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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 who 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
  • 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.

Compare Mistaken Death Confirmation, where a character's death is apparently confirmed by examination of the body or evidence such as an obviously fatal injury, but the character somehow either isn't dead or comes back to life.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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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.

    Fan Fiction 
  • 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 Animated Canon:
    • Parodied The Little Mermaid (1989) when Scuttle believes Eric was dead because after checking Eric's foot and finding no heartbeat. 'Course Scuttle is a Know-Nothing Know-It-All and Ariel finds Eric to be breathing.
    • In Beauty and the Beast when the Beast dies, it cuts to a shot of the final petal falling off Beast's enchanted rose. Naturally it's a Disney Death and he lives due to the curse finally breaking.
    • In The Princess and the Frog, Ray the firefly's light goes out when he dies. As with Mufasa, he is dead for real, averting Disney Death.
    • In Tangled, Eugene slumps in Rapunzel's arms.
    • Hercules: The trope is lampshaded for the audience. When someone is about to die we see the Fates cut the thread of their life. But Meg, once her thread is cut, fades to grey. When Hercules restores her soul, her colors restore.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Anon (2018) takes place in a world where Everything Is Online. After a policeman is shot, the detective protagonist just glances at him and continues his pursuit of the killer, as the victim's vital signs are online and displayed in the detective's P.O.V. Cam.
  • 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).
  • In Carry On Behind, this is played for laughs when Fred Ramsden and Ernie Bragg are somewhat drunk and investigate Professor Crump lying unconscious in his caravan bed, supposedly with a bleeding head.
    Ernie: Is he dead?
    Fred: 'COURSE HE'S DEAD!
    Ernie: So, erm, what's the mirror for?
    Fred: I want a second opinion. Go on.
    Ernie: Right.
    Fred: 'Ave a look.
    Ernie: He's still there.
    Fred: Is the glass misted over?
    Ernie: No.
    Fred: He's dead.
    Professor Crump: Argh! No, I'm not! I'm not! Am I?
    Fred: He must have been holding his breath!
  • In Carry On Up the Khyber one of the Privates, Ginger Hale, appears to be dead so Private Widdle and Sergeant Major MacNutt pull a sheet over his face. He then sits up and goes, "That's right! Bleedin' well suffocate me!", then dies for real.
  • 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.
  • Clue: When Mr Boddy is lying face down on the floor of the study, Professor Plum pronounces him dead after a brief examination, with great certainty. Soon afterwards, Mr Boddy mysteriously disappears, implying that he was not dead, and has escaped. In the third ending, Professor Plum knew he was alive, but pretended he was dead, so that he could quietly murder him later.
  • Constantine (2005): 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.
  • Count Yorga: Six examples:
    • When Micheal is making his way through Yorga's manor, he comes across a dark 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.
  • 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."
  • In Dead Man Walking, the titular dead man walking flatlines and his eyes drop open when he is executed.
  • The overly brief examination of the hero's body in D.O.A..
  • Subverted in Exam. Blonde assumes Black is dead after being shot in the upper chest, but he is very much alive.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 cemetery but they're for the gravestone of Danny's long-dead mother. Danny's fully recovered and ready to rock.
  • Invoked in House of Games, when during The Con, the fake mark fakes his death and one of the cons declares him dead after checking the pulse for five seconds.
  • 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 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!"
  • In the James Bond film Thunderball, Fiona Volpe says, "He's dead alright" after Major Derval is sprayed with a faceful of Deadly Gas. This is more to establish her ruthless nature as a SPECTRE operative, given that we saw her smooching with Derval moments before.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nayak: Shankar, Arindam's mentor in the theater, falls over. Arindam shouts his name, and someone else, about three seconds after Arindam hit the ground, says "No point calling him, he's gone." RIP Arindam. No one checks him at all!
  • 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 Peter Rabbit, immediately after capturing the titular protagonist, Old Man McGregor suffers a Hollywood Heart Attack and dies with his eyes open and unblinking, Peter confirming his death by touching his cornea.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
    Cort: Give me another bullet!
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Lampshaded when Mills complains about the patrolman who found the Gluttony victim not checking that he was actually dead. This goes with the theme of apathy in the movie.
  • In Silver Lode, Johnson is lying motionless on the ground after being shot. Ballard says to ask Johnson who shot him, to which he is told "This man is dead."
  • 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" and pulls a blanket over his head 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 "Sir, he's dead already!" McCoy instead speaks Scotty's line "NO, you'll flood the whole compartment!"
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: 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). The bones in his neck being crushed sorta drove the point home.
  • ¡Three Amigos!. After Dusty Bottoms negligently shoots the Invisible Swordsman, the Swordsman falls to the ground. Ned Nederlander picks up the Swordsman's arm by the wrist, then lets it fall to the ground and says "He's dead". It's possible that Ned was checking the Swordsman's pulse, but it was only done for a second, not enough to be sure the Swordsman is dead.
  • Transformers (2007): 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."
  • 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 leash 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.
  • 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.
  • Witness for the Prosecution ends with a nurse feeling the male victim's pulse for nine seconds upon which she declares him dead.
  • 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.

  • 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 referenced in Wintersmith, for exactly — well, almost exactly — the same situation. Whether or not this was the incident that the governing council of the Guild of Assassins is mentioned as having voted to expel him for a few paragraphs early is unclear, but this conversation tells the reader almost everything they need to know about Mr Teatime.
    • 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.
  • A sinister example in H. P. Lovecraft's The Statement Of Randolph Carter. Carter is on the phone to his friend Harley Warren, who is investigating an underground tomb and has brought a portable phone down there with him (physically connected to Carter's phone by a wire, as the technology of the day would require). Warren's side of the conversation becomes increasingly panicked before going utterly silent, not responding to Carter's voice... until an unidentified voice on the line taunts "You fool, Warren is dead!"

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder: In "The Archbishop" from the first series, it happens twice that the King is trying to persuade a dying nobleman to leave his lands to the Crown, at the same time as a bishop is trying to persuade him to leave his lands to the Church. In each case, the nobleman signs a prepared will, and then dies with a final groan, closing his eyes, and dropping the quill, making it certain that he will not be able to change his mind.
    (The nobleman leaves his lands to the Church)
    King: You will change your mind later, I know it.
    (Nobleman groans and drops the quill)
    Bishop: I think not.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series is the Trope Namer, as it's a line commonly spoken by Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, often regarding the poor Red Shirt who just bit it. He often has help from his 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". He also has a couple of instances where he says "You're dead, Jim" and even "I'm dead, Jim," but they obviously don't take. Amusingly, Bones' very first use of the line (Episode 5, "The Enemy Within") was in reference to a dog-like alien creature rather than a crewmember.
    • Deep Space Nine: In "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, even though this is a few episodes after Dr. Bashir criticised the Tricorder as not very good at identifying deadness. Only the captain gets any medical attention.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: While visiting a planet, Neelix finds a native woman who's been struck down, bends over her, and declares her dead — despite not being a doctor or having a Tricorder. He's also not native to that world (although he is native to the quadrant and might have encountered that species before), so he has no reason to even be certain of her physiology. This might be the most egregious use of the trope across all of Star Trek.
  • Doctor Who, "Turn Left", the paralell-timeline Doctor's arm hangs off the stretcher, the sonic screwdriver falling to the ground. He's dead (and the timeline soon follows).
    • Invoked Trope in "The Big Bang", where the Doctor meets a future version of himself, obviously unable to stand. The future Doctor falls down, whispers something in the present Doctor's ear and collapses. The Doctor declares him "dead", our group goes off, and the future Doctor proceeds to (off camera) wake up and fix things when no one is looking. Just as planned.
  • Firefly subverted this in the pilot. Kaylee's arm drops, Mal tells Simon she's dead, and she turns out to be just fine.
  • Serenity has two aversions:
    • Wash is pretty clearly dead (alive people have less harpoon in their chests) but Zoe snaps and refuses to believe it momentarily.
    • 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. Granted, it's been three million years and every "body" is now a pile of dust.
  • 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. For example, 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.
  • Stargate:
    • 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 away 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 (2010) 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 (1970): In the 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", 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 die. As the youngest child, the girl, Cindel sadly notices when raiders invade the Ewoks village where her mother and brother, Caterine and Mace, were. 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 considered family movies, shown in prime time) actually seeing her family dying violently.
  • In an episode of CSI, 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): In "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!
  • The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin: Reggie steals a truckload of loganberry essence and sends a note to CJ saying "Blood Will Flow"; he then dumps the essence in CJ's favourite trout stream where CJ is hosting a fishing party of Sunshine Desserts executives; thinking the water has turned to blood, CJ collapses and falls into the river, unconscious; Doc Morrissey pulls him out, and says "My God, he's dead!" At which point CJ opens his eyes and replies, "You're fired!"

    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.
  • 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 if 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 are 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.


    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • The series, never having been shy about a Shout-Out to Star Trek, uses this trope often. The two most common characters to say it are Fry and Zoidberg — except Fry is The Ditz, and Zoidberg is a doctor but not a very good one, so neither of them are right most of the time. Fry even has a bit of a Running Gag where he would announce, "He's dead," whenever the cast came across a body, much in the spirit of this trope.
    • In "Where No Fan Has Gone Before", the cast of the original Star Trek explains how the show became a religion so vast and influential, the Powers That Be saw it as a threat and executed its adherents — in "the manner most befitting virgins". Cue a line of Trekkies being tossed into a volcano. Each time someone is tossed in, the men doing the tossing would say, "He's dead, Jim."
    • In "Bend Her", Bender (in disguise as "Coilette") has to fake his/her death to get out of marrying Calculon. Zoidberg pronounces him/her dead — while at the buffet table yards away, barely paying attention.
      Zoidberg: I'm a doctor, she's dead.
    • In "When Aliens Attack", the crew is attempting to recreate the final episode of "Single Female Lawyer", but they can't act for the life of them:
      Farnsworth: Cough, then fall over dead.
      Zoidberg: (nonplussed) My god, he's dead.
    • Subverted in Into the Wild Green Yonder, after an unsuspecting Fry is struck on the head by a feminist who fell from the sky:
      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.
    • 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."
  • Wildfire: Used in the intro of a Saturday morning cartoon. The ailing queen's arm flops right down before Sara is sent off to Montana.

    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. note  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.