Pablo Picasso, the rapper Prodigy, and the fourth president of the United States have something in common: They all died while eating.
There’s an old Catalan proverb that says “The table kills more people than war does” — and there are certainly plenty of famous food-related deaths throughout history. Monarchs seem particularly susceptible: The early 12th-century English king Henry I is said to have died from a surfeit of lampreys (an eel-like fish); one of his successors, King John, was done in by a surfeit of underripe peaches. The 18th-century Swedish king Adolf Frederick was felled by digestive problems after wolfing down a repast of caviar, lobster, herring, and sauerkraut, accompanied by champagne and finished off with a supposed 14 servings of semla, a cream-filled bun bathed in hot milk.
None of those deaths actually occurred at the table, however. And the demises of Picasso, Prodigy, and President James Madison can’t be blamed directly on the consumption of too much food. Neither can those of anyone else on the list (with one possible exception).
A few of these unfortunate diners did choke to death, one was shot, and one was undeniably poisoned — but most of them simply happened to die of heart attacks or natural causes while sitting down to eat. (These are the 15 leading causes of death in America.)
The people on this list were often sitting with family or friends at the time of their departures, and assuming that they were enjoying their meals, it’s tempting to think that there must be worse ways to go.
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