Ah, the bathroom: one of the most important, but least loved rooms in a house. We never stay in it for very long — the toilet website MaP Testing found that most people use the restroom six to eight times each day for a total of about 30 minutes.
That may not sound like much, but each time you visit the bathroom, you’re taking a risk. In the Victorian era, you had to worry about your toilet catching fire, and in 2012, millions of Flushmate toilets were recalled because they were exploding. In Australia, you have to check for venomous spiders that nest under toilet seats, and in Thailand, you’ve got to look out for pythons, because one famously bit a man’s penis last year.
Pooping-related deaths are also rather common, and don’t just happen in episodes of The Sopranos. Straining can lead to muscle contractions in your chest, which can lead to heart attacks. Not going potty can also kill you. In 2013, an autistic teenager in England died from avoiding the loo for eight weeks.
Toilets are also not picky murderers, and a long list of celebrities and historic figures have met their makers in the bathroom. Here are some of the most infamous cases.
Hollywood legend Judy Garland died from an accidental barbiturate overdose in 1969. Around the age of 16, when shooting The Wizard of Oz, Garland started taking “pep pills” provided by the studio to help her lose weight and stay full of energy. A lifelong dieter, she became dependent on drugs, and by the age of 25, she’d suffered a nervous breakdown and a failed suicide. Garland’s fifth husband, Mickey Deans, found her sitting on the toilet, her head bent down, and her hands folded in her lap, with blood dripping out of her mouth and nostrils — a rather unglamorous death for the striking MGM star.
The day before Elvis Presley’s death in a bathroom at Graceland in 1977, he’d visited the dentist and had trouble sleeping. Around 9:30 a.m., he told his fiancee, Ginger Alden, he was going to the read in the bathroom and grabbed a copy of The Scientific Search For the Face of Jesus by Frank Adams. When Alden awoke four hours later, she found Presley lifeless on the floor in front of the toilet, his gold pajama pants around his ankles.
British writer Evelyn Waugh’s death is somewhat of a mystery. As he aged, Waugh’s health began to decline, and he grew fat and deaf. After returning home from Easter Mass in 1966 at a neighboring English village, Waugh retreated to the library in his house and was never seen alive again. His body was found in the bathroom, with a gash on his forehead and water in his lungs. Foul play was not suspected, and the cause of death was credited as heart failure.
Five years after character actor Robert Pastorelli was found not guilty of shooting his girlfriend in the head at his Hollywood home in 1999, his assistant found him hunched over the toilet with a toupee on his head, a syringe in his right arm, and vomit all over his clothes. Overdose was the cause of death, and the evidence found near his body included an unused syringe, a metal spoon with dark residue, a bag of white powder, and the chemotherapy drug, Purinethol. Around the time of Pastorelli’s passing, authorities had recently reopened their investigation into his girlfriend’s death.
There’s debate on whether comedian Lenny Bruce died of a narcotics overdose or committed suicide on Aug. 3, 1966. In the early 1960s, after almost a decade in comedy, Bruce’s jokes became more risqué and contentious. He was arrested for obscenity multiple times, including once in San Francisco when he used the word “cocksucker” and uttered the phrase, “To is a preposition, come is a verb” in a jazz workshop. Bruce was found seated on the toilet, with a needle in his right arm. His electric typewriter was still humming in the next room, and his last typed words were, “Conspiracy to interfere with the fourth amendment const…”
At the time of Jim Morrison’s death, the Doors frontman was visiting Paris and had at least three paternity actions pending against him. In letters, he wrote that he enjoyed walking around the city alone, and that he had shaved off his beard and lost some weight. His longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson found him dead in the bathtub in her apartment on July 3, 1971. Heart failure was listed as the official cause of death, although no autopsy was performed, because French law at the time did not require it.
French pop singer Claude Francois’ death is so stupid, it’s sad. On March 11, 1978, Francois returned home to his Paris apartment after shooting a TV special for BBC in Switzerland. While taking a shower, he noticed that a light fixture on the wall wasn’t straight, and he was electrocuted when he attempted to reposition it.
Check out more stories from our Toilet Issue here:
Happy Crappers: S.F.’s Best Toilets
Some San Francisco restaurants’ restrooms are a work of art, period.
Countdown to the Waste Emergency
The majority of San Francisco’s sewer pipes were built before 1975, and the city is trying to replace them before they fail.
San Francisco Has an Experimental Toilet Showroom by AT&T Park
TOTO’s Concept 190 is the No. 1 place for a futuristic No. 2.