Dying at the Ritz – Can You Name History’s 3 Most Famous Hotel Deaths?

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Sat, February 23rd, 2013

Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious, of the 1970s British punk band, the Sex Pistols, had a tumultuous and drug-addicted two year relationship that ended in Spungen’s murder in Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel, in New York City, on October 12, 1978.

Earlier this week, guests in a Los Angeles hotel got horrifying news: there was a corpse rotting in the rooftop water tank.

“The water did have a funny taste,” one British guest, who had been drinking the water for eight days, told CNN. “We thought it was just the way it was here.”

The body was found to be that of a 21 year old Canadian tourist, authorities are still investigating the cause of death.

The story got me thinking about some of histories more famous hotel deaths…

Nancy Spungen – Spungen was the girlfriend of Sid Vicious, bass guitarist of the popular 1970s British punk band, the Sex Pistols. The two had a debauchery-filled drug-addicted two year relationship that ended in Spungen’s murder in Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel, in New York City, on October 12, 1978. Spungen grew up in Philadelphia, a moody child who was kicked out of school at age 11 and allegedly tried to kill her babysitter with scissors. She attended college in Colorado but was expelled and moved to New York City, where she worked as a stripper. In 1976 she moved to London and took up with Vicious. The pair became addicted to heroin.

In January 1978, the couple moved to New York City and took a spot in the Chelsea Hotel. They sank deeper into drugs, their hotel room became a revolving door of dealers. On October 12, Spungen’s body was found under the sink in the bathroom. She had suffered a single fatal stab wound to the abdomen, from a knife that was reportedly owned by Vicious. He was charged with second degree murder but died of a heroin overdose before the trial could take place. Spungen was buried in her hometown of Philadelphia. There was some speculation that drug dealers and not Vicious killed Spungen. The book, “Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk” attributes the murder to a stand-up comic named Rockets Redglare, who had delivered 40 capsules of hydromorphene to the hotel room the night of Spungen’s death. The 1986 film “Sid and Nancy” suggested Spungen’s death was part of a botched suicide pact.

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Oscar Wilde – Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish writer and poet was born in 1854 to Dublin intellectuals. The young Wilde spoke fluent German and French and studied classic literature at Oxford. After university he moved to London where he published a book of poems and later worked as a journalist. He penned numerous essays, the highly-acclaimed novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and a series of tremendously successful plays. Wilde dressed flamboyantly and was witty and a brilliant conversationalist. In 1895, he was convicted of homosexual offences and sentenced to two years hard labor in prison. His health declined sharply. At one point, during a service in the prison chapel, he collapsed from illness and hunger. His right ear drum was ruptured in the fall.

Wilde was released from prison in 1897 but suffered morally and physically. By 1900 he had developed cerebral meningitis, a condition thought to have stemmed from an infection in his right ear, caused by his fall in prison. He spent his last days lying in bed at a tiny Paris hotel known simply as L’Hotel, on a quiet street on the edge of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. Staring at the ugly wallpaper Wilde uttered his famous last words: “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.” On November 30 1900, Wilde died. Nowadays, the hotel is a 200 Euro a night spot known as the Hotel d’Alsace. “You can bet they’ve updated the wallpaper,” reads information on the website, Cool Stuff in Paris.

Other Great Reads: A comprehensive guide to the etiquette of death

Martin Luther King Jr. – On March 29, 1968 King went to Memphis to support black sanitary public works employees, who had been on strike for several weeks, fighting for higher wages and better treatment. His flight to Memphis was delayed because of a bomb threat against his plane. In general, there was a growing concern for King’s safety. He addressed this on April 3, at Mason Temple, in his famous and eerily prophetic I’ve been to the mountaintop speech. “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” said King. “But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

King was staying in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, just six blocks from the Mississippi River in Memphis. It was a motel King had stayed at on numerous occasions in the past. Around 6pm, on April 4, 1968, as King stood on the motel’s second floor balcony, James Early Ray, a career criminal and known racist, shot him in the face. King was pronounced dead later that evening at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He was 39. Riots erupted across the country. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning. The Lorraine Motel is now the National Civil Rights Museum, which chronicles the civil rights movement from the year 1619 through 2000.

2 thoughts on “Dying at the Ritz – Can You Name History’s 3 Most Famous Hotel Deaths?”

  1. Meryal Gilbird

    I am terrified to know about Spungen’s death as that was really heartening. The funeral announcements sydney was done on the death of my favorite pop star few days back had let me know about the incident and had left me very disturbed.

  2. Terry

    I thought Oscar Wilde died in a Paris hotel, but I didn’t want to check (I’m reading a collection of his essays, coincidentally – big surprise), John Belushi, Dorothy Parker (she was living at the Algonquin at the end of her life and consumed a fatal amount of alcohol – Karen loaned me her autobiography), Bobby Kennedy, (Annette thinks James Joyce and Marylyn), Jim Morrison, probably many French writers, painters, intellectuals.

    On another note, I have a topic: famous deaths actually due to boredom?

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