Make your own free website on


that Eugene O'Neill, the only native-born American playwright awarded a Nobel prize for literature and the winner of four Pulitzer prizes, died at the age of 65 from complications of ataxia?

During his lifetime he believed he had Parkinson's disease, which was diagnosed in 1941 (twelve years before his death). During the last year of his life, choking became a severe problem for O'Neill, and he grew sullen and reclusive. Born in a New York hotel room, he lived his last years in Boston's Shelton Hotel. His last words were "I knew it! I knew it! Born in a god damn hotel room, and dying in a hotel room!"

After O'Neill's death in 1953, his wife Carlotta said she wanted an autopsy performed "to know what in the name of God was the matter with this man I had nursed so long." The pathological findings revealed no evidence of Parkinson's disease (nor, as has often been presumed, of alcohol-related disease). Rather, O'Neill had suffered from an idiopathic form of "cerebellar cortical atrophy" -- spinocerebellar ataxia, in other words.

At his widow's request, the autopsy findings were kept private; but recently the Massachusetts General Hospital was given permission by his grandchildren to permit public release (all three of O'Neill's children have died, his sons by suicide and his daughter Oona (Charlie Chaplin's fourth wife) of cancer).

Full details can be found in the April 13, 2000 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine. "I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense, sickness is a place, more < Southern U.S. novelist Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), who died of life-long lupus erythematosus (as did her father)

"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy just to be normal."

Albert Camus