Celebrity: Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde
Where he died: Room 16, Hôtel d’Alsace, Paris
Story: At the height of his fame, Wilde was arrested for what he called “Uranian love.” Victorian England had a less literary view of homosexuality: Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor. The years in prison destroyed his health and reputation, and forced him into bankruptcy, but he never lost his fabled wit. At age 46, as he lay dying of cerebral meningitis in his Paris hotel room, he raised a glass of champagne and gave his final toast: “I’m dying,” he said, “as I have lived, beyond my means.” It was true: Wilde left behind a very large—and unpaid—hotel bill.
Celebrity: Scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla
Where he died: Room 3327, Hotel New Yorker, New York City
Story: This pioneering inventor contributed as much to the development of electricity as Thomas Edison did. In 1934 Tesla, who became increasingly eccentric late in life, claimed to have perfected a particle-beam ray that could bring down enemy planes from 250 miles away or drop a million men dead in their tracks. His ideas were so far-fetched that the first Superman cartoon, in 1941, featured a mad scientist, based on Tesla, terrorizing New York City with his death ray. But was he mad? When Tesla died in the hotel suite he’d occupied for 10 years, the U.S. Alien Property Custodian office—the only agency authorized to seize “enemy assets” without a court order—hauled away truckloads of paper, furniture, and artifacts, and sealed them away. What became of his effects is unknown, but the FBI reportedly feared there might be a working death ray among them. (There wasn’t.)
Celebrity: Singer-songwriter Janis Joplin
Where she died: Room 105, Landmark Hotel, Los Angeles
Story: Joplin once said, “People like their blues singers miserable. They like their blues singers to die.” On the evening of October 3, after a long day in the recording studio, Joplin shot up her final fix of heroin, went down to the hotel lobby for change, bought some cigarettes, and returned to her room. She was found dead the next day, wedged against a bedside table with a cigarette in her hand.
Joplin had been finishing up the final songs for Pearl. The album was to include the song “Buried Alive in the Blues,” but it remained an instrumental. Joplin died before recording the vocal track.
Celebrity: Playwright Eugene O’Neill
Where he died: Suite 401, Shelton Hotel, Boston
Story: Because his father was a successful touring actor, O’Neill was born in a hotel and spent part of his childhood living in hotel rooms. He hated his early years and blamed his father’s touring for his mother’s morphine addiction. If nothing else, these hardships served him well as a playwright. O’Neill went on to garner Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for such works as Strange Interlude (1928) and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1941). But tragedy was never far away—he contracted a progressive nervous disorder that left him unable to write. He spent his final days in a hotel room overlooking the Charles River, grim, frustrated, and waiting for death. Among his final words: “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room—and g**damn it—died in a hotel room.”
Celebrity: Bass guitarist John Entwistle
Where he died: Room 658, Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas
Story: When the Who made it big, band members were finally able to quit their crappy day jobs and embrace the rock-star life. For Entwistle, that meant spending money—far more than he made. By 2002 the 57-year-old bassist owed a string of debts, including back taxes. “That 2002 tour was the last I ever intended to do with the band,” said guitarist Pete Townshend. “My mission was to make enough money for John so that he could get out of debt.” The night before the tour began, Entwistle snorted some cocaine and went to bed with a groupie. The next morning he was dead of a cocaine-induced heart attack. Entwistle’s estate—including his beloved guitar collection—had to be auctioned off to pay the tax man. As for the crappy day job Entwistle quit back in 1963: He worked for the Inland Revenue Service, England’s I.R.S.