6 Famous Writers Whose Deaths Were Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by Hayley on March 5, 2016

Leave it to authors to "shuffle off this mortal coil" in sensational style. From the bizarre to the unbelievable, these are the stories of writers who accidentally found drama in death. May they all rest in peace (and in the case of at least two people on this list, in pieces).



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Edgar Allan Poe and His Tell-Tale Brain
At the age of 40, The Raven writer was found "in great distress," wandering the streets of Baltimore. He was taken to the hospital, but died shortly after…and no one knows why. In lieu of a death certificate, his obituary claimed he passed away from the absurdly vague "congestion of the brain." Historians have tried to explain the mystery for decades—theories range from an elaborate cooping scheme to carbon monoxide poisoning— but it's likely we'll never know the true story.

Read more: Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance



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Dante Alighieri and the Body Snatchers
Everyone wanted a piece of Dante. After The Divine Comedy author contracted malaria and died in 1321, his body was buried in Ravenna, exhumed, and then hidden in a brick wall. The reason? Church officials were worried men from Dante's home town of Florence would take the body. Centuries later, the bones were discovered in the wall, thanks to a renovation project. Some of the bones were stolen; few were returned. Basically, Dante now has many final resting places.

Read more: Life of Dante



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Tennessee Williams's Eye-Opener
It should've been an ordinary day. The playwright was hanging out in his hotel suite when his eyes started bothering him. He got out his bottle of eye drops, but on this particular occasion, he ended up choking to death on the bottle's cap. (Some accounts claim a problem with his nose led to him choking on the cap of his nasal spray.) To further add strange insult to strange, fatal injury, his body was interred in a cemetery in St. Louis—even though Williams had explicitly requested he be buried at sea.

Read more: Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh




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Jacqueline Susann on the Shelf
Call it sweet or call it odd (sweetly odd?): After the Valley of the Dolls author died of cancer at the age of 56, her husband, Irving Mansfield, had her ashes put in a bronze urn that was shaped like a book. And where else would you put such a vessel? On the shelf, of course! Mansfield kept the book-like urn on his bookcase, next to copies of his wife's books.

Read more: Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann



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Aeschylus and the Flying Tortoise
Poor Aeschylus. The Greek playwright was minding his own business when a tortoise fell from the sky and hit his head. The impact killed him. Fellow writer Valerius Maximus believed an eagle had mistaken Aeschylus's head for a rock. Did you know eagles fly tortoises to a great height and then drop them on a rock to shatter their hard shells? Well, it's a real thing—and if the top of your head looks like a rock, you could experience it first-hand like Aeschylus.

Read more: A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization



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Percy Bysshe Shelley's Hard Heart
The English Romantic poet drowned at sea—the strangeness occurred when his body was cremated. Instead of turning to ash, his heart would not burn. A witness reportedly plucked the heart from the fire and made sure it ended up in the hands of Shelley's wife, Mary. It all seems like something out of a poem, a testament to the heart's resilience even in death. (In truth, scientists believe Shelley's heart had been calcifying for some time, which would have explained its resistance to cremation. Not as romantic, but still fascinating!)

Read more: The Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron

Comments Showing 1-50 of 73 (73 new)


message 1: by Bellatrix (new)

Bellatrix Lestrange I got goosebumps.

Who puts their ashes in a bronze urn shaped like a book and keep it next their books? Who dies WITH NO KNOWN CAUSE and leave scientists puzzled and coming up with sickly theories of carbon monoxide blabbering? Who CHOKES on their eye drop bottle's cap? Whose head looks so much like a ROCK that an eagle drops a TORTOISE on it? And who was so famous that their BONES get STOLEN from a WALL?

Can only be writers.
We'll just exist and not let our hearts catch alight.


message 2: by May͛a (new)

May͛a I don't know how to feel towards Dante Alighieri's lol. As a person who loves books of Horror genre I got all excited but then I remembered this was supposed to be real and got the creeps


Paganalexandria Olivia Goldsmith, the author of The First Wives Club should be on this list. She died of complications from plastic surgery.


message 4: by Steffi (new)

Steffi What about Ödön von Horváth who was hit by a falling branch from a tree and killed during a thunderstorm in Paris. Ironically, as a refugee from the NS regime he said he were more afraid of streets than of Nazis.


message 5: by Gazelle (new)

Gazelle No matter how many times I hear or read about it, Poes's tragic death makes me so sad whenever!


message 6: by Moh (new)

Moh What about P.P.Pasolini who died beaten to death on shir of one of roma's rivers


message 7: by Noorilhuda (new)

Noorilhuda Very witty Hayley!


message 8: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Dickenson At least their drama lasted beyond their life, just like their works of art!


message 9: by Amanda (new)

Amanda How about Yukio Mishima, who commited suicide by seppuku after a failed coup?


message 10: by Kendall (new)

Kendall Moore Ambrose Bierce anyone?


message 11: by Hannah (new)

Hannah terrence creepy deaths


message 12: by Nickcole (new)

Nickcole I loved what Jacqueline Susann did for her. I think it was a bit romantic!


message 13: by ❆ Crystal ❆ (new)

❆ Crystal ❆ Some of those are pretty bizarre.


message 14: by Mel (new)

Mel Nickcole wrote: "I loved what Jacqueline Susann did for her. I think it was a bit romantic!"

I did too.


message 15: by Heather (new)

Heather Paganalexandria **wicked juices bubbling over** wrote: "Olivia Goldsmith, the author of The First Wives Club should be on this list. She died of complications from plastic surgery."

She was one of my favorite authors. :( I agree, she should be on the list.


Mac Dubista Keso The Bibliobibuli v(=∩_∩=) Creepy...

I wonder whats congestion of the brain. Hmmm
Ill research. Im curious.


message 17: by Caroline (new)

Caroline I am going to believe that Shelley's heart would not burn so his wife would have it for ever.
I'm not to sure that I would have wanted it,however romantic!!

Hayley I had to laugh about the tortoise falling from the sky!!


message 18: by Narges (new)

Narges Aliyari Poor Aeschylus


message 19: by Morpheus (new)

Morpheus Reads Mac Dubista Keso The Bibliobibuli v(=∩_∩=) wrote: "Creepy...

I wonder whats congestion of the brain. Hmmm
Ill research. Im curious."


a brain aneurysm, possibly??


message 20: by Donna (new)

Donna Markiewicz This is an interesting post. The only one that I knew about was Edgar Allen Poe. I had no idea that the others died that way. Who knew that eagles drop tortoises from the sky!


message 21: by Kaj (new)

Kaj Samuelsson What about Ambrose Bierce?
In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He was rumored to be traveling with rebel troops, but was not seen again.


message 22: by Barak (new)

Barak Mary probably sent the heart to Victor Von Frankenstein.


message 23: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Reading this is disturbing.


message 24: by Grace (new)

Grace Whoah. I knew a few of these... now I'm wondering what will happen to me!


message 25: by Komal (new)

Komal Mandal I was hoping to see the name of poet Sylvia Plath. She'd stuck her head inside an oven to be killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, while her two kids slept on the adjacent room... Creative way to die I must say... !


message 26: by Manaswin (new)

Manaswin What's the probability of dying by getting hit on the the head by a tortoise. Apparently not zero!!


message 27: by Nina (new)

Nina I am not all that impressed. There's a long list of authors whose deaths were stranger than these. And there's nothing weird about keeping an urn with the ashes of a beloved one on your shelf! I'm happy to have my son home with me that way!


K. B (⊃。•́‿•̀。)⊃━━━━━☆ Omg! Creepy. Why would anyone want Dante's bones tho? And tortoise? Seriously? Choking on an eye drop cap is really... seriously? Damn!


message 29: by Kaj (new)

Kaj Samuelsson Or Joe Hill, in front of a firing-squad


message 30: by GypsyBookworm (last edited Mar 06, 2016 10:46AM) (new)

GypsyBookworm K. B wrote: "Omg! Creepy. Why would anyone want Dante's bones tho? And tortoise? Seriously? Choking on an eye drop cap is really... seriously? Damn!"

People used to collect relics of saints all the time. Dante was a famous writer so people probably wanted his too.


message 31: by Abhishek (new)

Abhishek Yadav How can you not mention Virginia Woolf, one of the great writers of the 20th century, in the above article?

On March 28, 1941, shortly after the devastating dawn of WWII, Virginia Woolf (January 15, 1882–March 28, 1941) filled her overcoat pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse behind her house never to emerge alive.

The following is her suicidal note

"Dearest,

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been."


message 32: by Kyran (new)

Kyran And what about that writer who started a relationship with a agreeing upon the fact that they were going to commit sucide together? Wait....aha...Heinrich von Kleist.


message 33: by Azur (new)

Azur The book urn is strangely cute. I would do the same if it were legal here and would want to be placed between my favourite books.


message 34: by Kyran (new)

Kyran Kaj wrote: "Or Joe Hill, in front of a firing-squad"

Joe Hill? Is'nt he Stephen King's son?


message 35: by Azur (new)

Azur Kyran wrote: "Kaj wrote: "Or Joe Hill, in front of a firing-squad"

Joe Hill? Is'nt he Stephen King's son?"

Another Joe Hill:

Joe Hill (1879–1915) was a Swedish-American labor activist and songwriter


message 36: by Foad (new)

Foad There's also Farid al-Din Attar (died in 1220) who according to legends, had been beheaded by a mongol soldier, but surprisingly his body took the head and replace it on the neck, then started to compose a poem, now called "Bi-Sar Nameh" meaning "the letter of the beheaded", and then died again.


message 37: by Murdo (new)

Murdo Federico Garcia Lorca, assassinated by fascists at the start of the Spanish civil war for his socialist leanings, or perhaps for being gay. Nobody knows for sure.


message 38: by Ireine (new)

Ireine Roosdy Apparently there are similarity between writers and poets... being odd to death


message 39: by Alan (new)

Alan Stuart Playwright Joe Orton bludgeoned to death by collaborator and lover Kenneth Halliwell, who then committed suicide.


message 40: by Abby (new)

Abby Kyran wrote: "And what about that writer who started a relationship with a agreeing upon the fact that they were going to commit sucide together? Wait....aha...Heinrich von Kleist."

*with AN agreeing


message 41: by Allie (new)

Allie Gazelle wrote: "No matter how many times I hear or read about it, Poes's tragic death makes me so sad whenever!"

Yeah!!!


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

The death of Aeschylus is really funny!


message 43: by Richp (new)

Richp Nickcole wrote: "I loved what Jacqueline Susann did for her. I think it was a bit romantic!"
I think you meant what her widower, Irving Mansfield, did. I'm not sure romantic is the best description, I go for respectful.


message 44: by Richp (new)

Richp Komal wrote: "I was hoping to see the name of poet Sylvia Plath. She'd stuck her head inside an oven to be killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, while her two kids slept on the adjacent room... Creative way to di..."

Hardly creative. At one time this was such a popular method of suicide in England that laws were passed to reduce the oppurtunity.


message 45: by Richp (new)

Richp Stranger than fiction greatly overstates the case. And, given the time passed in some of these, the story may well be fiction.


message 46: by *eKa* (new)

*eKa* I don't wanna laugh. But how Aeschylus died is really really amusing. Well, actually it's the eagle's stupidity brought the humor.


message 47: by Kaj (last edited Mar 07, 2016 12:26AM) (new)

Kaj Samuelsson Kyran wrote: "Kaj wrote: "Or Joe Hill, in front of a firing-squad"

Joe Hill? Is'nt he Stephen King's son?"


Well, I was thinking of the somgwriter who coined the phrase "pie in the sky". He was executed in 1915.
Here is his last will:

My will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don't need to fuss and moan
"Moss does not cling to rolling stone"

My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you
Joe Hill


message 48: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Eka Herlyanti wrote: "I don't wanna laugh. But how Aeschylus died is really really amusing. Well, actually it's the eagle's stupidity brought the humor."

That's right Eka!!


message 49: by Fikir (new)

Fikir Gedion And no matter how many times I hear about it , Poe's death still puzzles and deeply saddens me much like his life which was reflected in much of his works.


message 50: by Inken (new)

Inken Kaj wrote: "Or Joe Hill, in front of a firing-squad"

Just like Erskine Childers who wrote The Riddle of the Sands!


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