I intend to post biographies from time to time of famous and maybe not so famous people who have died by suicide. Not for morbid curiosity but for the details that allow me and others to scour and research the possible causes of their deaths by suicide. Some are quite obvious, others only speculation. I have my own theories about what could have been the reasons. We know so much more now than was known back when. What was thought to be helpful to those who had mental illness could very well have driven them to their deaths.
Hemingway was a man who is equally notorious in death as he was in life and his life’s work, classics such as For Whom The Bell Tolls, Fiesta and The Old Man And The Sea, have a legacy just as enduring as that of Hemingway’s death, by suicide, aged 61. It was a death Norman Mailer claimed to feel as deeply as ‘the death of one’s own father’.
In 1961 there was little evidence to explain why Papa stuck a double-barrel shotgun in his mouth. Three months earlier, Hemingway had checked in to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesotaafter reportedly acting ‘unusually hesitant, disorganized, and confused’ . Treatment at the Mayo Clinic is rumored to have included electroconvulsive therapy, which would have done little to help what researchers now believe was a hereditary disease known as hemochromatosis which creates an inability to metabolize iron, leading to mental and physical deterioration. It’s also believed this disease led to the suicides of Hemingway’s father, brother and sister. In the 1980’s Hemingway’s granddaughter, Margaux, also died from suicide.
Plath had a long history of depression, describing her condition as ‘owl’s talons clenching my heart’. Despite the prescription of anti-depressants by her doctor, 30 year-old Plath was found dead in her London home on the morning of 11th February, 1963.
Plath had turned on the gas oven, blocked the kitchen doors and placed her head inside the oven, whilst her two young children slept upstairs. A month earlier, her seminal work The Bell Jar had been published, detailing a semi-autobiographical descent into mental illness.
Plath’s former partner, poet Ted Hughes wrote about Sylvia’s death in a letter to a friend, ‘That’s the end of my life. The rest is posthumous.’ After Hughes partner Assia Wevill killed herself and their 4 year-old child, accusations that Hughes was a woman-beater intensified. In 1970 feminist poet Robin Morgan published the poem ‘Arraignment’ in which she accused Hughes of the battery and murder of Plath.
Footnote: On March 16, 2009, Nicholas Hughes (son of Ted and Sylvia) hanged himself in his home in Fairbanks, Alaska. According to his sister Frieda and his UAF colleagues, he had been depressed.