60 Years Ago — Hounded by the FBI, Nobel Prize Ernest Hemingway Ends His Life (July 2, 1961)

“The FBI’s surveillance substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.”

A. E. Hotchner — Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life

American writer Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) working at a portable table while on a big game hunt in Kenya, September 1952. (Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty Images)

July 2 2021 — On October 28 1954, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Ernest Miller Hemingway “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.” On July 2 1961, Ernest Hemingway was found dead of a shotgun wound in the head. Hemingway was aware of his long surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who were suspicious of his links with Cuba, and it has been argued that this surveillance may have pushed him to the brink. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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“Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation would charitably be described as ‘strained’. Hemingway would tell anybody who’d listen that he thought the Bureau were a bunch of Nazi mediocrities … and the FBI in turn dismissed Hemingway as a drunken phony. As his file shows, however, all of that changed when Hemingway finally did something the Bureau agreed with: he died.”

Muckrock — ‘Ernest Hemingway’s death significantly improved his relationship with the FBI’

Perhaps, you will be surprised to learn that Hemingway was hounded by the FBI.

Hemingway had repeatedly called FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover the head of “the American Gestapo.”

Meanwhile, Hoover dismissed Hemingway as a “a drunken phony. ” In his last years, Hemingway was in constant physical pain, which he dealt with by drinking even more heavily than he usually did.

But there was possibly another reason to his heavy drinking….

“When I am not drunk I do not talk. You have never heard me talk much. But an intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend his time with fools.” [For Whom the Bell Tolls ― Ernest Hemingway]

A. E. Hotchner was a good friend of Hemingway. Hotchner came to the conclusion that the FBI may have been responsible for his suicide.

“This man, who had stood his ground against charging water buffaloes, who had flown missions over Germany, who had refused to accept the prevailing style of writing but, enduring rejection and poverty, had insisted on writing in his own unique way, this man, my deepest friend, was afraid — afraid that the F.B.I. was after him, that his body was disintegrating, that his friends had turned on him, that living was no longer an option.

Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file.

It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba.

Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones.

The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.

In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file.

I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.”

After hearing of Mr. Hemingway’s death, President Kennedy issued a statement. Kennedy called Hemingway one of America’s greatest authors and “one of the great citizens of the world.”

“Suicide always leaves the question of “Why?” in its wake, and this is especially true when the person who commits the act seemingly has so much to live for.”

Why Ernest Hemingway Committed Suicide — Brett and Kate McKay

As his friend, A. E. Hotchner wondered, why would someone “whom many critics call the greatest writer of his century, a man who had a zest for life and adventure as big as his genius, a winner of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, a soldier of fortune with a home in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, where he hunted in the winter, an apartment in New York, a specially rigged yacht to fish the Gulf Stream, an available apartment at the Ritz in Paris and the Gritti in Venice, a solid marriage . . . good friends everywhere . . . put a shotgun to his head and [kill] himself”?

What we do know is that at the end of his life, Ernest Hemingway was suffering in mind, and likely in body as well. Over the course of his life he had weathered malaria, dysentery, skin cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and these maladies had taken their toll. Additionally, he had suffered six serious, essentially untreated concussions (two within back-to-back years), which left him with headaches, mental fogginess, ringing in his ears, and very likely a traumatic brain injury.

Several years before his suicide, he was almost killed in two separate plane crashes, in two days, which ruptured his liver, spleen, and kidneys, sprained several limbs, dislocated his shoulder, crushed vertebra, left first degrees burns over much of his body, and cracked his skull, giving him one of the aforementioned concussions (this one so severe that cerebral fluid seeped out of his ear). He was in constant pain for a long time afterwards, which he dealt with by drinking even more heavily than he usually did.

Hemingway also had untreated hemochromatosis, which creates an overload of iron in the blood, causing painful damage to joints and organs, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. (Hemochromatosis runs in families, which may partly explain why suicide ran in Hemingway’s; his grandfather, father, brother, sister, and granddaughter all killed themselves.)

In addition to his physical deterioration, in the months before his death, Hemingway plunged into a state of depression, delusion, and paranoia (possibly precipitated by his TBI) the likes of which his friends and family had never before seen. He found he could no longer write, and the loss of the ability to engage in the great purpose of his life left him in tears. He was hospitalized twice for psychological treatment, but felt the electroshock treatments he was given further inhibited his writing and only made the depression worse. (…)

Hemingway shot himself in the head a day and a half after returning home from the hospital. 

“Hemingway may have said ‘yes’ to the Soviet recruitment pitch, but unless there is some additional trove of material in the NKVD archives that argues otherwise, it is clear Hemingway was never a productive Soviet agent.”

CIA website — Intelligence in Literature and Media

Ernest Hemingway, Wrestling With Life (documentary)  

“I am an old man who will live until I die.”

For Whom the Bell TollsErnest Hemingway

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961)

REFERENCES

Hemingway Is the Winner Of Nobel Literature Prize — NYT

Fresh claim over role the FBI played in suicide of Ernest Hemingway — Guardian

Intelligence in Literature and Media — CIA website

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On This Day — Hemingway Wins Nobel Prize (October 28 1954)

On This Day — Hemingway Wins Nobel Prize (October 28 1954) [2019]

On This Day — Hemingway Wins Nobel Prize (October 28 1954) [2020]

60 Years Ago — Hounded by the FBI, Nobel Prize Ernest Hemingway Ends His Life (July 2, 1961)

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