David Bruce: Death Anecdotes

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Gay author Michael Thomas Ford had an uncle named David who was also gay and whose lover was named George. David and George lived together for many years in a committed relationship, but after they died together in a car accident, they were buried hundreds of miles apart. Mr. Ford was sad because no one could tell by their grave sites that these two people had ever had a loving relationship, so he was happy when he learned that David’s sister had placed a headstone for George near David’s grave and had buried some of George’s ashes there as well. Now, people walking in the cemetery may see the two headstones next to each other, notice that the dates of death are the same, and guess that the two men had a relationship.

Avril Storm Bourbon, a professional costumer, plays the half-Klingon, half-Irish K’Lannagh O’Sullivan at Star Trek conventions. One of her friends, Chuck, took Star Trek seriously, and he knew every word to every Klingon song ever performed on Star Trek. After Chuck died, Avril and some of Chuck’s friends who enjoyed dressing as Klingons showed up for the funeral. They didn’t wear costumes, but they received permission from Chuck’s mother to perform a Klingon Death Howl at the end of the funeral, after most mourners had left. The Death Howl began softly, then grew very loud, ending in a scream. Some family members joined in, feeling that it was a very appropriate way to express their feelings.

In most productions of Swan Lake, Odette commits suicide in the final act by jumping into a lake and drowning herself. At a 1981 rehearsal of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, ballerina Galina Samsova went up to the place where her character was to jump to her death, but seeing no one to catch her and being unwilling to die in real life, she cautiously climbed down the platform. As a result, the choreographer, Peter Wright, made sure that in the future there would be two catchers to make sure that Ms. Samsova’s stage jump would not be dangerous.

Among Mark Twain’s favorites of the books he had written was Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, about a French heroine for whom Mr. Twain had the utmost respect. Mr. Twain once met the Archbishop of Orléans, who told him that St. Joan (aka the Maid of Orléans) would no doubt see to it that anyone who wrote so beautifully about her would get into Heaven. Mr. Twain replied that he would be “perfectly satisfied” in the next life if he were near Joan of Arc and as far away as possible from her enemies.

Drag queens can be obsessive about getting the women’s clothing they want. After Lee Brewster, a major supplier of women’s clothing to drag queens and other cross-dressers, died, a drag queen who did not know he had died called his store (where some of Mr. Brewster’s friends had gathered to talk about him and to express their grief) to ask some questions about women’s clothing. Informed that Lee Brewster had died, the drag queen asked, “Does this mean I can’t order my corset?”

In Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca, the title character commits suicide by jumping off the ramparts of the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome into the Tiber River. Mr. Puccini pointed out to the author of the original play, Victorien Sardou, that the river is too far from the castle for this to happen, but Mr. Sardou told him not to worry about such a minor point.

One of the poems memorized by poet A.E. Housman, author of A Shropshire Lad, was the “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d,” which appears in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and includes these lines: “… list with tearful eye, Whilst I his fate do tell. His soul did from this cold world fly, By falling down a well.”

When Hazel von Jeschki died at the age of 94, she left very specific directions for choosing her pallbearers. She wrote, “There will be no male pallbearers. They wouldn’t take me out when I was alive; I don’t want them to take me out when I’m dead.”

When Thaddeus Stevens, U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, was on his deathbed, some friends visited him. One friend made a comment about how well he looked, and Mr. Stevens replied, “Ah, gentlemen, it is not my appearance that I am concerned about just now, but my disappearance.”

Movie director John Waters sometimes does lectures, followed by question-and-answer sessions during which he shows a sharp wit. When someone remarked on how well he looked, he replied, “Are you kidding? I look like Lillian Hellman the day before she died.”

In 1935, after touring and recording for decades as a professional singer, Ma Rainey retired and lived in Columbus, Georgia. On December 22, 1939, she died. The coroner listed the great blues singer’s occupation as “Housekeeper.”

Wilson Mizner was with fighter-author Jim Tully when Mr. Tully’s secretary gave him the news that Calvin Coolidge, who spoke little, had died. Without even looking up, Mr. Mizner asked, “How can they tell?”

This epitaph appears on a Scottish gravestone: “Dry up your tears and weep no more,/ I am not dead but gone before,/ Remember me and bear in mind,/ You have not long to stay behind.”

As sharp-tongued conservative politician John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833) lay dying, his physician said that Mr. Randolph’s major concern was that his slaves be freed.

In a Harmony, Rhode Island cemetery is a headstone which bears the inscription, “If there is another world/ I live in bliss./ If not another,/ I have made the best of this.”

An epitaph in a cemetery near Stockton, Somerset County, Maryland, said, “You wouldn’t come to see me/ When I was alive/ Don’t come to see me/ Now that I’m dead.”

While on tour in Rio de Janeiro, one of Arturo Toscanini’s violinists was killed by an autobus. Toscanini wept, created a fund for the violinist’s widow, and made a big contribution.

At the funeral of the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, a lone eagle was released and soared into the sky. The eagle symbolized Augustus’ soul going to heaven.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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