When you think of famous authors who have passed away, you probably remember their works far more than the ways in which they died—unless the cause of death was something bizarre. Here are a few author death stories that have become the subject of articles and books:
The Greek playwright Aeschylus (ca. 525–456 BCE) died when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head. (Yes, you read that correctly!) The story goes that an eagle carried a tortoise aloft looking for a rock on which to drop the tortoise to break its shell. Poor, old, bald-headed Aeschylus just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the eagle mistook his bald head for a rock. He died instantly. But is it true? Many scholars believe that a rival author who wanted to make Aeschylus into a posthumous fool penned the story.
The British author and essayist Francis Bacon (1561–1626) died after stuffing a chicken full of snow. (A dead chicken, of course) Bacon’s interest in science led him to ponder whether filling the chicken’s body cavities with snow would preserve its meat. But, did he live long enough to see if his experiment worked? We don’t know. According to his biography, the poor man got a big chill while stuffing the chicken. The chill caused pneumonia, and shortly thereafter Francis Bacon died.
Tennessee Williams, the playwright, (1911–1983) was a brilliant author known for his award-winning plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and more. But, Williams had demons. Drugs and alcohol brought him down. While trying to use an eye-drop bottle cap to ingest some sort of barbiturate, he either swallowed or inhaled the bottle cap and it blocked his larynx suffocating him.
How did Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) die? No one knows for sure, but many biographers cite his cause of death as “congestion of the brain.” There are theories that these brain issues were the result of alcoholism, diabetes, epilepsy, or even rabies, but the most bizarre theory is that Poe fell victim to “cooping”. Cooping was one way that corrupt politicians got people to vote for them. They would abduct a voter, get him seriously drunk, and force him to vote in their favor. The tell-tale “evidence” that Poe might have been cooped is that when he was found wandering the streets and incoherent he was dressed in another man’s clothing. Coopers often dressed and redressed their victims, disguising them to get multiple votes. You can read more about Poe’s mysterious death HERE.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
—From Poe’s poem, “The Conqueror Worm” (1843)
Mark Twain (1835–1910) died peacefully and uneventfully at home. His final request was for someone to give him his glasses. Thomas Carlyle’s book “The French Revolution” lay beside him when he died. The bizarre thing about Twain’s death is that he predicted it.
Twain was born on November 30, 1835, just two weeks after Halley’s Comet was nearest and most visible on earth. In 1909, the year before the comet made its next pass within sight, Twain said:
“I came in with Halley’s Comet… It is coming again … and I expect to go out with it… The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”
Twain died on April 21, 1910, the day after Halley’s Comet was again visible on earth.
By the way, the comet caused quite a panic in 1910 because astronomer’s predicted that Earth would pass through its tail and life on Earth would end.
So, my friends,
enjoy life while you have it,
and keep on writing.
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