Wednesday, December 29, 2010


When you run experiments, there's inherently an element of the unknown. After all, we're trying to figure out things we don't know. And sometimes, things go wrong. FATALLY WRONG! Here are some of the most interesting, most intriguing, and sometimes most horrific, experimental deaths we've ever heard of.

15. Those magnificent men and their flying machines

The first post on this list is dedicated to all those brave souls who lost their lives attempting to defeat mankind's oldest enemy: gravity. Truly, there is no greater statement of belief in your own invention than hurling yourself from a high point, depending only on it for survival. Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari, who tried to make wooden wings; Otto Lilienthal and his hang gliders; Franz Reichelt, a tailor who attempted to make the world's first parachute. We salute you. You attempted to beat gravity, and instead plummeted to a grisly death. Rechelt deserves special mention for not only hurling himself off the Eiffel Tower with only a poorly constructed edifice of cloth stuck to his back, but doing so during the dawn of cinematography, thus ensure the entire event was recorded for the world to remember.

14. Marie Curie

There's a certain romanticism attached to the tale of Curie. She discovered the theory of radioactivity, discovered polonium and radium, undertook the first studies of how to use these strange new theories to treat cancer, and was awarded Nobel prizes in Physics and Chemistry. However, a lifetime of exposure to the radiation, along with the universal lack of knowledge about its effects, lead to her death from aplastic anemia. She worked under such heavy radioactivity that all her notes—even her cookbook—are stored in lead lined boxes, and anyone wishing to study them has to wear protective clothing.

13. Jesse William Lazear

The Yellow Fever was a disease that most likely originated in Africa, but during the 18th and 19th century was convincingly kicking the ass of the United States. It wasn't until the 1900s that Lazear—a researcher of the "American Plague", and bearer of a name that sounds like Lazer— confirmed that it was even transmitted by mosquito. He was a tireless researcher to try and defeat the illness, to the point where he secretly exposed himself to infected mosquitos. I bet you know what happened then. Yup, he contracted the disease, and died. You want to know how Yellow Fever will do you in? Most people will just get fever, headache, chills, back pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and then walk away with life-long immunity. The second phase, however, is the deadly one. Liver damage, jaundice, abdominal pain, bleeding from the mouth, eyes and ass. And finally, blood filled vomit. What a way to go.


MKULTRA sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theorist's dreams. It also sounds like a badass metal band, but that's besides the point. If someone told you that the CIA was secretly testing American citizens with psychoactive drugs in order to test their effectiveness for interrogation, you'd probably give that person a nice sheet of tinfoil from which they could fashion a handsome and fetching hat. But it happened. The CIA went around dosing the fuck out of everyone, to see how LSD and other drugs functioned, and they tried to figure out mind control. Didn't really work. Hell, they even got a group of prostitutes to secretly drug up their johns to see how the acid worked on unwilling participants. Two people died from the tests: Harold Blauer, a New York professional tennis player, who was injected with a mescaline derivative called MDA during treatment for depression. This was done without his knowledge or consent, and he died after a massive overdose of the drug. Frank Olson was an Army biochemist, who was exposed to LSD under dodgy circumstances. Some say he was murdered for threatening to go public. The official version is he was given the drug, not knowing what it really was, and then jumped from 13th story window.

11. Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

Man, the Army sure does show up a lot on this list, huh? I guess they just have a thing for human experimentation. So, you have a prison in Illinois 1940s, and a medical department, Army and State Department who want to run a controlled study of malaria—a.k.a the disease that has killed the most human beings, ever. Oddly enough, they even got the prisoner's consent, including infamous murderer Nathan Leopold. 441 inmates volunteered, I assume for extra cigarettes or something similar, and were bitten by 10 disease carrying mosquitos each. Only one died, from a heart attack after battling a number of rounds with the fever. The interesting thing about this situation, is the defence team of the Nazis during the Nuremberg Medical Trials claimed there was no difference between the prison experiments, and the forced experimentation in the concentration camp. It was during this trial that the concept of "informed consent" was cemented, into the form we know and love today.

10. British Nuclear Tests

In the 1950s, Britain was desperate to have its own nukes, and undertook a number of atomic tests in a picturesque corner of the Pacific known as Christmas Island. Dubbed Operation Grapple, they detonated a series of atmospheric nuclear devices, without bothering to evacuate either their personnel, or the inhabitants of the island. Some reports say that instead of protective gear, the servicemen were just told to turn their backs from the explosion, and cover their faces with their hands. The men reported a flash so bright they could see their bones through their hands, and so strong that it knocked many over. And afterwards, they all ate fish from ocean, swam in the lagoon, and drank the local water. The American Government continued to perform tests in the area for years. Both sides deny any long term ill effects to the servicemen or local population.

9. The German Ebola Accident

If you've ever been in a science lab, you'll have probably run into various stringent rules about behavoir, like: no drinks, no open-toed shoes, keep experiments separate, no sex on the lab tables, etc. And you probably ignored most of them. Well a worker at an Ebola research lab in Germany knows the importance of these procedures, after she accidentally pricked herself with a needle through three layers of protective gloves. She was instantly quarantined and given an experimental treatment, and managed to survive. So yes, she lived, and doesn't really belong on this list. But, it gives me a chance to talk about Ebola, so fuck you all, I'm running with it. Ebola is nasty. Like really nasty. It has a mortality rate of 50%-89%, depending on strain. So, if you get the nicest, sweetest, most cuddly version of it, it's still even odds of you kicking the bucked. The nastier ones will almost certainly do you in. And you know how you go? You bleed and shit yourself to death, while all your organs shut down. Awesome.

8. The Fallout Experiments

Oh fallout, white and fluffy as snow, it descends from the heavens after a nuclear explosion. It's radioactive dust that's created when a nuclear bomb goes off, and its incredibly toxic, and has a tendency to work its way into the food chain. It leads to cancer, death, and horribly mutated babies How do we know this? Because the American Government exposed the inhabitants of Rongelap Atoll to it. Yeah, it would have sucked to live on a Pacific Island in the 50s and 60s, when all this shit was being blown up. This one wasn't intentional, but they sure didn't mind watching the effects. It was after they detonated a lithium deuteride bomb, which ended up producing a much larger explosion than originally planned, combined with strong winds that bore the dust over the islands. They called the severely malformed offspring of the island's inhabitants "jellyfish babies". Nice.

7. Dr. Henry Cotton

Dr Henry Cotton. Sounds like a nice and fluffy guy, doesn't he? Well, he wasn't. He ran the New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton (previously called New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, now known as Trenton Psychiatric Hospital), and thought that you could cure insanity via removing parts of your patients. That's right, he beliveved rudely ripping organs from your body would cure delusions. He'd start with removing all the teeth, move on to the tonsils and sinuses, and then, in no particular order, the testicles, ovaries, gall bladders, stomachs, spleens, cervixes, and colons. Wow, with all that gone, you'd be down to almost no internal organs. One example was "An 18 year-old girl with agitated depression [who] successively had her upper and lower molars extracted, a tonsillectomy, sinus drainage, treatment for an infected cervix, removal of intestinal adhesions -- all without effecting improvement in her psychiatric condition. Then the remainder of her teeth were removed and she was sent home, pronounced cured".
Seeing as this was the 1920s, and before antibiotics, I'm sure you can imagine what the survival rate was like. Cotton claimed an 85% success rate, which was completely wrong. It also turns out that the mortality rate among his patients was around 45%. Even if you did survive, you'd be missing a large chunk of your internal organs.

6. The Demon Core

The name "Demon Core" sounds like something out of a B horror movie, and it should. The Demon Core was a nuclear device with a rather troublesome tendency to kill researchers. At the Los Alamos labs in the 1940s, the Demon Core was a chunk of subcritical plutonium that was used for research, and on two separate occasions, it went critical, killing scientists. The first was Harry Daghlian, who was working neutron reflection experiments, surrounding the core with neutron reflective bricks. Each one brought the core closer to critical, and when he accidentally dropped a brick on the plutonium mass, it triggered a massive blast of radiation. He pulled it off quickly, but received a fatal dose of radiation, and died 28 days later. The second incident involved Louis Slotin and a group of scientists, who were placing two half-spheres of neutron reflecting beryllium around the plutonium core. The two halves were held apart by a screwdriver wielded by Slotin, but he slipped, and the two closed. The core went supercritical. He pulled apart the halves, thus saving the life of everyone else in the room, but received such a big hit of radiation that he died 9 days later.

5. TGN1412

In the process of researching new drugs, you start by trying them out on small mammals, and slowly working your way up the ladder before eventually reaching us human types. There's a fundamental theory that if it's fine for all the smaller creatures, it's probably going to function in a vaguely similar way for the bigger ones. Sometimes, however, it doesn't. That's what happened with TGN1412, a drug being studied by the company Parexel. A group of study subjects in London were exposed to the drug at a dose 500x lower than was safe in animals. In humans, it caused catastrophic systemic organ failure. Within five minutes, they were in rapidly escalating pain. Basically, their body shut down. Six patients were hospitalized, four died, and one looks like he may be developing cancer. As an ex-drug trial volunteer myself, all I can say is "GAH!"

4. The Tuskegee Syphilis experiment

In the 1930s, syphilis was poorly understood, and many of the treatments toxic in their own right. In 1932, 399 poor black workers with the disease were promised free treatment, but when funding dried up due to the depression the study changed its goal, and the disease was left to run its course so that it could be studied. Now, that's bad enough, but they were trying to find out more about syphilis in order to treat it better, so they had good intentions. But in the 1940s penicillin rocked along, which cured the disease. And the group running the experiment refused to treat the patients with it. They intentionally blocked the patients from learning about penicillin, and prevented them from seeking outside treatment. The experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, at which point, of the original 399 only 74 survived. 28 had died from the disease, 100 from complications associated with it, 40 of their wives were infected, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.

3. The Nazi Experiments

There's a reason the Nazi's are such effective villains in so much of our culture. It's very easy to forget some of the shit they did, which was downright torture, in the name of science. The experiments they ran on the people in concentration camps are terrifying and disturbing. Prisoners were dunked in ice water for hours, to see how long downed pilots would survive in the North Atlantic. Decompression chambers were used to test the effects of high altitude, usually followed by live brain dissections to see what happened; they were forced to drink salt water as their only source of fluids; war wounds were inflicted and deliberately infected in order to test new treatments; and TB was brought into the population. These people died under horrific circumstances. Yet these are the only clinical information we have about certain conditions. The hypothermia data in particular is far beyond any other study that could be attempted, which puts researchers in a dilemma. Is it ethical to use data gathered by such disgusting means in order to work on treatments that may save lives?

2. Mengele's twins

As bad as the tales of most Nazi research are, Mengele's experiments were particularly twisted. He worked primarily on young twins, as he was obsessed with unlocking their secrets to increase the birth rate of the "master race". In no particular order, and always without anesthetic , he scraped bone shavings out of gaping holes in peoples legs, combined a pair of twins to create a conjoined body; injected dye or chemicals into their eyes to change the color; drew large amounts of blood; transfused large amounts of blood between twins; spinal taps and injections; one twin would be infected with a disease and the other not; organ removal; castration; amputation; some even allege sex change and incestuous impregnation operations. Some 3000 twins passed through his hands, and only approximately 26 survived. The "angel of death" indeed. After the war, he vanished to South America, where he lived out the rest of his life in remorseless hiding, to die from accidental drowning at the age of 68.

1. Unit 731

While the Nazis were doing their horrific work in Germany, the Japanese outdid them in mainland Asia, undertaking a regime of ruthless experimentation the likes of which are too disturbing to imagine. Everyone knows about Nazi experimentation, but the story of Unit 731 is far less known, and all the more horrific for it. Unit 731 was a research base in Northeast China, and the home of more than 10,000 deaths by experiment. The patients were vivisected without anesthesia after infection with diseases; pregnant women were vivisected and the fetus removed; limbs amputated to study blood loss; said limbs re-attached to the opposite side of the body; extremities were frozen by repeated immersion in water while left in icy conditions, then amputated or thawed to study gangrene; prisoners had their stomachs removed, and their esophagus attached to their intestine directly; live humans were used to test grenades at various ranges and positions; flamethrowers; chemical and biological agents including plague, cholera, smallpox, botulism, syphilis and gonorrhea; being hung upside down until they choked to death; air injected into their arteries to cause embolism; horse urine injected in their kidneys; deprived of food and water till death; placed in high pressure chambers till death; being exposed to extreme cold; burned to see how well they could survive different degrees of burns; spun until death on a centrifuge; animal blood injections; lethal radiation doses; injected with sea water to see if it could be substituted for saline; and buried alive. A laundry list of human atrocities.
While many of the Nazi doctors were at least brought to justice for their crimes, Unit 731 merely disbanded and General MacArthur gave immunity to its doctors in exchange for information on biological warfare, and the majority got off scott free. However, Russia brought war crimes proceedings against a number of the perpetrators, and sentenced them to hard labor in Siberia. I can't help but think they got off light.

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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