Final Days of United States Author O. Henry

About the final days of United States author O. Henry, biography and history.

FINAL DAYS

O. HENRY (WILLIAM SYDNEY PORTER), U.S. author

Died: New York Polyclinic Hospital, New York City, June 5, 1910, 7:06 A.M.

Back in his room at the Caledonia Hotel in New York City after a "rest cure" winter in Asheville, N.C.--where he reunited briefly with his second wife, Sara, and quit drinking--a pale and haggard Porter couldn't get started on his proposed play The World and the Door. He had been unproductive for months, scraping by on small advances from publishers for promised material that, uncharacteristically, he was unable to deliver. "New York doesn't seem to agree with me as it used to," he remarked. In wretched shape owing to years of alcoholism and neglect of a diabetic condition. O. Henry wrote to a friend on Apr. 15: "I thought I was much better and came back to New York about a month ago and have been in bed most of the time. . . . There was too much scenery and fresh air [in North Carolina]. What I need is a steam-heated flat with no ventilation or exercise." He stayed in his room, worked painfully and sporadically on his last short story ("The Snow Man"), and solitarily drank whiskey to keep going. On June 3, three months before his 48th birthday, the author collapsed and was taken (by taxi, at his insistence) to the Polyclinic Hospital. Despite spasms of pain, he also insisted on walking in himself and emptied his change pocket at the reception desk. "I've heard of people being worth thirty cents," he said, "and here I am going to die and only worth twenty-three cents." Maintaining his favorite "front" as a castaway from Broadway's underground, he signed himself in as "Will S. Parker" (his real identity wasn't disclosed to hospital personnel until after his death). Dr. Charles R. Hancock found advanced diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and a greatly enlarged heart. Porter grew steadily weaker. As a nurse dimmed the lights at midnight on June 4, he murmured, "Turn up the lights. I don't want to go home in the dark" (paraphrasing a popular song of 1907). He survived the night, and the next morning sunlight blazed into the room when he spoke his last words: "Send for Mr. Hall" [Gilman Hall, one of his editors]. "He was perfectly conscious until within two minutes of his death," reported Dr. Hancock, "and knew that the end was approaching. . . . Nothing appeared to worry him at the last." Beneath his bed at the Caledonia nine empty whiskey bottles were found.

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