A Brief History
On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest American writers and Most Interesting Man in the World, committed suicide by shooting himself with his favorite shotgun. On August 12 on this website you will find a list of “10 Famous Suicides” and today we list another 10 suicides of a noteworthy nature, either because of whom the victim was or the circumstances.
1. Ernest Hemingway, 1961.
Born in 1900, Hemingway served during World War I as an ambulance driver in Italy where he saw the horrors of female factory workers blown to pieces, combat injuries, and experienced being seriously wounded himself. “Papa” became a journalist and novelist, nation hopping and rubbing shoulders with other Avant Garde type people. As a journalist, he covered the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and in 1954 on an African trip suffered injuries from 2 separate airplane crashes! Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for Literature that same year. His serious injuries left him ailing the rest of his life, compounded by heavy drinking, hypertension, headaches and depression. He also became convinced the FBI and others were spying on him and following him around (which they were!), and feared he would never recover the manuscripts he left in Cuba due to the Revolution going on there ( the rebels were victorious in 1959). The suicide weapon was probably a side by side fowling piece made by W&C Scott, not the Boss as originally reported. (Note: People sometimes name their guns. Also, Hemingway’s father had committed suicide.)
2. Margaux Hemingway, 1996.
The granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, the beautiful and statuesque (6 feet tall) model and actress killed herself at the age of 42 by lethal drug overdose. Despite her fame and success, Margaux suffered from bulimia, alcoholism, depression, epilepsy, and jealousy of her younger sister’s (Mariel) greater success as an actress. She also claimed to have been sexually abused by her Godfather as a child, and Mariel later claimed both Margaux and Mariel had been abused by their own father as girls. (Margaux’s birth name was spelled “Margot.”)
3. Falling Man, 2001.
At the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, an estimated 200 or more people jumped to their deaths rather than be burned alive in the horrific flames of the burning towers before they collapsed. One man in particular, photographed by Richard Drew (the same photographer that took pictures of the Bobby Kennedy assassination in 1968) captured on film while falling head first, seemingly relaxed, seems to have captured the moment even more than the other photos of that day. The man in the photos seems to be moderately dark skinned, perhaps Latino or light skinned African American, and has a goatee. He has not been identified, and the family of Norberto Hernandez denies that the photo is of their relative. During the horrible rain of jumping, doomed people, one of the jumpers landed on a fireman at street level, killing the fireman instantly. The Falling Man may have been Jonathan Briley, an African American man age 43 who left a wife behind, but no real proof has been found. Like the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the photos of the Falling Man are a monument to those who jumped on that horrible day.
4. Kurt Cobain, 1994.
The lead singer of the Grunge Rock group, Nirvana, Cobain seemed to have a great future of fame and money, and was making great music. What fans did not see was the drug addiction, depression, health problems (including chronic bronchitis and stomach problems) and tremendous pressures of fame and high expectations. Cobain shot himself in the head with shotgun, another martyr to the religion of Rock and Roll. He was only 27 years old when he died.
5. Meriwether Lewis, 1809.
Famous for being the “Lewis” of “Lewis and Clark Expedition,” Lewis was the Commander of the Corps of Discovery as the 1803-1806 expedition was called. What you may not know, is that Lewis was private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson from 1801 to 1803, and was serving as Governor of Louisiana Territory when he shot himself at the age of 35. Lewis had gone into deep personal debt to fund the Louisiana Territory business, and was on his way to Washington, D.C. to attempt to be repaid for those expenses when he attempted suicide but was restrained. No autopsy or medical examination of his body was made until 40 years after his death, and that examination led to the theory that Lewis may have been murdered instead of having committed suicide. An altercation in which Lewis pulled his pistols and challenged a man to a duel feeds this murder theory, but historians generally are convinced of the suicide. Lewis lived for several hours after being shot in the head, a chunk of skull missing, but did not speak before dying.
6. Socrates, 399 BC.
The famous Classical Greek scholar and philosopher was also a teacher to those who flocked to hear his wisdom (including Plato, the most famous of these students), but of course in ancient Athens just as today any sort of wisdom is frowned upon by politicians! Thus, Socrates found himself faced with a death sentence for “impiety” and “corrupting the minds of Athens’ youth.” Instead of being executed, Socrates chose to take poison (possibly Hemlock) on his own, and lectured as he was dying.
7. Ariel Castro, 2013.
This creep straight out of horror movie nightmares was born in 1960 in Puerto Rico. In Cleveland, Ohio between 2002 and 2013, he captured and kept 3 girls prisoner as sex slaves until one escaped and got help to free the other two girls (all of whom were now women after years of captivity). The kidnappings took place in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and apparently nobody in Castro’s family knew what he was up to and nobody in the neighborhood of the prison house realized what had transpired there. When the women escaped, Castro was arrested and convicted of 937 of 977 charges (including rape, murder, kidnapping, attempted murder, etc) and was sentenced to many consecutive life in prison without parole terms plus 1000 years and a $100,000 fine. Of course, many irate and shocked citizens felt a horrible creep of this magnitude surely deserved death, which Castro himself took care of by hanging himself in jail only 1 month into his life in prison.
8. Dan White, 1985.
White is infamous for murdering the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk (an openly gay activist) in 1978 because White had disagreements with Milk and other Board of Supervisors personnel, calling them corrupt, basically because they disagreed with White and White did not get his way. White, a former police officer, fire fighter and soldier, resigned from the Board of Supervisors and became depressed about not making as much money as he did when he was a fireman or cop. After failing at a baked potato stand business, White asked for his Supervisor job back and was granted his wish by Mayor Moscone, who quickly rescinded that decision and made the final decision that White would not get his position back. White vowed to kill Moscone and Milk along with 2 other city officials, but only managed the 2 high profile murders (made even more famous in the 2008 film, Milk, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk). Charged with double homicide, White was convicted only of Manslaughter based on his infamous “Twinkie Defense” in which he claimed diminished mental capacity due to depression and a diet of non-nutritious snack foods, causing the people at Hostess Foods no end of chagrin! White served 5 years in prison, and after failing to patch up his marriage and rebuild his life, killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning (running his car in the garage) less than 2 years after release from prison.
9. Marilyn Monroe, 1962.
Born Norma Jean Mortensen in 1926, this sultry American blonde bombshell of an actress and singer killed herself in bed at home by taking an overdose of barbiturates. Or did she? Conspiracy theorists have put forth numerous theories of possible murder scenarios, where anyone from the Kennedy brothers (President John, Attorney General Bobby, little brother Ted), the CIA, or the “Mob” may have killed Monroe to keep her quiet about sexual affairs to avoid embarrassment. Others postulate that the overdose was accidental. We prefer to think a person wonderful enough to have owned a Basset Hound could not have killed herself on purpose.
10. Abbie Hoffman, 1989.
Drug Guru, radical, protester, counterculture aficionado, author and celebrity, Hoffman was part of the great anti-war, anti-government, anti-police, anti-status quo movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. One of the infamous ‘Chicago Eight’ arrested for inciting violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Hoffman was the author of the infamous (he was just plain infamous!) book, Steal This Book in 1971, a treatise on how to shoplift and steal things. In 1987, he co-authored Steal This Urine Test and was enjoying a new period of popularity in the late 1980’s when he took 150 Phenobarbital tablets and killed himself in 1989. Diagnosed bi-polar in 1980, Hoffman was allegedly depressed at the time of his death (although living in a converted Turkey Coop had to be an uplifting factor!).
Question for students (and subscribers): Who would you include on this list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Estevez, Benita. Suicide: The Final Curtain in the World of the Famous (Rich and Famous Book 2). RW Press, 2013.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Frank Schulenburg of Ernest Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, Idaho, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.