Dylan Thomas Sketches a Caricature of a Drunken Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas Self-Portrait

Dylan Thomas’s drink­ing was leg­endary. Sto­ries of the debauched and disheveled Welsh poet­’s epic drink­ing binges have had a ten­den­cy to drown out seri­ous dis­cus­sion of his poet­ry.

It’s a leg­end that Thomas helped pro­mote, as this pen­cil sketch he made of him­self attests. The undat­ed self-car­i­ca­ture was pub­lished in Don­ald Fried­man’s 2007 book, The Writer’s Brush: Paint­ings, Draw­ings, and Sculp­ture by Writ­ers. It depicts a tee­ter­ing, gog­gle-eyed fig­ure with tum­bler in hand, hap­pi­ly sur­round­ed by bot­tles.

Thomas would some­times tell his friends he had cir­rho­sis of the liv­er, but his autop­sy even­tu­al­ly dis­proved this. As leg­end has it, the poet lit­er­al­ly drank him­self to death on his Amer­i­can tour in the fall of 1953, when he was 39 years old. In fact, it appears Thomas may have been a vic­tim of med­ical mal­prac­tice. He went to his doc­tor com­plain­ing of dif­fi­cul­ty breath­ing. The doc­tor was aware of the poet­’s rep­u­ta­tion as a drinker, and had been informed by Thomas’s com­pan­ion of his now-famous state­ment from the night before: “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record.”

So the doc­tor treat­ed Thomas for alco­holism and did­n’t dis­cov­er he was suf­fer­ing from pneu­mo­nia. He gave Thomas three injec­tions of mor­phine, which can slow res­pi­ra­tion. Thomas’s face turned blue and he went into a coma. He died four days lat­er. When Thomas’s friends inves­ti­gat­ed, they deter­mined he had like­ly con­sumed, at most, eight whiskies. That’s still a large amount, but the poet­’s exag­ger­a­tion appears to have led his doc­tor astray. In a sense, then, Dylan Thomas was killed not by his drink­ing, but by the leg­end of his drink­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dylan Thomas Recites ‘Do Not Go Gen­tle into That Good Night’ and Oth­er Poems

The Art of Sylvia Plath: Revis­it Her Sketch­es, Self-Por­traits, Draw­ings & Illus­trat­ed Let­ters

A Soft Self-Por­trait of Sal­vador Dali, Nar­rat­ed by the Great Orson Welles

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