Who were the Most Famous Suicides of the 20th Century?

In the currently running Thread about young Frances Cobain, it is suggested by Hippy Hollow that Kurt Cobain’s suicide “might have been the most famous of a generation”.

Myself being of Kurt Cobain’s generation, it is certainly the most famous suicide of my own personal consciousness. Got me wondering about where Cobain would fit in a list of most famous suicides of the 20th Century and it struck me that I can name very very few “famous suicides” off the top of my head.

Without any research I thought only of Ernest Hemingway, George Reeves (who may not have been a suicide), Budd Dwyer (whose fame really is because of his suicide on live T.V., and had I not grown up in Pennsylvania thus having clear memories of all the news coverage I probably would not be able to name him today) and David Strickland, though I had to research Strickland’s name knowing him only as “the actor from Suddenly Susan who committed suicide”. I was “pretty sure” that Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Freddie Prinze were suicides but I had to actually look them up to confirm.

So, in terms of “famousness” I was only able to come up with seven (besides Cobain) off the top of my head. Looking at Wiki’s list of suicides I’m not really struck too much by the “famousness” of any of the suicides listed (fame of the person yes, but fame of the suicide not as much).

What say Dopers?
Who were the most famous suicides of the 20th Century?

Marilyn Monroe? The difficulty is the way so many suicides are never demonstrable as such, or were deliberately kept a private affair as much as possible.

Marilyn Monroe?


“Next stop Hell, This is an Express train to Hell. Doors open underneath you at Hell.”

The Columbine Shooters?

Well Hitler’s fame far outweighs the fame of his suicide, but the suicide itself is pretty famous. Does that count? It might fall into your category of “fame of the person yes, but fame of the suicide not as much”…

I’d say that Sylvia Plath’s suicide is a lot more famous than the OP gives credit to.

Certainly didn’t mean to diss the “fame”, just presenting its prominence in my own personal recollection. And I certainly own up to generational bias, as I was only born 12 years after her death.

Ian Curtis is defintely up there…

I was actually about to post something related to this. Other than Hitler, which heads of state have commited sucide in the 20th Century ?

Alan Turing’s suicide is well known to a lot of the internet generation, a particularly tragic event given his brilliance, homosexuality literally repressed by society etc.

Wallace Carruthers is probably not a widely known suicide, but would be known to the same science-savvy types who know about Turing. They called him the great syntheticist…

The mass suicides at Jonestown

My favorite one-novel novelist John Kennedy Toole for nitpickers, I count Neon Bible as a novella

In addition to Hitler mentioned above, many others from his court: Göring (cyanide in prison), Himmler (cyanide when captured), Josef & Magda Goebbels (he is believed to have shot her [at her request] and then himself; she had poisoned her 6 youngest children a few hours before]), Robert Ley (hanged himself in his cell), Eva Braun Hitler (mixed pop rocks and Pepsi), Rudolph Hess (hanged himself in his 90s- many believe it was murder) and many others.

Sigmund Freud (assisted suicide due to pain)

The kamikaze pilots of World War II (and IIRC several of the Japanese high command committed suicide at the end of the war)

Not particularly famous but, well known:

Brian Keith, Richard Farnsworth, Ona Munson (bka Belle Watling)- all committed suicide due to pain from terminal illness)

Speaking of Virginia Woolf, have you seen The Hours? She’s only 1/3 of the movie, but her suicide is an important plot point.

The actor George Sanders, who left a note reading “I am bored. I feel like I have lived long enough.”

Most likely, Hemmingway’s granddaughter, Margaux Hemmingway.

The 9/11 hijackers.

Although I recall a tape where Osama casually mentioned that only the pilots knew the exact nature of the mission.

I came in to this thread to say Michael Hutchence of INXS but as I looked at the wiki list it said disputed…
What’s the dispute? The wiki entry on Hutchence himself says the dispute is that it was not suicide but accidental hanging.

Ummmm… isnt that still suicide? or would it be considered… self negligent manslaughter?

Granted, not a celebrity for the general public, but Wally Wood, one of the all-time greatest comic book artists checked out early.

As GorillaMan says, overdose suicides are very hard to tell. Arguably Jim Morrison could be on this list.

Should we consider Heath Ledger as the biggest name of this centurt?

If I recall correctly, the other possibility was auto-erotic asphyxiation.
Yukio Mishima has to get extra points for specularity.

Shite! This is exactly who I wanted to mention. This certainly takes the award for ‘most conceited’ suicide, basically implying in his suicide note that the world was not good enough for him.

Well how about the case of Lupe Velez? Definitely a suicide, but there is an classic urban legend saying that the pills she swallowed made her sick and caused her to feel naseous, and therefore rush to the bathroom. She supposedly fainted while vomiting and was found with her head in the toilet.

(Whether that’s true or not, it certainly has ensured that her suicide was a memorable one.)

Even perhaps Jimi Hendrix.

Good call.

I was 16 when Cobain did it, so I guess that’s the biggest of “my generation”. But I felt more of a loss from Hunter Thompson’s. Although I guess I have to surrender my claim to him to some other generation.

In a Family Feud-type survey: “Name a famous person who killed themselves in the 20th century,” I would think the top three would be Hitler, Hemingway and Cobain.