Given the choice, ninety-nine percent of us would prefer to die quietly in our sleep.  But the fact is, for ninety-nine percent of us, death won’t be peaceful.  We’ll either get shot or drown or killed in a car crash or accidentally swallow a toothpick and die of peritonitis.  I’ve often said that I don’t care how I go, just as long as its quick, painless, and as unhilarious as possible.  You know, nothing along the lines of: “Former Stargate Producer Dies in Bouncy Castle” or “Man Decapitated by Frozen Pizza”.

Ultimately, it’s all in the odds.  You have a better chance of dying because of  texting and  driving (6000 people annually in the U.S.) than, say, suffering some mortal vending machine-related mishap (13 unlucky snackers a year according to bizarre death statistics).  It’s a relief to know you’re more likely to perish in some dignified manner (Aneurism?  Saving an orphanage?)  than by falling victim to Death by Beard or Death by The Goodies (

But, seriously – what ARE the chances?  Well, the fine folks at The Economist break it down for you:


(via: Daily chart: Danger of death! | The Economist).

I remember when my writing partner, Paul, and I were first starting out.  We were working on a teen sitcom, Student Bodies, that shot out of an abandoned high school.  Our office was a carpeted classroom that we made our own by adding a few personal touches: an air hockey table, the holes Paul had put in the ceiling practicing his backswing, and, best of all, a poster of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies. For those not-in-the-know, the latter was originally a book that explained the untimely demises of twenty-six unfortunate children – one for every letter of the alphabet:


I remember scanning the poster one day and, considering my partner’s hobbies and interests at the time, and playing the percentages, selected the ignoble black and white ending he was most likely to suffer.  This one:

1Paul, in turn, wasted no time in choosing what he considered a most likely demise for yours truly:

1Yes, all things considered, I suppose so although a chocolate truffle would be more likely.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of balancing risk (a most unlikely death) and reward (enjoying countless delicious peaches – or glasses of gin).  I, for instance, am certainly more likely to meet my end bleeding out from a nasty paper cut than a result of a hang gliding or sky diving accident because, while I accept the miniscule risks associated with reading and, thus (courageously) continue to read, I prefer not to subject myself to the remote likelihood of a splatterific death plunge and therefore will never ever hang glide or sky dive.

Your mileage may vary depending upon your interests – and how crazy you are:


(via: Your Chances of Dying & Other Health Risks – Best Health Degrees).

There are those who will tell you you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery.  Perhaps true, but there is still the inescapable fact that people have won, do win, and will continue to win the lottery.  I know that, given the choice, I’d sooner purchase a scratch and win than stand under an oak tree in a rainstorm.  I ‘ve often wondered if there’s ever been an instant where a post-lightning strike victim, their consciousness ebbing, concluded: “I should’ve bought a lottery ticket.”.  I like to think so.  By the way, and for what it’s worth, my research places “individuals hit by lightning strikes” at 2000 annually, a not exactly overwhelming edge over “jackpot winners of $1 000 000 or more” at 1600 a year.

Like I said – it’s all in the odds.  And in lieu of calculating your death (After all, who doesn’t like surprises?) you can always calculate the various other likelihoods of your life. FUNNY2™ – The Odds #1 offers some other interesting prospects:

Odds of winning an Olympic medal: 662,000 to 1 (I bet my odds would improve if I started training now)

Chance of an American home having at least one container of ice cream in the freezer: 9 in 10. (Yep, that sounds about right)

Odds that a first marriage will survive without separation or divorce for 15 years: 1.3 to 1 (This too)

Odds of getting away with murder: 2 to 1 (Them’s mighty tempting odds)

Odds of being considered possessed by Satan: 7,000 to 1 (Significantly higher if you’re in show business)

And finally –

Odds of dropping dead while reading this blog entry: Probably better than your chances of winning the lottery.

40 thoughts on “April 28, 2013: What are the chances? Death, lottery jackpots, and other likelihoods!

  1. Well, that was an interesting read. And given the above statistics, I’m reconsidering your earlier pork fat advice as maybe not so good. There’s some weird stats there for sure – canoeing is more dangerous than SCUBA diving? I do both, so I’m not sure what that means to me, but I’m still here so… Yay!

  2. Now that I’m not certain I’m going to die young of poor health or just doing something stupid in a brain fog, rationing out my remaining joint integrity to be as useful as I can be until the end, I reckon’ it’s high time I get to pondering these things. I’m just a bit busy right now, trying to catch up on some living I got behind on. I’ll get around to it.

    The two-year old just bought a John Scalzi book on the Kindle. Turning off one-click buying. She’s grounded from buying new Scalzi books until she knows how to input a password. And gets a job.

  3. @ gforce – Lots of scuba divers in my family, and some who canoe (I do the latter). I can definitely see where canoeing is more dangerous because more people probably do it, and for scuba you have to get training and a license, something not needed for going down river in a canoe. Scuba divers are aware of the risks and don’t take as many chances, whereas folks going out in a canoe often take safety for granted by not wearing life vests (me :P) and by engaging in horseplay. Also, more children are involved with canoeing, which probably increases the odds that someone will die if the basic precautions have been ignored.


  4. As much as you celebrate eating, choking is not out of the question. But a peach? More like, “Former Stargate Producer Chokes on Foie gras while on vacation in Tokyo”. I’ve often thought I would die by lightning strike, tornado, car accident, or just peacefully sitting on the couch at home. Sounds good, but the only thing with that is, they wouldn’t discover my body for a couple of years. I would be mortified with embarrassment.

    How is Bubba?

  5. Hmmm interesting. Playing catch up and this isn’t what I expected to read. What inspired that?

    Poor Bubba, hope he’s feeling better.

  6. I laugh in the face of your statistics. The chances that I could die while reading this are nonexi………..

  7. I used to think I’d die from something impulsive, like intervening in an assault or trying to dive roll over a picnic table. The healthier I get, the more I have to start weighing those possibilities again.

  8. the odds of dying from pneumonia that sometimes comes from having the flu;
    1 in 5,282. that’s the overall population for women it’s 1 in 4,959, for men it’s 1 in 5,667.

    the odds of being dying from a dog mauling; 1 in 140,000

    the odds of death by hail; 1 in 734,400,000.

  9. I’m a big believer in fate. When it happens, it will happen. That being stated, my life isn’t high risk (other than living near Memohis 😉 ).

    Did you lose someone close? Why so morose? Hey, that rhymes! Anyway, I did enjoy the wit.

    Did anyone watch that show a few years ago about grim reapers? The main character died when a toilet seat from the space shuttle hit her on the head. I’d pick bouncy castle over toilet seat.

  10. Thanks for cheering me up, Joe … NOT! But I did love the graphic of Godzilla and the airplane.

  11. @Das: Good points about the training differences. And it’s absolutely all about the precautions. I always tell me that although I may do “risky” things, it’s managed risk. I train, I prepare and I know when to quit before things get out of hand.

    Also, I’m presuming that you will start wearing your PFD while canoeing, right? Right?! 🙂

  12. Live every day you are alive and how you die, as long as it isn’t screaming in a burning inferno I guess, won’t matter so much. Trust in G-d, but tie your camel. Wanna hang glide (really high death stats.. used to be the only sport that the more experience you had the more likely to die — though I suspect extreme sports have taken that spot– find out the safest way to do it and go forth. Live til you die.

  13. Just check the obituaries every morning: if your name isn’t there, go ahead and make plans for the day!

    I really like that Gorey alphabet poster.

  14. hmmmm, missed a few categories here.
    BUT…since a couple are “my activities,” let’s not included them.
    I’d rather not know….well, I think I’d rather not know.

    So, how are you? and Akemi?

    How’s Bubba? and Jelly?

  15. Whenever young people talk about wanting to go into certain careers like acting or screenwriting or such, one of the big things people talk about is the odds. How the odds are so far against said young person succeeding. It’s meant to encourage the young person to find a more realistic career goal. But the thing is: it’s not about the odds. I mean, yeah, to a certain extent luck comes into play. But it’s hardly the same as winning the lottery. Your example of winning a gold medal is a case in point. That number is not my odds of winning a gold medal. My chance of winning a gold medal is 0. Because I don’t participate in any sports in which they award gold medals, and even if I did, I don’t possess anything near the skill required to compete at that level. Listing off odds and statistics doesn’t take into account that some people actually have a lot of talent at something, whereas other people truly suck at it. Those people will not have the same odds of success as each other. And there are other factors, like planning and persistence. So yeah, with such things, odds are irrelevant.

    That said, when it comes to extreme sports and the like, I do weigh the odds of death against the amount of enjoyment I’d get out of the activity. Which is why I don’t do those sorts of things. Heck, I don’t even go on roller coasters almost ever, because sometimes some freaky thing happens and someone dies horribly. Sure, it might be a random fluke, but it happened to someone (multiple someones), and I doubt that someone would have thought the slight adrenaline rush they got out of it was worth dying for. Personally, I don’t think doing dangerous things (or even fake dangerous things, like roller coasters) is worth even the tiny risk of dying. Besides, my imagination is good enough that a good book can be far more exciting than a roller coaster anyway.

  16. Poor Bubba puppy! How’s the little guy doing? Is he in much pain?

    I’ve envisioned getting squashed by a giant rock leading my geology walk. How utterly embarrassing. Although, considering I was just diagnosed with high blood pressure, and spine stenosis (weird leg sensations), I’ll probably die of a heart attack wobbling over to the local liquor store to buy my lotto tickets, which have yet to yield more than $5 winner.

  17. @ Tam Dixon

    Dead Like Me – I loved that show…

    THEY got a movie 5 years after the show was cancelled… but I’m not bitter… oh nooooooo not bitter at all.


  18. Actually, “HOW” you “GO”, really just depends on how *TWISTED* “FATE” feels like being at THAT particular “Moment”! — Seriously. *WHEN* “THEY” want you, THEY *WILL* get you!! …No matter how many OTHER unsuspecting poor bastards might be IN-THE-WAY!!

    Although, in your case Joe, I’d probably be wary of the Odds of “…TV Producer struck by wayward ASTEROID named after a Character from his Series…”

    just saying…

  19. I nearly died once, of internal bleeding (TMI details available on request). I knew I was in trouble, I knew what was happening, yet I was entirely calm and unafraid. Like I was watching something mildly interesting on TV and was too lazy to change the channel. Lack of blood to the brain does that.

    Had I been alone in my little Japanese apartment rather than on base, on duty, with help nearby, I wouldn’t be here today. The doctor was very certain the extra half hour~hour to find my place and get me back to base would have sealed the deal.

  20. Dying can happen to anyone at any age. Not to get too personal, but I “died” during the birth of my son but God decided that my mission on Earth wasn’t complete. Now that I’m much older and in very good health, my son is nervous about Obamacare and realizes that I will be denied life-saving treatment should I need it or yearly checkups for preventative care.

  21. @ gforce – Probably not. 😛 I always have it with me, but find it very difficult to paddle while wearing it. That said, the place I usually canoe is a clear lake where we enjoy exploring the shallows, so if the canoe did tip I could just stand up anyway. I would not go out in a deep lake or river, however, without wearing one, so no worries there.

    @ Sparrowhawk – Pretty sure I have Gashlycrumb Tinies in book form somewhere in the house, but I can’t find it! It’s small, so I could have stashed it anywhere (picked it up back in the 90s, so it’s been a while). I know I also had ‘H as in Hector done in by a Thug’ as a fridge magnet, but I can’t find that, either. I may have given that one away…I have a habit of doing that…giving stuff away. Oh, DUH! I just checked the fridge again and there it is, right at the top. I am blind. 🙄

    Now, to find the book. 😛

    @ Bailey – I love the Pegasus Tinies! Especially since Todd doesn’t die in that one, either. 🙂

    RE: Edward Gorey – I was first introduced to his work via PBS’ MYSTERY! series:

    From there, I discovered things like the Gashlycrumb Tinies and, more importantly, Gorey’s fondness for cats. About 10 years ago I bought this necklace, and wear it all the time:


    It may interest you, Joe, that Gorey left the bulk of his estate to organizations benefiting cats and dogs, as well as other animals.


  22. I don’t understand how obesity can triple your risk of mortality. Maybe skinniness increases your risk of claiming to be immortal in a survey.

  23. Still here! Phew, I managed to read your blog and survive!

    Did you hear the one about the war correspondent who got killed crossing the road outside his house? Tragically it’s a true story. It happened about 20 years ago. It stuck in my mind as more than ironic. Then again look at the Lockerbie disaster. Apart from those poor souls who died on the plane consider this. Many of the dead had been watching TV or eating their dinner in the safety of their homes…

  24. @Joe
    Talking about probabilities, day 2 is Brad´s birthday and I imagine, that you shall speak. Beg you please, pretty please, can beg Brad to give us some final clue of thought to Sgu. I do not want to die without clearing the doubt. 🙄

    I hope Bubba is much better. I can not even look at her paw pictures. 😥

  25. This is why I gave up boxing, Plus they wouldn’t let me wear a dress. My living will states that they should leave my body by the curb, as per the CDC’s disaster regulations for proper disposal of a corpse during the event of a zombie apocalypse, to be collected later by the proper authorities, hopefully not the clowns at FEMA. In fact I think I’ll change it my will to have my body shipped to Clown Posse for use as a display at a future concert tour.

  26. Speaking about death through surgery, technically isn’t being put to sleep with whatever drug they use kinda like being dead? You have no concept of awareness or where you are during the surgery, nor do you dream.

    My last major surgery, which lasted over 3 hours for what was supposed to be a simple appendix removal was mostly because the area was full of pus and stuff, very unpleasant. Though I don’t remember if I woke up during surgery, I was told I didn’t. I just remember seeing a bright white light. But then again with no concept of time whilst under said drug during surgery, guess I’ll never know lol

    Some say you don’t dream. I haven’t got a clue. I would hate to die through surgery.

  27. @ Randomness … I’ve had seven major surgeries and a few colonoscopies (maybe more, I lose count). I agree, when you go under anesthesia, you “vanish”. No memory, no dreams, no sense of time or place. Just … nothing. I’d hate to die that way, I’d like at least a sliver of time to think, “Oh shit! I didn’t see the end of … ” splat. Or wham. or bam. I want that oh shit rush of adrenalin to see me on my way.

  28. @ Randomness – A few years ago I was put to sleep for knee surgery. For a couple of weeks after that, I would have these dreams of what I thought was my subconscience recalling the surgery. As I lay looking up, “they” were working on my right leg and talking to each other. The dreams were very hazy, but I got the impression my mind was recalling the knee surgery. The dreams stopped after a couple of weeks. I am an avid dreamer.


  29. Funny you chose this subject, Joe. 😉

    On Friday at least a dozen friends and I attended the viewing of a close former colleague. A non-smoker, he survived lung cancer for four years before failing to bounce back one more time. Don Bell was a second dad to me, volunteering to check on my car, and solve computer problems and other work dilemmas. A former systems engineer for IBM, there wasn’t much he couldn’t fix. He had an impish sense of humor, and a wonderful, laid-back attitude. Don was our dear friend, our rock, and a member of our family at work. His loss hit me really hard. And he’s probably baking kieflies in Heaven already.

    If it weren’t for Don’s daughter raiding his unanswered e-mail, and contacting all of us, we wouldn’t have had the chance to say good-bye. Given today’s blog, in an odd coincidence, while we co-workers were sharing a light dinner at the funeral home, I wondered, Joe, if you have your passwords left anywhere so Akemi can find them. If Akemi would be able to post a blog on your WordPress account to let us know if you couldn’t. And how many of us would think about a flight to Vancouver if anything ever happened to you…

    The longer I live, the more life paints a living picture against a backdrop of hellos and good-byes. The only important things in life are Faith, Family, and Friends. And the Love that binds them all together. Nothing else matters.


  30. @Randomness – I agree about being absent with general anesthesia. I’ve complained about it being dying before, too.

    The idea of awakening during general is terrifying. Because in my experience with it, I don’t remember a phase where I was partially out. I was either completely “on” or completely “off” and I don’t want to be completely “on” when there’s a damn good reason to be “off”.

    I’ve had anesthesia that was short of general and awakened before, but it wasn’t an Oprah Winfrey segment horror story. I was too drugged up to care. I’m pretty sure I said, “heeeeeeey, I’m not supposed to feel that”, then whoever I said that to lifted his eyes to someone standing at the head of the bed?table?, then I woke up in post-op.

    I have a memory of having the wrong leg numbed before the surgery, but I was too drugged up at the time of the mistake to understand. Not sure what their excuse was.

  31. I swear I thought I posted a comment on this one. My chances of dying from a brain aneurysm? Pretty good. And oh my. The medication errors that are made every day in a hospital are scary, too. And infections gotten while in the hospital. Don’t go to the hospital unless it is a desperate reason.

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