Until 1991, Ernest Hemingway’s death was believed to be suicide due to slow psychological degradation. And it was very well documented that over a period of about 10 years (from the early 1950s to his death in 1961) his mind was slowly being lost in a flurry of unfortunate nonsense. But documents released in 1991 show that, although he did have a mental disorder, there was more to his death than met the eye.
One of the first people to mention his deterioration was A. E. Hotchner. After inviting Hotchner to help organize his book The Dangerous Summer, Hotchner found him to be “unusually hesitant, disorganized, and confused” and it grew worse from there. In 1960, Hemingway revealed that the reason he believed his behavior had changed was because the FBI was secretly watching him. In fact, after meeting Hotchner in November for a pheasant hunt, this troubling conversation occurred:
Hemingway: The feds.
Hemingway: They tailed us all the way.
As his suspicions grew worse, he was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy more than 10 times, in December of 1960. When he was released from the hospital that January, his physical and mental being were lower than ever before and three months later he almost killed himself with a shotgun only to be brought back for more electroconvulsive therapy. Then on July 2nd, 1961 Hemingway attempted suicide again, this time succeeding.
But the story does not end here. In 1983, a 127-page dossier was released by the FBI revealing that during around the last 10 years of his life, Hemingway was indeed being watched by the FBI. Hotchner, after reading the documents, had some things to say:
“In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the FBI, which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the FBI file, I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.”
Today, Hemingway’s death cannot be investigated into because the answer heavily relies on his mental health. But there is no longer any certainty over what caused his eventual suicide.