culture Famous Writers and Artists Who Were Terrible Humans  

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What makes a great artist or writer? Is it solely their great work that we should acknowledge? What if they were actually bad people - should that affect our criticism of their work and contributions to art or literature? Many people argue that we need the separate the bad person from the great artist, as the two are in distinct categories. But sometimes the bad nature of a person seeps into their work, influencing the overall narrative to reflect them.

Take H.P. Lovecraft for example: his virulent racism was seeped into his work and made it a challenging read for many people who were offended by his slurs and attacks on other races. Is it right to support these artists by buying their work and giving them money for their prejudice? What if some people use that money to directly spread this bigotry, in a Chik-fil-A type of scenario. Regardless of your view point on the subject, we can all agree that finding out your favorite author was a bigot is less than exciting.

Unfortunately though, like everyone else, they are people too, with flaws of their own. Sometimes those flaws are inexcusable, or even run contradictory to the very morals their works preach. The artists and writers below all led less than perfect lives and find themselves among the many artists and writers who were bad people throughout history.
William Golding is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Famous Writers and Artists Who Were Terrible Humans
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William Golding

Who he was: Author of Lord of the Flies and attempted rapist.


The story: William Golding is best known for writing Lord of the Flies, a groundbreaking novel about children fighting to the death on an island, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1954. But few people know about the darkness so integral to his work

The unpublished memoir Men and Women (which Golding wrote for his wife) details his attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl named Dora
. For years this information was locked away, until John Carey, a professor at Oxford, gained access to private unpublished journals from Golding's collections. Golding was an adult at the time, away on holiday at Oxford. The memoir quotes Golding's journals, indicating that his lusting began with his observation of her being, "already sexy as an ape." After being sure that she "wanted heavy sex," Golding tried to advance on her. Being fought off, the two didn't meet again until two years later. As if nothing had ever happened they proceeded to have sex in a field, and Golding got off scot-free, going on to publish his most notable work.

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Age: Died at 82 (1911-1993)

Birthplace: St Columb Minor, United Kingdom

Nationality: United Kingdom

Profession: Poet, Novelist, Author, Writer, Playwright

Schools: University of Oxford, St John's School and Community College, Brasenose College, Oxford

Died: 1993

Place Of Death: Perranarworthal, United Kingdom

Also Ranked

#13 on The Greatest Artists With Only One Masterpiece

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William S. Burroughs is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Famous Writers and Artists Who Were Terrible Humans
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Who he was: Beat generation writer who killed his wife.


The story: Emerging in the aftermath of World War II, the Beat Generation was made up of writers who sought to reject narrative conventions, question government authority, materialism, sex, and the human experience. The most famous of these artists were Allen Ginsberg ("Howl"), Jack Kerouac (On the Road), and William S. Burroughs. All three met in New York in 1943 and influenced each other, kickstarting a new style of thinking in literature. Burroughs experimented with autobiographical interpretations of a post-World War II era, drawing from the cracks and crevices of his heroin-addled life. However, the biggest tragedy he faced didn't come in the form of a needle, but a rifle. 

In 1951, while on vacation in Mexico, Burroughs was drunk at a party with his wife (fellow Beat writer, Joan Vollmer), when they decided the play a shooting game. Burroughs pulled out a handgun and tried to hit a glass cup on his wife’s head, but shot too low and killed her instantly. Incredulously, he only spent 13 days in jail and was charged with manslaughter.

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Age: Died at 83 (1914-1997)

Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Profession: Novelist, Screenwriter, Actor, Writer

Schools: Los Alamos Ranch School, John Burroughs School, Mexico City College, Harvard University

Died: 1997

Cause Of Death: Myocardial infarction

Place Of Death: Lawrence, Kansas, United States of America

Children: William S. Burroughs, Jr.

Also Ranked

#48 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

#83 on The Best Novelists of All Time

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Anne Perry is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Famous Writers and Artists Who Were Terrible Humans
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Anne Perry

Who she is: A crime novelist who murdered her mother.


The story: Anne Perry is one of the bestselling crime novelists in the world, most notably famous for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk novels. What makes Perry quite unusual is that, unlike other writers who were bad people, her crime was committed at a shockingly young age.

When she was a teenager, Perry, known as Juliet Hulme at the time, and Pauline Parker were best friends to an obsessive degree, creating fantasy worlds together and keeping in close contact. At the time, Hulme's mother was going through the process of divorcing her husband and moving to South Africa with relatives. Not wanting to separate from each other, Perry and Parker decided to murder Ms. Hulme while walking together on a path, by distracting her with a dropped jewel, and beating with a brick 20 times, ultimately killing her. They both serviced five years in prison, and never spoke to each other after that. Hulme then changed her name to Anne Perry and became a crime novelist.

The story was made into the film Heavenly Creatures (directed by Peter Jackson) and detailed in a biography, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.

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Age: 77

Birthplace: England, London

Nationality: United Kingdom

Profession: Author, Writer

Schools: Christchurch Girls' High School

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Norman Mailer is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Famous Writers and Artists Who Were Terrible Humans
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Norman Mailer

Who he was: Pioneer of creative nonfiction who almost killed his wife.


The story: Widely regarded as one of the great American writers of the 20th century, Mailer was as violent as he was brilliant. In 1960, while drunk at a party with his wife, Adele, she began to berate him. He reacted by pulling out his penknife, stabbing her, and giving her two wounds in the chest. She was rushed to the hospital and nearly died. Mailer was sent to jail.

Later on, many writers and some of Mailer's friends defended the stabbing, saying that Adele started it, while others, such as James Baldwin, went so far as to call it an awakening of his talent. The act didn't stop there, and went on to color Mailer's life. In 1969 he ran for the mayor of New York City, but was unsuccessful, as his own personal history had made him an unpopular candidate. Later in life, Mailer himself said he was regretful of his bad action to his wife, "It is the one act I can look back on and regret for the rest of my life."

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Age: Died at 84 (1923-2007)

Birthplace: Monmouth County, Long Branch, Contiguous United States, United States of America, United States, + more

Nationality: United States of America

Profession: Poet, Journalist, Novelist, Film Producer, Screenwriter, + more

Schools: Harvard University, University of Paris

Major/Field Of Study: Aerospace Engineering

Died: 2007

Cause Of Death: Renal failure

Place Of Death: Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States of America

Children: Susan Mailer, Elizabeth Mailer, John Buffalo Mailer, Stephen Mailer, Kate Mailer, + more

Also Ranked

#56 on The Greatest American Writers of All Time

#8 on The Most Unbearably Pretentious Authors In Literary History

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