On April 17, 1987, while performing on stage at UC San Diego's Mandeville Hall, Shawn began a comedy bit about himself and the audience surviving nuclear war. At one point in the act, Shawn portrayed a politician reciting campaign clichés, including: "If elected, I will not lay down on the job"; later, when he collapsed face down on the stage, the audience thought it was part of the act, unaware that he had actually suffered a massive heart attack.
After some time had gone by, there were catcalls. Finally, someone appeared on stage, kneeled down to examine Shawn, stood up and asked: "Is there a doctor in the house?" Another person came on stage, turned him over and began administering CPR. The audience was told to go home, but almost no one left since it appeared to be part of Shawn's act. When paramedics arrived, bewildered audience members began leaving, still unsure of what they had witnessed. A notice in the following day's San Diego Union newspaper clarified that Shawn had indeed died during the performance. Dick Shawn was only 63.