Subscribe to the OSS Weekly Newsletter!

Can someone really suffocate from being covered with gold paint like Jill Masterson in Goldfinger?

James Bond tells M that she died of skin suffocation, but is that actually possible?

No. We do not breathe through our skin. James Bond seemingly was unaware of this fact given that after discovering the golden corpse he tells M: “She died of skin suffocation, it’s been known to happen to cabaret dancers. It’s all right so long as you leave a small bare patch at the base of the spine to allow the skin to breathe.” That view was shared by the director who made sure that actress Shirley Eaton’s stomach remained unpainted while the scene was being shot. Doctors were actually standing by in case Shirley had some sort of reaction such as heat exhaustion from the blockage of perspiration or allergy to the paint. All went well. It had taken two hours to gild her body which was immediately scrubbed after the scene.

Although no one has apparently tried to duplicate the scene from Goldfinger, there are people who have painted themselves blue from head to foot. A German man did so after he was feeling blue after a fight with his girlfriend and in 2017 a disturbed man in Georgia ran around buck naked except for a layer of blue paint. Neither suffered any ill effects. Famed 19th-century physiologist Charles Brown-Sequard didn’t fare as well. In his zeal to conduct physiological experiments, he sometimes acted as his own guinea pig. Once while teaching at the Medical School of Virginia he coated himself with varnish from head to foot in an attempt to study functions of the skin. He was found unconscious on the floor by a student who quickly removed the varnish with alcohol. It is likely that Brown-Sequard had passed out from inhaling fumes from the solvent in the varnish.

Although only his face was covered, Buddy Ebsen who had won the role of the Tin Man in the film version of The Wizard of Oz, had a respiratory reaction to the aluminum powder that was used in the makeup and ended up in hospital. He was replaced in the role by Jack Haley and claimed that for the rest of his life he had breathing problems because of that “damned movie.”


Leave a comment!

Back to top