Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Stephen Colbert Discusses Dead Bodies Having Sex

Body Worlds Plans Cadaver Sex Exhibit
Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report (September 16, 2009)

Oh Gunther von Hagens, you are the gift that just keeps on giving and giving and giving to the Death Reference Desk. But this time, dearest Dr. von Hagens, you have truly achieved a pop-cultural milestone. None other than Stephen Colbert, he of The Colbert Report and clearly deserving namesake of a new wing on the International Space Station, dedicated two whole minutes to discussing your plastinated bodies posed in sexual positions.

Sure sure, Death Reference Desk overlord Meg broke the story and I produced my own necro-analysis last week.

Stephen Colbert

But it is safe to say, I think, that achieving a two minute commentary from the one and only Stephen Colbert means that you, yes you GUNTHER VON HAGENS, have arrived. Now, the only question is when you will finally jump the shark…but that is a different pop-cultural discussion for another time.

Until then Herr Professor Doktor von Hagens, mull over these wise words from Stephen Colbert himself:

This major breakthrough ends one of science’s enduring mysteries: what does it look like when zombies do it?


(special thanks to my book editor’s assistant for sending me the Colbert link…that’s just how I roll…Thanks Beth!!!)

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Dead Bodies Having Sex: the Backstory

Cadaver Exhibits Are Part Science, Part Sideshow
Neda Ulaby, National Public Radio (August 10, 2006)

Death Reference Desk technical guru Meg posted an article on the newest planned exhibition by German anatomist and showman, Gunther von Hagens. This would be Gunther von Hagens of Body Worlds fame. The article discusses von Hagens’ plans to exhibit dead bodies posed in sexual positions.


There is a fascinating backstory to this corpse-a-palooza sex show and it all begins in 2006….

In August of that year, NPR featured a report by Neda Ulaby on Gunther von Hagens. You can listen to that interview by clicking on the link at the top of the page. On the whole, the report is about the Body Worlds phenomena sweeping America during that summer.

Then, as if by MAGIC, intrepid reporter Neda Ulaby drops this dead body bomb:

Recently, [Gunther von Hagens] sent a questionnaire to 6,500 people who he says have agreed to donate their bodies to him after death. They were asked a number of provocative questions. For example, would they consent to their body parts being mixed with an animal’s, to create a mythological creature? Would they agree to be “transformed into an act of love with a woman or a man?” Von Hagens says that on the sex question, the majority of men liked the idea, while the women did not.

Talk about burying the lead…or burying something. Wowza: that double entendre works on a number of levels.

Plastinated Bodies
But it is all true. Gunther von Hagens plans on fusing dead animals and dead humans together (because, of course, humans aren’t animals….) to create Mythological Creatures. Or, as one former student once proclaimed: “You mean like centaurs and stuff.” Yes yes. I do mean centaurs and stuff.

But the magic doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Von Hagens was clearly making plans to pose dead bodies in sexual positions by at least 2006 (if not earlier). Well, actually, von Hagens says “…transformed into an act of love…” and when you listen to the NPR report, it’s really creepy sounding.

Magical Centaur

Thus began my own personal obsession with tracking every new exhibition by von Hagens to see when he would finally, finally show dead bodies having sex. It seemed fairly obvious that von Hagens would create this exhibition since I GUARANTEE that it (meaning dead bodies doing it) will make MORE MONEY than any of von Hagens other shows. And that is saying a lot, since Body Worlds recorded its 28th million visitor in July 2009. The mythological creatures will most certainly appear at some point but only after a small mint is made with the corpse sex.

And so it has all come to pass. On May 7, 2009, Gunther von Hagens opened a new Body Worlds exhibition in Berlin, Germany (the Berlin link is gone so I am using a Zurich, Switzerland link). In one section of the exhibition, entitled Cycle of Life, von Hagens placed two different pairs of bodies having sex on display. In a statement released by von Hagens, he explains that the exhibit “offers a deep understanding of the human body, the biology of reproduction, and the nature of sexuality.”

He is also making it clear on the Body Worlds website that he wants to bring the copulating corpses to London. I know. The Brits will beat down the door to see it. Here is the full “look out London, here we come” pitch by von Hagens.

At least at the end he wished everyone best wishes.

Sadly, the London Body Worlds exhibition closed at the end of August. The last time I checked, von Hagens never did move the dead bodies having sex to the O2 bubble. But rest assured, I will keep track of this situation for one and all.

And what would this post on dead bodies having sex be WITHOUT at least a short video clip from YouTube. This gem is entitled Copulating Corpses from from Von Hagen[s] Exhibition and it features an awesome song by the band Evanesence.

Enjoy…the darkness…

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Blue Screen of Death… Memorial Tattoo?

I don’t think this is quite what John means by death memorial tattoos, but I can’t help myself: a man got a tattoo of the insidious Microsoft Blue Screen of Death, ensuring geek awe, miffed stares and the sure-to-be short-lived internet fame of his string-bean arm and intriguing wall art. Oh my.

Blue Screen of Death!

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Video Game Ways to Die

King's Quest III

I am not a gamer. All those newfangled surround sound polygons make me want to hurl. But as a plucky youth with a computer geek dad, I had the fond and formative experience of devouring Sierra computer adventure games, especially the King’s Quest series.

I recently discovered via MetaFilter that a handful of painstaking souls have recorded and compiled all the various ways to die in these games and several others. In particular, YouTuber MrWhitman has posted dozens of retro game “Ways to Die.”

Ah, King's Quest! Instilling bad puns and ogre fear in children of the '80s everywhere!
Ah, King’s Quest! Instilling bad puns and ogre fear in children of the ’80s everywhere!

Reliving the King’s Quest deaths with nostalgic glee, I can’t help but recognize that, given the care in capturing every death in a wide range of titles, even and especially when that death is terminally boring, Ways to Die videos are more than just for the laffs and (perhaps) reminiscing the age of less gruesome gameplay. It is also about documentation — the compilation and collocation of information, even if that information seems trivial.

How is it important or useful? I’m not exactly sure. And yet, I approve — not just for the jolt back to childhood, but the belief that in some weird way, this is a cultural and generational transmission. Back in the olden days, you could die from a scratch from a scraggly 8-bit scribble, and it would devastate you.

King's Quest II

And like the games of today, discovering all the creative and absurd ways to off yourself is just as challenging and fun as avoiding it. Are these expressions of thanatos, exploring death and dying in a safe environment? Or perhaps just getting one’s money worth? After all, once immersed in a spellbinding narrative and mesmerizing virtual world, you never want the game to end — even if that means finding every way possible to die in it.

Death + Crime Death + Humor

Cannabis Corpse

The AP reported that on Monday, police discovered 70 marijuana plants in the attic of the Helena Funeral Chapel. I didn’t intend to post this because eh, it’s Montana — who’s surprised, and who cares? Lo and behold, a couple of days later in Dallas, 100 pounds of pot were discovered in a casket during a traffic stop.

I know death is chronic, but seriously folks.

(To my surprise but-not-really, Cannabis Corpse is in fact the name of a band, not be confused, of course, with Cannibal Corpse.)