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June 29, 2010

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre (presumed)
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM * 23 comments

It’s a sad story. From the NY Daily News:

A Brooklyn man suffering from depression killed himself by setting fire to his apartment Friday, police sources said.

The 59-year-old victim had been telling his Bensonhurst neighbors he no longer wanted to live. On Thursday, he was taken to Coney Island Hospital after police learned he had e-mailed someone close to him a goodbye letter, sources said.

It was not immediately clear why he was released from the hospital. The next morning, fire officials said, the man set two fires inside his cluttered 70th St. apartment and was found dead.

I gather the “presumed” isn’t because they’re not sure he’s dead, but rather because they’re still figuring out who he really was. As Andy Porter wrote in File 770:
The body, burned beyond recognition, was discovered in the author’s apartment in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn on Friday, June 25th. The Medical Examiner told me that they hoped to find some record of dental or other medical work, and failing that, would likely contact British authorities. If you can provide any useful information, contact the office of the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

Google searches reveal McIntyre—there are questions whether that is his real name—to be highly secretive about his real identity.

I wouldn’t know about his alleged secretiveness, but I can speak to his lack of day-to-day social ties. Right after 9/11, every NYC group and community was constantly, informally checking to see whether anyone was missing. In the New York-area SF community, MacIntyre was the last person I know of who was confirmed to be okay, and the confirmation came a month or two after the attacks.

He was an odd bird but a decent writer, and I’m truly sorry he died as he did.

Comments on F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre (presumed):
#1 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 11:41 AM:

That's sad.

I had never come across his name until I noticed _The Woman Between the Worlds_ in a bookshop last year. It was an odd book, awkward in some ways but vivid -- and it's much too rare these years that I come across something interesting and genuinely new to me, in the used-book section. I appreciated that.

#2 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 04:05 PM:

The first sfwa event I ever attended was the business meeting at a 1980's Nebula weekend.

The first(and only) person to speak to me, ask who I was, explain what was going on etc., was Gwynplaine.

We never had an interaction after that, but, as you see, I never forgot that kindness.

Love, C.

#3 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 04:19 PM:

The Daily News article mentions a woman in the apartment above being treated for smoke inhalation; I hope that means there weren't any other neighbors or random bystanders hurt, especially more seriously than that.

I presume an under-funded health-care system is involved in the revolving door at the hospital.

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Sad indeed. He was an odd fellow, but clearly intelligent and interesting the few times I chatted with him.

#5 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 07:30 PM:

I remember him, a very long time ago, singing for his crash space at a NJSFS room party at Lunacon. I'll miss the guy.

#6 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2010, 08:27 PM:

Well, damn. I liked what I read of his.

DDB-- People can and do check themselves out of psych hospitals AMA, under some circumstances. (I forget the various rules and regs, but my point is, it's not necessarily bad insurance. If he didn't want treatment (and many don't), then in some cases they can't keep him.

#7 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 10:09 AM:

Kate@6: In the end, I support suicide as a personal choice. But this really sounds like untreated depression. I'm afraid of the precedent of involuntary psychiatric commitment (I know it's already well-established); the Soviets showed some of the ways it could be abused.

#8 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Footnote: Gwynplaine was the name of the title character in The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo. I'm not sure if anybody actually needed me to point that out, but it's the archetype of the person who's laughing on the outside (in the case of the book, as the result of surgery by the Comprachicos on the child to make him a saleable freak) but whose inner life is not at all happy.

This autobiographical item by McIntyre may also be of interest. It links back to his homepage here.

#9 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 12:01 PM:

If the things he said and wrote about his childhood and early adolescence were true, he had a childhood and upbringing from hell--and the sort of thing that leave permanent scarring and damage, both physically and psychically. Survival and pain mitigation and not wanting more pain than was already embedded might explain some of his characteristics. And apparently he reached the marginal limit, where the cost/benefit equation for continuing on this plane of existence, was no longer even zero-sum, but had gone negative.

#10 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Paula @ 9: Amen. I'd just come to that same conclusion.

#11 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 12:50 PM:

Paula @9 -- I've spent some time working on that cost-benefit analysis within my own systems, and I have come to the conclusion that it's an undecidable question (in the Godelian sense) within any given person's system. I support the right of anyone to make such a choice; and I believe that people make logically-undecidable decisions all the time. It's certainly an emotionally-decidable point; on a purely logical basis, much less defensible.

#12 ::: Lawrence Watt Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 01:19 PM:

The reason he was at the psych hospital is that a worried friend had called the cops, saying that Froggy was apparently suicidal. The cops took him to the hospital, as is normal procedure in such cases, where he was evaluated, and presumably found not to be a danger to himself or others, whereupon he was released. He went straight back home, posted some very unkind things about the worried friend on SFF Net, then set the fires.

I am not the friend in question, but he's a friend of mine, as well, and he e-mailed me (and another friend) about this.

#13 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 01:29 PM:

When I first heard (part) of MacIntyre's bio, I thought at first it was a hoax. Surely a real-life person could not have a life so colorful and tragic, just as "F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre" was surely a pen name.

Real enough to die, though.

So sad.

#14 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 02:30 PM:

Well, "F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre" has in common with a pen name that he chose it for himself.

Even pen names can die -- and real names sometimes keep on publishing after their owners' deaths, for that matter.

The ending of the story seems sad, though we don't really know a lot. Parts of the story seem pretty joyful, though. There seems to have been pretty definitive triumphing over rather severe adversity.

#15 ::: Andrew Porter ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2010, 09:27 PM:

Andy Porter didn't report this in Andrew Porter sent information out to various SFnal newsblogs; I am not responsible for their further use of it. The information also went to SFScope, Ansible, and other news sources.

Now, The New York Times is calling me, interrupting a pleasant day the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

#16 ::: Carol Maltby ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2010, 08:39 PM:

We're coming up to the second anniversary of Tom Disch's death, believed to have been on July 4th. I was sorting through some old papers and clippings last week, on June 21st, when I came across a short story of his that the VLS ([Village] Voice Literary Suppplement) published in May 1990.

In quite an odd synchronicity, the story is titled "The 21st of June." It's about patriotism, liberty, and culture wars, and takes place on a holiday that strongly resembles our 4th of July. I haven't been able to find any mention of it coming up in discussions of his death. I'm not sure if it sheds any light on his taking his life July 4th, but it shows (at least in this piece) some intense feeling about the holiday that may be relevant.

#17 ::: Susan Rothman ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2010, 12:02 PM:

The most salient point to make is that there is room to speculate about who the person in the apartment really was, considering that Froggy mentioned a house-sitter, and emphatically related that it was the house-sitter, assumed to be Froggy, taken physically from Froggy's apartment to the psych hospital; and that Froggy remotely employed lawyers to get the house-sitter out. The entire email is about a house-sitter, and all people, when they emphasize anything at all, seem to point out, is that he spelled "morning" as "mourning". But he's been doing that sort of thing for years.

I know to agree that Froggy is unusual. For that reason, people in general don't know his proclivities. I am one of his friends, and am familiar with that part of him.

Not every unhappy person offs themselves. At this point in time, I understand the most fundamental issue of Froggy's. He wants to validate his life, not terminate it; and it is reasonable to acknowledge mortality, as a reminder of our humility in the universe and the scheme of larger things.

There was a tragedy, and it surely would affect Froggy profoundly, when that fire took place and a fatality incurred. I won't choose to doubt Froggy's word of a house-sitter until it is disproven.

#18 ::: minicuppycake ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2010, 12:36 AM:

My family and I live(d) right above Fergus. He has displaced at least two families, including mine as a result of the fire. He did not have a house-sitter. He was a big-time hoarder.

My brother and I use to hear him coughing and screaming very nasty things every single night. He was a very troubled man. I'm sorry he went the way he did.

To his friends, sorry for your loss. It would be helpful if one of you could forward that suicidal email to me.

#19 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2010, 10:15 PM:

The New York Times has just published an article on the topic : The Last Story of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

Seemed appropriate to put the link here, rather than say in the current OT

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2010, 02:21 AM:

Thanks for the link.

Curiouser and curiouser, sadder and sadder.

I vaguely remember the guy from I was an I-Con staffer and he was an occasional guest. A polite, oddly affected dude in odd clothing.

#21 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 04:25 AM:

The two items linked at #8 above are now 404, and blocked the wayback machine. Disappearing traces.

#22 ::: Gordon Van Gelder ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 12:39 AM:

I've been told that the folks at SFF.Net have archived Froggy's Website.

---Gordon V.G.

#23 ::: G. M. Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2013, 05:09 AM:

About three years after the death of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre I have just learned of it. I can only say that my last several years have been very busy. I just read the New York Times article and I had no idea. I reviewed a couple of his works I enjoyed on my web site, he discovered the reviews, then e-mailed to thank me for my kind words. He seemed like such a nice, sweet man. I can only wonder what events could have led to such a bizarre life and such a sad and tragic death. We only exchanged a few e-mail messages, but I feel truly saddened not only to hear of his death, but to also learn of the circumstances of his life. I feel that he was a man who was reaching out to others ... and no one took his hand.

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