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Isadora Duncan Died Her Amazingly Crazy Death 85 Years Ago Today

Isadora Duncan, the modern dance pioneer known for her free-flowing costumes and free-flowing lifestyle, died one of history’s stranger deaths in Paris on this day in 1927:

Isadora Duncan died as dramatically as she had lived, when her long trailing scarf was entangled in the spokes of a wheel of a new Bugatti sports car. In an instant, she was strangled, nearly decapitated by the tightening of the scarf wrapped around her neck.

Yikes! She was just 50.

Photo of Isadora Duncan in a flowing gown, dancing, with arms held highPhoto of Isadora Duncan, circa 1918, by Arnold Genthe (from the U.S. Library of Congress)


A tragic but fitting death, one could say, since it brought all the elements of her life into play: fashion flair, high living and high drama.

Isadora Duncan wasn’t actually driving the car: she had settled in the back seat, tossing her long scarf over her shoulder, as a chauffeur took the wheel. The New York Times described what happened next:

The automobile was going at full speed when the scarf of strong silk suddenly began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street. She was dragged for several yards before the chauffeur halted, attracted by her cries in the street.

Her last words, as she got into the car, were said to have been, “Farewell my friends, I am off to glory!”

Duncan was no stranger to tragedy:

One night in Paris, Isadora Duncan danced to the haunting melody of Chopin’s “Funeral March,” and a vision of tragedy came to her. She danced with eyes closed and saw her two children threatened by evil. She danced as though in a trance, and her audience sat, thrilled, chilled, and breathless. It was terrible and it was beautiful. A few days passed and the father of her son stood before her. His lips were dry and his eyes were haggard. He told of the death of her two children.

They had drowned along with their nurse when their car plunged into the Seine River.

For a long, chatty bio of Duncan, see the Virtual Museum of San Francisco, the city of her birth. Or see Duncan (and many others) in our special feature Death By Car »


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