9 People Who Attempted To Attain Immortality And Eternal Youth — And The Shocking Methods They Used

Published November 2, 2023

From mercury-drinking Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang to a baby raised on an “eternity diet” by a New York cult, people have turned to bizarre methods throughout history to find the secret of immortality.

Death is an inevitable part of life. People are born, they live their lives, and then they die. This has always been the case, and for now, at least, the unending cycle continues. However, throughout history, there have been those who sought to rebel against the natural order — and defy death itself.

The idea of immortality is nothing new. Since the earliest tales of humanity, the concept of living forever has remained a pervasive fixture, an unachievable goal that just so happens to make for enjoyable fantasy or science fiction.

But what if immortality was truly achievable? Could humanity grasp the unlimited potential of a life extended beyond its natural limitations? These are the questions the nine people on this list sought to answer. Of course, their various attempts at immortality did not pay off.

Qin Shi Huang, The Chinese Emperor Who Wanted To Live Forever

Immortality Attempts

Wikimedia CommonsA portrait of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China.

More than 2,200 years ago, the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang began seeking a potion that would grant him immortality. The emperor even issued a nationwide call for his subjects to search for an elixir of life.

In 2002, 36,000 wooden strips with ancient calligraphy were found in an abandoned well in China’s Hunan province. A later study determined that some of the strips contained messages in response to Qin Shi Huang’s bizarre decree.

According to the Chinese outlet Xinhua, one of the messages stated that although villagers in Duxiang hadn’t yet discovered the desired potion, they would keep looking. Another strip suggested that an herb from a nearby mountain may help the emperor.

It’s believed that the emperor may have eventually resorted to consuming cinnabar, or mercury sulfide, in an effort to live longer. Ironically, that may be what killed him at the age of 49.

In fact, Qin Shi Huang’s death is perhaps what he is most famous for. In 1974, farmers stumbled across the emperor’s tomb — and the 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors guarding it.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.