Death Becomes Them
Press & Media
by Peter Joseph
Oct 1st, 2009
Not all books come with a body bag, but that was the favor given out at the book party for Alix Strauss’ marvelously morbid Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious. The bags held macabre gifts like Funeral Home Perfume and Waterproof Mascara, which aren’t exactly to my taste, but they also included Vincent Van Gogh vodka and Hemingway Daiquiri rum, which definitely are. The liquor didn’t stop flowing there: Strauss asked mixologist Eben Klemm to invent signature cocktails for a few of the book’s exquisite corpses, making it the best literary celebration of death since Finnegans Wake.
Start with the Diane Arbus cocktail: Michael Collins whiskey mixed with Squash and Balsamic. (Somewhere Michael Collins is wondering why his whiskey is being served in honor of another one of the deceased.) Whiskey, squash, and balsamic may sound like a strange mixture but I can assure you it’s no stranger than the people who posed for her.
As Alix Strauss puts it: “Midgets, circus freaks, nudists, retarded children, giants, twins, and transvestites. Human oddities. These were the subjects and the passions behind the controversial black-and-white photographs that made Diane Arbus famous.” Remember, Arbus is the only person to have a fictional biopic made about her romancing a man with werewolf syndrome. And no matter how you usually take your balsamic, the cocktail certainly goes down smoother than this:
For something more soothing, switch to the Mark Rothko cocktail: Tommy Bahama Gold Rum, Averna and beet juice – “for the bloodshed,” as the menu puts it, referring to his elaborate death by slitting his arms (wrists were too conventional, perhaps). I’ve never been a big fan of Rothko’s paintings, but I wouldn’t mind contemplating a roomful of them with a glassful of this in hand. There’s always room for a new perspective. Consider, for instance, that on the day of Rothko’s suicide his doctor had given him a clean bill of health. But the doctor was drastically mistaken – the artist had only a year to live. If he’d been told about this death sentence, would Rothko have decided to wait and let nature take its course?
We could ask a similar question to any of the celebrities in Death Becomes Them. What’s the hurry? There are books to be read, blogs to be written, and drinks to be drunk. Not all cocktails are named for someone who has died. “Colonel” Joe Rickey drank his name into history. John Collins enjoyed more than a few of his namesake libation (though he probably didn’t call it that). Why not stick around to witness your honorary drink’s creation? That’s my plan. If only to be sure that there will be neither squash nor balsamic in it.
by Ron Hogan
Sept 16th, 2009
Monday night, the West Village’s 675 Bar was packed with people ready to celebrate the publication of Alix Strauss’s Death Becomes Them, a consideration of several celebrity suicides that works at the underlying motivations behind the act. The basement bar’s nooks were redecorated to pay tribute to many of the book’s subjects—here, Strauss puts the finishing touches on the Kurt Cobain room—and signature drinks like the Virginia Woolf (vodka and Alize Bleu, with a Swedish fish dropped in) and the Dorothy Dandridge (whiskey, mint, and cassis) flowed freely. A few weeks earlier, we’d met up with Strauss, and we asked if this book’s origins stemmed from a similar impulse to those of her first book, the novel-in-stories The Joy of Funerals. “It’s about the way that we come together, our need for connection, our need to understand after death,” she agreed. “When there’s a suicide, there are all these unanswered questions; I think we’re desperate to be our own detectives and to understand more. So it felt like a natural progression to me.”
Was it a depressing topic to live with for nine months, even with four research assistants doing a lot of the grunt work? “A lot of people said I should definitely go out and have fun after five or six or twelve hours of suicide readings,” Strauss recalled. “I actually connected with these people in a very weird way, though. Yes, it was depressing, yes, it was upsetting, but I felt so connected to them, because I was doing so much deep research, that it didn’t affect me in a sad way as much as it was very intensified. The need to go out was more about having a chance to unwind as opposed to saying this subject was so depressing I was going to slit my own throat. Which would probably help book sales,” she chuckled softly.
The night of the party, however, the mood was nothing but upbeat. We slipped out about halfway through, but not before Strauss rallied the crowd into a celebrity suicide trivia contest—as another partygoer recounted one of the highlights, when Strauss asked how one person’s body was found, somebody in the room shouted back, “Dead!”
The Lost Girls
Sept 16th, 2009
Last night, The Lost Girls were invited to attend the launch of a very, very peculiar book at 675 Bar in the Meatpacking District. The title being celebrated? Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious, by famed author Alix Strauss.
The fellow journos at the event included Allen Salkin of the the New York Times and Daily Candy’s Dany Levy, who tossed back celeb-themed cocktails (like The Virginia Woolf). We wandered the themed-rooms which featured details of select notable suicides including that of Kurt Cobain, Hunter S Thompson and Sigmund Freud. In bad taste? Maybe. Fun and weird and off the wall? Absolutely.
Here’s a little blurb on the book, just in case you’re dying to have a read:
Death Becomes Them is an eye-opening and intimate portrait of the lonely, sad and nightmarish lives these famous folks led. Along with being an historic overview of suicide, Strauss’ book delves into the deaths of our most influential cultural icons: Sylvia Plath, Adolf Hitler, Diane Arbus, Sigmund Freud, Vincent van Gogh, Abbie Hoffman, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Cobain, Spalding Gray, and Anne Sexton, among others. The deaths are as diverse as the person that killed themselves. Some are tragic—Dorothy Dandridge was found naked on her bathroom floor, a handful of anti-depressants swimming in her system. Others are bizarre—Hunter S. Thompson shot himself while on the phone with his wife in an eerie, copycat tribute to his hero, Ernest Hemingway who killed himself in a similar way forty-four years earlier.
The Roaring 20s
by Kayleigh George
Sept 22nd, 2009
Here in New York publishers are celebrating a hectic season of Fall releases. With that in mind, I’ve taken to calling September “The Month of the Book Party.” One of the highlights was last week’s launch party for Death Becomes Them (9780061728563) by Alix Strauss. 675 Hudson, a cave-like space in the Meatpacking District, was arrayed with morbidly fun touches, from themed playlists (lots of Elliott Smith and Kurt Cobain) to drinks like the ‘Virginia Woolf,’ which was garnished with a swedish fish to symbolize her drowning. It was definitely an event to remember.
Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious delivers a fond farewell to some of the most important figures of our society, from Hunter S. Thompson to Diane Arbus. I found the details of the suicides fascinating, especially the chapter on Anne Sexton, one of my all-time favorite poets, who drank vodka and decked herself in her mother’s fur before turning the car’s ignition on. Death Becomes Them is an important look at the artists, writers, actors, and political figures of our day, as well as the way our final end can imitate the way in which we lived.
Sept 15th, 2009
We headed downtown last night to mix and mingle at a party for the new book Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious by pop culture journalist (and Transracial bud) Alix Strauss.
The book explores and explains the back-stories behind 20 famous folks who ended their lives via their own hands. Iconic characters such s Kurt Cobain, Anne Sexton, Vincent van Gogh, Abbie Hoffman and others.
Each chapter looks at the how and the why such brilliant minds could no longer contend with society — and is packed with endless, unusual details about their final days, and how their deaths were met by the culture at large.
Some of the people covered — Diane Arbus, Sylvia Plath, Adolph Hitler, Michael Hutchence — are already well-known for both their lives, and how they chose to end them.
Others — including actor Peg Entwistle and singers Ian Curtis (of Joy Division) and Elliott Smith — are less famous, but their stories and losses are equally gripping and tragic.
Interestingly, Strauss was quite prescient in including a chapter on Alan Turing, the Gay British mathematician and World War II hero who killed himself in 1954 following years of state-led persecution over his homosexuality — which even included chemical castration!
In August, an on-line petition was launched to demand an official apology to Turing — and earlier this month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a Downing Street-backed “I’m sorry” to Turing on behalf of the United Kingdom.
In [a] nifty piece from today on Time.com, Strauss talks about Turing’s legacy and his enduring importance in both her book and the larger culture:
Turing was clearly someone who was way ahead of his time and deeply misunderstood by the society in which he lived, Strauss says. His honesty about his life and loves would be taken for granted today, but more than 50 years ago it led directly to his death. Suicide is still a very serious problem for gays and lesbians, and Brown’s apology could certainly help people struggling today.
Sept 21st, 2009
Last week, I attended the launch party for Alix Strauss’ new book: Death Becomes Them (amazing book about the famous and how they died). I always enjoy a good book party. While I groan about going the hour before, I have always left with a good feeling. Who knows why.
May I recommend, going forward, that all parties have some sort of “goodie bag” – and please (and this goes for us, too) pack the bag with cool stuff.
For inside my Death Becomes Them goodie bag, were the following items:
Funeral Home Perfume, Tin Coffin with Skeleton Mints, John Doe: Death By Chocolate, Sigmund Freud Watermelon Pop, Instant Happy Childhood Memories Spray, Vincent Van Gogh Vodka, Hemingway Daiquiri, Waterproof Mascara, Tarte’s Monday Lipstick, Thank You Rock from Virginia Woolf.
The Goodie Bag was sponsored by; Oriental Trading Company, Demeter Fragrance, Ramy, Tarte, Bloomsberry, Vincent Van Gogh Vodka, Sidney Frank Importing Comp. and Philosophy for the “Hope in a Jar” basket and “Party Girl” raffle prizes.
So, well done, Alix Strauss.
Crain's New York Business
by Valerie Block
Aug 23rd, 2009
A book on suicides will soon get a cheerful kickoff. Author Alix Strauss is throwing a themed party next month at 675 Hudson, a belowground event space, which will pay tribute to the subjects of Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious.
A Sigmund Freud impersonator will dispense analysis, while the Kurt Cobain room will show the Nirvana front man in his MTV Unplugged appearance. Guests will receive a “goodie body bag” with an Ernest Hemingway daiquiri recipe and Vincent van Gogh Vodka.
“We're trying to make this fun and imaginative without being disrespectful,” says Ms. Strauss, whose last book was a short-fiction collection called The Joy of Funerals.
Why dwell on a maudlin subject? “These are our John F. Kennedy moments. We'll always remember where we were when we [heard] that Kurt Cobain shot himself,” Ms. Strauss says. Death Becomes Them will be published in September by HarperCollins.
Author ponders death — at Green-Wood Cemetery
by Will Yakowicz
Some things belong together: A rock show at the Bell House, an opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and, of course, morbidly depressing thoughts at Green-Wood Cemetery.
So we’re all in luck that death-obsessed author Alix Strauss — whose new book about the suicides of 20 famous people has been called “’Sex and the City’ meets ‘Six Feet Under’” — will be reading at Brooklyn’s best boneyard on Oct. 25.
The book “Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious,” captures the sad ends of famous self-slayers Virginia Woolf, Sid Vicious, Hunter Thompson, Kurt Cobain, Vincent van Gogh, and Spalding Gray. As such, the cemetery is “perfect,” Strauss said.
The book is witty, but Strauss is no suicide groupie. Rather, her pages act as a final goodbye to talented artists, even as she decodes their suicide notes, dives into the methodology of the deaths, and explores our own fixation with the morbid and suicidal.
“Suicide is such a solitary act and so final,” said Strauss, whose other books include “The Joy of Funerals,” a collection of short stories. “I was fascinated by the loneliness.”
Though she was fascinated by her subjects’ deaths, Strauss says she doesn’t plan on taking her own life. That said, she does hope to die on her own terms.
“I’m not scheduling,” she said, “but I’d love to be found naked surrounded by money.”