The Who2 Blog

How Did Dr. Seuss Die?

An old photo of Dr. Seuss holding a book and smiling at someone off-camera

Library of Congress

Happy birthday to Theodore Geisel, the beloved children’s author known as Dr. Seuss. He was born on this day in 1904.

We’ve had a lot of queries in the last 48 hours about his death: variations on, “How did Dr. Seuss die?” and “Doctor Seuss, how did he die?” It’s not clear if this is just standard curiosity, of if there’s a trivia contest out there and participants are on the hunt.

In any case, we did some research on the question of Dr. Seuss’s death, and the simple answer is this: he died of natural causes.  That is, he wasn’t hit by a bus or a trolley (or by oobleck) or anything like that.

A more specific cause is hard to come by, because no official cause of death was announced. But it’s also true that the most likely scenario is that Dr. Seuss’s death was related to a persistent infection of his jawbone. The New York Times reported in its Dr. Seuss obituary:

The exact cause of death was unclear, said Jerry Harrison, who oversees children’s books for Random House, Mr. Geisel’s longtime publishers. Mr. Harrison said the author had been suffering from an infection of his jawbone that had become acute in recent months.

Thomas Fensch, in his 2001 biography The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss, expands on that a little. He says that Geisel had a cancer operation nearly a decade before his death:

During a dental exam, a lesion was discovered at the base of his tongue; cancerous and potentially very dangerous. Geisel submitted to a procedure that placed an implant under his tongue to neutralize the cancer.


In December 1983, Theodore Geisel had an operation and a deep biopsy of the area of his neck where the lesion was first spotted. His neck was disfigured, but the operation was a necessity to stop any further spread of cancer.

Then the jaw infection rears its head:

By 1985, he had weakened. The cancer in his throat had been halted, but the by-product of the cancer treatments was an infection in his jaw, impossible to eradicate. And he was increasingly infirm, with bouts of gout and loss of hearing typical of advancing age…

Six years later, in 1991, Theodore Geisel died.

Mr. Fensch’s biography covers Dr. Seuss’s death in a thorough way. It’s true there’s no final scene with a bedside doctor holding the patient’s wrist and pronouncing an official cause of death for Dr. Seuss — a scene the author himself might have illustrated quite wickedly, in fact. But the general idea seems clear: Dr. Seuss had cancer, then he had a jaw infection, then things piled up and finally nature took its course.

And that’s why we have listed “natural causes” as the cause of death on our Dr. Seuss biography.

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