Concussions and Suicide (Some photos added by me). Best, Christine

Did Ernest Hemingway Succumb to CTE? PBS Doc Explores His Ill-Fated Concussions

The great American novelist died more than 40 years before the discovery of the degenerative brain disease

In the beginning of the end for Ernest Hemingway, as a 1954 trip to Africa is called in the new PBS documentary “Hemingway,” the great American novelist breaks his skull for the second time in his life during a plane crash in the outback.

Trapped as flames spread to the cabin, Hemingway is forced to use his head as a battering ram to create an opening in the twisted metal of the plane’s wreckage.

It’s the last of at least five major concussive head injuries that Hemingway sustained throughout his adult life and punctuates a growing problem. This time, his symptoms include slurred speech, double-vision and recurring deafness.



The Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway features two themes — his fascination with shotguns and his many concussions — that foreshadow what’s to come. Hemingway was long assumed to have suffered from a mental illness such as biploar depression, exacerbated by his progressive alcoholism and other substance abuse. But he died more than 40 years before the discovery of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE, as the brain disease is commonly known — and for which repeated concussions are a hallmark — could explain Hemingway’s fate.

CTE has been linked to the suicides of former NFL players Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, and further, the sociopathic behavior and suicides of Aaron Hernandez and Jovan Belcher. But outside of the 2017 biography “Hemingway’s Brain” by Dr. Andrew Farah, it has not widely taken root as a theory to explain Hemingway’s suicide.



Buried at the Ketchum Cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho, it’s impossible to know now whether CTE played a role in Hemingway’s demise (a CTE diagnosis requires a postmortem scan of brain tissue). And while Burns and fellow “Hemingway” director Lynn Novick explore Hemingway’s concussions throughout the three-episode documentary, CTE is not broached.

“The last few weeks in Africa he just lost all restraint,” Hemingway’s son Patrick, now 92, says in the documentary. “And for someone as powerful, he — I really had enough. And we never saw each other again.”

Later that year, after the African trip, Hemingway’s diminished mental capacities are unmistakable when he is named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Back at home in Cuba, he was physically unable to travel to Sweden to accept the award, so the Swedish ambassador traveled to him. Photos for the event catch a smile that conveys a lucid stream of thought and forthright happiness. But in a rare TV interview with NBC after the award was announced, he struggles mightily. He agreed to do the interview only if the questions were provided in advance. And his answers are written on cue cards.



“The book that I am writing on at present is about Africa, its people in the park that I know them,” he says in a black-and-white video, slowly and methodically, when asked about a potential next book. “The animals – comma – and the changes in Africa since I was there, last – period.”

Hemingway’s history of concussions began in World War I as part of the experiences he would use to write the 1929 novel “A Farewell to Arms.” Hemingway, an ambulance driver on the Italian front, had grown adventurous and began running minor supplies to the front lines. During one of his supply sorties, a trench mortar exploded 3 feet away.

In Paris in 1928, Hemingway mistook a hanging skylight string for a toilet cord after a night of drinking with friends. The skylight crashed onto his head. He would wear a famous forehead scar for the rest of his life.

with Bumby

There was a fall from a fishing boat near Cuba, and a serious car accident in London during World War II that required 57 stitches. Hemingway’s head smashed through the windshield and “his skull was split wide open,” according to the PBS documentary.

He was discharged from the hospital after four days, but the injury had been much worse than what was feared — a subdural hematoma, or bleeding between the brain and the skull. Blurred vision, ringing in his ears and chronic headaches resulted and persisted for nearly a year, and Hemingway began having trouble recalling words and writing legibly.

In another World War II incident, a German artillery round knocked him off a motorcycle. He flew into a ditch and his head struck a rock. A car accident years later in Cuba left him with another concussion.

Hemingway was also a boxer as a young man and played football into high school, when football helmets offered little to no protection.

“The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome were clearly described by Hemingway in various letters after different injuries, particularly after the fall on his fishing boat, and after the World War II concussions, and certainly after the plane crashes,” the author Farah said in a 2017 interview.

Erratic and violent behavior increasingly became the norm for Hemingway. That included falling in love with an 18-year-old and conveying to friends and associates he had reached a peak creatively.

“Hemingway had convinced himself he was writing better than ever. He was not,” narrator Peter Coyote says in the documentary.

He also would discuss suicide and even act it out in front of friends. In Cuba, the documentary says, with friends over for dinner, he would put his shotgun on the floor, put his finger on the trigger and put the barrel in the roof of his mouth.

“And everyone would listen to it go click, and he would lift his mouth off the barrel grinning,” the narrator says.

Hemingway was eventually admitted to the Mayo Clinic. And after thoughts of suicide reclaimed their grip, he was later readmitted. Hemingway, 61, was then again discharged despite his wife’s misgivings.

The next week at home, he shot himself in the forehead with a double-barrel shotgun.

“I was pained and grieved,” says the late longtime U.S. senator, John McCain, who revered Hemingway. “But you know, I think there are times when – I don’t agree with it, but it’s understandable – why he decided to end his life when his talent had left him.

“We sometimes talk about people and we idolize them and we give them every virtue and no vice — he had lots of vices,” McCain says. “He had tons of vices. He was a human being. And that, my friend, erases a whole lot of other, what may be, failings in life.”

Interesting Post about a visit to Ketchum, where Hem died.

Ketchum Idaho home where Hem died
Ketchum Idaho home where Hem died

Column: At Ernest Hemingway’s final home, seeking answers




Favorite Lines: What are yours? It never gets old or irrelevant and there are so many. Here just a few.

1.)      There’s no one thing that’s true, it’s all true.  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

For whom the bell tolls in Polish
For whom the bell tolls in Polish

2.)      If we win here, we will win everywhere.  The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Maria and Robert in For whom the Bell Tolls
Maria and Robert in For whom the Bell Tolls


3.)      But did thee feel the earth move?  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

4.)      Do know how an ugly woman feels?  Do you know what it is to be ugly all your life and inside to feel that you are beautiful?  Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

5.)      He was violating the second rule of the two rules for getting on well with people that speak Spanish; give the men tobacco and leave the women alone.  For Whom the Bell Tolls

6.)      Thou wilt go, rabbit.  But I go with thee.  As long as there is one of us, there is both of us.  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

7.)      Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.  A Moveable Feast.

8)      You expected to be sad in the fall.  Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold wintery light.  A Moveable Feast.

Love is the answer
Love is the answer


Hemingway’s Death: July 1, 1961

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It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it. Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway killed himself on July 1, 1961.  It’s sad to think about but he was true to himself to the end.  His great companion, A. E. Hotchner, who just passed away himself within the past several months, wrote an essay about the death and I attach the link here.

Ketchum Idaho home where Hem died
Ketchum Idaho home where Hem died

Hotchner met Hemingway while doing a story for Cosmopolitan, which was about the future of everything: art, music, theater, and literature.  They asked a young journalist to go down to Cuba and interview Hemingway.  I won’t repeat what I’ve written before about their meeting.

Suffice to say for this post that Hotchner remained to the end a trusted confidant, hell-raiser when necessary, collaborator on projects, and loyal friend.  As he notes in his article, he dramatized many of Hemingway’s stories and novels for TV and the movies, and they traveled through Europe together often.

Mary's book about Papa
Mary’s book about Papa

Hotchner, in his article, notes that Hemingway called him in May of 1960 from Cuba.  Hem had been asked by Life magazine to cut a 92,000 word article down to 40,000.  A month later, Hem had only cut out about 534 words.  He asked Hotchner to come to Cuba to help him.  He did go and got the job done, but Hotchner noted that Hem was “bone tired and very beat up.”  He assumed that after a period of rest, Hem would be back to his hale old self.

Much has been written about Hemingway’s paranoia and the last year of his life.  He felt that the feds, the FBI, the IRS or all were following him and out to get him.  During dinner with Hem and Mary (Hemingway’s fourth wife), Hem indicated halfway through the meal that they had to leave because two FBI agents at the bar were watching him.  At the time Hemingway was working on A Moveable Feast, having difficultly, although most of the Paris sketches were all set and down on paper.  He often spoke of suicide.  His father had killed himself.

AE Hotchner's book about Hemingway
AE Hotchner’s book about Hemingway

During the last eight months of Hemingway’s life, he received eleven electric shock treatments at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.  During a short release, he attempted suicide twice with a gun; on a flight to the Mayo Clinic, he tried to jump from the plane.  When it stopped in Casper, Wyoming, for repairs, he tried to walk into the moving propeller.

When Hotchner visited him in June, he’d been given a new series of shock treatments and insisted that his room was bugged.  When Hochner asked him, “Papa, why do you want to kill yourself,” he replied, “What do you think happens to a man going on 62 when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself? And do any of the other things he promised himself on the good days?”  Hotchner noted that he’d written a beautiful book about Paris and Hem replied, “The best of that I wrote before.  And now I can’t finish it.”

Hem writing
Hem writing

When Hotch suggested he could relax or retire, Hem noted, “How does a writer retire?  Everywhere he goes he hears the same damn question:  what are you working on?”

The irony is that decades later in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the FBI released its Hemingway file.  J. Edgar Hoover had placed Hemingway under surveillance because he was suspicious of his activities in Cuba.  Agents filed reports and tapped his phones.  The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital and it’s likely that the phone outside of his room was tapped after all.

Hotch ends the article noting that he believes Hemingway truly sensed the surveillance and that it contributed to his anguish and his suicide.

The above borrows heavily from the article by A. E. Hotchner, so I urge you to read it directly.  Hotchner also wrote the wonderful book “Papa Hemingway” and “Hemingway and His World.”  I love his writing and his view of Hem as a true friend, not just as “Hemingway.”  There’s not a better source, in my opinion, for getting a real flavor of what it was like to be part of Hemingway’s posse and inner circle.

RIP, Hem.

young man: all of it ahead of him.

Hemingway’s Final Steps: Read Eric Althoff’s article and journey

Read Eric’s Travels excerpted here. Best, Christine (some photos i added of the house and mountains.)

Tracing Hemingway’s final steps in Ketchum, Idaho

The author at the gravesite of Ernest Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho. (Eric Althoff/The Washington Times)
The author at the gravesite of Ernest Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho. (Eric Althoff/The Washington Times) more >
– The Washington Times – Saturday, October 7, 2017


You drive for three hours from Boise, through largely empty high desert country, to come to the place where Ernest Hemingway spent his final years, and where, on July 2, 1961, he chose to silence the demons forever.

Ketchum, Idaho, is also where many of Hollywood’s elite have second or third (or however many in the ordinal list) homes. For it is said that in the surrounding Sun Valley community, they can be unbothered in a way that is perhaps not so viable in Park City, Utah, the other ski community known for the glitziness of its populace away from Tinseltown.

I am met at the Sun Valley Lodge (1 Sun Valley Rd., Sun Valley, Idaho, 83353, 800/786-8259) by Jim Jaquet and his wife Wendy, who together run Jaquet Guide Services, wherein the couple offers specialized tours of Sun Valley that include restaurants, galleries and the Hemingway sites. .


Interior of the Ketchum house

As we drive away from the Sun Valley Lodge, Jim and Wendy point to various homes that belong to the rich and famous. Time was when they would take pilgrims closer, but a sense of privacy now pervades in Ketchum, and so today I must enjoy the posh homes from afar.

What I can get up close and personal to, however, is the Hemingway Memorial on Trail Creek Rd., erected in 1966 by friends and family of the deceased wordsmith on what would have been his 67th birthday. The bust of “Papa” Hemingway sits in a quiet alcove above a creek bed, and at its base is an inscription:

“Best of all he loved the fall
the leaves yellow on cottonwoods
leaves floating on trout streams
and above the hills
the high blue windless skies
… Now he will be a part of them forever.”

After a quick jaunt through the heart of town, Jim and Wendy take me to a spot on the outskirts of Ketchum and pull over. Jim hands me a pair of binoculars to spy, far in the distance, the privately owned Mary and Ernest Hemingway House and Preserve, where the scribe lived in his final tumultuous years, anguished that he was no longer able to write as he once had.

As no tourists are allowed near the home (the road leading up to it is also privately run), Jim shows me photographs of what the cabin looked like when Hemingway occupied it. Eerily, the shotgun he used to end his own life is in one of the photos, which can’t help but give me a chill.

Mary Hemingway

Jim tells me that one of the accepted theories about Hemingway’s suicide was that it was brought on by depression, magnified by his decreasing ability to write to his own liking, as well as the rather copious amounts of alcohol he was known to consume. Furthermore, some have posited that both the physical and “invisible” injuries he suffered during his time in the ambulance corps during the First World War may have later reared their ugliness as Hemingway sank deeper and deeper into despair until he could take it no more.

Add to this a condition called hemochromatosis, or too much iron in the blood, his diabetes and various other problems.

The midcentury Hemingway cabin is now run by The Community Library, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today I shall get no closer.

Hem’s view while writing

It’s only appropriate that our next stop is Hemingway’s final resting place, the Ketchum Cemetery, located at 1026 N Main St. Papa’s grave is easy to find: Pilgrims leave pennies on the gravestone, as well as tributes like a half-finished bottle of Jameson today.

There’s also a journal, in which visitors can inscribe their thoughts. Not knowing precisely what to say, but knowing I must write something, I set pen to paper, allowing the ink to move me:

“One writer to another, may our language be the better angels of man. — EFA, May 14, 2017”

Friends and relatives of Papa are also interred here, including Margaux Hemingway, Hemingway’s granddaughter and a respected actress in her day. Unfortunately, like Ernest, Margaux was afflicted by depression and battled a chronic alcohol problem. She was found dead at her L.A. home July 1, 1996, the result of a sedative overdose.

Margaux and Hem’s son, Jack, Mariel on far right

Margaux was the fifth member of her immediate family to commit suicide, according to the IMDB. She is buried a few feet away from her grandfather.

Margaux’s sister, Muriel, is also an actress, and earned an Oscar nomination at the tender age of 19 for her role in Woody Allen’s 1979 film “Manhattan.” She still acts to this day.


hem and Mary

From atop one of the lava cones, I look back to the northwest and the Sawtooth National Forest, whose accompanying mountain ranges enclose Ketchum and Sun Valley. My view from here is prosaic and inspiring — doubtless part of the reason Hemingway chose this central Idaho wonderland to try to re-stoke the artistic fires within.

It proved to be too large a task even for the glories of nature.

The house on a Hill: Hemingway’s home

 I enjoyed the article and the respect for Hemingway’s love of this area, this home, his legacy.  Best to all and hope your Thanksgiving was lovely.  Christine

Visit To the Hemingway Collection in Boston Part 1



Kennedy Library, home of the Hemingway Collection, Boston
Kennedy Library, home of the Hemingway Collection, Boston

I was in Boston for a few days and took the opportunity to visit the Hemingway collection at the JFK Library and Museum. It’s about 20 minutes depending on traffic from downtown in a cab but shuttle buses travel out there more inexpensively as well. It is right on the water and very modern as you can see.

The present exhibit at the Hemingway Collection is entitled Hemingway Between the Wars, which covers much if not most of his career. The Old Man and the Sea, The Dangerous Summer, A Moveable Feast, among others came after World War II, (some posthumously. Hem died in 1961 and A Moveable Feast came out in 1964, edited primarily by Hemingway’s surviving wife, Mary. Garden of Eden  was also posthumously published.) but The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many of the more famous short stories, i.e. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Green Hills of Africa, all were done between the wars.

Green hills of Africa
Green hills of Africa

Although Hemingway had his first great romance (with Agnes Von Kurowsky, his attending nurse after Hemingway was injured) during the war–not between the wars, the famous photo of her and Hemingway was in the exhibit. While I knew well that F. Scott Fitzgerald had done some serious editing on The Sun Also Rises and cut out the beginning and told Hemingway to start at a different place—and the rest is history—they had the actual letter Fitzgerald wrote to Hemingway expressing his disappointment at the beginning and making his suggestion to cut in strong terms. Uncharacteristically and probably because he was young and not yet confident, Hemingway did not resist and took Fitzgerald’s advice, much to the improvement of the book.

 1918 Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky and American Red Cross volunteer Ernest Hemingway, Milan, Italy. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
1918 Nurse Agnes von Kurowsky and American Red Cross volunteer Ernest Hemingway, Milan, Italy. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Hem and Scott
Hem and Scott


There also was a list of titles that Hemingway considered for The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (1936). For those of you not familiar with this story, it is set in Africa and was published in September 1936 in Cosmopolitan Magazine concurrently with The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story was eventually adapted to the screen as “The Macomber Affair” (1947).

The story deals with a dysfunctional marriage between Francis and Margot who are on a big game safari in Africa with a professional hunter Robert Wilson. On his first time out, Francis had panicked when a wounded lion charged him, which humiliated him in front of his wife who took far too much pleasure in mocking him about his act of cowardice. It is suggested that she sleeps with Robert Wilson. The next day the party hunt buffalo. Two are killed and one is wounded and retreats. It’s generally bad form, not to mention cruel all around, to leave a wounded animal as it is, and Francis and Wilson proceed to track him so that they can put him out of his misery. When they find the buffalo, it charges Francis Macomber. He stands his ground and fires, but his shots are too high. At the last second Macomber kills the buffalo with his last bullet and Margot fires a shot from her gun, which hits Macomber in the skull and kills him. Good times!


(Sorry, as a divorce lawyer I sometimes have a dark sense of humor on relationships.) Anyway, at the exhibit, there is a list of some of the alternate titles that Hemingway considered such as Marriage is a Dangerous Game, A Marriage has Terminated, The Cult of Violence, Marriage as a Bond.


HAPPY On the Sea

Fitzgerald's advice typed up so we can read it easily. Actual handwritten letter was in the display.















Reading Hemingway

Hem's Dining room
Hem’s Dining room

As I noted in an earlier post,  I  had been reading more about Hemingway, than reading Hemingway. I reread A Farewell to Arms and loved it more than on any previous reading. I reread Across the River and Into the Trees and saw more in it than on original reading but still did not really “get” it. I liked the Colonel but didn’t get the attraction to Renata or what was special about her. Still I enjoyed it. I read several of the most prominent short stories and relistened to For Whom the Bell Tolls on Audio tape. It has been my favorite and remains so.

For whom the bell tolls, Polish cover, GRIM REAPER
For whom the bell tolls, Polish cover, GRIM REAPER

I also gave thought to why I like Hemingway so much. Is it him or his writing? As a person, he was wonderful and awful. However, aren’t all of our heroes that mixed bag? John Kennedy? Churchill? Roosevelt?  Mother Teresa and Gandhi seem to be a few of those who are not assailable on some level for bad behavior. For me, the good and the noble outweigh the bad. I also wondered if we give more latitude to the artistic sort or the heroic person and allow that they may be more finely tuned than the rest of us. Or is that giving them a pass that is undeserved and unfair? I don’t know. I don’t think they get a license to be mean and kick the dog and shove aside little old ladies and men in a line waiting for the bus, but if they do more damage to themselves and behave badly in a restaurant in New York or Paris, or drink too much to stop the racing mind or to relieve stress, do we give them a little extra space or is that uncalled for?


Not sure. I just know that I wish Hem who would have been 115 (HA!) on July 21 this year had not died so soon but he went on his terms. I think we all can relate to that and hope to be able to do the same.

Last several years
Last several years

On his own terms
On his own terms

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