Marie Antoinette

Cause of death: Head chopped off.

Reason for greatness: The circumstances of the queen's execution were no different from those of thousands of noblemen and clergy guillotined during the reign of terror, but only she left such a colorful trail of memorabilia! Like furniture and locks of hair!

Jesus of Nazareth

Cause of death: Blood loss.

Reason for greatness: Indubitably the most successful death of all time (except as an argument against the death penalty—his death was just the beginning!), the crucifixion of Jesus resulted in a wonderful religion, a symbol that looks good on necklaces, a genre of painting, a really important book, and a musical!


Cause of death: Head smashed by falling tortoise.

Reason for greatness: The Greek playwright basically invented tragedy, and then in 458 B.C. it befell him! The 69-year-old Aeschylus was strolling outdoors when a vulture mistook his pate for a shell-cracking stone and dropped a tortoise on it.

Tycho Brahe

Cause of death: Not peeing, or mercury poisoning.

Reason for greatness: Traditionally, it's been believed that Tycho Brahe died on October 24, 1601, after politely holding his urine during a long banquet at the home of a Prague aristocrat. Recently, however, upstart researchers have recorded high levels of mercury in the scientist's corpse, suggesting that Brahe might have inadvertently poisoned himself or been murdered by his associate Johannes Kepler. We'll never know, because it happened so long ago!

Isadora Duncan

Cause of death: Strangled by own scarf.

Reason for greatness: Famous for her loose, togalike dancing costumes, the mother of modern dance was wearing an equally voluminous scarf when, in September 1927 on the French Riviera, she stepped into a new convertible she was thinking about buying. The wind whipped her scarf out of the car, where it tragically tangled with the spokes of the rear wheel. Duncan's modern dance legacy was always assured, but to become a true fashion icon, she had to die for her clothes.