Remaining Standing after Death?

I overheard a conversation at lunch a few days ago. Some people were talking about a guy who died propped up against a wall, and remained standing after death. I’m pretty sure that’s not possible, but I thought I would consult the Straight Dope about this. Possible or not?

I would say ‘possible’ if the right set of circumstances occurred. Locking the knees would help if the angle was right, and if there was something on the walls that helped with grip (like he was wearing a sweater and died against a stucco wall), that could only help with the balance not being perfect. A shelf on the wall that juts out and prevents the body from falling over, or even serving as someplace for an arm to get caught adds additional possibilities.

I think it was in The Cheap Detective (which I didn’t like), where the detective said the victims were killed so fast that they didn’t have a chance to fall down.

People can be frozen solid. I find it pretty creepy.

I’m gonna say not possible. If the victim is leaning with his/her back against the wall, their center of mass will tend to make them fall away from the wall as soon as muscle tension is gone. They could place their feet some distance from the walls, which would prevent immediate rotation at the ankles and would also mean gravity helps keep the knees locked. But the literal downfall will be the hips, along with every single spinal joint. Tensed muscles on the back of your neck keep your head from falling forward, tensed abs keep lumbar lordosis from becoming hyperlordosis, and muscles in your lower/upper back keep the opposite spinal curvature similarly under control. When all these muscles relax at the onset of unconsciousness, the spine becomes a wet noodle; as soon as any significant mass buckles forward of the hips, the entire bag of meat and bones is coming down all the way to the floor.

…unless, of course, the cause of death is something that causes all the muscles to clench up, and then maybe the person would remain standing. I wonder if freezing to death might also allow for a vertical corpse? If the limbs started to freeze solid before actual death occurred (which can happen, even if it’s rare and requires unusual conditions) then they might be locked in position sufficiently well to prevent bodily collapse.

I realize I’m not fighting much ignorance with this post, but I vaguely recall seeing some reality show like COPS where they get to a crime scene and a dead shooting victim is indeed sort of half leaning/propped against a wall or maybe a counter. They comment on the unusual nature of this.

That sorta ruins the whole dramatic effect of the dead person sliding slowly down the wall.

I saw that episode too, but it doesn’t really apply here since (I think) the dead guy got shot when he died his knees locked while his upper body bent forward and ended up being supported by a counter (with maybe his arms folded up under his chest?)… making it look like the guy was still alive and standing while dozing by leaning on the counter. So that’s only half-standing.

Long ago I knew a man who had had a whole body fusion. He walked with crutches and no joint bent, not the spine, the hip or the knee. I imagine that in the right circumstance, he could have died erect.

Big ass spear if standing in front of a tree.

Ah, internet.

TV tropes, Died Standing up:

This is a device used when a character is so utterly badass that even in death they refuse to accept utter defeat. The body continues to strive for victory even when its driving will has been extinguished.

No? Too fictional? How about the Daily Mail?

Man, 35, was found dead STANDING UP in his kitchen after mystery head injury
[li]Andrew Evans injured his head in the lead up to his death in West Sussex[/li][li]A friend called out to Mr Evans when he saw him stood in the kitchen[/li][li]It was only when he received no reply that he realised his friend was dead[/li][/ul]

No? Don’t trust the Daily Mail? Quora:

There’s the human crush:

A human crush is a suffocating situation in which the density of people in contact with one another far outweighs their geographical space. Look up the human crush of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

There’s the awesome warrior monk:
Look up Benkei, a giant warrior monk in the 11th century in Japan who died standing up. It is said that he fought against an army before eventually dying, only to somehow die standing up after being killed by a rain of arrows. After killing about 300 trained soldiers, he was taken out by arrows, where he probably made his last stand and as he died, his body got rapidly cold after working up a sweat from the fight and started to stiffen as he stood there before eventually actually dying.

No problem Quora, we’ll look up Benkei: University of Melbourne:

Long after the battle, the soldiers noticed that the arrow-riddled, wound-covered Benkei, who had killed tens or hundreds of fully trained soldiers, was standing still but dead in the standing position. This is known as the “Standing Death of Benkei,” which shows his real loyalty and considered as “That’s the Man!” kind of death in Japan.

Of course, it is just a legend.

Awwwwwwww, but wait, there’s more!

However according to scientists, it can be possible. When a human dies, rigor mortis occurs, in which chemical changes in the muscles cause the body of the corpse to become stiff and difficult to move. In humans, it usually takes about 3 to 4 hours to start, reaches maximum stiffness after 7 to 12 hours, and gradually dissipates until approximately 48 to 60 hours after death. However when a person died during or right after intense exercise, it is not the case. Rigor mortis is caused by depletion of oxygen used in the making of ATP. During intense exercise, for example fighting with hundreds of samurais, a body is already in depletion of oxygen and ATP; therefore rigor mortis commences after much shorter time. In addition, deep wound and/or arrows stuck in a body can also make muscle stiff hence preventing a dead body to bend.

So: possible, indeed likely! Well, maybe not:

Having said that, it is unlikely a dead body stands still and most people do not actually believe the “Standing Death of Benkei” is true.

Jeez, no fun at all. Still: Daily Mail article. Check it out.

Interesting and informative replies. Thanks!

Assuming a cause of death that results in muscular contraction throughout the body, and even assuming these contractions somehow magically continue after death, it’s extremely unlikely that they will result in a posture that’s conducive to remaining propped against a vertical wall in a stable fashion.

Re: freezing of muscles… it may be possible to freeze the extremities prior to death (as sometimes happens in extreme cases of frostbite), the muscles that manage hip and spine movement/alignment will not freeze solid prior to death. Once the victim dies, those muscles will relax, and the victim will hit the floor.

Finally remembered the historic example that has been rattling around at the back of my mind: Branwell Brontë.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte reports an eye-witness account that Brontë, wanting to show the power of the human will, decided to die standing up, “and when the last agony began, he insisted on assuming the position just mentioned.”

So: Chose to die standing up (!). In my memory it was against the fireplace. But you may choose not to trust my memory (or Elizabeth Gaskell).


In my detective days I had a guy who overdosed while standing in front of his bathroom sink. He crossed his arms on the sink placed his head on them, bent at the waist, like he was taking a nap or something but still standing up. The syringe was on the sink. He was in full rigor. Not exactly just standing there but pretty darn close. I know when we put him in the body bad his arm were still in the same position. I don’t recall if the ME’s people broke the rigor or not in order to zip the bag.

Well, sort of related to the OP - here is a link to a standing bed.

No one is denying that it would take a number of unlikely circumstances all aligning at once to achieve such an effect - but given enough time and enough people deceased such a conjunction of events could happen.

For the muscle contractions it would probably have to be either a toxin of some sort that leads to extreme muscle spasms, or maybe an electric current causing the muscles to lock up not only pre- but also post-mortem.

I see it all the time at the Post Office.