Today marks Sylvia Plath’s birthday, and though it may seem strange to celebrate the birth of a famous author by considering her death, we think it appropriate. Plath’s lifelong depression and suicidal tendencies inarguably informed her work, and as such were part of what makes her writing so compelling, and morbid as it may be, part of what has made her an essential part of the American canon. With that in mind, we have collected some of the most famous author suicides in history, from the mundane to the strange, for your contemplation. Unfortunately, there are all too many authors who have taken this route, a trend that many have remarked upon over the years. Though we by no means mean to romanticize suicide, which is often the product of a long term struggle with depression, it can’t be denied that the deaths of these figures are part of their legacy and have worked their way into our understanding of their work and their lives. Click through to see our list of the most famous author suicides, and raise a glass tonight to Sylvia Plath.
Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)
“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.” (The Bell Jar)
Though well loved and undeniably talented from a young age, the celebrated poet and novelist struggled with depression most of her adult life, making her first documented suicide attempt when she was just 20 and still at Smith College. In 1963, newly separated from her husband, she carefully sealed the kitchen with wet towels so as not to risk harm to her children, and placed her head in the gas oven, where she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. There has been some contention as to whether Plath meant to kill herself — she had asked her downstairs neighbor, Mr. Thomas, what time he would be leaving that morning, and some think she expected him to smell the gas and call for help. She had also left a note that read “Call Dr. Horder,” with his number. However, most sources close to her, in particular the aforementioned Dr. Horder and Plath’s best friend Jillian Becker refute these claims, citing the care she took in setting up the room as well as her previous attempts.