After 50 Years, Remembering Hemingway's Farewell In January 1961, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist told his wife that he could no longer write a single good sentence. And Ernest Hemingway would only settle for great ones. He was 61 years old when he shot and killed himself, 50 years ago, on July 2, 1961.

After 50 Years, Remembering Hemingway's Farewell

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

COREY STOLL: (as Ernest Hemingway) In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.

SIMON: Many wondered how could a man who had defined courage as grace under pressure take his own life? Over the past 50 years, the reasons may seem less mysterious. Hemingway's father had shot himself in the head with a Civil War pistol, and suicides often follow a family line. Hemingway drank too much for too long, and couldn't stop. He boxed, brawled, and otherwise battered his brain in car, motorbike and airplane accidents. He suffered from headaches, sleeplessness, slurred speech, and depression. He began to hear voices and see things, and told his wife Mary, in January 1961 that he could no longer write a single good sentence. And Ernest Hemingway would only settle for great ones.

STOLL: (Reading) Why did he kill himself, Daddy? I don't know, Nick. He couldn't stand things, I guess. Is dying hard, Daddy? No, I think it is pretty easy, Nick. It all depends. They were seated in the boat. The sun was coming up over the hills. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning. In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.

SIMON: The words of Ernest Hemingway, as read by Corey Stoll. Ernest Hemingway died by his own hand, 50 years ago today.

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