“I’m terrified, but I’m not leaving. I know that I must pass this test, so just pull the trigger.” These are part of the lyrics from Rihanna’s hit “Russian Roulette,” which is our topic today. In the modern world, “Russian roulette” describes a potentially risky chance on something, especially in a foreign policy or economic setting. However, when you put it in that context, it’s easy to forget how fatal the actual Russian roulette game can be. Therefore, we discuss extensive Russian roulette facts, including its history, how many famous people have succumbed to it, and how people view it in the modern world.

1. It Is a Potentially Fatal Game

Russian roulette is a potentially fatal game involving real bullets and a revolver. To play it, an individual must load a revolver with a single round, then place the gun’s muzzle against their temple and pull the trigger.

Since most revolvers carry six rounds, there is a one in six chance that a player can blow their head off. Over time, the game has been modified, with variations including placing the muzzle on another player’s head rather than the gun holder’s.

2. The First Documented Russian Roulette Player Survived

According to sources, the first mention of Russian roulette was in an 1840 short story, “The Fatalist,” written by a Russian poet, Mikhail Lermontov. According to the story, the first Russian roulette player, Vulic, a chronic gambler, didn’t die. He placed the gun on his head and asked another player to throw a card in the air; he pulled the trigger when it landed, but it didn’t go off. Vulic fired a second shot in a safe direction, and it went off.

3. Lord Byron’s Roommate Might Have Been the First Russian Roulette Player

Lord Byron was a renowned poet and peer famous for his works. He was also forced to flee his home country, England, because of threats of lynching. That aside, while studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, Lord Byron had a roommate who some believe was the first Russian roulette player in 1808, as highlighted by one of Lord Byron’s pieces of writing.

4. Russian Roulette Was Used to Prove That Human Fate is Predetermined

When Vulic placed a gun in his head and pulled the trigger, it was to prove that fate and death are predetermined. Although the weapon didn’t go off, Vulic died hours later when a man chasing a pig swung a sword and fatally struck him. This brought a different and interesting perspective on the debate of whether fate is predetermined.

5. A Man Died After Attempting to Play Russian Roulette with a Semi-Automatic Pistol

In 2000, an unfortunate incident happened when a man from Houston, Texas, died after attempting to play Russian roulette with a semi-automatic pistol. What he didn’t know is that semi-automatic pistols aren’t the same as revolvers – they automatically insert a cartridge into the firing chamber upon cocking the gun.

6. Spinning the Cartridge While Playing Russian Roulette Started in the Early 1900s

While the idea of Russian roulette was coined in the 1800s, it wasn’t until around 1917 that the aspect of spinning the cartridge was introduced. This is because modern revolvers with spinning cartridges had not been invented, so previous Russian roulette players had to contend with what they had.

7. There Was a Famous Russian Roulette-Inspired Question that Interviewers Liked to Ask

At some point, there was a famous Russian roulette-inspired question that was used by interviewers to test potential candidates. The question was: a revolver is loaded with two bullets. When fired for the first time, it turns out to be empty. Do you pull the trigger straight away for the second shot or spin the cartridge again? The most acceptable answer was to pull the trigger immediately, as there was about a 67% chance it wouldn’t go off. Spinning the cylinder again takes the player back to square one.

8. Older and Well-Oiled Revolvers Are Less Likely to Go Off in a Russian Roulette Game

Apparently, an older and well-oiled revolver has a lesser chance of going off when playing a Russian roulette game. This can be attributed to weight and balance. When one cartridge chamber is filled with a bullet, it becomes heavier than the rest, causing it to settle at the bottom because of gravitational pull. However, there is a catch: this is not a 100% guarantee, so the game should be avoided altogether.

9. The Commonwealth V. Malone Case Set Precedent for Russian Roulette-Related Death Cases

The Commonwealth V. Malone case in 1946 set a precedent for Russian roulette-related death cases in the United States. The legal battle involved a teenager from Pennsylvania convicted of murder in the second degree after he shot his friend while playing a modified Russian roulette game.

Although the boy did not intentionally kill his counterpart, the court ruled that he acted recklessly, ignoring the high probability that what they were doing would likely result in death.

10. A Gospel Minister Once Short Himself in Front of His Congregants While Comparing Sin to Russian Roulette

Following an incident that happened in 1998, a gospel minister shot himself with a .357-caliber Magnum while attempting to compare sin to Russian roulette. Although the round was blank, the man shuttered his skull as his congregants watched. He died five days after the incident.

11. Malcolm X Played Russian Roulette During His Days As a Burglar

In his childhood, Malcolm X dropped out of school to work as a shoe-shiner, gambler, and burglar. At one point, he had to play Russian roulette, where he shot himself three times to prove to his accomplices that he was not afraid of dying. According to his autobiography, Malcolm X later confessed that he had palmed his round.

12. Deer Hunter Has Caused over 20 Real-Life Russian Roulette Deaths

The Deer Hunter is a star-studded film released in 1978 featuring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage. Some of its scenes show characters playing Russian roulette, influencing viewers to try the game. Incidentally, more than 20 people have reportedly died after being inspired to play the game.

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Last Update: March 12, 2024