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Death Be Not Proud

by Stephen Kelly

The movies are rife with characters whose deaths are considered cool and glamorous and sometimes, like Randy Quaid in Independence Day, saves the lives of thousands of others. Some deaths are Shakespearean in their tragedy; think Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (although that was probably more cold than cool), Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Chow Yun-Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and you've got the idea.

Movie gangsters seem to die the coolest deaths. Whether it’s Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde or James Cagney in White Heat, getting whacked seems somewhat mythical. Top of the world, ma! How cool is that?

The problem is, in real life most people don’t die tragic, heroic deaths. The truth is most people deaths mirror their lives: dull, mundane, maybe a little painful and of little consequence to anyone but themselves and a handful of people. We have absolutely no choice over how and when we die. Similarly, the fabulousness of our deaths are also predetermined and out of our hands.

But what if you could choose a cool way to die? How would you do it, keeping in mind that it has to be somewhat rooted in reality, and not involve light sabers, dinosaurs or flying your airplane into the alien mothership. It has to be something that could actually happen in real life.

Maybe your death is a direct result of something that you love to do that goes horribly astray, like getting struck by lightning while flying a kite, being attacked by a shark while surfing or choking on a chicken sandwich, a la Momma Cass Elliot (which is actually a myth. Her actual cause of death was heart failure; the coroner found no food in her trachea).

Before you start, I imagine you’d have to ask yourself some fundamental questions. First, do you keep it private or do you go out in a blaze of glory? Does death come while performing some death-defying act, like setting yourself on fire while being dropped over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Or, like Janis Joplin, do you have some fun with it, kicking the bucket after putting nothing but heroin and Southern Comfort in your body for a week? Who knew that would happen?

One thing I know is this: I would not want my death to be the direct result of doing something really stupid that people can laugh about later. Sonny Bono is a perfect example. He was famous for being married to Cher and for a fairly successful political career, but what most people remember about him is the dumb-ass way in which he died, smashing into a tree while skiing. Like that tree just popped up out of nowhere.

Similarly, I would not want to die by drug overdose, because that seems pretty stupid, too. Being found dead on the floor with the needle still in your arm doesn’t seem like a very glamorous way to go. Neither does choking to death on your own vomit after passing out from too much heroin and Jack Daniels. That seems too easy. Let’s put some imagination into this, people. Gimme something I can work with here.

Or maybe it’s not death at all. Maybe it’s just a very long, tortuous process that makes you long for death. Like being tied to a chair as Rosie O’Donnell gives a lecture on lesbian rights, being forced to watch every movie ever made by Freddie Prinze, Jr., or, my current idea of what true hell is like, a Fergie concert.

No, for me, death would have to be swift, relatively painless, and not involve falling from heights, roller coaster accidents or being attacked and mauled by animals. It would have to be something that a lot of people would see and talk about later. Celebrity involvement would be nice. There would have to be music and, of course, video to memorialize the event.

So, given that criteria, my perfect death would be stage crashing a Springsteen concert, where I would inadvertently trip on an electrical main and have thousands of volts of electricity course through my body. My death spasms would look like I’m really into the show, getting jiggy with some bizarre spastic dance.

And when I finally collapse to the stage, people would think I’m doing a James Brown kind of thing, too exhausted and exhilarated to stand on my own two feet, although I’m guessing James Brown probably never had smoke coming out of every orifice while the air filled with the smell of his burning hair.

My dying wish, before four roadies descend on me with the full force of their estimated 1000 pounds, crushing out what little life remains, would be that The Boss would launch into Badlands or Rosalita, something celebratory, and not mournful, like Devils and Dust or Streets of Philadelphia, which is ironic, being that I’m from Philly.

My only regret would be that I wouldn’t be around to witness the media storm that would inevitably erupt or hear people say of me, “What a cool way to die.”