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What does "kick off" mean in Don't Shoot by ROBERT ZACKS:

Of course the men he'd sent out searching knew Billy Shakespeare had kicked off, though they weren't sure whether it was last year or ten years ago. But it was a fine trip on the expense account and after a few weeks of riotous searching in London's gayer areas, they wired that Shakespeare had caught a bad cold, the penicillin had run out and he'd not lasted the night.

It doesn't seem to mean "start" nor "angry" to me, what does it mean then?

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Kick off is not an idiom I've ever encountered, but I don't think any native speaker would have any difficulty interpreting it from context as meaning die. The intransitive preposition off usually signifies a departure of some sort, and kick is not only familiar in the idiom kick the bucket, it's used frequently for abrupt changes of state: kick into gear, kick up a notch.

This could be a recent coinage, or even the author's own nonce-construction. The idiom may or may not stick; but this is a fine example of the 'productive' capacity of the ‹verb+intransitive preposition› construction, its availability for new and creative uses.

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