Child illness behind Bertolt Brecht's sudden death

Fri Nov 12, 2010 12:45pm EST
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By Adam Jourdan

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A professor at Manchester University in Britain says he has uncovered the truth behind the death of German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Professor Stephen Parker, an expert on modern German literature, said the playwright died from an undiagnosed rheumatic fever which attacked his heart and motorneural system, eventually leading to a fatal heart failure in 1956.

Previously it was thought his death in 1956 aged 58 had been caused by a heart attack.

Researching for a biography on Brecht, best known for works such as "Mother Courage" and "The Threepenny Opera," Parker came across an obscure note about the author's childhood diagnosis with an enlarged heart, one symptom of rheumatic fever.

He decided to look into the playwright's medical history, uncovering archival sources including an x-ray report from 1951.

At the time of Brecht's childhood, rheumatic fever was common, but often left undiagnosed.

Parker said the playwright's symptoms such as increased heart size, erratic movements of the limbs and facial grimace and chronic sore throats followed by cardiac and motorneural problems, were consistent with a modern diagnosis of the condition.

"When he was young no one could get near the diagnosis," Parker, 55, told Reuters. "Brecht was labeled as a nervous child with a 'dicky' heart, and doctors thought he was a hypochondriac."   Continued...