David Bruce: Anecdotes About Death

J.W. “Blind” Boone was an African-American pianist who made his living as a musician during the late 19th century and early 20th century — he died in 1927. He could have died much earlier in Kansas City, MO. At a fair he played piano. His manager, John Lange, Jr., left Blind Boone behind playing piano while he went to find a newspaper reporter to listen to him. A fire broke out, and Blind Boone smelled the smoke and heard the commotion of people around him, but no one helped out of the building and he did not know the way out of the building. Blind Boone remained calm and kept playing the piano, and Mr. Lange quickly arrived. Guided by the sound of the piano, he made his way through the smoke and rescued Blind Boone. As they left the building, the roof collapsed.

Mildred Frisby, reporter for the Chicago American, married Eddie Doherty of the Chicago Tribune. A few days after the marriage, she was assigned to cover the maiden voyage of a dirigible. However, before she and a photographer boarded the dirigible, her husband telephoned her. They spent some time together, and she ended up not boarding the dirigible. She arrived back at her newspaper to try to explain why she had missed the story, and city editor Eddie Mahoney stared at her and told her, “We’ve got you listed among the dead!” Shortly after takeoff, the dirigible had burst into flames, crashed, and killed 10 people, including the photographer for the American.

When Rita Moreno was 13 years old, she made her Broadway debut as Angelica in the play Skydrift. During a preview before the play officially opened, she made a mistake because of her youth. The lead actress, Lilly Valente, was making an emotional speech but getting little reaction from the audience, so Rita, who was eating spaghetti on stage, decided to enliven the scene with comedy. For example, she held her fork above her head and then dropped the spaghetti in her mouth. Ms. Valente, of course, was furious and told Rita afterward, “If you ever, ever do that again, anywhere in the world, I will hear about it, and you will die. I’ll see to it.”

Perhaps it is natural to rejoice when our enemies die, but should we do that? According to the Talmud, no. Moses parted the Red Sea, the Jews passed to the other side safely, and Pharoah’s men attempted to follow them but were drowned. The Jews started to rejoice, but God said to them, “My creatures are perishing, and you are rejoicing?” We must remember that not all of a people are evil. The Pharoah was evil, but his daughter rescued the infant Moses from the water, and many Egyptian midwives disobeyed orders and would not slay the Jews’ newborn sons.

Singer Céline Dion’s niece, Karine Menard, was born with cystic fibrosis. While Karine was still alive, the two would go shopping together, even if it meant carrying oxygen tanks with them. At age 16, Karine was in a hospital. Karine wanted to wear fresh pajamas, so Céline and Karine’s mother helped her change into them. Céline sang for Karine, and Karine talked about the good things that had happened in her life. Then she died. Karine is an important reason why Céline is such a strong supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

What if you were in a plane, a storm arose, and you realized that your life could possibly end in a few minutes? What would you think? What would you say? What would you regret not having done? Andre Previn was in a plane with the conductor Sir John Barbirolli when this situation happened. Sir John, dismayed, said, “Oh it’s too awful! I haven’t even done all the Bruckners!’” Fortunately, the plane landed safely.

When actress Gertrude Lawrence died, New York’s Broadway and London’s West End saluted her by blinking off their lights. One of her most famous plays was The King and I, and she was buried in the pink gown she wore while singing its “Shall We Dance?” number. Ms. Lawrence was buried in Upton, Massachusetts, along with a handful of soil from her native England.

On Friday, July 20, 1923, Pancho Villa and four of his bodyguards were assassinated while they were riding in Mr. Villa’s Dodge sedan. A street vendor shouted, “Viva Villa!” This was a signal for the assassins to start shooting. Mr. Villa died with seven bullets in his body. In 1926, his grave was opened and his head was stolen. The head was never recovered.

E.B. White loved living things, and living things loved him. After he died, two short phrases on his funeral service notice revealed his personality: “Everyone is welcome” and “Please, no flowers.” Because he loved living things, his family knew that he would prefer that the flowers keep on living rather than be cut and killed for his funeral service.

Actress Joan Hackett appeared in such movies as Will Penny and Support Your Local Sheriff. Her crypt marker in Hollywood Forever Cemetery says, “JOAN HACKETT / 1934-1983 / GO AWAY — I’M ASLEEP.” Jack Lemmon’s grave marker in Westwood Memorial Park says only “JACK LEMMON / in” as if it were a movie credit.

When Sir Cameron Mackintosh was a schoolboy, he already knew that he wanted to be a theatrical producer. He often made up an excuse that would get him out of school so that he could attend a play opening. He remembers his housemaster saying to him, “I hear your grandmother is terminally ill … again. What’s opening?”

Plague hit Milan, Italy, hard during the summer of 1484. So many people died that the living had to pile up corpses in the town square until they could dispose of them. Artist Leonardo da Vinci, who was 32 years old, was present, and he invented a perfume in an attempt to cover up the stench of the decaying corpses.

When Leonor Acevedo de Borges, the mother of author Jorge Luis Borges, reached 95 years old, she told her son, “Goodness me, Georgie, I think I overdid it.” Every night from then until she died at age 98, she prayed that in the morning she would not wake up.

© 2016, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

David Bruce has written lots of collections of anecdotes, plus other books. Take a look at the list here:


Most of the anecdotes are funny; some are thought provoking.

Download Resist Psychic Death: 250 Anecdotes and Stories, free, by David Bruce here:


Download Free eBooks, including The Kindest People series of collections of accounts of good deeds, by David Bruce here:


Download Romance eBooks by Brenda Kennedy (Some Free)


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