • When Micheal is making his way through Yorga's manor, he comes across a darken room where a hand grabs his leg and trips him. When he recovers he sees it's his friend Paul who's been mutilated (likely by Yorga or his brides). Paul's arm then falls to the ground, his head rolls to the side and he goes lifeless.
    • Yorga decides to humor Hayes that he really is a vampire by allowing him into his throne room where his three brides sleep. Among them is his friend Erica who had went missing the previous night. Hayes goes to her and checks her pulse and heartbeat, but finds nothing. Of course this is zig-zagged by the fact that Erica is indeed dead but soon rises as a vampire i.e an undead.
    • Micheal manages to reach the throne room but finds a bloodied Hayes dying after having been fed on by the brides. Hayes informs him of where Donna is before his hand falls to the floor. After Micheal fends off Erica and the red headed bride, the camera lingers on Hayes's corpse after he leaves the room.
    • When Micheal confronts Yorga and his blonde bride. Yorga pushes her into the stake he was holding out and runs off. We see said bride fall over and when Micheal kills Yorga and goes to collect Donna. The camera pans down to the bride's body which still has a bit of the stake in her, indicating she's truly dead this time.
    • When Yorga is staked, we get multiple camera shots of him writing in pain before finally dropping to the ground. When Michael and Donna later look him over. He's withered into a dusty skeleton.
    • And finally the final shot of the movie which ends on a shot of Micheal's bloodied face after the newly vampirized Donna attacks him.
  • Two rather humorously dark examples in National Lampoon's Vacation.
    • When Clark is pulled over by a highwayman. Clark at first has no clue why the officer is being hostile until he's shown the empty dog lesh on the bumper of the car. Realizing he had forgotten he tied up Aunt Edna's dog to it when they had stopped at a park, got distracted as they were leaving and well—you get the idea. Clark tries to downplay it to his family until the officer hands him the dog leash and comments that he'll pick up the carcass down the road.
    • Later as the family are set for a lunch break, Ellen tries to get the kids to wake up Edna. When they can't seem to rouse her, Clark just passes it off as her being old and letting her rest. Least till Ellen checks Edna herself and announces that she's dead.
  • Constantine. Chaz Kramer is slammed up against the ceiling and down to the floor a few times, leaving him severely injured. He talks with John Constantine for a few seconds, then stops and lies with his eyes open. John turns away and leaves him for dead without even checking his pulse.
  • Our Man Flint
    • When the bodies of the two Z.O.W.I.E. guards are found, Flint briefly examines one of them and says "This one's gone."
    • After Flint appears to have asphyxiated in the sealed vault, Rodney briefly checks his body and decides that he's dead. It turns out that Flint is actually in suspended animation and is still alive.
  • In the dramedy Angry Indian Goddesses, this trope is subverted when a woman is found unconscious on the beach, apparently raped. Her friends are irritated when the doctor who examines her doesn't rush her to the hospital, and only when he spells out the fact that she's dead does her death become clear to the audience.
  • The Guilty: When officer Tim tells Asger that Oliver is dead, Asger asks Tim how he knows. Tim replies that he could tell. Asger demands that Tim check if Oliver is breathing, causing Tim to snap that Oliver has been cut open.
  • In Keep An Eye Out: Officer Buron asks Fugain, who has found a dead body, how he knew he was dead. Fugain says he looked exactly as in a novel.

  • Discworld tends to use the "really obvious injury" method of determining death. One example:
    "He could still be alive," said Cohen defiantly.
    "He is dead, Cohen. Really, really dead. Alive people have more body."
    • Parodied in Pyramids where the doctor insists that all medical tests prove Teppic "mortis portulis tackulatum" (dead as a doornail), and obstinately explains confusing signs, such as the patient sitting up and walking away, as "reflex actions".
    • In "Hogfather", assassin Mr Teatime (that's Te-AH-tim-EH) insists that he checked the client for life signs thoroughly, checking his breathing with a mirror... and is told that might have been unnecessary given the unnatural distance at the time between said corpse's mouth and its lungs.
    • And then rereferenced in Wintersmith, for exactly — well, almost exactly — the same situation.
    • Used in The Fifth Elephant when Carrot rescues a wolf from a mob by having Gaspode talk it into collapsing. It yelps a little when Carrot throws it on his horse, but Carrot dismisses it as the air leaving its lungs. The mob is about to press the issue, before the thought occurs to them that this is a man who obviously has a lot of experience with freshly-killed bodies, not helped by the fact that he's six feet tall, holding a sword, and a very strained smile.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, after Hark kills Soric, the body is not described at all, but the psionically sent music stops: "The sound of pipes ended, forever." Shortly thereafter, Hark finds a brass messenger container, of the sort in which Soric had received warnings; it is empty.
  • Played with in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, wherein the Judge and the Doctor conspire to fake the Judge's death. Only the Doctor examines the Judge's "corpse" closely, and hastily pronounces him dead, lest anyone take a closer look.
  • Justified in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, where Nico di Angelo can tell if people are dead because he's the son of Hades.
  • In Relentless, the trope is subverted. Daniel tells Grant to stop freaking and grieving for the Genius Loci group because dead bodies do not bruise.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek is the Trope Namer. And the Applied Phlebotinum is the Tricorder, which may be more accurate; but Bones didn't always use it before declaring, "He's Dead, Jim".
    • On occasion, Bones would give a more detailed description, such as "his neck was broken" and "every cell in his body's been disrupted".
      • Amusingly, the first time the iconic line is spoken, Bones is talking about a dog-like alien creature (episode 5; "The Enemy Within") and not a crewmember.
    • Deep Space Nine - "Starship Down": The Defiant is hit badly and everyone is tossed around. One of the bridge crew looks at two unconscious people for a moment, then declares them to be dead. No one questions this. Only the captain gets any medical attention. And this was just a few episodes after Dr. Bashir criticised the Tricorder as being not very good at identifying deadness.
    • In a Star Trek: Voyager episode, while visiting a planet, Neelix bends over a native woman, who's just been struck down, and declares her dead. This may be the worst Star Trek offence. Neelix is an alien to this world, is not a physician and doesn't even have a tricorder.
      • Though he's at least native to the quadrant, so he might have encountered her species before.
    • Ironically, there's also two examples that are more like "I'm Dead Jim", and "You're Dead Jim", but obviously both get better by the end of the given episode.
  • Doctor Who, "Turn Left", The Doctor's arm hangs off the stretcher, the sonic screwdriver falling to the ground.
    • In "The Big Bang", the Doctor meets a future version of himself, who plops down. The Doctor then declares him "dead", our group goes off, and the future Doctor then proceeds to (off camera) wake up and fix things when no one is looking.
  • Firefly subverted this in the pilot. Kaylee's arm drops, Mal tells Simon she's dead, and she turns out to be just fine.
    • It's worth noting that Mal knows Kaylee is fine, he's just playing a cruel joke on Simon, who's partially responsible for her shooting and has been threatened with death should she fail to recover.
      • It's also partially a Secret Test of Character, given the aforementioned threat. Simon avoided being spaced because of where he ran at that news: straight to the medbay.
    • And averted it the other way around in Serenity: Wash is pretty clearly dead (alive people have less harpoon in their chests) but Zoe snaps and refuses to believe it momentarily.
    • Another averted example in Serenity: Simon arrives as Mal is holding the dying Book, but slows down after seeing the expression on Mal's face, and then goes to check him. It's easy to miss as the camera focus is on Mal and Simon's just working in the background.
  • The villain in the Season 2 opener for Chuck holds Sarah up by the neck. The viewer sees legs kick for a minute, and then they stop.
  • Heroes applies this trope most generously:
    • The overwhelming majority of Sylar victims suffer the obvious grievous injury either via Sylar's Signature Style, or some other violent means.
    • Claire has personally exhibited the grievous injury indicator, the glassy eyes indicator, and the no pulse/heartbeat indicator, sufficiently that she woke up on the autopsy table once, thanks to her power.
    • Peter has personally exhibited the glassy eyed stare, and thanks to his power, he got better.
    • Maya's victims suffered obvious grievous bodily injury.
    • Mr. Linderman suffered obvious grievous bodily injury.
    • Hiro's father suffered grievous bodily injury.
    • D.L. suffered grievous bodily injury.
      • So did his wife, Niki.
    • HRG had the glassy stare after Mohinder shot him. Thanks to a transfusion of Claire's blood, he gets better.
    • Tracy caused a case of glassy stare and unmistakably grievous bodily injury.
      • That one didn't take either.
    • Adam suffered the case of turning into dust.
    • Arthur Petrelli is shot in the head, but no one thinks to make sure he's dead, even though he absorbed all of Peter's powers, including the Healing Factor.
  • True Blood another which likely will use this trope liberally, has the glassy-eyed stare and/or grievous bodily injury methods so far.
  • Dexter tends to use the grievous bodily injury method and the glassy eyed stare. But it also subverts the trope because the titular Anti-Hero is meticulous in his methods.
  • In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Officer Don found Harry asleep and solemnly declared him dead.
  • Subverted in the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; a vampire (a crazy one, to be sure) bashes a civilian's head against a hard metal surface and declares him dead, but he's only stunned. Also, in season three, Cordelia gets impaled by rebar, sad music is played and we cut to a funeral. Then Buffy and Willow walk by talking about how Cordelia will be fine.
  • Kai from Lexx claimed to be "good at determining the state of death. It was a required function for assassins of the Divine Order."
  • Red Dwarf: Everybody's dead, Dave.
    • Well, they were little piles of white dust. You would have to stretch things a bit to get one of them to be alive.
  • The Resident: Series protagonist Conrad Hawkins, senior resident at Chastain Park Memorial Hospital, has become close with Lily Kendall, a 21-year-old cancer patient who has been undergoing experimental therapy. In the series ninth episode, Lily, having been given a dose of potassium, collapses to the ground and loses consciousness. Conrad witnesses this and, after summoning assistance, begins rendering aid. When defibrillator shocks and other conventional methods are unsuccessful, Conrad proceeds to attempt CPR on Lily for a [full 20 minutes. At that point, with Lily still non-responsive, one of the other doctors tells Conrad that he can stop now ... and after holding back tears to call the time, tearfully concedes defeat.
  • The X-Files: Though Agent Scully is a physician, she seldom tries to resuscitate any victims of the Monster of the Week even if they were conscious only seconds before.
    • In "Fresh Bones", the episode ends with a would-be zombie master waking up in his coffin, after succumbing to his own poison that simulated death. Scully knew about this poison.
  • Nobody ever checks for vitals in any of the Stargate shows, unless a qualified medical specialist is available on-hand. This includes the Quick Draw between Sheppard and Kolya. No one bothers to make sure Kolya is really dead. They assume Sheppard is that good a shot.
    • This makes a little sense in the "Proving Ground" episode of Stargate SG-1, when one of the rookies shoots a guard at the SGC, as the four are scared, thinking that the base has been overrun. Had they checked his vitals, they would've figured out that he's only pretending, given that the whole thing is a test (all bullets have been replaced with blanks).
    • Neither SG-1 nor Sheppard's team normally travel with a medical expert. While each member has, presumably, received first aid training, this may not qualify them to declare someone dead unless it's obvious from injuries.
  • The Torchwood series uses and subverts this trope fairly liberally.
    • Miracle Day has some of the most disturbing and egregious variations on this trope, as:
      • Anybody designated Category 1 would have died before "the miracle" that has prevented people from dying when they ordinarily would have, so we have lots of people with grievous bodily injuries who aren't dead
      • Captain Jack Harkness, who was, until "the miracle", temporally locked, has a flashback to his time in the 1920s during which he is repeatedly shot, stabbed, and beaten to death just to see him revive again.
  • As Coroner Steiner dies in The Mentalist, Jane eases his passing by having him focus on a coin trick. As his life slips away, Jane vanishes the coin.
  • Lampshaded in Psych. Shawn and Gus are standing over the one-shot character who just saved their lives giving an impromptu eulogy. The "dead" guy then reaches out for them, asking "Doesn't anyone check for a pulse anymore?"
  • The Walking Dead has a variation on the metaphorical indicator. A shower head continues to spray after the person using it has fallen. The spray diminishes to a trickle, then a drip. The dripping stops, indicating the person died.
  • UFO episode "Sub Smash". After a Skydiver officer is injured during an attack he goes berserk and falls to the deck. Commander Straker (possibly) checks his pulse, puts his ear to the man's chest and says "He's out of it".
  • In Bones episode "The Hole in the Heart" Booth is applying pressure to Vincent's bullet wound after he is shot. When he lets go, Bones tries to put his hands back and says "You have to keep applying pressure". Booth responds with "No I don't" and we see Vincent's eyes have gone blank.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Dean assumes slashed throats and open eyes equals death, as he does not check a pulse or perform any first aid for the humans left behind in the Sunnyside Diner.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In the Christmas episode, Phryne and the gang find a woman who has been bashed on the head with a statuette. Phryne touches her shoulder, looks up and announces, "She's gone."
  • In one of the two Made for TV Movies featuring Ewoks[1] the one titled Ewok:The Battle For Endor had the Towani family (the human stranded on Endor in the first film, Caravan Of Courage) wearing life monitor bracelets. The bracelets have lights representing each family member, which goes out when they dies. As the youngest child, the girl, Cindel sadly notices when raiders invades the Ewoks village where her mother and brother, Caterine and Mace, was. Her father, Jeremitt, escapes briefly and managed to carry her into the forest. He orders Cindel to run and was killed by the raiders as he stayed behind to distract them.
    • One of the bracelets was a plot point in the first movie to indicate to Mace and Cindel that their missing parents were alive. They were featured more prominently in the second movie, especially the one that Cindel wore. Perhaps to indicates death without the mostly kids audience (Both movies were consider family movies, shown in prime time) actually seeing her family dying violently.
  • In an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", an exhibitor at a science-fiction fans' convention is murdered; Hodges-from-Trace is on the scene and calls Captain James Brass to tell him, "I'm at the convention, there's a problem with one of the exhibitors"; when Brass asks, "What's wrong with him?", Hodges replies, "HE'S DEAD, JIM"; the world reverberated to the sound of millions of viewers groaning; it got progressively worse as the cliches flew thick and fast thereafter.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Perchance to Dream". A psychiatrist (who is therefore a medical doctor) interviews a new patient. At the end of the episode, the man screams while he's asleep. The psychiatrist checks his pulse and immediately pronounces him dead. He doesn't even bother to apply first aid or call for an ambulance.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: The pet shop customer uses a non-stop stream of synonyms to insist the parrot he bought is dead when the pet shop owner keeps claiming otherwise. The Live at City Center album adds even more:
    He's snapped the twig. He's kicked the bucket. He's curled up his tootsies and shuffled off this mortal coil. He fucking snuffed it!

    Role-Playing Games 

  • Chagal in Tanz Der Vampire is rather disappointed when his beautiful victim Magda goes limp and doesn't move right after he's bitten her. Then again, he had just bitten her; if anybody'd realize instantly that she was dead, it'd be him.
  • Subversion: Mimi in RENT goes limp with her eyes open after Roger plays his song for her; however, she's Not Quite Dead, Jim. Played straight in the Dutch production, where she dies for real, just like in the original opera.
  • The theatre adaptation of War Horse: All the horses in the play are controlled by three puppeteers each. When a horse dies on stage, the puppeteers leave it there and exit the stage themselves, making it rather obvious what happened. What makes it striking is that after having watched the play for so long, the audience has completely forgotten about the puppeteers despite them being in plain sight, until they suddenly leave.

    Video Games 
  • In Mega Man X4, after Zero accidentally killed Iris he realized she was dead after calling her name and trying to shake her back to consciousness. Sadly, the english version of this scene is Narm thanks to the bad acting.
    • This scene was redubbed by Zero's voiceactor from Mega Man X8. It loses its narm, but X8 Zero does a much better job with it.
  • Psychonauts uses the "body going" limp variant... comically. The matador Dingo Inflagrante in Edgar Teglee's psyche dies while giving a speech to his beloved, and his entire body goes limp. She starts to cry... and Edgar looks relieved (and dumps both the girl and the body of Dingo into a pit), because his death symbolizes Edgar letting go of his grudges and getting over his anger issues.
    • Another one that may or may not count is in the Lungfishopolis level. When Goga - I mean, Raz, as a giant monster rampaging across the city talks to one of the lungfish, they shout in pain and collapse. Another rushes in, looks at the lungfish on the ground, and immediately says:
      Lungfish: He's dead.
      Raz: Oh my god, I'm so sorry.
      Lungfish: We are all prepared to die for the resistance, Goggalor.
    • Humorously, Raz sees the dead lungfish briefly clutch at the air before going back to being dead.
      • And is about to point this out, but the other lungfish continues to talk. Raz's face.
  • Beyond Good & Evil uses the "no heartbeat" variant. When Jade and Double H find Pey'j's body, Double H checks him for a heartbeat. When he finds none, he shakes his head and mouths the word "no."
  • Wing Commander IV, with Vagabond's death.
  • Halo 3 used the "body goes limp" method for the death of Miranda Keyes. And Sgt. Johnson.
  • Subverted in Fate/stay night. We never really learn what it was Caster did to Kotomine, but she's obviously certain he died. But then Tohsaka doesn't buy her story at all and asks if she really did a thorough check to see it Kotomine was dead. Caster's composure and assurance crumble and the subject gets dropped quickly after. Apart from obviously still being alive, we see why Tohsaka is so sure he's alive in HF: He lived for two days without his heart and could still fight, though he died of it before he could win.
  • If you have Elanee in your party during the scene in Jerro's Haven in Neverwinter Nights 2, she can tell that Shandra is dead from across the room. Despite the fact that this is a universe where Death Is Cheap and you should logically be able to just resurrect her.
  • In The Journeyman Project, once you hear a flatline-like tone, You're Dead, Gage.
  • At the end of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, when Big Boss drops his cigar in the cemetery.
  • At the end of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Triforce mark fades from Ganondorf's hand when he is impaled, signifying that he has been Killed Off for Real.
  • In the intro to Banjo-Tooie, Banjo tells Mumbo that Bottles is not merely "unwell" at the very moment the mole's ghost can be seen (by the player, at least) departing his body.
  • Sometimes averted in World of Warcraft because of glitches. Normally, when you or your target die, the health bar changes from (say) "42/1337 Health" to "Dead". But sometimes a packet drops and you'll see a dead monster as alive, or yourself as dead after being resurrected. In the former case, you can't loot the corpse; in the latter case, you can't attack or cast spells.
  • At the beginning of Ori and the Blind Forest, Naru is shown to be dead by falling back limp when Ori tries to rouse her.
  • Dead units in Starcraft II tend to explode, fall apart, or Dissapear Into Light, making it quite clear that they are dead. Nevertheless, after he helps take out a monstrous Zerg queen, Stenmann feels the need to inform James Raynor that "She's dead, Jim."
  • justified in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The game features a race of beings called “blades” that effectively immortal, but their life is tied to whoever awakened them; their “driver”. When a driver dies, any blade they have awakened will lose their memories and return to their core crystal (a small gem in their bodies that contains all their genetic data) until someone else awakens them. Since drivers and blades tend to stick close together, you can tell a driver is dead by the disappearance of their blades.

    Web Comics 

     Western Animation  
  • In Futurama, one of Fry's characteristic gags (one of the few that didn't revolve around his colossal stupidity) was announcing "He's dead," whenever the cast came across a body. Star Trek, incidentally, is a frequent subject of parody and shout outs on the show.
    • There's also a flashback scene in one episode with Leonard Nimoy narrating how Trekkies were executed by being flung into a volcano, with the men performing the duty saying "He's dead, Jim" after each death.
      • Better yet, how that punishment was described.
    Uhura "And so the Trekkies were executed in the manner most befitting virgins"
    • Parodied another time when Bender/Coilette had to fake his/her death in order to get out of marrying Calculon:
    Dr. Zoidberg: I'm a doctor, she's dead.
    • It should be noted that when Zoidberg says this, he's at the buffet table yards away and barely paying attention.
    • And again when the cast was attempting to recreate the final episode of Show Within a Show "Single Female Lawyer".
    Dr Zoidberg: My god, he's dead.
    Zoidberg: I...I'm not quite sure how to say this...Fry is DEAD! [starts crying]
    (Fry groans and starts moving)
    Zoidberg: No, wait. Not dead. The other thing.
  • When Optimus dies in The Transformers: The Movie, his eye lights go out and his colors fade to gray, supposedly signifying that his spark has been extinguished.
    • Other than the debates if Starscream turns grey or not before crumbling to ash, no one else that dies in the movie changes color. So only important or extremely popular Transformers go monochrome apparently.
      • Actually, Prowl and Ratchet's nearly-monochrome appearance makes it hard to tell, although we do see Prowl's red head-crest fade to black as his head rears back. Ironhide is still clinging to life as the camera cuts away, just before Megatron delivers the deathblow, so he wouldn't be faded. As for Brawn, Wheeljack, and Windcharger, who are all shown still in full color, however... it's not helped through a possible animation error in "Call of the Primitives" that shows Windcharger, a definite animation error in "Carnage in C Minor" that shows Brawn alongside a miscolored Huffer and an unidentified Constructicon, and the Japanese-only sequels that show Wheeljack alive and well. (Further mucked up in that Prowl is also seen in The Headmasters, despite being name-checked among the dead in "Dark Awakening"!)
    • Transformers Animated shows dead Transformers grayed out as well.
    • This is also shown with Hot Shot in the alternate past scene in Transformers Armada: "Drift". Earlier, after sacrificing himself to block the Hydra Cannon blast, Optimus turns white (along with Eye Lights Out) before crumbling into dust. In the penultimate episode, Sideways also experiences Eye Lights Out.
  • In Family Guy, Glenn Quagmire fakes a heart attack to escape his marriage. After he collapses, Joe Swanson (who had been in on the whole plan) declares, "He's dead. I know, I'm a cop."

    Real Life 
  • Averted in many jurisdictions in Real Life. Many do not allow first responders to declare someone dead unless it's blatantly obvious, like decapitation or decomposition. Otherwise, the responder has to do the standard lifesaving procedures (CPR and the like) until a certified doctor can declare the person dead. Even then in this case, protocol is for the patient to have no heart beat or respiration for at least a full minute - and to be at close to or above normal body temperature.
  • Even with modern standards of medicine, it is still a black joke among doctors that the only way to be 100% certain of death is to leave the corpse in a warm place and see if decomposition starts to happen. Declaring death is still largely a matter of observation of cessation of vital signs backed by medical experience and common sense. There is at least one attested experience from a British hospital of a presumed corpse in a mortuary, whose kidneys had just been harvested for transplant, beginning to come round on the slab. The then-junior doctor assisting noted, with horror, that his superior swiftly administered a painless lethal injection of morphine and said the best thing to do was to pretend it had never happened. Practically adding that it wasn't as if they could put the kidneys back, there'd be a difficult inquiry, and the resultant publicity would deter people from bequeathing their organs for transplant.


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