Despite our advanced level of civilization, we’re still herd animals at heart. How else can you explain the persistence of fads? “Everybody else was doing it” is a pretty lousy excuse, but it’s all we have. Sometimes, though, the desire to participate in a trend can have fatal results. In this feature, we’ll tell ten tales of people killed while foolishly participating in ridiculous fads.
One of the most inexplicable trends of the last few years was planking, where people … laid down. In public. So named because the position of the body resembles a wooden plank, it started in England and quickly spread via the Internet all over the world. In May of 2011, it claimed its first victim. An Australian bloke named Acton Beale was trying to plank on a balcony seven stories in the air when he lost his balance and plummeted to his death. All over the world, people realized exactly how dumb planking was and mostly quit doing it.
Gangnam Style (2012)
One of the most memorable fads of 2012 was “Gangnam Style,” an irresistible tune by South Korean rapper PSY that became a global viral hit, surpassing Justin Bieber to become the most-watched video on YouTube. The accompanying dance moves (a sort of horsey clop thing) were equally popular, with everybody from Britney Spears to NASA busting a move. But for British man Eamonn Kilbride, it was the last dance he would ever do. At his company holiday party in 2012, the 46-year-old father of three busted out the dance and instantly collapsed from a fatal heart attack.
Sagging Pants (2009)
Fashion is kind of the ultimate fad, but usually your clothes won’t kill you. The sagging pants craze originated in urban communities in the early 2000s. It’s believed that it’s an adaptation of a look from prison, where you’re not allowed to have a belt, but it quickly evolved into a signifier of a certain kind of thug lifestyle. They might want to switch to skinny jeans, though, as the tale of Hector Quinones illustrates. In 2009, New York native Hector murdered and robbed a family on the Upper West Side. While chasing down the one survivor, the villain tripped over his saggy pants and fell off a fire escape three stories to his death.
Dance Marathons (1923)
Fads aren’t a modern invention by any means — we can go back nearly a century to find a case of the madness of crowds claiming a life. Dance marathons were a popular diversion in the 1920s, as hordes of people gathered to tap their feet for as long as they possibly could. Like any endurance contest, it can push people too far, and the first person to kick off at a dance marathon was Homer Morehouse, who went 87 hours on his feet before collapsing from exhaustion and dying on the dance floor.
Pocket Motorcycles (2004)
This is one trend that anybody who’s lived in a big city in the last decade already hates. Pocket motorcycles, small gas-powered minibikes capable of reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour, became a hot urban trend in the early 2000s. Because they didn’t require a driver’s license, idiots flocked to them, and even though many cities passed laws specifically prohibiting their use, it didn’t stop dozens of fatalities. Just in 2003, more than 2,000 people were injured riding the things, and in 2004, a teenage boy was hit by a truck and killed while riding his pocket bike because he was too low to the ground for the truck driver to see.
Ghost Riding (2006)
Some fads are both absurd and hilarious all at once. Case in point: ghost riding, the practice of jumping wholly or partially out of your car while it’s in motion to bust dance moves on the hood or the pavement before jumping back behind the wheel. The trend started with the “hyphy” hip-hop movement in the Bay Area, but it spread worldwide and as many as eight people have died attempting it. Victims have fallen from the top of cars, smashed their heads on bumpers and even flipped their vehicles over while ghost riding, turning themselves into literal ghosts in the process.
Chubby Bunny (1999)
Some of these fads are just so completely perplexing that you can’t figure out how they got started in the first place. Specifically, “Chubby Bunny,” which became popular in the late 1990s. It’s a game where each player has to stuff marshmallows in their mouth and say the phrase “Chubby Bunny” without swallowing, chewing or spitting them out. In 1999, a group of girls playing the game at Chicago’s Hoffman Elementary watched in horror as 12-year-old Catherine Fish choked to death on four marshmallows while playing. What an awful way to go.
The modern version of the waterbed was invented in 1971 but became a huge trend in the early 1980s, before people realized how bad sleeping on a plastic bag full of fluid is for you. Unlike regular mattresses, waterbeds can be seriously murderous. Take the case of Donald King of Stockton, California. In 1983, King bought a new waterbed and set it up in his bedroom with a hose leading into the input valve. He then fell asleep on the floor while he was waiting for it to fill up. The bed then over-filled, broke through its wooden frame, fell on top of him and suffocated him.
OK, so breakdancing has sort of transcended the status of “fad” and become an essential part of hip-hop, but it still earns a place on this list. In the 1980s, everybody was into breaking, no matter what your race or cultural background. Although the craze died down with the advent of grunge, there are still hard-working B-boys across the nation polishing their skills. It’s not without a cost, though, as nearly every serious breaker has a laundry list of injuries to their name. In 2007, a Santa Ana, California, man named Dat Nguyen was working on some moves in Sandpointe Park when he snapped his neck and died.
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Pole Sitting (1974)
Here’s another endurance fad that was bound to claim a life sooner or later. It started in the early 20th century as a way for sailors to show their toughness and balance, and soon enough companies started hiring flagpole sitters for publicity stunts and the like. The all-time champion of the practice was Louisiana-born Richard Blandy, who started doing it in 1929 and managed to turn it into a career, smashing world records over the next four decades. Blandy drank whiskey and smoked cigarettes during his epic vertical stays, but was killed in 1974 when his pole snapped in half during a sit at an Illinois mall.