Though death is admittedly a rather morbid subject matter it is one that fascinates many of us, including me.
I have only included male authors in this post, the reason being that the female authors that I am aware of, who died in a manner that some might describe as bizarre (notably Sylvia Plath & Virginia Woolf), I concluded were more tragic than bizarre, so I omitted them.
Here are 10 authors who met bizarre ends. They are presented in chronological order.
Often described as the father of tragedy, Aeschylus, along with Sophocles and Euripides, are the only Greek tragedians, whose plays are still performed and read today. Aeschylus wrote an estimated 70 to 90 plays, only 7 of which have survived. The playwright purportedly met his end when an eagle looking for a hard object to break open the shell of the turtle it was carrying, mistook Aeschylus’s bald head for a rock. The eagle dropped the turtle, killing the great tragedian instantly.
Cause of Death: Turtle falling on head
Chinese poet Li Bai was one of the 2 most prominent poets in China during the mid-Tang dynasty. Approximately 1000 poems are attributed to him, some of which are still studied in Chinese schools. Legend has it that Li Bai met a bizarre end when travelling on a boat one night. In his inebriated state, he allegedly attempted to embrace the moon, which resulted in him falling into the Yangtze River and drowning. Though some doubt the authenticity of this tale, it has long since gone down in myth.
Cause of Death: Drowning
Aretino was an Italian author, playwright, poet and unrepentant satirist, who is widely regarded as being the inventor of modern literate pornography. Ironically the humourist purportedly met his demise due to laughing himself to death. There has been much speculation over how Aretino died. One version is that Aretino was at a party, when a guest told him a joke, involving the writer’s own sisters and the brothel that they were employed at. So amused was Aretino that he was unable to stop laughing, and falling back in his chair, died of suffocation.
Cause of Death: Died from laughing
French philosopher and physician, de la Mettrie, is best known for his work L’homme machine (Machine Man). On November 11th 1751 the rampant hedonist was invited to a banquet, hosted by the French ambassador to Prussia. Either as an attempt to show off his powers of gluttony, or his strong constitution, de la Mettrie devoured an enormous quantity of pâté de fait aux truffes (pâte made from truffles). The resulting gastric illness culminated in a slow and painful death for the controversial writer.
Cause of Death: Overeating
Poe’s tales of mystery and the macabre are still widely read to this day. On October 3rd 1849 Mr. Joseph Walker found Poe wandering the streets of Baltimore in a delirious state. He was taken to hospital, but died 4 days later. There has been much speculation surrounding his sudden deterioration and death. His demise has been attributed to alcoholism, TB, epilepsy, cooping (a practice in which citizens were attacked, absconded, plied with alcohol and forced to vote for a political candidate), diabetes and even rabies.
Cause of Death: A mystery
American music critic and author Gustav Kobbé’s posthumously published, The Complete Opera Book, remains to this day the opera lover’s bible. Kobbé was on the verge of international fame when he met his demise. On July 27th 1918, Kobbé, an avid sailor, was out sailing in the Great South Bay off Bay Shore, New York, when an errant seaplane coming into land, misjudged its descent and struck his boat, killing the opera critic instantly.
Cause of Death: Hit by aeroplane
Dan Andersson was a Swedish author, poet and composer, who became a cult figure in his native Sweden posthumously. The 32-year-old Andersson met an unfortunate end when he went to Stockholm in September 1920. On arrival at his hotel, the receptionist failed to inform him that his room had just been treated with hydrogen cyanide, in an effort to eradicate an infestation of bed bugs. At 3pm on September 16th 1920 Andersson was found dead in his room.
Cause of Death: Hydrogen Cyanide
Anderson found fame during his lifetime with his interrelated short story sequence, Winesburg, Ohio and his bestselling novel, Dark Laughter. In 1941 at the age of 64, Anderson fell ill with abdominal pains on a cruise to South America. He was rushed to hospital, where he was diagnosed with peritonitis and died. The autopsy revealed that he had swallowed a toothpick, which had damaged his internal organs, causing the infection. It is widely assumed that this occurred when the author was eating the olive from a martini.
Cause of Death: Swallowed a toothpick
Arguably the most important Japanese author of the 20th Century, Mishima was a nationalist with a commitment to the code of the Samurai (bushido). On November 25th 1968 the author and 4 members of his Tatenokai ‘shield society’ (a private militia sworn to protect the Emperor of Japan) barricaded themselves in the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan’s self-defence forces. Having delivered a speech from the balcony to the soldiers below, Mishima committed Seppuku, a Japanese ritual suicide consisting of disembowelment followed by beheading.
Cause of Death: Seppuku
American playwright Tennessee Williams found fame with his play The Glass Menagerie (1944), a big hit on Broadway in New York. By the 1960s the talented playwright had descended into depression, drug use and commitments to mental health facilities. On the morning of February 26th 1983, Williams was found dead in his suite at the Elysee Hotel in New York. The medical examiner’s report indicated that the cause of death was choking to death on a cap from a bottle of eye drops.
Cause of Death: Swallowing bottle of eye drops
Click here to sign up to my monthly book-related newsletter.