There are many toilet-related injuries
and some toilet-related deaths
throughout history and in urban legends
In young boys, one of the most common causes of genital injury is when the toilet seat falls down while using the toilet. Smaller children run the risk of drowning if they fall headfirst into the toilet. Injuries to adults include bruised buttocks, tail bones, and dislocated hips from unsuspectingly sitting on the toilet bowl rim due to failure to ensure that the toilet seat was down. Other injuries can be caused by the feet slipping or the toilet bowl collapsing under the weight of the occupant. Pinch injuries can also occur due to splits in plastic seats, and to the various parts of a seat in different configurations. Older high flush cast iron cisterns have been known to detach from the wall when flushed (by pulling a chain) causing injuries to the user. Injuries are frequently sustained by people standing on toilet seats to reach a height. There are also instances of people slipping on a wet bathroom floor, or from a bath and concussing themselves on the fitment.
Many instances of toilet-related deaths are also attributed to the drop in blood pressure due to the parasympathetic nervous system during bowel movements. This effect may be magnified by existing circulatory issues.
Most of the injuries described in this article have been with Western-style toilets. Occurrences with squat toilets undoubtedly exist, but remain to be better documented.
The 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health was awarded to three physicians from the Glasgow Western Infirmary for a 1993 case report on wounds sustained to the buttocks by collapsing toilets.
Famous toilet-related deaths
George II of Great Britain
died on the toilet on 25 October 1760
from an aortic dissection
. According to Horace Walpole
's memoirs, King George "rose as usual at six, and drank his chocolate; for all his actions were invariably methodic. A quarter after seven he went into a little closet. His German valet de chambre
in waiting heard a noise, and running in, found the King dead on the floor."
American film producer Don Simpson was found dead on the toilet on 19 January 1996. Although his death was officially attributed to natural causes, rumours and tabloid magazines claim he died from a drug overdose.
It is often reported that Elvis Presley
died on or near the toilet after suffering a heart attack
, with gastrointestinal problems combined with a weak heart causing his death. Several sources also say that drug use was implicated in Elvis's death on the toilet. These details were not confirmed by the coroner, however, though the event did take place in the bathroom. The belief that Elvis died on the toilet is so widespread that popular culture often parodies that event. Examples of this are Eminem
's music video "Without Me
" and the Married With Children
episode "I'm going to Sweatland". It is also speculated that Elvis died on the toilet after eating too many Fools' Gold Sandwiches
Edmund II of England died of natural causes on 30 November 1016, though some report that he was stabbed in the bowels while attending the outhouse. Similarly, Uesugi Kenshin, a warlord in Japan, died on 19 April 1578 with some reports stating that he was assassinated on the toilet.
Lupe Vélez committed suicide on 13 December 1944, using secobarbital as her drug of choice, in Beverly Hills, California after the end of her relationship with Harald Maresch, whose child she was carrying. She retired to bed after taking the drug, but instead of sending her to sleep the drug upset her stomach and she was actually found dead in her bathroom. Her suicide and the circumstances surrounding it inspired a film by Andy Warhol in 1965 entitled Lupe. This account has been called into question, in large part due to the lack of any mention of this cause of death on either the coroner's report or the newspaper coverage at the time.
Catherine the Great died of a stroke on November 5, 1796, with some believing that it occurred while she was on the toilet.
Novelist Evelyn Waugh died on April 10, 1966 after having put on a lot of weight. The sleeping pills he took, combined with a heavy intake of alcohol, cigars and little exercise, weakened his health, and there have been many reports that he died on the toilet.
Lenny Bruce died of a morphine overdose on August 3, 1966 while sitting on the toilet.
Air Canada Flight 797 was destroyed on June 2, 1983 with 23 fatalities after an in-flight fire began in or around the rear lavatory. Investigators were unable to determine the cause or exact point of origin for the fire.
Occurrences in popular culture
Injuries and deaths related to toilets have been portrayed in film and other media on many occasions. These appear across many genres, from comedy to action movies:
- Slim Newton's comic 1972 country song "Redback on the Toilet Seat" tells the story of a man who gets bitten by a poisonous redback spider while using the toilet, and ends up in hospital, "a sad and sorry plight."
- In the 1985 film Back to the Future, Doc Brown came up with the idea of the flux capacitor (which is what makes time travel possible) after slipping from his toilet and bumping his head. The idea came to him in a vision he had after being knocked out.
- In Alan Moore's 1986-1987 graphic novel Watchmen, Rorschach kills a prison attacker by breaking his cell's toilet and electrifying the pool of water once his assaulter steps into it.
- In the 1989 film Lethal Weapon 2, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) finds his toilet booby trapped to explode as soon as he gets up.
- In the 1991 film Nothing But Trouble the character of Miss Purdah dies while sitting on the toilet in the outhouse, which falls into a fiery hole caused by an underground coal fire.
- In the 1992 film Home Alone 2, one of the characters has his head lit on fire, then attempts to put out the flames by sticking his head in a toilet filled with kerosene.
- In the 1993 film Jurassic Park, the lawyer character (Gennaro) is eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex while on a toilet.
- In the 1994 Kevin Smith film Clerks, a man dies from a heart attack while masturbating on the toilet in a convenience store.
- In the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega is shot dead by Butch Coolidge as he exits the bathroom. The mortal wound causes Vincent to fall back into the bathtub and die there.
- In the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, James Bond attacks a Soviet Soldier on a toilet while infiltrating a chemical weapons facility.
- In the 1997 film Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, one of Dr. Evil's henchmen is drowned in a toilet by Austin.
- In the 1998 BBC comedy series Big Train, an intergalactic tyrant (who looks like Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon) suffers the indignity of being in a British public hospital after slipping on the mat around the toilet. A "get well card" from the people of the planet Zordon is not enough to raise his spirits, however.
- In the 2001 Sopranos episode "He is Risen," the character Gigi Cestone, a young man, has a coronary on the toilet.
- In the 2003 film The Italian Job, the character Left Ear (Mos Def)'s nickname is attributed to a childhood prank involving cherry bombs in a toilet at his middle school.
- In the 2004 film Soul Plane, a character sues the airplane company after being sucked into the toilet during flight.
- In the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode "The Weatherman," Larry David pees sitting down because he doesn't have to turn the light on when he goes to the bathroom at night. However, Larry injures himself one night after his wife, Cheryl David (played by Cheryl Hines), forgets to put the seat down.
- In the multiplayer deathmatch segment of the PC game Half Life 2, death by flying toilet, propelled by the gravity gun, is a common occurrence. It has become somewhat of a cult phenomenon.
Linked to external factors
Toilets have been shown as a location for incidents and have caused problems in other ways:
- In the One Foot in the Grave episode Endgame, Victor Meldrew puts a lit match down the toilet which catches fire because Margaret had been using Turps to clean the bowl.
- In Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction, bad things happen to John Travolta's character, Vincent, every time he uses the toilet. To wit: Mia Wallace snorts and overdoses on heroin while he is in the bathroom; Butch returns to his apartment to retrieve his father's watch, and shoots Vincent (who was waiting for him) when he emerges from the bathroom; Pumpkin and Honey Bunny begin their robbery of the diner while Vincent is in the restroom.
- In the 1999 film Boondock Saints, actor Sean Patrick Flanery as Connor MacManus is handcuffed to a toilet by Russian mob henchman. His brother, Murphy played by Norman Reedus was kidnapped by the same men and taken to the alley beside their apartment to be shot. Connor rips the toilet from the floor and walks to the top of the building, just in time to drop the toilet on the head of one henchman, jump on the other, and save his brother.
- In the 2003 film Dreamcatcher, a human host is killed by expelling a worm-like alien parasite while sitting on the toilet. One of the movies' characters later discovers the alien, trapping it in the toilet by sitting atop the seat.
- In the film 1989 film Lethal Weapon 2, actor Danny Glover is almost killed when sitting on the toilet that is rigged to explode when he gets off of the seat.
- In the 2003 premiere of TV series Dead Like Me, the series' protagonist George Lass (played by Ellen Muth) is killed on her lunch break by a toilet seat which falls from the Mir space station.
- In the 2003 film Big Fish, a character dies of a heart attack while reading Playboy on the toilet.
- In the X-Files episode War of the Coprophages, a man is apparently attacked and killed by cockroaches while using the toilet, though Dana Scully suggests he may in fact have suffered from an aneurysm while straining.
- In book three of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords, Tywin Lannister is killed by his son whilst sitting on the privy.
- In the short film Rollover Training FA Style, two American soldiers knock over a portable toilet while one of their comrades unknowingly sits inside. The film, produced by a US Army unit deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and distributed over the internet, parodies military instructional materials.
- In the 2006 film Snakes on a Plane, a character is killed by being bitten on the penis by a snake hiding inside the toilet on an airplane. In another scene two youths are killed, by a number of snakes, just prior to having sex in the lavatory.
There has been a range of urban legends reported regarding the dangers of using a toilet in a variety of different situations. Many of them have been shown to be false. These include the presence of poisonous spiders
(primarily due to the Australian redback spider
's reputation for hiding under toilet seats). In large cities like New York City
, sewer rats often have mythical status regarding size and ferocity, resulting in tales involving the rodents crawling up sewer pipes to attack an unwitting occupant. Of late, stories about terrorists
booby trapping the seat in order to castrate
their targets have begun appearing.
An urban legend with many variations recounts an "exploding" toilet. These scenarios typically include a flammable substance either accidentally or deliberately being introduced into the toilet water, and a lit match or cigarette igniting and exploding the toilet. In CSI a toilet is blown up by filling the bowl and blocking the pipe with dry ice. When the ice started to melt the newly frozen water stopped the vapours from escaping, causing it to blow up.
Other common stories relate to the use of vacuums in the toilets of airplanes.