10 Of The Most Embarrassing Celebrity Deaths From History

Published May 23, 2016
Updated March 30, 2020
Published May 23, 2016
Updated March 30, 2020

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Universal History Archive/Getty Images

As a young man, Allan Pinkerton, born 1819, worked in his native Scotland as an apprentice barrel maker. But after he and his wife set off for North America in 1842, he soon found himself near Chicago. It was there that his story truly begins, with the moment when he came upon a group of men making counterfeit money.

He immediately reported them to the authorities, impressing the sheriff so much with his honesty that he hired Pinkerton to be their watchman for more counterfeiters. Pinkerton was so successful in the months that followed that he eventually became a deputy.

Pinkerton eventually left his small town post for inner-city Chicago, hoping that he would find more rewarding work with the Cook County Sherrif’s Office.

But even after becoming the Deputy Sherriff of the department, Pinkerton still took on “side gigs” as a detective, seemingly obsessed with the thrill of the chase.

Allan Pinkerton Portrait

Library of Congress

As the Wild West of mid-19th-century America reared its often ugly head, Pinkerton and his operatives began pursuing even more high-profile cases, eventually drawing the attention and respect of presidential incumbent Abraham Lincoln, who hired Pinkerton to be his bodyguard.

Throughout the Civil War, it was Pinkerton and his men who were responsible for organizing the Secret Service and contracted for work that would be the equivalent of that of the FBI and CIA today.

Throughout his life, Pinkerton was branded as a no-nonsense detective whose abolitionist sympathies made him not just an ally to slaves seeking freedom, but an important advisor for Lincoln.

So in terms of celebrity deaths from history, you’d assume that a man like Pinkerton would meet his end as the result of a sting gone wrong, or in a Wild West shootout, or by taking a bullet for the president.

But no, Pinkerton died after biting his own tongue (some say it was because he’d slipped, but it’s ultimately unclear), which resulted in a fatal case of gangrene.

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