Death of Sigmund Freud

A heavy cigar smoker, Freud smoked 20 cigars a day despite health warnings from colleagues.

Because of his frequent references to phallic symbolism, colleagues challenged Freud on the "phallic" shape of the cigar. Freud is supposed to have replied "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Initially concealing a cancerous growth in his mouth in 1923, Freud was eventually diagnosed with an oral cancer consisting of malignant squamous cell carcinoma. Despite over 30 surgeries, and complications ranging from intense pain to insects infesting dead skin cells around the cancer, Freud smoked cigars until his life ended in a morphine-induced coma to relieve the pain. In September 1939, he prevailed on his doctor and friend Max Schur to assist him in suicide. After reading Balzac's La Peau de chagrin in a single sitting, he said, "Schur, you remember our 'contract' not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore." When Schur said yes he remembered, Freud said, "I thank you." and then "Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it's right, then make an end of it." Schur administered three doses of morphine over many hours that resulted in Freud's death on 23 September 1939.

When Nazis invaded Austria, Freud was permitted to move to London after paying a large ransom. He died of throat cancer three weeks after the outbreak of WW II in 1939. His death on September 23, 1939 was eased by euthanasia - Freud asked his physician to give him a lethal dose of morphine.

In 1923, he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw, a result of years of cigar smoking. He was 67. He would have 30 operations over the next 16 years to treat the progressive disease. Meanwhile, a political cancer was growing in Europe. By 1933, the Nazi party had risen to power in Germany. They burned books by Freud, among others. They took over Austria in 1938. Freud's passport was confiscated, but his fame and the influence of foreigners persuaded the occupying forces to let him go, and he and his wife fled to England. He died there in September, 1939.

If so, the theory of the death instinct must have been especially helpful to Freud after the spring of 1923. On April 25 of that year, he wrote Jones: "I detected two months ago a leucoplastic growth on my jaw and palate which I had removed on the 20th. I was assured of the benignity of the matter. My own diagnosis had been epithelioma"—or cancer. He was right. In all, there were to be 33 operations on his mouth, most done with anesthetics that did not entirely eliminate pain; in one case, the usually stoic Freud interrupted his surgeon, Hans Pichler, with the words, "I cannot take any more."