Comedian Ian Cognito Dies on Stage while the Audience Laughs

Ian Cognito with the funny face and black hat

Ian Cognito laid dying on stage, fans erupted into laughter that continued well on through his death. However, it’s not quite as heinous as it sounds at first glance.

Ian Cognito was known for his flamboyant acts and being over the top with his comedy style. That’s why when he joked about “waking up speaking Welsh after having a stroke,” and later slumped over into a chair as if he was having one; the audience thought it was all part of the act. As Cognito sat down, he put his arms and head back while his shoulders twitched. The audience roared with laughter believing that this was all part of the act.

After 5 minutes of being slumped in the chair, Cognito’s fellow comedians began to suspect something was wrong despite the fact that the audience was still rolling with laughter. Mold, who was present during the performance, said that the comedian was on stage and was about halfway through the show when he fell ill. “He sat down and just started twitching. He was slumped over. I thought it was part of his act at first like many others. But after 5 minutes, we all began to suspect that something was seriously wrong,” said Mold. An ambulance was called while a paramedic that was present in the audience began CPR on Cognito. The audience was quickly escorted from the venue.

However, it wasn’t a stroke that Ian Cognito was having; instead he was actually having a heart attack. Once paramedics arrived on the scene at 10:20 pm Thursday, the comedian was pronounced dead at the scene. The audience member who performed CPR on Cognito knew that the comedian was gone but continued with CPR regardless. “Until it’s called, we still have to work, but I knew he was dead,” he said.

In an official statement, the ambulance service said, “at 22:11 last night we were called to Crown Walk in Bicester regarding a medical emergency. We dispatched a rapid response vehicle as well as an ambulance crew, but unfortunately one patient had already passed away at the scene.”

Ian Cognito was 60 years old when he passed.

What caused the heart attack?

Ian Cognito standing front of the mic and telling jokes to the audience.

Before getting on stage, Andrew Bird, who was the show’s host, told the media that Cognito wasn’t feeling well. “He came up to me and said, ‘I just don’t feel well. I’m not sure if I can do the performance,’ Bird recalls. “This was just before his act. I was hesitant to let him on stage but he insisted. Once he walked out there though, every thing changed. He looked healthy and just like his old self. His voice was also loud and he projected well; it wasn’t quiet or squeaky like it had been when we spoke. As I watched him I couldn’t help but think, ‘damn he’s having a great gig.”

Bird continues, “I thought maybe at first it was just stage freight or at worst a cold. I thought his nerves were just raking him over before the start of the performance. I never would have guessed that this would have been his last time getting up in front of a live audience.”

Perhaps it’s just because we’re getting older, but heart attacks seem to be occurring far more frequently than ever before; and seemingly out of the blue. They’ve also been targeting even the “younger” crowds and people as young as 29 have had heart attacks. Personally speaking, a friend was even hospitalized for a heart attack and was told by doctors “we have no idea why you had one; you’re the healthiest person we’ve ever seen here that’s had a heart attack.” And apparently this kind of sentiment isn’t unheard of.

“Heart attacks have stopped discriminating against health and age; we’re seeing more and more people having heart attacks for seemingly no reason. Even healthy people are having issues. And we’re talking people that exercise, don’t smoke, don’t drink, and eat healthy,” doctors say. “We aren’t sure what’s causing it but they’re becoming more and more common. And what’s worrisome is that they aren’t always recognizable. Some people have had heart attacks without even realizing that they’ve had one. The signs aren’t always there and that severely weakens your heart, making you more susceptible to have more in the future.”

While Ian Cognito’s heart attack was definitely out of the blue, sources have confirmed that the comedian was taking medications for a heart condition. As far as what medications he was taking or even what the condition was remains unknown. There is speculation that the comedian had arrhythmia and others suggest it was heart disease. However, it remains up for debate as to the severity of his heart condition.

Many also point out that Cognito was a heavy alcoholic and suggest this could have been the cause. “He’d been a heavy drinker for years; to the point of blacking out frequently. One time, he launched a television out of his hotel room window. He apologized to us the next day but admitted to having no memory of doing that,” say sources. Cognito had been sober 18 months up until his death, but many argue that the damage he’d done to his body by drinking was irreparable.

Strange occurrences or perhaps foreshadowing

Black and white picture of a person who has cigarette in his mouth.

While dying on stage during an act is certainly strange enough in and of itself, many were quick to point out just how bizarre the whole thing was.

“He was joking around about having a stroke 10 minutes prior to the incident and he also laughed at the beginning of his show and said, ‘what if I just died in front of you all? That would truly be something, right?’ And of course we all just laughed. Why wouldn’t we? He’s not the first person to say something like that and nobody believed he was actually going to die. Little did we know that he actually would have a medical emergency and physically pass away in front of us all. And we laughed. We laughed at him having a heart attack and we laughed at his dead body. That will forever haunt me,” said one of the audience members.

incident and he also laughed at the beginning of his show and said, ‘what if I just died in front of you all? That would truly be something, right?’ And of course we all just laughed. Why wouldn’t we? He’s not the first person to say something like that and nobody believed he was actually going to die. Little did we know that he actually would have a medical emergency and physically pass away in front of us all. And we laughed. We laughed at him having a heart attack and we laughed at his dead body. That will forever haunt me,” said one of the audience members.

Others point out that Ian Cognito actually predicted his own death. “Ian wrote an autobiography called A Comedian’s Tale. It was a book of memoirs. And in the forward of this book, he wrote, ‘I’ll die on stage doing what I love the most,’ and that’s exactly what happened. He died on stage in the middle of his performance! I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but it’s freaky none the less,” say some.

“It’s eerily similar to Bill Hicks who said that comedy was killing him. Sure, he was drinking and smoking himself to death, but Hicks died and we sort of blamed comedy. Of course none of us took him seriously; he’d make a gun with his fingers, point it to his head, and pretend to kill himself on stage. He’d always say, ‘this is killing me and you’re all just fuckin’ laughing.’ And we would laugh. When Ian Cognito was telling us that in his book that he was going to die on stage or when he cracked the joke about dying in front of us, we didn’t take it seriously. We laughed and laughed. It’s eerie to think back on it now,” says another audience member.

Who was Ian Cognito?

Ian Cognito is posing picture showing his funny tong.

Ian Cognito was born Paul Barbieri on November 21, 1958. He would later adopt the name Ian Cognito when he began his career as a stand-up comedian. He was an iconoclastic performer. This is to say that he mocked the importance of icons, symbols, and monuments that were political or religious in nature. He has been compared to the likes of Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, and Jerry Sadowitz.

Unfortunately, he never achieved great success with his stand-up comedy; at least not in the mainstream media. Many suggest that it was his short temper that kept him from truly achieving the level of fame that he was worthy of. “He was a great performer; people loved him but venues and staff didn’t. He had a really short temper and would blow up for no reason,” sources suggest. He did however win the Time Out Award for stand-up comedy in 1999. “He was very proud of his award,” say those who were close to the comedian.

Ian, who was born in London and had both Italian and Irish ancestry, said Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde really resonated with him. He claims that he arrived at his stage name in the way that Dr. Jekyll created Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll created Mr. Hyde as a way of living out his vices without fear of being discovered. Dr. Jekyll was able to live out his fullest fantasies of evil while caring for nobody but himself. “As Ian Cognito, I can be as indulgent and as raw and rude as I like. Ian Cognito is Mr. Hyde and I am Dr. Jekyll,” said the comedian.

Ian Cognito first began his journey into stand-up comedy in 1985. 23 years later, he became known as Britain’s “most banned” comic. “Venues and theaters would turn me down immediately. I had a notorious reputation. I was definitely Britain’s most banned comic; that’s no exaggeration. But it was a title that I was happy to wear for the most part,” Cognito admitted.

Like Bill Hicks, Cognito was raw and unfiltered. He was also controversial. He enjoyed toying with the audience’s sensibilities, attacking their beliefs, and more. At points, he would lure them into a falsehood of safety but giving emotionally charged speeches regarding domestic violence. Cognito would then shake it up by performing a lengthy dance to “Rushes” in a crotchless harlequin costume was lime green. “It was truly something to see. Here’s this guy rallying against domestic violence and the audience is like, ‘yeah! Preach!’ And then suddenly he’s doing this bizarre dance to a strange song in an even wilder costume,” said one of the audience members.

Cognito was also known for bring a hammer, nail, and a hat to the stage almost every time he performed. He would bang the nail into the wall with the hammer then hang the hat off of it. Afterwards he would say, “this tells you two things about me: first off, I don’t’ really give a shit. Second, I’ve got a hammer.”

“As a performer, I was constantly pushing the envelope. I was always toeing the line to see how much I could get away. I do regret the dangerous ones I did and believe it or not, I tried hard not to be too over the top or shocking. That’s easy to do; it’s easy to freak your audience out. It doesn’t take much and that’s not talent. If I ever did shock my audience, there was a reason for it. Even when I was taking my knob out there was a reason. And what was that reason? Well, I was building my reputation. I wanted a contradictory rep and I was achieving that. I was a great compere and a dodgement. If I was hired, then the promoters couldn’t feign ignorance; they knew what they were hiring. I was getting away with murder,” Cognito writes in his autobiography A Comedian’s Tale.

Comedians join together on social media to pay their respects

people are showing his appreciation of the comedy he has given to the audience.

Despite never achieving mainstream success like many of his fellow comedians, he has been highly celebrated by fans, celebrities, and comedians from around the world on social media.

Jack Whitehall tweeted out, “it’s with a heavy heart that I say that Ian Cognito passed away. I remember gigging him when I was first starting out. He was a ton of fun to be around. Cognito was a maverick and he had his own mythology, and his exploits were nothing short of genius. I hope he’s found a place to hang his hat in heaven.”

Jimmy Carr was also quick to send his sympathies out via social media. “Ian Cognito was a veteran of stand-up comedy and he died on stage- quite literally. In fact, the audience that it was just part of the act. The man died with his boots on his feet. That’s commitment, you know? I’ll never forget how god damn funny Ian was or his kindness when I was first starting out.”

Kat Brand also expressed her sadness regarding the tragic news, “I’m so sad to hear about the death of Ian Cognito. We had hung out several times in the past and I’d always enjoyed his company. He was hilarious and fascinating; I loved being around him. May you rest in peace Cogs.”

Other celebrities who have died on stage

Empty auditorium with red clothes.

Of course, Ian Cognito isn’t the first celebrity to die on stage. He’s one in a long list of celebs who have died doing what they love.

Tommy Cooper

Tommy Cooper’s death is very similar to Cognito’s. Cooper was a magician and a comedian. On April 15, 1984 he was performing one of his famous magic cloak tricks on the show Live From Her Majesty’s. Everything was going well until he collapsed to his knees about half-way through. Many viewers assumed that he was pretending to swoon over his attractive female assistant. The audience laughed, but in fact he wasn’t swooning; he was having a heart attack.

Eric Morecambe

Morecambe was a comedy legend and he was part of Morecambe and Wise. The pair traveled around together doing performances. However, they also did solo content. After stepping offstage after a successful show at a charity gala, Morecambe had a heart attack. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. This was his third heart attack in 16 years.

Les Harvey

Harvey was a famous guitarist for Stone the Crows, a ‘70s blues meets rock band. The musician died on stage while performing for a crowd of over 1,000 fans at Swansea’s Top Rank Ballroom in 1972. He was electrocuted during the performance when he put his hand on a microphone that wasn’t grounded, shocking him. The stage was wet with puddles and unfortunately Harvey made a great conductor. Band mates rushed to unplug the microphone but it was too late; the guitarist was pronounced dead.

What are your thoughts?

Have you ever seen any of Ian Cognito’s stand up comedies and if so, what did you think about them? Do you think he was as controversial as many made him out to be, or did you think he was pretty tame? We also want to know what you think about the comedian’s death prediction. Do you find it creepy or are you just brushing it off as coincidence? Let us know in the comments!

Vimal Lalani is senior correspondent for Ishli, Medical and Wellness unit, reporting breaking news and health consumer reporting on

Written by Vimal Lalani

Vimal Lalani is senior correspondent for Ishli, Medical and Wellness unit, reporting breaking news and health consumer reporting on


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