Xanatos: [somewhat rattled] Nothing terrifies me. Because nothing is beyond my ability to change.
Death comes to all humans, and while most of us don't especially like it, and want to postpone it as much as possible, some people will try to escape that fate at all costs. For them, there is no Fate Worse than Death.
While not wanting to die is a great motivator to spring into action in the short term, some people take that to the extreme, plotting and scheming and searching for ways to hold it off indefinitely, even when the prospect of having to meet the reaper seems reasonably far off. Especially when Your Days Are Numbered. Performing bizarre rituals, which are sometimes nothing more than personal superstitions, extreme paranoia and carefulness, disregard for the lives of others in favor of their own, and a willingness to buy into fantasy or myths that promise to extend their life are all side-effects of having such a phobia. This is often the motivation for an Immortality Seeker.
Why a character may have a Mortality Phobia is strangely not commonly gone into, though when it is, it often has to do with a fear of having to pay for all the bad deeds they've done in the afterlife, or a fear that there isn't one at all. Such characters are generally secular, wealthy, and powerful, so presumably they can't stand the possibility of losing all that and starting over, either.
Another form of this trope is when a character suddenly faces a mortal threat and completely buckles in fear.
The clinical term for 'fear of death' is actually "Thanatophobia", but it can have additional or altogether different symptoms or behaviors not represented in the trope. It is, of course, a very common fear.
A Hollywood Atheist might be accused of this (or play it straight if they're a villain) on the basis that they don't believe in life after death.
Contrast Mono no Aware, Who Wants to Live Forever?, Not Afraid to Die, Death Seeker, and We All Die Someday. For fear of someone else's death, you'd like to see Protectorate and all of their protectors.
- Cross Ange: There are two things Chris fears the most, abandonment and especially death. So much so that she is paralyzed with fear when in danger of being killed, and being convinced by Embryo that her friends left her for dead after she had been shot in the head from the Arzenal massacre and him telling her she would never be abandoned by him were enough to cause a Face–Heel Turn.
- Durarara!!: Izaya's primary goal is to avoid the Cessation of Existence he believes will occur beyond death, and has driven him to form an extremely convoluted plan in attempt to prevent it: hypothesizing that Dullahan are actually Valkyries left dormant on Earth, he decides to start a massive gang war in the hopes of creating a conflict large enough to wake up resident Dullahan Celty and hitch a ride with her to whatever afterlife she returns to. He flatly states that he doesn't care whether or not it's a hellish place filled with nothing but pain, just as long as it's not nothing. Ironically, since Durarara and Baccano! share a 'verse, there is a much simpler and more reliable (also arguably less insane) means for attaining Immortality that he just doesn't know about; which makes the brief appearance of Isaac and Miria, who are members of the Dollars no less, much more hilarious.
- Morganna in .hack//SIGN is a Rogue A.I. who became aware of her programming to self-terminate once The World's true god Aura was born. She goes to great lengths to make sure that she never is, and it takes the combined efforts of Tsukasa, Subaru, and all the others to stop her.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Dante's wish to never die is what runs the military agenda and what makes the homunculi do what they do.
- In Seven Soldiers of Victory, Alix Harrower got her powers from an accident brought on by her husband's extreme obsession with his own mortality. Unable to cope with the thought of going grey or developing wrinkles, Lance Harrower tried to infuse his skin with a metal coating, but instead suffocated when the coating completely enveloped him. Alix herself became coated in the stuff after he grabbed her for help. Ironically, Lance ended up dying.
- This is a constant fear and driving motivator for many in the pantheon in The Wicked + The Divine. Given all of the gods are young people and most of them are teenagers who are unlikely to live to see their twenties, it's a pretty reasonable feeling. Minerva is especially bitter, seeing as how she won't live to see fourteen, and Baphomet is scared enough to resort to drastic measures to live longer.
- The plot of The X-Files: I Want to Believe concerns a Russian who doesn't want to die, so he has his medical mooks kill people and graft his head onto their bodies so he can live a little bit longer. They've done this several times before the start of the film and a couple more times during the film before they're stopped in the end. It appears they're just doing it For Science!, they don't especially care about the guy or payment.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. This trope is what enables Davy Jones a way of getting new recruits on The Flying Dutchman. He saves people from the brink of death and simply asks them: "Do you fear death?" If the answer is "yes", the rescuee will be saved but must in return work as a servant on the ship, eventually even becoming one with it.
- In Love And Death, Boris lives in constant fear of dying, as a result of somehow meeting the Grim Reaper as a child, and this fear informs most of his acts of cowardice throughout the movie.
- Hook: Peter deduces that Captain Hook is still in Neverland trying to hunt him and the Lost Boys after so many years because after having killed the giant crocodile that tried to eat him, Hook's great fear has been replaced by time itself. Indeed, when Hook loses his wig, he is revealed to have become an old, white-haired man.
- The servant in "Appointment in Samarra" who, seeing Death, borrows a horse from his master and flees to Samarra in order to escape. The master confronts Death, asking why Death scared his servant. Death replies that he didn't mean to scare the servant, he was just startled to see the servant there, since they had an appointment in Samarra that evening.
- Older Than Dirt: The Epic of Gilgamesh is possibly the oldest example of this trope. It chronicles the life of Gilgamesh as a seeks a way to avert death following an act that angered the Sumerian gods. The title character goes to great lengths to gain immortality, including trying to stay awake for seven days, and swimming to the bottom of the ocean to get a magical weed. His quest for immortality ultimately ends in him having to accept that death cannot be subverted.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, this was a common trait of Men and caused by Morgoth and his marring of Arda: he poisoned the matter of Arda with his essence, making Men to fear their mortality and causing Elves to fade. Sadly, this was also the main reason of the envy of the Númenoreans towards the Elves (who were immortal) and the eventual downfall of Númenor.
- Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort split his soul into seven pieces, and hid them in separate soul jars to ensure that he would never die. His obsession with avoiding death is noted to be one of his fatal flaws.
- Methuselah's Children:
- Mary Sperling, one of the oldest members of the Long-Lived Howard family, allows herself to be assimilated into an alien Hive Mind because she's afraid of dying.
- This is what led to the Howard family fleeing into space. After their existance and longevity are revealed to the world, humanity goes absolutely insane with jealousy and rage, as the only thing that makes people semi-accepting of death is that there is seemingly no way to avoid it. The reveal that this one family has seemingly cheated death, or at the very least delayed it far longer than anyone else is too much to take, and no one is willing to listen to the fact that their lifespan is the result of generations worth of selective breeding. The President himself even acknowledges that the only reason he hasnt had the characters carved up to find their secret is because he belives them, and contemplates having them all executed just so there'd be nothing to fight over, but ends up just having them exile themselves into space, and even joins them. Ironically, decades later it turns out that after the Howards left, humanity discovered an alternate form of immortality.
- Discworld: Magic users can see Death and know when their time is up. However, where witches tend to Face Death with Dignity (due to serving as midwives and burial attendants, they see quite a lot of death), wizards usually try to cheat their way out (in one's case, moving his spirit into a staff, from which he orders his son around, while another gets into a box with all the sigils and wards he can think of, only to hear "Cramped in here, isn't it?").
- This is Gerridon's Fatal Flaw in the Chronicles of the Kencyrath, which led him to bargain with Perimal Darkling and sell out his own people in the pursuit of immortality. This is explicitly pointed out in the in-universe saga that recalls his fall, which is repeated often enough to be Arc Words: "Gerridon Highlord, Master of Knorth, a proud man was he. The three peoples - Highborn, Kendar, and Arrin-Ken - he held in hand, by right of birth and might [...] but he feared death..." Notably, this makes him very unusual for a Kencyr, who are a Martyrdom Culture who don't consider fear of death to be a valid motivation for anything, and serves only to reinforce his evil and selfishness to a Kencyr audience.
- In The Little Mermaid, mermaids live much longer lives than humans however they don't have mortal souls like humans. Thus when they die, they die. The titular little mermaid doesn't like this and attempts to receive a soul by marrying a human. In the original ending, she fails. In the revised one, they went for a Bittersweet Ending instead. She still dies but she can earn a mortal soul if she does enough good deads while in spirit form.
- The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon plans to download his consciousness into a computer in order to live forever. When he gets concerned that the technology won't be available in his lifetime, he constructs a robot with a webcam and monitor so he can interact with others virtually while remaining sealed in his room away from anything that might harm him.
- In Community Jeff panics that he is going to die after learning he has high cholesterol.
- Inverted on Northern Exposure. Chris's father and grandfather both died by the age of 40, so he figures that he will too - so he tends to do risky things, like take out loans and not pay them off. But then Joel diagnoses him with high blood pressure and gives him medication, stating that his father & grandfather probably had it too. Now that Chris is given a chance at a long life, he starts toning down his risky behavior.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Nothing in the Dark". A woman sees Death and becomes so frightened of dying that she shuts herself up in her apartment and remains there into her old age, refusing to let anyone else inside.
- In Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Keith finds a single gray hair and realizes that he's going to eventually die (he's had such a fortunate life that the idea had never occurred to him), causing him to have a bit of a breakdown.
- Chris in Parks and Recreation is such a health nut that finding any indication that he's aging (or even just not the peak of human perfection) is enough to send him into a downward spiral. Justified as he was born with a heart condition and the doctors said he wouldn't last a month.
- Supernatural. A Mad Scientist/Alchemist in the Season 3 episode "Time Is On My Side" went to length to take others' organs to prolong his own life. Though a subversion in that it was more to be comfortable than immortal, but Sam and Dean provide him a Fate Worse than Death to truly punish him.
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "White Light Fever", the 102-year old businessman Harlan Hawkes is permanently living on a reserved floor of a major hospital and has contracted a personal doctor to carry out research to keep him alive at all costs. This was explained by a severe Freudian Excuse where Hawkes witnessed his parents being murdered in front of him during a war when he was a kid and spending days hiding underneath their corpses to survive. The dilemma starts when he desires another heart transplant while an 18-year old girl also needs it, while The Grim Reaper himself starts hunting for Hawkes in the form of electricity.
- The Season Four Big Bad of The Flash (2014), Clifford DeVoe, learns that he is doomed to die of an ALS-like condition due to his brainpower proving too taxing on his body. His desperation to live is such that he resorts to stealing the bodies of other metahumans. He becomes absolutely livid when it's revealed that even this is a temporary fix, given that each new body is decaying even faster than his old one.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Liches are undead who were high-level spellcasters in life. Many of them are stated to have achieved lichdom in order to avoid dying of old age.
- Module OA7 Test of the Samurai. The Big Bad Za-Jikku is so determined to avoid death that he plans to turn the entire planet's atmosphere into a lethal gas that only he can breathe and which will grant him immortality. The fact that this will kill off all other creatures on the planet does not concern him.
- In Planescape this is the defining feature of prolongers, formerly human (usually) creatures who are so terrified of death, they have used a foul ritual to become abominations who can drain the life force of others to survive. Cowards to the core, they aren't even vaguely human now, fear of death turning them into amoral predators.
- In Mage: The Ascension, one of the major villains is a death-obsessed euthanatos. In one of the finale scenarios he becomes the Big Bad, attempting to stop a mass ascension event, even at the risk of breaking reality, just to keep himself alive.
- Settra the Imperishable in Warhammer founded the Mortuary Cult, and thus laid the foundations for the eventual creation of The Undead in the setting (the ranks of which he would join millennia later as a Tomb King), because he was too proud to accept his own mortality.
- In the expanded plot of Team Fortress 2, this is the primary motivation of Bluetarch; initially he had a life-extension machine built because he simply wanted to outlive his brother Redmond (who had his own built), however he still spends brief amounts of time dead and is now absolutely terrified of The Nothing After Death.
Every day I'm dead a little longer, Mister Conagher. I have seen the other side. There is nothing there.
- Brutus the Warden in Path of Exile let a bunch of necromancers subject himself to various experiments in an attempt to become immortal. Far from achieving it, said experiments merely turned him into a mindless monster.
- In Final Fantasy III, the villain Xande's motivation is this. He wants to freeze the world into eternal darkness and stop time in order to prevent his death and mortality. This is because, in his Back Story, he was a pupil of the Magus Noah. His other two pupils were given the gift of great magical power, but Xande was instead given the "gift" of mortality. This was an honest gesture, but it caused him to go over the edge.
- Marathon. The Rogue A.I. Durandal becomes obsessed with its own mortality, and searches the universe to try to find a way to escape its inevitable destruction known as the Big Crunch.
- In Dwarf Fortress, this can be one of the motivations for an NPC to begin learning necromancy.
- Meryl from Harvest Moon: Magical Melody has constant worries about death. Meryl is a little girl which makes her dialogue more concerning. It's never specified what happened to her but she has a Dark and Troubled Past.
- In Assassin's Creed I, the Templar Sibrand believes that there is nothing waiting for him after death, and the thought of this terrifies him so deeply that when he learns that the Assassins are coming for him, he begins executing random priests out of sheer blind paranoia because they wear vaguely similar robes to those of the Assassins.
- The Order of the Stick: So far, one of the few things that can make Xykon seriously lose his cool is his phylactery being destroyed, at least while he's in a position where his body might also be destroyed. As he says once, he'll do anything to "avoid the Big Fire Below."
- The Magnus Archives: The soldier in the folk story at the beginning of "Cheating Death" had a dread of death that went beyond ordinary fear, which is why he took care to position himself at the rear during battles, and why he desperately challenged Death to a game. It turns out it wasn't just a folk story..
- After Hours. This is more or less Soren's hat. Whenever it comes to psychological fears or what the cast finds truly terrifying, it comes out that Soren fears growing old and dying. Oh, and clowns.
- David Xanatos, the ridiculously rich and powerful Magnificent Bastard of Gargoyles embarks on all sorts of schemes to live forever, so that he and his wife Fox can enjoy being rich and powerful forever.
Xanatos: The Cauldron of Life. The legend says whoever bathes in it will live as long as the mountain stones.
Hudson: Ah, you wish to be... immortal.
Xanatos: Of course. What good are all the riches on Earth, if Fox and I can't enjoy them forever?
- Family Guy:
- After getting hit by Peter's car as he's backing out of the driveway, and Lois inconsiderately reminds the family just how old he is, Brian takes to drinking his worries away because he knows that everyone can just randomly die at any moment. The combined efforts of Stewie and Frank Sinatra Jr. help him overcome his worries once and for all.
- "Mom's the Word" has Stewie frightened by the prospect of him dying someday, and when Brian tells him he believes that there's nothing in the afterlife (being an atheist and all), he tries to kill himself. After several failed attempts at suicide, Brian convinces him to make his life worthwhile and fulfill his dreams, and Stewie decides to try stand-up comedy, but his act bombs and Brian tells him to kill himself.
- In Rudolph's Shiny New Year, the Big Bad, Aeon, who is a creature that lives for exactly one eon, is nearing the end of his lifespan within a matter of days, so he kidnaps Baby New Year in order to stop time.
- In one episode of Jem, The Stingers exploit this fear in an older woman in order to scam her.