What Does Death Look Like?

Hey, everyone! I’m writing a story that has Death as a main character, and it’s been really fun coming up with what I think Death looks like, what Death wears and sounds like, and basically Death’s personality overall.

In my head, Death is a guy with pale skin who wears pretty much all black, but is still somewhat stylish. He’s a little over six feet tall, and is insanely thin. His eyes are dark brown and his hair is black, and he has that fabulous kind of fluffy hair that all gorgeous immortals have. He’s quiet and doesn’t waste words; he’s a very busy person so he doesn’t want to waste time with small talk and unimportant things. Although he seems cold and uncaring, he possesses a lot of empathy but just doesn’t show it due to his field of work. Death has a big ass scythe with a blade made of obsidian and can shadow-travel. Oh, and he loves sweets! He doesn’t need to sleep or eat or anything, he just happens to love sweets.

So that’s my version of Death, and I’m curious what you all think. Is Death a skeleton with a scythe? Is she a badass goddess? Is he polite? Do they have long hair? Do they even have a form at all? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

67 thoughts on “What Does Death Look Like?

  1. I have always liked Piers Anthony’s version of death from On a Pale Horse as well as Neil Gaiman’s Endless Death.

  2. Death is your tour guide to the afterlife. Tour guides will be different for different attractions so it depends on what you think the afterlife is like

  3. Ooohhh, I’ve never considered Death being a person. Are people drawn to your version of Death? Or do they avoid him? I imagine people being oddly fascinated by him.

  4. I think that death looks like your next-door neighbor. Not someone you notice so much until something really big happens. Could pass you by on the street and you wouldn’t blink, wouldn’t even really notice. A person who is just there, in the background radiation of your life.

  5. I’ve seen him/her/it a few times visiting friends and enemies in various war zones, and their expression was always one of surprise in that momen. Maybe you expect to meet, like in a hospice, and things are mutual and welcome. Inevitable. Those who hold out hope to make it through, even when they know it’s possible, always seem surprised though. Like stepping into traffic when for a split second you forgot to look that one last time, to find a car is unexpectedly bearing down on you. I think Death, is you, come to wrap things all up.

  6. I vacillate between Pratchett’s DEATH, the cowled guy with a scythe and glowing blue eyes and a death’s head grin, and gaiman’s goth girl. But in the few deaths I’ve been at, death has come as a friend, not to be feared.

  7. Death has to process a large number of “customers,” in an event that’s monumentally important to the person but utterly routine and uninteresting to Death.

    I’m thinking Death looks a lot like a call center worker, probably for a health insurance company.

  8. for me, death looks just like a normal person gender irrespective. They kind of just sneak up on you & well yes it is a surprise to the deathee.

  9. They are very subjective. Death often looks like a grandparently sort of person to whoever seems them, gender and race usually the same as the person who seems them. More often dresses all in white, but sometimes in black and others in red.

  10. I think it can’t be imagined.
    When she will come, only then we will be know what it looks like but we can’t tell anybody. Because we will already have left the body. 😜😛.

  11. One of my favorite video versions of a grim reaper (never quite sure if he was Death itself, or just a low level employee of Death) was played by Herny Rollins in a short film called “Deathdealer: A Documentary.”

    There have been so many versions of Death, though. The Jamaican-accented Grimm pictured in this post is hilarious. Brad Pitt as Death in “Meet Joe Black” was … not hilarious … or scary … or even particularly interesting. Bill and Ted ran into him, as did The Animaniacs, and an unfortunate biker gang in Pratchett and Gaiman’s “Good Omens.”

    In my mind, though, Death doesn’t need to speak (which, admittedly, makes Death a difficult character to include in a written work). Death can appear as anyone, but I think of Death as having such a deep understanding of who you were and what’s going to happen to you, there’s no need to say anything at all. Whether you fight Death or grudgingly accept it or welcome it, Death is there, ready to take your arm or your hand, a steady presence to guide you into whatever comes next.

    Kinda like an usher at an old-time movie house, but with a more interesting wardrobe.

  12. I’e never tried to imagine Death for myself. From popular culture, I kind of most related to three. Terry Pratchett’s Death – the classical tall skeletal dude with a scythe and a booming voice. Anubis from American Gods the TV series – the actor was awesome and again the booming voice. And the last one (I forgot where I read it and who the author was) was a short story where death was a boat or some other incongruous object. You’d be thinking, why is there a boat in the middle of the office – boom, you’re dead.

  13. The one that comes to mind when you mention death as a character is Gaiman’s goth woman from Sandman. That said, I just thought about it for a moment, and for some reason Vincent Price’s visage popped into my head. I can totally see Vincent ushering me into the afterlife. A well dressed and distinguished elderly gentleman politely escorting me to the beyond seems about right.

  14. I think different people view a god of death has a different attitude, which as we see a lot of TV, or is the story, some make death into amiable people, looks like a normal human, may be young or a white hair old man, some make death into extreme dark evil, for example, the skeleton head, wearing a mask of terror, a scary sound of terror, in your story, what kind of person you want to make a god of death into

  15. I really enjoyed Supernatural’s version of Death, a pale man in a crisp suit that’s neither good nor evil. The truest Neutral character ever that can kill with a touch.

  16. There are so many of Her. Or Him. I imagine that Death appears as appropriate to those who meet … them. To many, the fearsome Reaper in darkness, fire, ice, water … perhaps with shark teeth. To others, more like Pratchett’s friend who comes to join you for a long-postponed walk. I rather like Gaiman’s ambiguous Death.

    Put another way, Athena, I rather suspect that She is more terrible to you than He would be to me (nearly four times your age). Although I’m in good health and having a blast I’m close enough to see the trailhead for that last walk and am no longer a stranger to the guide, having lost parents and friends over the years.

    So, quite seriously, I don’t see any one visage for Death. She is different to every one of us, feared or welcomed, monstrous or comforting, always about our own selves than His.

    And, from both of us, thanks for the question!

  17. Speaking for myself, I will be absolutely delighted if I find one day that Death looks AND SPEAKS exactly like Grim from Billy and Mandy (pictured above).

  18. Like others, I picture Anthony’s “On a Pale Horse” death when I think of it as a personification. Say what you want about the later books in that series, but in that book, he completely nailed it.

  19. I always liked the hooded figure with no body.
    Imagine emperor Palpatine, but with no visible body.
    Looking at the inside of the hood would be like looking into the void, a black hole if you like.

    Booming voice is great for cinema, but I always figured you would just hear its voice inside your head instead of having sound coming from somewhere.

  20. I immediately jumped to PA’s On A Pale Horse as well. However, the Showtime series Dead Like Me was another interesting take on the concept.

    Regards,
    Dann
    THIS IS A TEST OF THE USELESS TAGLINE SYSTEM. THIS IS ONLY A TEST

  21. Death just means our three pounds of specialized brain-meat have stopped working well enough to create the emergent property of consciousness that exists for a minuscule slice of time in the midst of an eternity that gets along fine without us existing. We’re nonexistent for (Infinity – n = Infinity) years, so I’m not sure how to personify that. Maybe a garbage truck.

  22. Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” has a popular version of Death.

    I always enjoyed Piers Anthony’s version of Death in “On A Pale Horse”.

    I remember a short story—I believe published in Omni Magazine—where a woman invited Death to a party to make it interesting, and Death actually showed up. Turning out to be a young girl.

    In Dangerously Chloe (PG-13), Death keeps switching back and forth between being a girl and being a guy.

    So, have fun with your version of death!

  23. Death has no form until a person is dying and then it looks like the dying person’s most desirable person wanting to have sex with them.

  24. Death is an angel, a very gentle quiet angel just waiting to help you find your way. Her name, btw, is Azreal. She looks like the kindest person you ever knew and is waiting till it’s time to take your hand.

  25. The best Death is the Terry Pratchet version.

    My personal version is shapeless something that mimicks a mix of emotions from his victims, but is completely alien to any kind of human existance. So it ends up mocking you while you are pretty aware of dying a meaningless, solitary death. The last thing to feel is how that monster laps your soul away and even that is the worst thing you ever experienced.

    In short : it’s hell in fast forward without eternity attached because – you know – your meaningless existance just gets wiped out.

  26. Sarah Brightman singing the Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Requiem, the beautiful, pitying but remorseless angel of death. I learned to sing it because of her performance on TV, long ago, and actually sang it at a funeral. The tricky part is getting someone else to sing it too, as it’s a duet. Usually my sister, a non-singer, but she like me can train up. However, is the angel of death, death? I suspect she’s more of a spirit carrying out the bidding. Is death a character or a fate? I suspect a fate, time to move along to the next thing, and the angel gets you moved.

  27. Death is a wraith which inhabits a random body whenever it needs to do its thang. Gives much room for complexity in a story.

  28. There was actually an anthology that came out semi-recently which has a lot of different people’s personified Deaths in it – The Death of All Things. Which I know because I have a story in it, right at the end of the book.

    Lemme just pull most of the paragraph in which that Death is described and quote it:

    “She is not tall, nor thin, nor bony, nor is she pale or dressed in black. She is a thick-thighed, generously curved black woman whose hair defies containment, she wears sensible shoes and comfortable clothes, and a set of bracelets on her right wrist. She might have been anyone’s aunt introduced at the church social, save that her eyes are full of starlight and her voice, though quiet, sounds like faraway thunder.”

  29. Young Robert Redford played death in an old Twilight episode.

    In Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job, death is a little girl.

  30. His name is Doug, he likes pizza and tacos, plays backgammon these days and hangs around Death Valley.

  31. I think our visualizations of death, like our visualizations of gods, are almost entirely culture-specific. I don’t think of Death as an entity at all. When I have been in the presence of people at the moment they died, it wasn’t a being that came for them or anything like that. They just weren’t there anymore as living people. It was an absence, not a presence–and not even an absence that can have a metaphorical presence, IMO.

  32. I like your description…especially the fluffy hair which rings so true. The only Death persona I have been comfortable with is the narrator in The Book Thief. I became quite fond of him/her but never developed a visual. Obviously I need to do more reading to expand my horizons.

  33. I’m flexible; any well executed (sorry) version of Death is good with me. I like Death of the Endless; Death from Pratchett’s DiscWorld (especially the BBC movies); On a Pale Horse did a good job; as did Butcher in the Dresden Files.

  34. Pratchett’s Death has always been my favorite. I want an anthropomorphized personification who’s willing to go to war on humanity’s behalf when the powers that be decide letting us exist is too much trouble.

    Now that Greg brought up the idea, though, I would accept David Bowie as a perfectly fine substitute. Or Pratchett himself, for that matter.

    Or maybe it’s a multiple person job. Everyone who dies is met by whoever died right before them, then goes on to meet whoever dies next. Spread the load so no one entity gets overwhelmed. That does mean that whoever died right after David Bowie got a double whammy, though.

    “Oh, crap, Bowie’s dead? Wait, I’m dead?!”

  35. @Ryanhardt

    I really enjoyed Supernatural’s version of Death, a pale man in a crisp suit that’s neither good nor evil. The truest Neutral character ever that can kill with a touch.

    Yup, good performance too…

  36. Oh heavens–I saw the “death is a tour guide” bit and now I have Fluffy’s high-pitched imitation of a tour guide at Disneyland, and it looks like Grimm (I miss The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy)

  37. All of the above suggestions are good, but I’d also like to mention the concept that Tim Pratt uses in his “Marla Mason” series: Death shows up as a sort of elegant Hades figure (much like you describe), but there’s a lot of spoilery goodness hidden in his nature. This becomes really important to the plot in the later books. I highly recommend the series if you like urban fantasy…

  38. The caricature version of Death for me has always been a human who blends in, but is thin, pale and wears black, basically the look Loki has in Thor:Ragnarok when Thor makes fun of him and asks him why he dresses like a witch.

    The more serious version would strike me as an old woman in her seventies, not thin but rounded, welcoming, comforting, understanding, telling you it’s going to be okay. Someone who looked a bit like Maya Angelou comes to mind. Or, if the dying individual who sees Death isn’t human, the equivalent for their species, be it cat, gorilla, Narn or Obin.

  39. Death is the Archangel Uriel. He is awesome, terrifying, a comfort and a bringer of mercy. He is solid, like the earth. He does not work alone, but among the angels that mete out death. He looks as the people he takes need him to look.

  40. Visually I really like Terry Pratchett’s Death as drawn by Paul Kirby. (With Binky.)
    This was the challenge on the most recent episode of “Face Off” on Syfy, where the makeup artists had to make Death characters based on a tarot card reading. (Not as diverse as I had hoped.)

    On some reflection Death isn’t so much true neutral as containing multitudes: cruel and kind, terrifying and comforting. Which I guess is why black or white make sense for clothing: white light contains all colors, and if you mix all colors of paint together you get black (ish).

    Hmm… now I need to think about it more.

  41. I think Death must be shifty and multitudinous, because what Death means to each creature is something different. I don’t see Death as necessarily human-specific, for example. I imagine that Death has a form for dying spiders and for much-beloved pets and for elderly humans and for young elephants and for any of a myriad creatures who at some point must give up their form and walk with Death.

    I think above all Death must be patient and adaptable and creative.

  42. I always though of death as more a small diminutive man/women modestly dressed with wire rim glasses hunched over a desk making notes in a large ledger to keep track of souls caught, death details, etc. They have little time for small talk being very busy and highly organized so they have people for catching the souls/handling the actual death part.

  43. Terry Pratchett’s death is my favorite (the booming voice, his love of cats, his horse named Binky). I like the description you’ve come up with, though. Curious what you’ll do with him.

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