|Intl. Notebook||Jul 2 2010|
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
Today in 1961, one of America’s great authors, Ernest Hemingway, committed suicide in his house in Ketchum, Idaho, using his favorite shotgun. Hemingway had physical problems, including failing eyesight, that made it difficult for him to write, but he also fell victim to the barbaric treatments for mental ailments that were the norm in the 1960s.
Records show that when he checked into a Mayo Clinic in December 1960 seeking help for agitation and paranoia, he received up to fifteen electroshock treatments, sessions that, according to biographer Jeffrey Myers, left Hemingway “in ruins.” He was also given Ritalin and Serpasil, and in a misguided effort to fight the depression the drugs caused he was given another round of shock treatments.
On July 2 he loaded his double-barreled shotgun, put the muzzle in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. The massive blast obliterated the entire top half of his head, leaving only his jaw, mouth, and cheekbones. The press was fed a story about the death being accidental, but Hemingway had in fact chosen the same path as his father, and the same path his brother and sister would later take. As it turns out, all suffered from the hereditary ailment hemochromatosis, the effects of which culminate in mental and physical deterioration.
Ernest Hemingway’s legacy is beyond dispute. He is one of the most respected and imitated personalities who ever lived, and one of the most influential writers in the English language, someone whose techniques are stylistic ground zero for American authors. Predictably, his influence has also produced a backlash, and today his style is often ridiculed by contrarians, iconoclasts and revisionists. But as we always say, time is the ultimate critic, and by that measure Hemingway towers above his detractors—all of them. The above photo shows him near the end of his life, circa late ’50s.