Some have called Russian roulette a “deadly game of chance.” Participants load a revolver with a single cartridge, spin the cylinder, put the muzzle of the pistol to their head, and pull the trigger. The participant will be perfectly safe five times out of six if the cylinder can store six rounds. But what about that other time? Okay, so the contestant isn’t exactly amazing.
Russian Roulette: A Look Back in Time
Russian roulette was first mentioned in print in a short fiction by Georges Surdez in 1937. Asking, “Have you ever heard of Russian Roulette?” During the Russian invasion of Romania in 1917, random Russian officers would draw their revolvers, load them with a single bullet, twist the cylinder, snap it back into place, press the gun to their heads, and squeeze the trigger. It’s been said that this method was common knowledge in early modern Russia.
Not until ‘The Deer Hunter’ was released in 1978 did the concept of Russian roulette get widespread attention. In one scenario, three soldiers are taken during the Vietnam War and forced to play a particularly severe version of the game until all but one of them has perished.
Russian Roulette Happens in Real Life
Blues guitarist Johnny Ace shot himself in the head in Texas in December, 1954, using a.22 pistol. Russian roulette was generally believed to be the cause of this tragedy at the time; however, eyewitnesses claim he was only toying with the pistol before firing, boasting that he knew which chamber was filled.
In 1976, Finnish magician Aimo Leikas took his own life during a performance of his Russian roulette trick. He claimed to be able to telepathically choose the correct round from a mix of live and dummy ammo for his show, which he had been performing for a year. Leikas, only 29, passed away in front of a terrified live audience.
US actor John-Erik Hexum was on set for an episode of ‘Cover Up’ in October of 1984. He had to load blanks into a.44 Magnum handgun for the setting. The actor became bored while waiting to begin shooting and started goofing off. He played Russian roulette by removing all but one blank from the magazine. Hexum didn’t realize that shooting a blank at close range is the same as setting off a little explosion. Unfortunately, he accidentally shot the blank, which shattered his skull and caused severe bleeding within his brain. Sadly, John-Erik Hexum passed away five days later.
In 2010, during production of the hit UK series “Who Do You Think You Are?,” it was revealed that Alan Cumming’s grandpa had perished as a police officer in Malaya while playing Russian roulette. His loved ones had originally speculated that he had perished while tidying up his firearm.
In his autobiography, Malcolm X admits to playing Russian roulette as a thief to show his colleagues that he was ready to die in the line of duty. Graham Greene, an English novelist, wrote in his memoirs that he had played the game twice by himself when he was a youngster. It is well known that attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr. played the game twice by himself.
These are unfortunately not the only known instances of tragic Russian roulette games. The media and the authorities blamed the movie’s portrayal of Russian roulette for multiple young fatalities that occurred after its debut. Many more players have met their ends in this dangerous sport throughout the years. Suicides, drunken games, and dares gone horribly wrong are all examples; in rare situations, participants in such games may even face charges of possessing a weapon, murder, or manslaughter.
Cultural Examples of Russian Roulette
Lady Gaga said that “Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun” in her song Poker Face from 2008.
‘Russian roulette’ was the name of a single that Rihanna released in 2008.
The video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” released in 2010, featured a variant of the game.
Russian Roulette was published in 2014 by Anthony Horowitz and is a prequel to his novel Alex Rider.