Hollywood Heart Attack

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Oooo... It's the Big One... You hear that Elizabeth... I'm comin' to you, I'm comin' home to Georgia!
Fred Sanford, Sanford and Son

Your character is going along in his daily life when suddenly he complains of a shooting, radiating pain in his left shoulder and arm. Within seconds he staggers, clutching at his chest while his face turns bright red, then he drops like a stone to the floor, unconscious and probably dead. Congratulations: your character's just had a Hollywood Heart Attack.

May be consciously averted in modern medical dramas if the writers care.

Real Life heart attacks vary in their nature, from instantaneous death to chest-clutching dramatics to ones you don't realize you've had until an ECG years later discovers the damage left behind. Some sufferers collapse; some don't. Some throw up; some faint. A massive heart attack can make the sufferer feel like he's about to have a bout of diarrhea, which is one reason why so many people die on the toilet. (For those interested, it happens because blood pools in the mesenteric veins when the heart suddenly weakens. This also is why hospitals have emergency pulls by toilets. And Now You Know.)

Note that some examples go so far wrong as to call a heart attack "heart failure", which is a completely different condition that has to do with the heart's ability to efficiently pump the blood it receives.

No real life examples, please; Real Life heart attacks don't work this way.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Hollywood Heart Attack include:

Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • This trope is so common that the British Heart Foundation made a TV ad showing it's not always the case. Youtube example. So have the American Heart Association and the Canadian Heart and Stroke Fund.
  • The infamously narmy Life Alert commercials featured an old man yelling "I'm having a heart attack!" while on his knees and clutching his chest.


Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • All over Death Note though at least these are magically induced fatal heart attacks. Averted with the death of L, who just falls off of his chair and dies without a sound.
  • In Captain Tsubasa, this happens to Jun Misugi in a regular basis in his younger days, if he pushes himself too hard during his matches. His heart condition starts to improve by the time of the Junior High arc, and he fully heals at the start of the World Youth arc.

Fan Works[edit | hide]

 Well, that's way to stage and intervention.


Films[edit | hide]

  • Averted in the 1978 Superman film. Glen Ford, who played Jonathan Kent, researched what a real heart attack looks and feels like so his portrayal would be accurate. It's still an obvious attack, though—Pa realizes what's happening and manages to whisper, "Oh, no," before he falls over.
  • Averted in Ever After. The father is about to ride away. His arm goes numb, but he decides to shake it off. He doesn't even make it to the gate when he groans and falls off his horse. Final Speech gets played straight, however - he manages to gasp for a few minutes and deliver some last words without the loss of consciousness before death that generally happens when someone dies suddenly of a heart attack.
  • In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as the horrendous Black Beast lunged forward, escape for Arthur and his Knights seems hopeless... when suddenly, the animator suffered a fatal heart attack. -Animator keels and falls over, dead- The cartoon peril is no more. The quest for the Holy Grail could continue.
  • Played straight in The Hotel New Hampshire, when the grandfather (played by Wilford Brimley) has a textbook Hollywood Heart Attack after being frightened by the stuffed remains of the family's deceased pet.
  • Averted in All That Jazz. Director Bob Fosse had already had a heart-attack himself, and there was a physician on the set to help create realistic physical symptoms (grey skin, sweating) for the Fosse-like character Joe Gideon. The scene where everything goes silent as he completely focuses on his first symptoms is brilliant.
  • In The Mighty Ducks, one of the kids relates to Gordon what happened to their previous coach: A long rant, followed by a sudden clutch at his left arm. Gordon concludes, "Heart attack."
    • Amusingly enough, the kid seems to think the previous coach quit because he hurt his arm. Or at least claims to think that.
  • Subverted in the French thriller Les Diaboliques, where the school teacher has a disturbingly realistic heart attack. Then, a few years later, had one for real...
  • Gareth has one in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
  • Surprisingly averted in Dirty Work, considering Norm Macdonald's sense of humor; Pops (Jack Warden) calmly asks Mitch (Macdonald) to come over to him, and announces he thinks he's having a heart attack.
  • Averted in Office Space where the hypno-therapist's distress gradually increases before he finally keels over.
  • Averted in The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke's character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, becomes dizzy, vomits, and collapses after a hardcore match. Some time later, he's in the hospital, recovering from surgery.
  • In Ocean's Eleven, Saul, posing as a rich European businessman, fakes a heart attack. His act is deliberatly theatrical and dramatic in order to distract the casino's security staff and draw attention away from the rest of the team's efforts to break into the casino vault.
  • Averted in Major League II in two senses: One, Lou's heart attack didn't kill him, and two, none of the players realized he was having a heart attack because he was busy chewing them out at the time.


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Shown in the 1978 TV miniseries 'Salem's Lot when Jason Burke (Matt Burke in the book) manages to force the vampirized Mike Ryerson from his house only to clutch at his chest and wince, staying conscious enough to call an ambulance. This is hinted at during the confrontation as Jason is shown to be visibly terrified and his face gets slowly redder as his breathing increases and he begins to sweat profusely.
  • Averted in a Very Special Episode of The Cosby Kids where Dwayne ignores a school assembly talking about heart attacks and how to respond to them, while the other Cosby Kids actually pay attention. This bites him in the ass later when an old bum who thinks such assemblies are stupid clutches his chest and collapses. The other Kids manage to save him.
  • Happens to Chris' grandfather during the middle of telling a knock knock joke. Later Chris' little sister complains "she never got to hear the end of the joke".
  • Parodied in the first episode of the second season of The IT Crowd. One of the characters believes he is going to die, so when he feels a pain in his chest he screams and grabs it. It then turns out it was his phone (which he had "upgraded" the vibration function of), to make matters worse this happened at a funeral.
    • Then again in the final episode of the fourth season when the boss (badly) fakes one in a courtroom.
  • In the Aussie soap Prisoner (retitled Prisoner: Cell Block H in some markets, to avoid confusion with The Prisoner) an elderly convict had a heart condition and would frequently fake attacks in the overblown manner as a distraction for the guards. Her real attacks were always quiet and understated to let the audience know the difference.
  • There was a realistic heart attack in one episode of That 70's Show, when Red found out that Laurie married Fez just so the latter could get a green card. No screaming, no spasming, just disconcerting chest pain and shortness of breath. Fortunately, Kitty (a nurse) recognized the symptoms.
  • Anytime he was seriously displeased or badly surprised, Fred Sanford of Sanford and Son would clutch his chest and stagger around, announcing "It's the big one! I'm comin' to join ya, Elizabeth!" implying that he was having a heart attack that would be the death of him. (It eventually was for the actor playing him.)
  • In the Made for TV Movie of Stephen King's Carrie, her mother's heart attack is shown as a Conspicuous CG internal shot of the heart seizing up. Which was likely due to Carrie using her telekinesis to give her mother a heart attack while the woman was trying to drown her.
  • A Saturday Night Live skit was the Chicago super fans (Bill Swerski's Superfans). Heart attacks were a common occurrence, with at least 25 heart attacks between the four guys. At this point for these guys, they do a little chest clutching and shrug them off.
  • The death of Mr. Bruce Foster of Guildford, as seen on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

"Strewth! Blaaaaaugh..."

  • In Brothers and Sisters, the heart attack that kills William Walker in the first episode is a mild version of this trope- he clutches his chest and falls into the pool.
    • Robert McAllister's one, however, occurs at the same time as the birth of the son he is about to adopt- he's rushing to his car to get there, features him vomiting and falling over, is done with no IC sound and to the tune of Coldplay's "Fix You".
  • Averted in the Very Special Episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, where Uncle Phil clutches his chest with a faraway look on his face, then says "I think I'm having a heart attack" before sitting gently down in a chair.
  • Averted in Friends when Phoebe first calmly explains her symptoms while having a cigarette before concluding that she's having a heart attack.
  • Averted and played straight in Roseanne, when Dan has a heart attack the day of Darlene's wedding. He's shown getting increasingly stressed throughout the entire episode, along with sweating and his face getting pale. At the very end of the episode, Roseanne finally gets a look at him when he's not trying to act normal and comments on his appearance; Dan tells her that he thinks she should call an ambulance and a terrified Roseanne runs off to do so as he collapses to one knee clutching his chest.
  • Miles on Murphy Brown has a heart attack at his 30th birthday party that's so stereotypical that everyone assumes that he's faking it as a joke.
    • And it turned out it wasn't really a heart attack. To quote his doctor, "you got gas and freaked."
      • Which is actually, Truth in Television. Gas (and gastric diseases generally) mimic heart attack symptoms. Its normal for Doctors to eliminate one before deciding on the other.
  • The West Wing: During Leo McGarry's heart attack during the peace talks at Camp David, he initially appears to simply be short of breath, not showing any signs of pain. Eventually, though, he falls to his knees clutching his chest. For a moment, he manages to get to his feet and begins walking again, even smiling just a bit, playing it off like he just had a massive case of heartburn for another wave of pain sends him back down.
  • Averted in Glee, Kurt's father suffers at heart attack at work, and at first he mistakes it for indigestion, right before he collapses.
  • Lampshaded in Frasier. In order to get back at Martin for pranking him all episode, Frasier dresses up in a hideous clown costume, grabs a meat cleaver from the kitchen, and jumps out at Martin, who shrieks and collapses in shock at the sight. Frasier laughs it off, saying "Oh come off it Dad, a heart attack?" only to realize that Martin actually did have a heart attack. It's then subverted, as the heart attack was a very mild one, and Martin gets released from the hospital a few hours after being checked in with minimal effects.
  • Averted in the Two Broke Girls Valentines Day Episode "And the Broken Hearts". Earl announces he's having a heart attack as he's leaving work but says he's OK enough to get to the hospital by himself. Max and Caroline nevertheless insist on having Sophie give him a ride.
  • Averted in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in the episode "Sweet Dee Has A Heart Attack." Dee is extremely casual about the matter, and the guys don't notice that anything is wrong until she collapses.
  • Averted in the final episode of Inspector Morse. Morse feels a minor pain in his arm but either fails to realise or (more likely since his cardiologist had given him several warnings earlier in the series) simply chooses not to believe what's really happening. When we next see him, he's lying on the ground and someone is frantically calling 999.


Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • Teddy Long was about to get married "live" on Smackdown! As he was about to say "I do," he had a hugely fake HHA and collapsed.
  • Averted in Ric Flair's famous heart attack angle in WCW.


Stand-Up Comedy[edit | hide]

  • Richard Pryor did a famous bit about having a heart attack on his front lawn.
    • George Carlin did a bit about his two heart attacks that directly referenced Pryor's heart attack.

Carlin: You'll be pleased to know I lead Richard Pryor in heart attacks two-to-one. Rich, however, leads me a stunning one-nothing on Burning yourself up. Actually, here's what happened: He had a heart attack and then I had a heart attack, then he burned himself up, and then I said "Fuck that, I'm gonna have another heart attack."

  • A Philippine gag show did a(n intentionally inaccurate) skit about Michael Jackson's death where he sighs, saying that he's tired, and then has a dance-like seizure (complete with "Aoww!" as an exclamation of pain) before succumbing to the heart attack. Yeaaaaaaaaah.
    • Made stranger by the Real Life claims in the hours following his death that Michael had a heart attack...when it had only been said that he had suffered cardiac arrest. The media seem to live on this trope, with anything heart-related (or even chest-related) being called a "heart attack", because obviously viewers are far too stupid to realize that more than one thing can go wrong with the heart.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • A heart attack in GURPS is code for sudden death (one supplement calls any major organ failure a "heart attack"). It's only possible to survive if someone resuscitates you within a few minutes of the attack.


Videogames[edit | hide]

  • Metal Gear Solid has a few.
    • The Hiimdaisy comics also included this with visible "HNNNNNNNNG" quote.
  • Despite the "HHHHHNNNNGGGHHH" meme (see below), Katawa Shoujo averts this with Hisao, the Deadpan Snarker protagonist who suffers from congenital arrhythmia. Poor Hisao suffers palpitations when stressed or overworked, putting a spin on typical Dating Sim tropes like the Crash Into Hello or Love Confession.
  • Ghost Trick: It isn't specifically named as a heart attack, but the thrashing chest-clutch the Justice Minster performs seem to match the stereotype. His life is saved by stabilizing him with a drink of water and then getting him his pill bottle, which he proceeds to practically empty like a bag of Skittles.
  • In Tokimeki Memorial 2 Substories: Leaping School Festival, this happens to the owner of the restaurant Akane Ichimonji works at part-time, under the eyes of both her and the protagonist, due to overwork. He survives thanks to their quick intervention, and this event kickstarts Akane's storyline, as she and the protagonist decide to take care of the restaurant until the owner has fully recovered.
  • In Mitsumete Knight, Teddie Adelaide suffers one during one of her Events. Said Event is actually the one you need to see in her storyline in order to get her Happy Ending, as she explains there her heart condition, and how this motivates her to become a doctor that can heal anyone from any illness, as she's lying on a bench, clutching her heart in pain.


Web Originals[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Simpsons episode "Homer's Triple Bypass", where Homer has a very dramatic (and very funny) heart attack in Mr. Burns's office. We even see an amplification of his heart beating wildly out of control, and then shattering into pieces.
    • Then he has another heart attack when he learns how much the first heart attack is going to cost him, which raises the cost of the operation further.
    • There's another episode when Homer takes Lisa out for a wild drive to show her the high and exciting life. He says something like

"Your heart's pounding like crazy now, isn't it?"
"Yeah, Dad, it is!"
(Cheerfully Oblivious) "That's how mine feels ALL THE TIME! I bet your left arm's tingling, too!"
"Uh, Dad..."

    • And it's on to the next adventure.
    • Oddly averted at the end of "The Old Man and the Lisa", in which, after Lisa tears up the check from Mr. Burns, Homer promptly drops to the ground without a sound. It's then played a bit more straight while he's in the hospital bed and is told that he divided Lisa's take wrong.
    • In one episode Lisa says that Springfield has the highest rate of heart attacks, cuts to a scene showing Moleman clutching his chest, and then Nelson clutching his arm before falling.

Hospital PA: Code Blue. Code Blue. Code Blue.

  • The Pixar short Geri's Game has Geri pretend to do this to distract his opponent (he's playing against himself) in a game of chess.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, this is averted when Aunt May has a heart attack after standing up to some villains. She faintly mentions that her left arm feels numb, and then collapses.
  • Used on purpose in Family Guy. Quagmire needs to get out of a marriage. So he walks in the room and screams "Aaaaaahhh! Heart attack!" while clutching his chest to fake his death. But she isn't quite convinced, so Peter mentions people void their bowels when they die. Cut to outside the house, and the guys yelling "Oh!!!" and Peter saying "What a jackass!"