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Death sucks. That's why most people are afraid of it. Some people die of old age, or gradually succumb to one of a number of illnesses. When death comes, the lucky among us will go out peacefully with dignity. Some of us might go out fighting the good fight, saving the lives of some unfortunate person whom our consciences cannot ignore and force us to help. They'll all die "good deaths" (and in some cases, heroic deaths).

This trope is not about those people.

This trope is about the people who die in ways that are, to put it completely bluntly, ridiculous and embarrassing. The manner of their demise are the things you read about on websites dedicated to the Darwin Awards. The kind of death that ends up the punchline of a joke told by a standup comedian who specializes in Black Comedy or Dead Baby Comedy.

This is a somewhat Subjective Trope in that, while we might find the way a person joined the Choir Invisible to be humorous and worth a laugh, to the person's family it is a tragedy. The bereaved naturally think you cruel and inhuman for laughing at such a tragedy. And it is a tragedy... someone has died, after all. But that doesn't stop it from being funny, when you think about it.

Sometimes overlaps with Cruel and Unusual Death when the death is not just embarrassing, it's also horrific. (In fact, the whole point of many Cruel and Unusual Deaths is to completely humiliate the victim and tarnish his/her name forever.) Often overlaps with Death by Falling Over. See also Dropped a Bridge on Him. Contrast Dying Moment of Awesome, which may well be the exact opposite of this trope, as well as Great Way to Go, which is never combined with this trope.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Undignified Death include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

Fan Works

Film

  • Alfric in The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies dies when he accidentally triggers the catapult he's hiding in and gets launched right into the mouth of a troll, where they both suffocate each other.
  • In Amelie, the eponymous character's mother dies when a tourist committing suicide via freefall lands on her.
  • In Hot Rod, Rod had always thought his father died testing a jump for Evel Knievel. In reality, he choked to death on a piece of pie.
  • In the 1966 all-star comic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Wrong Box, ten of the twenty competitors for the Tontine fall victim to this in a series of vignettes at the beginning of the film. In order:
    • Army sergeant Brian Allen Harvey orders his men to fire a cannon, oblivious to the fact that he is standing directly in the line of fire;
    • Amateur falconer Sydney Whitcombe Sykes is attacked by his own bird when he gives the order to kill;
    • Intrepid explorer Ian Scott Fife plants a Union Flag on a mountaintop... which promptly gives way under him;
    • Dignitary Leicester Young-Fielding is hit squarely in the face by the ceremonial bottle of champagne at the christening of a ship;
    • Army officer Alan Frazer Scrope is sounding the charge on a trumpet when an African native arrow flies down the bell of the instrument;
    • Industrialist James Whyte Wragg, investigating claims that his coal mine is unsound, is crushed by falling debris after he taps a support post with his cane;
    • Big game hunter Oliver Pike Harmsworth tells his guide that he will not shoot a rhinoceros until it is actually charging, unaware that it is almost on top of him;
    • Vyvyan Alistair Montague, upon dropping a handkerchief to signal the start of a pistol duel, is turned on and shot by the two duellers;
    • Elderly, wheelchair-bound industrialist Derek Lloyd Peter Digby is pushed down a hill by his son, who wishes to inherit his fortune early;
    • And newly-knighted Sir Robert Park Collingwood is accidentally decapitated during the conferral of his knighthood by Queen Victoria.
  • "Ditto" Stiles, one of the High School teachers in the The Nick Nolte/Ralph Macchio black comedy Teachers, suffers a fatal heart attack attack at his desk in the middle of class. What makes his death qualify for this trope is that the class period ends, and three more class periods come and go, before anyone (be it a student or a fellow teacher) notices that he's dead.
  • Pincus of Ghost Town acquired his ability to see ghosts after a near-death experience during a colonoscopy.
  • Donald Gennaro from Jurassic Park getting eaten by a T-Rex while on the toilet.
  • All of the jihadis in Four Lions end up blowing themselves up in stupid ways.

Literature

  • Smaug the Golden, Smaug the Magnificent, Smaug, Chiefest and Greatest of All Calamities... dies when an arrow gets fired into a tiny bare patch in his otherwise indestructible hide.
    • Also, the Master of Lake Town. He makes off with some stolen loot, only to starve to death in the wastelands.
  • In The Tomorrow Series, Chris goes missing for most of a book. At the end of said book, the group find his totalled car and decomposing body, and it becomes apparent that he got drunk and rolled the car over. Most of the other main characters die from Heroic Sacrifices.
  • Machine of Death has at least a couple.
  • Many of the villains in Carl Hiaasen's novels. The stand-out is one who drowned by being held underwater by a sexually-deviant dolphin that wanted to have its way with him.
  • Adrian Mole once met a somewhat mentally disturbed woman whose father died because a dog fell on his head in Torremolinos. Of course, everyone she tells this story to will laugh about it, Adrian included.
  • In one Warhammer novel, an empire soldier is killed by the way of being impaled on the spikes of an orc warboss helmet. As in, the orc warboss discarded the helmet and it just happened to land on the soldier.
  • The Graham Greene humorous story "A Shocking Accident" involves a young man whose father died in an embarrassing manner - a pig fell out of a window and hit him on the head. The story describes the man's futile efforts to describe the circumstances of his father's death in a way that won't cause the listener to crack up with laughter. At the end of the story, he realizes that his girlfriend is the right partner for him when she listens to his description and responds seriously and with empathy. In a case of Strange Minds Think Alike, she inquires about what happened to the pig, which is the first thing the guy wondered when he was first told about his father's death.
  • In Anansi Boys, Mr. Nancy's was singing karaoke at an island bar at the time of his death, and as he dies, his last act is to pull off the bikini top of a comely audience member. It's clear that Nancy thinks of this as a great joke, but when his son, the protagonist learns about it, he sees it as yet another example of his father being embarrassing.
  • This occurs frequently in Michael Dorsey's Serge Storms books.
  • In David Eddings' The Shining Ones, a hit is put out on one Avin Wargunsson: diminutive and little-loved heir to the Thalesian throne who was abusing his power and was a general embarrassment to his country. The people assigned to the job decide on a whimsical method. They bring in a barrel of expensive red wine, claiming it is for him, open the barrel, then proceed to stick him inside and nail the lid shut. Given the general dislike of the guy, he isn't found until several days later. He was described as still being significantly purple during the funeral, and despite their best efforts, the entire congregation ended up breaking down in laughter. Anyone else who heard the story eventually ended up doing the same; it was that funny to them.
    • There was some regret by at least the two killers. They wasted a perfectly good barrel of wine!
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is built on this. The strongest characters die the most ignonimous deaths.
    • King Robert Baratheon was a peerless warrior... but died after being gored by a boar while hunting.
    • Ned Stark is executed by a boy-king who had previously had his ass handed to him by his daughter Arya.
    • Prince Viserys Targaryen never gets back his family's throne because he got drunk and threatened his sister in front of her husband, who then poured molten gold all over him.
    • Khal Drogo is unbeaten in battle, but dies from an infected wound. He is resurrected with Blood Magic... but is catatonic, so his wife smothers him with a pillow.
    • Oberyn outclasses the Unskilled but Strong Gregor Clegane, but taunts him once too often, giving Gregor the opportunity to pound his skull into oblivion.
    • Tyrion kills his father while the latter is on the privy. Making it worse, he killed him by shooting him in the bowels with an arrow.

Live Action TV

  • In the classic The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust", while dressed as "Peter the Peanut", Chuckles the Clown is killed by a rampaging elephant who tries to "shell" him.

"You know how hard it is to stop after just one peanut!"

  • In Monarch of the Glen, an eccentric elderly character is pike-fishing with dynamite, when his dog (which he was training to fetch unsuccessfully all episode) decides he wants the explosives back. His last words are, if I remember correctly, "Oh".
  • In the very first episode of Dead Like Me, George dies after getting hit by a toilet seat that broke off of the MIR space station as it reentered Earth's atmosphere.
    • Dead Like Me had more than just George's death. The Gravelings caused Rube Goldberg-esque chain reactions that caused bizarre, comical and very undignified deaths for many of the show's victims.
  • News Radio: A coworker no-one can remember, "Ted", is asphyxiated after hours when his tie gets caught in the copy machine.
  • In the X Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", there's a psychic who can see how people are going to die. When Mulder asks how he's going to die, the psychic won't give a straight answer, but comments "You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation."
  • Miss Blankenship dropping dead at her desk during Season 4 of Mad Men.
    • Lane Pryce tries to kill himself by pumping car exhaust into his brand new Jaguar, but the car will not start. He ends up hanging himself on his office door and is not discovered for 12 hours. The other partners have to force his body aside to open the door so they can cut him down. It's definitely not how the dignified British gentleman would want to be remembered.
  • 1000 Ways to Die frequently showcases this trope, as the show is all about deaths that are unusual, gruesome, or both. Examples include men being killed in toilet-related accidents, and other people being killed by or during sexual acts.
  • Supernatural has this exchange while Sam is stuck in a Groundhog Day Loop in which Dean dies everyday:

Dean: (on getting hit by a car) "Did it look cool, like in the movies?"
Sam: "You peed yourself."
Dean: "Of course I peed myself! Man gets hit by a car, you think he has full control over his bladder? Come on!"

  • Gigi Cestone from The Sopranos; he suffers a heart attack while constipated on a strip club toilet and surrounded by porn magazines.

Theater

  • In a Katt Williams stand-up comedy routine, he says that his neighborhood is so bad that even the squirrels are dangerous and that if he does ever get killed by a squirrel, please lie about it.

Video Games

  • In Disgaea, Laharl's father King Krichevskoy apparently dies by choking on a black pretzel.
  • There are a couple of these in Ghost Trick but the prize has to go to Lynne, for being crushed to death by a giant roast chicken.
    • And that's not even going in to the ways you can make some deaths into this, such as reclining a driver's seat, leaving him flailing helplessly on his back while his truck plows into a building and Cabanela dying from a hard hat launched at his face.
  • Oh, we should remember the Reach in this regard. Some Spartans sacrifice their lives to blow up enemy motherships. Some kill their slayers back while impaled on power sword. And some... get shot in the head whilst lowering their shields out of cover. Pretty sure that Kat won't want to be remembered for that...
  • If you're rude to Conrad Verner in Mass Effect 2, he eventually storms off. A later news report states that, while attempting to catch some youths riding the top of a bus, he fell off, struck several cars and fell into the turbine of a biomass recycling center. That may or may not be a euphemism for a sewage treatment plant.

Western Animation

  • South Park loves this trope. In one episode, a woman dies after falling into a toilet while the lid was up.

Web Comics

  • This Irregular Webcomic strip.
  • In "[S] Wake", in Homestuck, Dream Feferi barely has time to notice Jack before he unceremoniously slices her in two and leaves her for dead. The look on her face kind of diminishes the impact.
    • In the same Flash (and the pages afterward), we also have Tavros, who challenged God Tier Vriska to a fight and lost immediately, despite being given a free shot - then was impaled on his own lance and pitched into an abyss to land hard enough to burst his new robo-legs with a look of dumb shock on his face.
    • Equius himself died with the most idiotic look on his face after being strangled.
    • Jade may well have topped all of the above: she was effectively killed by several tonnes of shaving cream. SHAVING CREAM.
      • Well technically, it was the bombs that were attached to the shaving cream that did her in.
      • No amount of bombs will ever change that they were attached to and delivered by way of several tonnes of shaving cream.

Web Original

  • The Darwin Awards, as noted, are pretty much built on this trope. With the added criterion that it has to be self-inflicted.
  • A piece called Australia: The Confusing Country (widely suspected to have been written by Douglas Adams) advises against putting your arm down a wombat's burrow as the wombat will think its burrow is collapsing and push up; crushing the arm between the wombat and the burrow roof and causing you to bleed to death. It then adds that "This is considered the third most embarrassing known way to die, and Australians don't talk about it much".
  • "Undignified Deaths" is a category in Chuck Shepherd's News Of The Weird column.
  • Survival of the Fittest has had a few of these over its run. The most notable example would be that of Carson Baye's in v3, where he stops to take a dump... only to learn that the area he's in has become a dangerzone. Cue Oh Crap.
  • Not as bad as some examples, but in Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, Walter C. Dornez muses that bleeding out from a gut wound against a rock while the shooter (specified as a "crazy Catholic German bint") quotes a movie is suitable for a "traitor's death".
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