He Must Have Died Laughing
In our time, the person most responsible for introducing humor’s healing power to the mainstream is Norman Cousins. The former editor of the Saturday Review and a UCLA professor, Cousins was diagnosed with a collagen disease that had never been cured before. The doctors gave him only six months to live. Rather than succumb to a state of gloom and resignation, he resolved to live gleefully in what appeared to be the abbreviated remainder of his life. At his request, people brought to his bedside funny books, tapes, cartoons, gag gifts, and anything that might provoke laughter. After just a few weeks of devouring a steady diet of comedy (with no other dietary or medicinal changes), his disease went into remission! And his sense of humor became a bit skewed.
One morning Norman Cousins was eating his breakfast when the nurse stepped into the room and handed him an empty specimen bottle, saying she’d return to collect it in a few minutes. After she left, he took the apple juice that came with his breakfast and emptied it into the specimen bottle. When the nurse returned she examined the sample and said, “It looks a little cloudy today, Mr. Cousins.” Norman picked up the bottle and shrieked, “By God nurse, you’re right. Let’s run it through again!” and proceeded to swig from the bottle. He stopped short, however, for concern that the nurse would pass out over the spectacle. .
The raucous laughter of Norman Cousins continually reverberated throughout the ward, which delighted the nurses but disturbed the patients. Hospital administration politely gave him the boot, so he checked into a hotel, which was far more environmentally friendly for outbursts of laughter. His life, which lasted for another 15 years, inspired many in search of pain relief and healing. I saw Norman Cousins receive a humanitarian award about three weeks before he passed away, a man who appeared to be vigorous and in good health. He must have died laughing.