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Appleton, W.S. (1975). The Blame of Dying Young. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(4):377-381.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(4):377-381

Brief Communications

The Blame of Dying Young

William S. Appleton, M.D.

He whom the gods love dies young


I do not know how exactly to define an early death, but surely it is one that occurs before age forty-five or fifty. No matter what number is chosen, everyone would agree that Carole Lombard, Mozart, and George Gershwin died young. In the world I grew up in we pitied Lombard — beautiful, talented, and the passive victim of a plane crash -and wondered what Mozart would have written had illness not killed him. But even in Gershwin's time our attitudes had begun to change. What caused his death was not inoperable cancer of the brain, but seemingly incompetent physicians and a psychoanalyst who allegedly ignored the physical cause of constant headache. While Gershwin's early death was never blamed on him, faultfinding had begun to appear.

In the past those who died young were pitied. Their wives and children were helped, and everyone felt sorry for them. Perhaps this represented a holdover from earlier times when medicine was not advanced and early death could not be prevented. The victims were seen as victims and could not be blamed. Their deaths were regarded with fear or perhaps with suspicion. For example, Mozart's rapid decline and demise lead people to whisper that he had been poisoned, and it was not until this century that rheumatic heart disease was identified as the most likely cause of his death. When a cause was suggested in the past it was more likely to be foul play, the gods, or fate than something self-induced.

As medicine became more advanced and reached its present state of emphasis on prevention, those unlucky enough to die young were ironically twice damned.

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