British conductor Sir Edward Downes died Friday, with his wife, in a Swiss clinic for assisted suicides. Downes was best known for conducting both the Royal Opera and the BBC Philharmonic — the latter for almost 50 years. He was also the first to conduct a performance at the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
Downes was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. He was born in Birmingham in 1924, and studied at the Royal College of Music under the acclaimed conductor Hermann Scherchen.
Downes and his wife ended their lives together at a moment when Lady Joan Downes — who suffered from terminal cancer — was told she had only weeks to live, according to their son. A former ballet dancer, Lady Joan Downes spent her later years devoting herself to her husband's career. Downes was not ill himself, but he'd told family members that his hearing, eyesight and ability to walk had deteriorated to a point where he had had enough.
The couple's son and daughter released a statement noting that their parents, after 54 happy years together, "decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems."
The two died July 10 at a clinic in Zurich run by the assisted-suicide group Dignitas. They died in the company of their two adult children, who said in the statement that their parents' deaths were peaceful. Edward Downes was 85; Lady Joan Downes was 74.