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Today in History (1983): Award-Winning Playwright Tennessee Williams was Found Dead in His Manhattan Hotel Suite

Today marks the 31st death anniversary of Tennessee Williams, acclaimed writer of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Young Tennessee Williams. Photo via Tennessee Williams on Kingdom of Earth Dramaturgy

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III is regarded by many as one of the most prolific playwrights of the 20th century. In his lifetime he was able to pen hundreds of plays, novels, screenplays and teleplays, short stories, and poems combined. Some of his most popular works include “The Glass Menagerie” (1944), “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947), and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1955). People close to him recalled that Williams harbored a passion for writing so strong that he spent almost all the time from at a very early age up until his final days doing it. His career, however, suffered a decline during the last 20 years of his life owing to “increasing alcohol and drug consumption as well as occasional poor choices of collaborators.” Personally, Williams also struggled with depression and dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs particularly in the years following the death of his longtime partner Frank Merlo in 1963.

Photo via the Smithsonian

The story surrounding the death of Williams at age 71 had almost reached a status akin to popular urban legends, with initial reports by the medical examiner declaring that Williams choked to death on the cap of a bottle of eye drops (some reports claim it was a nasal spray bottle). However, when forensic detective and expert Michael Baden reviewed the medical files some time later, it was discovered that Williams actually died of acute Seconal intolerance and that the bottle cap scenario was merely fabricated allegedly by someone from the city coroner’s office. Friends of the playwright support this claim. An article on CBS New York published last year, citing CUNY professor Annette J. Saddik, reported that “Williams had been taking Seconal – a barbiturate derivative – to help him sleep, and also had been drinking the night he died.” Indeed, when Williams was found in his suite at the Elysee Hotel, bottles of prescription drugs and wine were reportedly also discovered.

Saddik related,

When this happened, John Uecker, who was his companion and assistant at the time, was still around and told the (New York City) Medical Examiner, ‘Look, people are going to think it’s suicide or AIDS or something bizarre and we don’t know what happened,’” Saddik said in the interview. “So the Medical Examiner, said, ‘OK, he choked on a bottle cap.’ But really, his body just gave up and the eventual diagnosis was intolerance.

Against his wishes of being buried at sea “at approximately the same place as Hart Crane, a poet he considered to be one of his most significant influences,” Williams was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. This move was decided by his younger brother Dakin.

All information in this article were sourced from Tennessee Williams on Wikipedia, American Masters, CBS New York, these old reports from the New York Times, Mental Floss, and Page Six.

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Related articles: Influential Photographs: A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947 by Eliot Elisofon and Them and Their Typewriters: Famous People and Their ‘Machinariums’.

written by chooolss

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