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Unusual Circumstances Behind the Deaths of Some Noteworthy Gay Personalities

CemeteryAs I was doing research for an upcoming post about noteworthy LGBT persons from the past, I collected information on the circumstances of their deaths.  And although nearly two-thirds died from AIDS, heart attacks, pneumonia, strokes or various cancers, there were some other causes of death that stood out because they were out of the ordinary.  Here they are, arranged in chronological order:



  • We begin with perhaps the most gruesome death, that of England's Edward II.  Supposedly, a red-hot poker was thrust up his rectum while he was imprisoned in 1327, scalding his internal organs.  However, scholars now believe this story was made-up and that Edward, in fact, may not have been murdered at all.  Read the story behind it here.  




  • Jean-Baptiste-Lully succumbed to gangrene at the age of 54 after the composer and conductor struck his foot with his long conducting staff during a performance in 1687.
  • Famed composer Franz Schubert died in 1828 from mercury poisoning, a result of mercury being administered to treat tertiary syphilis.  He was 31.
  • Hart Crane, poet and heir to the Life Savers candy fortune, was 32 when he jumped from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico after an evening of drinking (and being roughed up by a crew member he made advances on).  His body was never recovered.  In 2012 James Franco played Crane in the movie The Broken Tower.




  • Spanish poet/dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca, just 38, was executed in the opening weeks of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 by Nationalist Guards led by General Francisco Franco.




  • Writer Virginia Woolf filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, walked into the River Ouse near her home in England, and drowned herself.  Her body wasn't recovered for three weeks.  She was 59.




  • James Dean was just 24 years old when he was killed in a car crash a month before his movie Rebel Without a Cause was released in the autumn of 1955.
  • Dag Hammarskjold had been the second Secretary General of the UN for eight years when he was killed in a plane crash in 1961 at the age of 56.
  • Marc Blitzstein, renowned composer/lyricist/librettist, was murdered in 1964 by three sailors he picked up in a bar while on a winter vacation in Martinique.  He was 58.




  • Poet and writer Frank O'Hara died from injuries sustained after being run over by a dune buggy on the beach in Cherry Grove on Fire Island during the summer of 1966.  He was 40 years old.




  • Neal Cassady, who ran with the crowd of the Beat Generation's Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, died from hypothermia in 1968 after wandering away from a wedding party in just a t-shirt and jeans on a cold and rainy January night in Mexico.
  • In November 1978 Harvey Milk was murdered in City Hall along with the mayor of San Francisco by a disgruntled former member of the Board of Supervisors.  At his murder trial the defense team used the infamous "Twinkies defense", saying his addiction to junk food produced mood swings.
  • The story is that Tennessee Williams' fatal 1983 heart attack, at the age of 71, was caused by choking after he inhaled the cap from a bottle of poppers he had opened with his teeth.  However, like Cass Elliott's ham sandwich, this has been disputed.
  • Andy Warhol died in 1987 in a New York hospital from a cardiac arrthymia while recovering from successful gallbladder surgery.  Ironically, it had been an effort to get Warhol to schedule this surgery since he was afraid of doctors and hospitals.  He was 58.




  • Rumors were that 70-year-old Malcolm Forbes didn't die from a heart attack in 1990, but rather by doctor-assisted suicide after being diagnosed with HIV.




  • Gianni Versace was shot to death in July 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan in front of his South Beach mansion as he was walking back from a coffee shop with the morning paper (and $1,200 in his pocket).  He was 50.




  • Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, was struck and killed by falling debris on the morning of 9-11.  His was the first certified fatality from the attack.




  • Winner of a silver medal in boxing for Canada at the 1992 Olympics, Mark Leduc's cause of death is listed as "heatstroke" after he collapsed in a sauna in a Toronto hotel in 2009.  He was 47.












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