“Oh, Sweet Death”

Our latest column from William Thomas

Although I don’t obsess about it, I do wonder once in awhile – how will I meet my end? Almost all of us will come to an unspectacular final stop – illness, accident, old age. The best to hope for is a quick and painless surprise. Nobody wants an embarrassing passing that earns an odd headline in the newspaper. Like …

“Man Drowns in Vat of Chocolate.” That was the fate of a temporary worker at the Cocoa Services processing plant in Camden, New Jersey who died after falling into a vat of melting chocolate. Vincent Smith II was hit by the ‘agitator’ bar which mixes the chocolate. Despite the efforts of two co-workers to get him out, he died in the mix of deep brown slurry.

This will give pause to all those women who routinely use the words “chocolate” and “to die for” in the same sentence. And no, the 29 year-old was not, I repeat not laid to rest in a Mars Bar wrapper in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

I would describe that death as positively delicious compared to the sudden demise of Richard Powell, an 82-year-old Wisconsin resident who plunged head first into his septic tank and never came up. Caught under a cross pipe, the man’s legs were sticking up out of the tank when he was found, drowned.

Everyone would like their death to be followed by a glowing obituary not a glaring headline like: “Nelson Rockefeller Dies Having Sex With Mistress.” The great governor of New York State and 41st Vice-President of the United States suffered a heart attack atop his 25-year-old assistant in the Manhattan apartment he had purchased for her.

David Carradine would not have wanted the last photo of him to reveal his hands tied over his head and a cord wrapped around his private parts. “Natural causes” is a much more preferable description of a man’s demise than “auto-erotic asphyxiation.”

Famous men have died from stranger things than kinky sex. Alexander I of the Hellenes died after he was bitten by his pet monkey and Napoleon Bonaparte was killed by his wallpaper. Recent analysis of a strand of his hair proved that the wallpaper in his prison cell on Saint Helena became damp and moldy, enough to poison him by arsenic gas. Attila the Hun, after pillaging, then conquering Asia, died of a nosebleed while Henry I died instantly after tripping over his little dwarf, Scarlet, who was also killed in the accident.

I always thought the death of Michael Jackson would somehow involve Bubbles, the jealous chimp.

In a truly bizarre termination, Jerome Irving Rodale died while discussing the health benefits of organic food while appearing “live” on the Dick Cavett Show. His last words: “I’m going to live to be 100 unless I’m run down by a sugar-crazed taxi driver.”

Jim Fixx, author of the “Complete Book of Running: and founder of the 70s jogging craze died … while jogging. A Romanian fire-eater by the name of Vlad Czacu died in mid-performance when he accidentally belched and blew himself to bits. Thinking it was part of the act, nobody moved to help him.

On the other hand, celebrities have to take a number to get on the list of “people who have died in privies.” Elvis Presley, ingloriously. Evelyn Waugh, ignominiously. Judy Garland, mercifully.

In a devoutly strange accident, a woman in Mogorella, Sardinia arrived late to church and was following the mass on the front steps when part of the cornice of the facade gave way and she was crushed to death by the crucifix.

It is for two reasons I think about how those final moments might unfold. Years ago somebody sent me a newspaper obituary in which William Thomas had drowned off the shores of Lake Erie. Since then, I always wait an hour after my meal before I go swimming. Also I wear fluorescent water wings … even when I’m in the house.

And five years ago I was hitchhiking around the Portuguese island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco, when I got picked up by two big guys, brothers both named Jose in an ice cream delivery truck. The passenger Jose put my backpack in the freezer compartment and came back to the front seat with three tubs of ice cream and three spoons. So there we were, driving fast around the switch-back mountain roads of Madeira eating ice cream like we were in a contest. While sitting between two very large guys in white uniforms and haircuts fashioned with a bowl, eating Neapolitan ice cream at eleven in the morning, I became hysterical.

Unable to explain in Portuguese why I was laughing just made it worse. It was also the height of the banana harvest so the trucks in front and the ones behind were loaded down with huge bunches of highly-prized yellow fruit.

And I thought, please don’t let me go out in a car accident like this. Never mind the humiliation of being crushed to death in an ice cream truck with the two Joses, the accident would likely involve one or even two trucks piled high with bananas.

Make no mistake about the impending headline: “Humour writer dies in a fatal head-on banana split.” And no, don’t even think about a Dairy Queen funeral.

For comments, ideas and copies of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to www.williamthomas.ca,



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