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He loved being in the thick of the war – the tank advance through the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge – dodging bullets, watching men being shot to hell all around him.But it's hard to shake off the feeling that what he was doing wasn't bravery, but psychotic self-dramatisation.It took Mary Welsh Hemingway several months to admit that her husband's death was suicide; and it's taken nearly 50 years to piece together the reasons why this giant personality, this rumbustious man of action, this bullfighter, deep-sea fisherman, great white hunter, war hero, gunslinger and four-times-married, all-round tough guy, whom every red-blooded American male hero-worshipped, should do himself in. But eventually it took a psychiatrist from Houston, Texas, to hold up all the evidence to the light and announce his disturbing conclusions.The idealised life of Ernest Hemingway, the one the writer himself wanted the world to buy, was simple: he was the perfect man, the perfect synthesis of brain and brawn.At the liberation of Paris, he was found in a hotel with a small private army.
The story was splashed on the front page of all American newspapers. Successive biographers – AE Hochtner, Carlos Baker, KS Lynn, AJ Monnier, Anthony Burgess – have chewed over the available facts, his restless travelling, his many amours, the peaks and troughs of his writing career.The critic Max Eastman complained that his prose style had become the equivalent of "false hair on the chest".Unable to participate directly in killing bulls, Hemingway decamped to Mombasa where he could legitimately blaze away at lions and kudu.Fifty years ago, in the early hours of Sunday 2 July, 1961, Ernest Hemingway, America's most celebrated writer and a titan of 20th-century letters, awoke in his house in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, rose from his bed, taking care not to wake his wife Mary, unlocked the door of the storage room where he kept his firearms, and selected a double-barrelled shotgun with which he liked to shoot pigeons.He took it to the front of the house and, in the foyer, put the twin barrels against his forehead, reached down, pushed his thumb against the trigger and blew his brains out. Witnesses who saw the body remarked that he had chosen from his wardrobe a favourite dressing gown that he called his "emperor's robe".