::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Unusual Literary Deaths

10 Weird Deaths of Some Great Writers

(Writers – poets in particular – have a flair for death. Unfortunately, their own. DaRK PaRTY has compiled a list of 10 bizarre literary deaths – some tragic, some bizarre, and some downright ridiculous.)

Ernest Hemingway

Age: 61

Occupation: Novelist and short story writer

Most Notable Works: A Farewell to Arms (1929), Winner Take Nothing (1933), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

Method of Death: Buying a double-barrel shotgun from Abercrombie & Fitch (before it was a clothing retailer for teenagers), Hemingway pressed the end of the shotgun against his forehead, leaned over, and pulled both triggers. His suicide was three weeks after a first attempt. He died in the hallway of his house in Ketchum, Idaho.

Bizarre Twist: Hemingway often wrote about suicide – most notably in the short story “Indian Camp.” His father, two siblings, and his granddaughter (Margaux Hemingway) also committed suicide.

Guy de Maupassant

Age: 42

Occupation: French short story writer (often credited as a father of the form and notable for his horror stories)

Most Notable Works: “Boule de Suif” (1880), Mademoiselle Fifi (1882), Clair de lune (1884), Yvette (1884), Le Horla (1887)

Method of Death: In 1890 Maupassant tried to kill himself by slicing his own throat. The attempt failed, but he was declared insane and spent the last 18 months of his life in an asylum. He died from the syphilis that he contracted in his twenties (which many also attribute to his growing madness).

Bizarre Twist: In later life, Maupassant wrote many horror stories that dealt with madness. He was fascinated with the mind and often attended lectures about psychiatry.

Ambrose Bierce

Age: 72 (?)

Occupation: Journalist, Short-story Writer, Satirist

Most Notable Works: Cobwebs from an Empty Skull (1874), “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1861), “Moxon’s Master” (1909), The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

Method of Death: Bierce (nicknamed Bitter Bierce) didn’t die. He disappeared. He left on a trip of old Civil War battlefields. He toured through the south and at Texas crossed into Mexico to join with Pancho Villa’s army as an observer. He participated in the Battle of Tierra Blanca and then disappeared without a trace. His last words were in a letter sent to a friend on December 26, 1913.

Bizarre Twist: Bierce’s disappearance is still a mystery today. In one of his final letters he seemed to predict his own death when he wrote that he could be stood up in front of stone wall and shot to death. “It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs,” he said.

Tennessee Williams

Age: 71

Occupation: Playwright

Most Notable Works: The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Night of the Iguana (1961)

Method of Death: Williams died in a hotel room in New York after choking on the cap of his nasal spray. There were half-empty bottles of booze and bottles of prescription drugs found in the room and it is likely that Williams was so drunk that he couldn’t save himself from choking. However, there are some people in Williams’ family who believe the playwright was murdered.

Bizarre Twist: Many of Williams plays deal with alcoholism, including his play Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.

Hunter S. Thompson

Age: 67

Occupation: Gonzo Journalist, Non-fiction Author

Most Notable Works: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972 (1972), The Great Shark Hunt (1979)

Method of Death: Thompson was a self-described gun nut and lived in a compound in Woody Creek, Colorado. On February 20, 2005, he shot himself in the head. His family said Thompson committed suicide, not because he was depressed or mentally ill, but because he was sick with several conditions that gave him pain.

Bizarre Twist: Thompson mailed a suicide letter to his wife that read: “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt.”

Sherwood Anderson

Age: 64

Occupation: Novelist and Short-story Writer

Most Notable Works: Windy McPherson’s Son (1916), Marching Men (1919), Winesburg, Ohio (1919), Poor White (1920)

Method of Death: While at a party in Panama, Anderson (a major influence on Hemingway and John Steinbeck) choked on a toothpick which caused an inflammation of his abdominal passage and killed him – a cause of death known as peritonitis.

Bizarre Twist: How much more bizarre can you get than dying from a toothpick?

Robert E. Howard

Age: 30

Occupation: Pulp fiction Writer (notably the creator of Conan the Barbarian)

Most Notable Works: The Star Rover (1915), “The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932), “Rogues in the House” (1934), “Beyond the Black River” (1935), “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula (1935)

Method of Death: On the morning of June 11, 1936, Howard walked to his car after being told that his mother had lapsed into a coma and would be unlikely to ever wake up. Using a .38 revolver, he shot himself in the head. He lingered for half a day and died the day before his mother did. They were buried in a joint ceremony in Brownwood, Texas.

Bizarre Twist: The creator of one of the toughest, most merciless anti-heroes (Conan) in fiction killed himself because of his mother.

Sylvia Plath

Age: 31

Occupation: Novelist and poet

Most Notable Works: The Colossus and Other Poems (1960), The Bell Jar (1963), Ariel (1965), Letters Home (1975), The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000)

Method of Death: On the morning of February 11, 1963, Plath sealed herself in her kitchen and then used wet towels to seal the bottoms of the doors (allegedly to protect her children who were sleeping nearby). She turned on the gas to the oven and stuck her head inside.

Bizarre Twist: Plath left a note for herself on the kitchen table that said: “Call Dr. Horder.” Some people think this note was for her downstairs neighbor for when he discovered her inside the oven. This theory holds that Plath was only “attempting” suicide and didn’t mean to succeed.

Jack London

Age: 40

Occupation: Novelist and Short-story Writer

Most Notable Works: The Call of the Wild (1903), White Fang (1906), The Sea-Wolf (1904), The Iron Heel (1908)

Method of Death: The true cause of London’s death is still shrouded in mystery. Many people believe he committed suicide on November 22, 1916 on the porch of his ranch by taking an overdose of morphine. However, the official cause of his death was uremia (a renal failure caused when the kidneys fail). London was in extreme pain and taking large doses of morphine to fight the effects.

Bizarre Twist: London wrote often about suicide and in his short story “The Little Lady of the Big House” the hero is shot and has a doctor help him commit suicide.

Virginia Woolf

Age: 59

Occupation: Novelist and Non-fiction Author

Most Notable Works: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Method of Death: After the lukewarm reception of her biography of Roger Fry and depressed about the destruction of her home in London during World War II, Woolf stuffed rocks into the pockets of her dress and drowned herself in the River Ouse in England on March 28, 1941. Her body wasn’t recovered until nearly a month later.

Bizarre Twist: In a note she left to her husband, Woolf wrote in part: “I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came.”

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