originally published March 16, 2014
When that icy murk of depression sinks into the soul and plants its jagged spiky heels into one’s chest-flesh, thoughts of ending it all tend to squirt to the surface. It’s a dark reality that such notions dance a step or two through most brains at some point or another. Thankfully, for most of us that nastiest of acts makes merely a flitting appearance in our morbid fantasies. For some, it becomes a reality.
Suicide is always a tragedy, or at the very least the final chapter in a years-long tragedy for some weather-beaten soul. But suicide with style is the stuff of gaping gawkery. Not everyone tilts their weight off the Golden Gate or gulps down the business end of a firearm. Some folks have opted to roll the dice on a happier afterlife in strange and prose-worthy ways. Whatever had propelled them to such depths may be lost in history, but clearly they wanted to take their final bow in a way we’d remember.
So as a tribute to their creativity I’ve compiled some of the more macabre and inventive suicides from recent to ancient history. I recommend reading this one with a bottle of something oomphy at your side, and raising a toast to each. Don’t worry, unless you fill your glass too full you’ll still be able to walk afterward.
Haoui Montaug was a fixture in that hippest of New York scenes throughout the 80’s. He was a doorman at Studio 54, Hurrah, the Palladium and Danceteria. He was the barometer of Manhattan coolness, and he parlayed that into a touring cabaret revue that featured a young, pre-superstardom Madonna and a trio of local white Jewish rappers that would become the Beastie Boys. Montaug was the key to the party, so it was only fitting that a party would be his final earthly scene.
In June of 1991, Montaug was facing a non-negotiable death sentence as the AIDS virus battered his innards. He invited 20 of his closest friends to his Bowery loft apartment for a kick-ass shindig, at the end of which he would snarf a heap of Seconal and drift into the ether. It was a weird happening, but apparently a downright rockin’ party. Madonna couldn’t be there, but she hung out with the guests over the phone from L.A. The pills were ingested as planned, but they didn’t do the trick. Montaug awoke the next morning, his guests still keeping the fires of the party burning. Pissed off, he swallowed another big dose of pills and was dead within the hour. Gruesome mission accomplished.
You have probably never heard of Jan Potocki, unless you are unusually well-versed on Polish noblemen from the 17-1800’s. He was the first Polish passenger aboard a hot air balloon, and the renowned author of The Manuscript Found In Saragossa, an intriguing mix of the gothic, comic and erotic among 66 intertwined stories. He was a genuine celebrity in Poland in the early 19th century, and like many in the public eye, he had some serious demons poking at him from the inside.
Potocki retired to his estate in 1812, and three years later he had spiraled into a suicidal swirl. He opted for death by firearm. Nothing original about that, except the bullet that snuffed him out was made of silver. Specifically, a strawberry-shaped knob of a sugar bowl that had been given to him by his mother, which Potocki had painstakingly filed down into a workable bullet. Clearly he’d put a frightening amount of thought into his demise.
Polemon of Laodicea (and that’s Polemon, as much as my computer wants me to autocorrect that into Pokemon) was a second-century Greek sophist who employed philosophy and rhetoric to teach history and physiognomy (that’s the assessment of a person’s personality based on their external appearance). He was no doubt a brilliant man, yet he opted for what might be the least brilliant attempt at suicide, despite its success.
Polemon suffered from gout. I’ve never experienced gout, but from what I hear it’s excruciatingly painful and insufferably unpleasant. The pain was too much for Polemon to bear – he had to relieve his anguish the only way he knew how. His method? He ordered his servants to seal him in his family tomb. There, surrounded by the crusty remains of his loved ones, he wilted away from starvation or dehydration. With so many nearby cliffs, not to mention available weaponry and poisons, why someone would elect to be essentially buried alive as a means of self-destruction is beyond me.
Stretching even further into history we have the tale of Cato the Younger, a Roman politician known for his stunning oratory and his famous resistance to the Empire’s habitual corruption. His main rival was Julius Caesar. Cato felt Caesar was damning Rome with his corrupt triumvirate and exploiting the provinces with his powerful monopoly. Rome went through some messy political goings-on around this time, and Cato was a perpetual voice for the people and for accountability at the top.
In 46 BC, Cato watched Caesar claim full power from the Senate. Not wanting to live in a world run by his nemesis (or face the indignity of being pardoned by the guy), he decided to kill himself with his own sword. Unfortunately, he slipped. He sliced himself open, but didn’t puncture any of his internal organs. His son, his friends and his physician raced into the room upon hearing Cato’s cry of pain. The doctor stepped in to stitch him up, but Cato pushed him away, and proceeded to tear out his own innards, disemboweling himself and finishing the job by hand. That is some serious commitment.
The island of Pohnpei in Micronesia has a fascinating – if somewhat sketchy, believability-wise – history. The hero warrior Isokelekel may have been all about conquering and human sacrifice and stuff, but he is revered as the father of Pohnpei and a semi-mythical hero in their history. At some point in the 16th or 17th century (they aren’t too picky with dates in Micronesian history) he fought for the oppressed and reigned over his people with benevolence and strength.
But when he looked into a pool of water and observed his advanced years, Isokelekel decided he wanted to end his tenure on the planet. He scaled a young palm tree, bent it down until it was nearly touching the earth, then tied it to his penis. Then he let the tree go and his severed wang was lofted airborne. Hopefully its trajectory propelled it into the sea, though I can see one hell of a cocktail party story if it wound up hitting some farmer in the back of the head. Isokelekel bled to death from the wound, and notched what might be the most spectacularly weird suicide in history.
I suppose that’s one way to ensure that people will talk about you after you’re gone. One horrible, horrible way.