1. Mark Twain
nov 30 1885- apr 21 1910
Author William Faulkner was quoted believing Mark Twain to be the “father of American Literature” and with enduring, brutally honest American classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn under Twain’s belt, it is easy to believe so. But along with skillful writing and a penchant for pen names, Twain was known to be an exceptional humorist. The “greatest American humorist of his age,” in fact.
Evidently so concerning the mysterious happenings of his birth and death. Twain was born shortly after Hailey’s comet and had predicted he would “go out with it.” His date with death was met very timely. On April 21, 1910 the very day following Hailey’s comet, Mr. Twain passed away. Too coincidental or too tall-tale-ish? Either way, knowing Sir Twain’s humor and the circumstances of his death it feels all too appropriate to laugh. It may not be a disturbing death but it is crazy.
2. Dylan Thomas
oct 27 1914-nov 9 1953
Despite writing in the English language, Dylan Thomas is considered to be one of the most important Welsh poets of the twentieth century. By day, a successful poet, author, and broadcast radio short story writer. And by night the “roistering, drunken, and doomed poet” of his time, a title he heavily supported.
All the way to the very end, seemingly. During a New York poetry tour, Thomas, extremely unwell and on a heavy drinking binge checked in at Hotel Chelsea with the aid of assistant and love-interest Liz Reitell. During his stay, Thomas was said to have occupied his room mostly, rehearsing poetry or drinking in bed only leaving to meet drinking appointments across town.
On the night of November 3, Thomas returned to the Chelsea stumbling. Exclaiming to the barman and owner “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s a record!” A claim the owner quickly disputed, protesting Thomas could not have even drunk half that amount. A worried Reitell summoned an ambulance to the Chelsea on the night of November 4 after witnessing a sickly Thomas’ worsening condition.
Shortly thereafter Thomas slipped into a coma and on November 9 passed away due to complications with pneumonia. Factors include a fatty liver and cerebral inflammation, effects of extreme alcoholism. With the mantra of karma’s ominous fangs ever-looming in his poetry, this is honestly the most fitting way for the drunken, doomed poet to meet his self-fulfilling end.
3. Li Bai
born 701- died 762
One of the most influential Chinese poets in history, Li Bai’s romantic views of nature, friendship, and social drinking took Chinese literature to outer realms. In the cozy middle of the Tang dynasty revered to be the “golden age of China,” sat comfortably Bai and contemporary Du Fu on the top of poetry’s newest heights.
Though it is only legend, it is said that on a moon-filled night, an elderly Li Bai took his boat out on the black waters to enjoy natures ebb and flow. So enamoured by the moons stainless reflection upon the dead waters, Bai hastily plunged towards the reflection. Old and unable to hold his balance Bai’s doomed attraction had only lead him to befriend the hand of death. Li Bai drowned reaching for the glow on the water. Alcohol related? A completely plausible deduction. But it is so much more romantic to believe a man drowned falling in love.
4. Tennessee Williams
born mar 26 1911- died feb 25 1983
Astounding playwright, Tennessee Williams’ alcohol and drug consumption became alarmingly noticeable after the death of his love, Frank Merlo, a Navy Veteran and occasional Sicilian heritage actor in New York City. This famed writer of The Glass Menagerie fell into a debilitating depression in the years following and succumbed to frequent hospital visits and admittance to mental facilities.
On February 25, Williams was found dead at the Elysee Hotel in New York. Next to him, prescription drugs and alcoholic beverages. The medical examiner’s report indicated Williams accidentally choked on an eye drops cap and couldn’t cough it up due to the suppression of his gag-relfex by all the consumed barbiturates. A modified autopsy report later identified the cause of death to be acute seconal intolerance, barbiturate overdose. Friend Scott Kenan accused workers in the coroner’s office of making up the “eye drop choking” story. It is not known whether the report was changed for the sake of Williams’ reputation. Either way, Mr. Tennessee Williams died alone at 71 years old.
5. Edgar Allan Poe
jan 19 1809- oct 7 1849
Gloomy poet and literary critic of the American Romantic Movement, Edgar Allan Poe had a reputation for being, well… depressing as sh*t. But not many people know him as one of the earliest practitioners of short story writing or being a contributing source to the weird and wonderful world of science fiction. And least known is his accreditation to the invention of the detective fiction genre.
Mysterious enough on the cold morning of October 3, 1849, Poe was found wailing and wandering the streets of Baltimore sloppy and distressed and wearing unfamiliar attire. He was rushed to Washington Medical College to be treated. The night before his death he was found screaming the name “Reynolds!” repeatedly and was so delirious during his entire 4 day admittance, a recount of the dire events that led to his delirium were impossible to retrieve. Mr. Poe died on the morning of October 7 to means still unknown today. Shortly after his death, medical records and death certificate vanished forever and the mystery that is Edgar Allan Poe remains shrouded in darkness. The world may never know.
One theory suggests the act of “cooping” which was popular in the nineteenth century. Cooping was the process of forcing unwilling citizens to participate in the voting of interested parties. Citizens were usually killed after process.
6. Ernest Hemingway
july 21, 1899- july 2 1961
Arguably the most accomplished writer in American Literature, Ernest Hemingway left behind an astonishing ten novels, ten short stories, and five non-fiction works before his death. Most of which were produced between 1920 and 1950. During his final years Hemingway’s attitude shifted and reflected that of his father’s final years leading to his (Hemingway’s fathers) eventual suicide. This lead to the suspicion Hemingway’s father passed on the genetic disease hemochromatosis, it’s peak effect being mental and physical deterioration.
Hemingway lived a crumbling and decaying life, slipping in and out of hospitals and regularly receiving electroconvulsive therapy to treat his increasing insanity. On the morning of July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway secured the barrel of his favorite shotgun between his teeth and pulled the trigger. He was found dead in his Ketchum home foyer. Shortly after, Hemingway’s siblings Leicester and Ursula committed suicide as well, a painful legacy passed from parent to children leaving only traces of themselves near the cliffs of sanity.
7. Sylvia Plath
Being the leading figure in confessional poetry Sylvia Plath is well-known for her demons. A beautiful and attractive, successful American poet, novelist, and short story writer as well as mother of two, you’d think she had it all. Plath’s deep depression can be traced back to her college years. When she wasn’t loitering around Hotel Chelsea in order to have a chance run-in with her favorite writer at the time, Dylan Thomas, she repeatedly received electroconvulsive therapy to treat her spiraling depression. (Nothing says “happy” like being strapped down and receiving forced seizures.).
In the morning of February 11, 1963, Plath was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning with her head tucked into the belly of her kitchen oven. With the sole intent of only harming herself Plath stuffed the bottom of her children’s doors with damp towels to prevent carbon monoxide leakage into their rooms as they slept. She left behind broken hearts and an unfinished collection of poetry named “Ariel,” edited by ex-husband Ted Hughes (who was suspected to have tampered heavily with the original works) and later re-edited to include all of Plath’s intended content by Plath and Hughes daughter, Frieda Hughes.
The life of a successful writer comes at a cost. Your art form asks more and more of you with each plateau and you are forced to dig into deeper, darker places every time. And some people don’t make it out of those places before being consumed by tragedy. And for these writers (besides Mark Twain’s badass death) nothing is truer than that.