He Died As He Lived – Men Who Died Doing What They Loved

LEAD richard

Death comes to us all.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s a fact. Most men slide from life into death when aged, often infirm, and after a lifetime filled with myriad pursuits, interests, and experiences. And most men don’t die as they lived. Accountants usually succumb to something other than Acute Statistical Edema and marketing directors rarely if ever die as a result of Cross-Promotional Conjunctivitis. (That’s at least partially true because those are just random words stuck next to medical terms.)

Some men, however, die as they lived; they shuffle off that mortal coil while drinking deeply from the cup of life. To be clear, they still end up dead. And often before their time.

So as we eulogize these gentlemen, see them for who they were: magnificent men who died doing what they loved, but died too soon nonetheless.


Many consider Dale Earnhardt to be history’s finest stock car racer. Indeed, he will forever be associated with NASCAR, and was not only a champion driver, but a team owner as well. He followed in the footsteps (or on the track, rather) of his domineering father, also a race car driver, eventually far surpassing his dad’s achievements; Earnhardt won more than 75 races during his career and still holds myriad records. Dale was thrice married and fathered four children, but his first and best love would always be racing. Thus it was that, just two months shy of his 50th birthday, Earnhardt was killed by a skull fracture endured after a crash during the final lap of 2001’s Daytona 500 race.


The first successful ascent of Mount Everest took place on May 28th, 1953. At least, that’s the first time we’re certain a man summited earth’s tallest mountain. There’s a chance that a Brit named George Mallory (and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine) reached the 29,028 foot peak’s apex in June of 1924. And if Mallory didn’t make it to the top, he came within around 800 feet of the goal. Mallory died during his third Everest expedition, and the location of his body remained unknown for more than 75 years. In 1999, his body was located at an altitude of 27,000 feet. The injuries the well-preserved corpse displayed and the position in which it was found seem to indicate that Mallory died while attempting to self-arrest (or “glissade”) his downward slide. Or in other words, he was properly mountaineering right to the very last.


King Richard the 1st, known to history as The Lionheart, loved battle. The guy really… really loved it. Or at least he certainly didn’t hate it, because during his 42 years on earth (11 of which were spent as the English sovereign), he spent a good number of them actively at war, whether on crusade in the Holy Land or fighting his enemies in Europe. Richard first led an army when he was 16 years old. Think about that: at an age when most of us are first timidly driving the family van, drooling over some girl named Valerie (or Sarah or Haley, but probably not Sue), or battling against our oily-ass skin, this guy was at the head of an army. The Lionheart would go on to lead the Third Crusade against the wily and able Ayyubid sultan Saladin. Back in Europe (the English king held vast tracts of land in and spent most of his time in France) years later, Richard found himself engaged in a siege against the castle Chalus-Chabrol in a proxy action against his old foe King Phillip of France. The story goes that Richard was casually walking around the castle’s perimeter and applauding its besieged defenders in their attempts to hit him with crossbow bolts when… he was struck by a crossbow bolt. The wound quickly turned gangrenous and the great king died shortly thereafter.

tancrede-meletTANCREDE MELET

Tancrède Melet was a daredevil who spent much of his life walking tightropes suspended over gorges, rivers, or city streets, who was a fearless base jumper and wingsuiter, and who generally liked altitude, adrenaline, and risking his life in pursuit of both. A Frenchman and accomplished parachutist as he was, it only makes sense that Melet was a part of the aerobatic company known as the Flying Frenchies. It also makes sense that he died during a daring stunt. In preparation for a tightrope walk between two hot air balloons (yeah, the rest of us prep for a quarterly review meeting…), Melet was caught up in the ropes of a balloon that accidentally lifted off too soon. He was lifted and then dropped, falling to his tragic (but not all-together unpredictable) death at the tender age of 32.

steve_irwinSTEVE IRWIN

Steve Irwin’s death caused anguish in the hearts of millions. That’s because this man touched the lives of millions thanks to his passion for wildlife and conservation, and thanks to his indomitable spirit and charm. Mr. Irwin, the “Crocodile Hunter” to many, helped spread knowledge about and love for animals of all types, especially about those fearsome but misunderstood reptiles for which his most famous television program was named. Irwin loved animals of all types, from koalas to king cobras, so while still tragic, it’s not surprising that he met his death as the result of an animal encounter. Ironically, Irwin had gone to the Great Barrier Reef to film a documentary titled Ocean’s Deadliest when he was killed after being pierced in the heart by a stingray’s barb. He was just 44 years old.