The Death of Alan Watts

topic posted Fri, May 20, 2005 - 2:34 AM by  jimgandhi
Anyone know what Alan Watts died of. He seemed to have died at a young age but I cant find any info on this...Can anyone help?
posted by:
  • Unsu...
    slightly or possibly related: is it true he was an alcoholic? i've heard this from various sources (travelling around giving lectures, he had to attend many many wine parties).
    • Alan Watts died in his sleep at the age of 58. No trauma, just a balloon... :)
      He writes of alcohol and his relationship to alcohol in a number of his works, including his autobiography. He harbors no guilty or shame in often enjoying and inebrieted state - in fact, he writes about how the guilt that Western Civ. people associate with drinking might be related to why we associate the term "alcoholic" with the image of a "problem drinker." I..e., What does it mean to be an alcoholic? Does it have a pejorative connotation? Well, perhaps that is simply cultural. He points out, for example, how Japanese people (in his time and before) might drink quite heavily (yes, even Zen masters) and would be considered clinical "alcoholics," but they were "happy" drunks - always pleasant beautiful people.
      • a balloon? brain anurism?
        • Sorry...he was playing with a balloon the night of his passing - alledgedly remarking on lightness of the balloon (from memory - source Chungliang Huang's preface to "Tao and the Watercourse Way")
          • Interesting......certainly ther must be more to this.....I guess I must go on
            • definitely an alcoholic - he would often times show up drunk at talks, but would still give insightful words of wisdom. He also had many family problems, ignored his children, cheated on his first wife, etc.

              NEVERTHELESS, his words are magic, so what are we to take from it all? the words and not the man? the whole package?
              • Unsu...
                i personally feel i am in error to expect my teachers to be perfect in relation to a given value system.

                if a person expects his or her teacher to be perfect, it seems to me that that person should ask, why?

                alan watts often discussed the hang-up of trying to segregate the profane from the holy or spiritual, and i can recall at least one discussion where he addresses, specifically, the common mistake of expecting a spiritual guide to be free of what some might perceive as personal taint.
                • Yes there is such a thing as a perfect teacher...

                  The one who´s always willing to learn from his students.
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.
                    Neruda said... if I was to live again, I would make more mistakes. when I die I won`t regret about the things I did but about things I did not do.

                    A wise man with a perfectly straight "no mistakes commited" life?... Standing only on the "good", stablished by society, side???...

                    YOu ought to be kidding, right?...
                    • I mean, he was understanding how our society was going the wrong way. How wrong we had been educated from the beginning, and the futile significance of our most elementary concepts, like time.

                      He had been also educated in this wrong society with this wrong concepts, and he used substances in order to brake trough some of the limitations of the own perception that had been generated by the alienation of occidentalism...

                      He travelled into himself as he studied the most acient philosophies of the world, like induism and buddhism. He gave the best of himself as much as he could in order to try and help others understand this situation of human kind.

                      He had to deal with himself, he was human, and he was an enigma as everything that is real in this universe.

                      The fact that you can be a great teacher, or a great person does not mean you will never be in chaos. Specially when you live in a world which is not ready to comprehend it´s own chaos... And the fact of your own dark side intensifies that experience.

                      thank you
      • Alcoholism isn't about how much or how often one drinks, methinks, but rather the power it has over ones life. If a drug becomes necessary for functionality, or interrupts or replaces the enjoyment of other aspects of life, then it can be a negative.
        • thanks for reviving this thread, stephani.

          watts himself probably would not have been comfortable being considered a spiritual leader in any case. he was really just a rather enlightened dude.

          that said, it does bother me that he was said to have not been the best to his wife (this thread not the first time i've read that), moreso than any perceived alcoholism. one would naturally expect from the man a lot of respect for his wife -- has anyone read his bit about making love? he seemed ahead of his time, really. he was into non-thrusting.

          anyhow, does anyone know more about his relationship and his general goodness of character? all i've read is hearsay from the net.

          peace out

          • he was human. enlightend yes. perfect,,,,,,,,,,of course. aren't we all?

            he liked to call himself a spiritual "entertainer".
            • I love Alan Watts, but I would not call him enlightened, for that would compare him to the Buddha, who created the 4 noble truths, where alan watts just refined them for us so that we could get a better understanding of what they ment.
              • >who created the 4 noble truths<

                are you sure he "created" the 4 noble truths?

                or did he just "show" them kinda polished up for mass consumption.
                • There is no way for me to verify that, and no need to, because either way, Alan Watts showed reverance for the four noble truths and he himself never claimed to be a Buddha.

                  Im just pointing out that Alan Watts would not fit the criteria of enlightened, defined by the culture from which the word was derived from.
      • Unsu...
        "he writes about how the guilt that Western Civ. people associate with drinking might be related to why we associate the term "alcoholic" with the image of a "problem drinker.""

        Some people call that "denial" j/k
        • How about suicide?
          • alan had no problem with suicide. he asked in fact if it was'nt the most sane to do in an insane world? but you would have to consider this world as being insane to make such an effort.
            alan saw this world for what it is. IT IS.
            • Tom
              offline 0
              Happy to stumble across this thread. I too have been wondering about the nature of Alan's passing. Has anyone though to ask Mark Watts? I do recall in one of his lectures, (paraphrase) Better to live a short life doing what you enjoy doing then a long life doing what you don't.
              • alan never died.

                he's rooming with elvis.
                • First of all, i am glad to see that there are other people out there as interested in Alan Watts as i am. In fact, you guys seem to be more connected. Nevertheless, isn't it possible that Alan Watts demise was his own choice? I mean, perhaps he just decided, as his daughter Joan put it in the Monica Furlong's biography, to "check out." He was ready to let go of his current journey so that a new one could begin. I am not suggesting that he committed suicide, but he just decided that he had enough and it was time to go. The cause of death was labeled as "heart failure." That being said, i am sure alcohol may have had some contribution.

                  I bring this up as it occurred to me about out-of-body-type experiences, where a person had the feeling of rising out of his/her body and floating above, and that person's spirit/soul/whatever was "attached," if you will, by a thread of some kind to his/her body. I had read that you were able to return to your body because of that connection; however, if you severed that connection, your body would die, and your spirit/soul/whatever would float away.

                  Anyway, just a thought.
      • As a recovering alcoholic, I knew immediately that Allan Watts' death was from alcoholism. I had suspected this for years. I spoke briefly to his son once when ordering material from MEA in Olima, CA and asked that rather bold question. He stated that Allan had been depressed about a specific event he attended and disillusioned with the response he received. He then made no other specific claim about his dying. Even when hearing his talks, his hacking cough and throaty laugh, one could suss this out.

        I happen to fall in line with the group that finds an alcoholic death at the age of 58 a tragedy, not unlike any other disease laden death that takes someone we love from us. Alcoholism is particularly tragic in that its effects on the entire family are so devastating. There is nothing "cool" in dying from this horrible disease.

        Allan was a great philosopher and teacher. In the realm of the alcoholic world, however, he was just another drunk.
        • Say what you want, but all you are doing is "classifying Alan Wattsas just another drunk or teacher etc" with words which really are never what anything ever "is" so really it's just noise.
        • Yes Anthony what you say is, harsh, but true. But then one has to consider that if Alan was not troubled by substance abuse would he ever have sought out a path to truth. If we settle for a mindane trouble free life then we settle and that is it. But bring me the troubled heart and I will show you a seeker, a fellow walker of the path of truth.

      • But we know that Alan Watts was a very intelligent guy who understood Zen Buddhism, and when you understand that, you aren't really dependant on anything for happiness. I think, he drank for excitement. Like he says, "If things weren't constantly changing, this world would be a collosal bore."
  • If you read his biography, it seems like Alan died from stress and alcoholism. His death, if we can call it that, is somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend. According to Jano, his wife at the time, Alan was experimenting with advanced breathing techniques around the time of his death. Jano believes that Alan was successful in liberating "himself" from his body.

    Before he died, Alan talked about how reincarnation was a perfectly logical belief. He told his daughter Joan that after he died, he would come back as Joan's daughter, a beautiful redhead. Joan conceived shortly after Alan's death and gave birth to a redheaded child named Laura, who seemed to display some of Alan's signature moves. At a young age, she accompanied her mother Joan to one of Joan's friend's house. Laura walked up to a cupboard where liquor was kept, reached into the back and pulled out a handle of vodka.

    Source: Zen Effects, the Alan Watts Biography
    • I had a very long phone conversation with Alan's daughter shortly after he died. She spoke fondly of his suggestion about returning though now in 2009, her red haired daughter would be over 30.
      Ironically I am now the same age as he was at his death, but at that time I was only 23 and having followed his career closely for several years, wondered out loud about a conspiracy to be rid of him because of his late forays into the politics of that time. I remember he had been scheduled to speak in Germany at an Army intelligence base shortly before his death and had also spoken (while the war in Vietnam was still an issue and he was quite vocal about that too, participating in benefits for North Vietnamese schools or hospitals, but also supporting Tibet against China, as i recall). Most pointedly, he spoke to more than one military group (i recall he was invited to speak more than once he never held back in his strong opinions) and he wrote some very powerful articles and essays, some collected in the book, Does It Matter, the essay on money being the most relevant today. In this book he said that if the USA still exists as a separate and distinct entity by the year 2000, we are all in big trouble. Although it isclear his health was not good at all at this time, I also remember very clearly seeing a young Senator (during the Watergate hearings of the same period) from Connecticut, Lowell Weicker, then on the Senate Watergate Committee, televised daily. I remember clearly watching him hold up a futuristic dart gun that he described as capable of shooting tiny thin needles from a great distance that would carry a tiny amount of caryfish serum extract capable of causing heart failure from a distance with no trace of the thin puncture or the poison in the bloodstream. He explained that there were gallons of this serum in Langley, Virginia headquarters of the CIA, contrary to treaties about biological warfare. This is what led me to wonder, in the face of some radical political statements and standpoints by Alan Watts, if there was not some kind of mischief in his death, not forgeting this was not long after the suspicious deaths of MLK Jr., RFK, and other counter culture heroes, and not long before John Lennon was shot in a fashion much like RFK, in the open but by a suspicously programmable person. His poor health and drinking convince us it was a natural failure of his health, and it could well be that is all it was.
  • I contacted Mark Watts about the death of his father and he gave me a cock-and-bull story about a "jealous philosopher whom we suspect may have poisoned " the famous teacher. I wrote back that he shouldn't try to inject melodrama or legend into his passing-- look what happened to Jesus. Some sources list "heart failure" as the cause of death but this is only the immediate reason his heart stopped, similar to listing "pneumonia" or "organ failure" as cause of death-- when there is a more fundamental underlying cause such as cancer. I saw some pictures of him in his Playboy magzine interview back in in '73 and was shocked at his emaciated condition-- he was unrecognizable as the crew-cut young man pictured on my copy of The Book (on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are)-- in fact he looked like nothing so much as a wizened, whispy-bearded oriental, so whatever was wrong with him didn't ahppenn suddenly. Everyone always brings up alcoholism-- and he may have drunk excessively (he played host to a multitude of dinner guests almost every night and was very gregarious I have read), but it is most likely that a combination of cigarette smoking and heavy drinking led to a heart attack. For a guy who was so spiritually well-adjusted he sure burned out early. Maybe our attempts to attain every greater longevity only represent another vain desire.
  • Gum
    offline 0
    I guess some of our interest in this question might be a bit obscene but somewhat reasonable.
    Most of us only know Alan Watts thru his written work and talks, so all we can apreciate from his legacy remains in the world of ideas.
    I think part of the interest in the question comes from the more or less conscious fear of following his thesis only to achieve no better results in our lives than those adquired following a "system"; rock and roll, fascism, catholicism, existentialism...
    AKA "am I gonna do all that contemplation to end up taking prozac and booze just like my friend the hedonist?" syndrome
    • At a certain stage of the game (of Life) we all have to come to terms with our strengths and weaknesses. Acceptance of their reality being the first order of business, how we're going to relate to them being the next. I started drinking when I was 16. I decided it would be to my advantage, (if I were to get clear in my relationship to it) to stop when I was 51. Altered states of consciousness have been part and parcel of my personal development in regards to my philosophy of life. I think it's this way with most people. How you choose to alter it is a constantly evolving thing. Best case scenario - The choices you make don't open you to the possibility of addiction. Even then, it does not negate all that you've learned along the way. From where I stand, Alan Watts was a fine teacher of life, and it's pitfalls. The most meaningful criteria regarding my propensity to alter my consciouness is now: #1. Is it sustainable? #2. Does it demonstrate a deep reverence for life? In Alan's case it seems #1. it was - until it wasn't. #2. He was conscious of, and at One with his life choices. To me, he was (and is) a kindred spirit for no other reason than he wasn't divided against himself, as far as I can tell. What is living an authentic life, and leaving an authentic legacy, if not that?
      • Alan Watts may not have been enlightened like Siddhartha Gautama became, but he was an enlightened man. Enlightened or not, he was still a man and, therefore, subject to human frailties. One thing I've noticed in my life's journeys is that moths who explore light bulbs too closely get burned. In the Bible when Moses went on the mountaintop, he was afraid to look at the burning bush, face of God. I think most people would be. Facing reality, facing truth, has consequences many would prefer not to face. Alan Watts faced these realities and accepted the consequences. As a "mere" human, however, the consequences had impact. If it was alcoholism, this did not negate his knowledge, his experiences nor his ability to teach what he has learned.
  • The question that one ponders, is why he drank? If the truth can be known, one would say it can be painful to bear its reality. For you are alone, as Alan Watts realized his aloneness, for even as these apparitions appear to his senses, he was alone. How to bear the reality of such a truth? For what you call the world, is yourself, playing withitself. Yourself speaking to yourself, for when you speak to another, the utterance is your very echo. Those you call friends, are the imagninations of your dreams. Unreal, your whole life is illusion, there is no one there, like the shadows of memories that live there existence. I ponder if these words, are really being read, or if there is a reader, who is reading them. For when it is sent, how do i know it is going nowhere.
  • Hello to all! New to the Tribe :)
    This discussion reminds me of a discourse by AWW on the tendency in our culture to segregate the spiritual from the everyday. So that, when we build up a hero of sorts, we are shocked to find out that he's not a saint, after all. Alan Watts enjoyed his humanity very much (women and wine included) and was or that reason no less spiritual. The integration of these two elements in a human being--Saint and Sinner--largely makes up what we regard as enlightenment :)
    • ...just came across a corresponding quote in In My Own Way. Speaking of a Zen master named Sokei-an with whom he studied, "if I have over stressed the wayward elements of [his] personality, it is only because I have felt that he was basically in the same team as I; that he bridged the spiritual and the earthy, and that he was as humorously earthy as he was spiritually awakened."
      • Being aware of and making use of one's higher consciousness and cognitive ability is like a man of no experience and education winning millions of pounds with the lottery, wisdom does not come automatically on how he should spend his winnings.
  • I know this isn't an answer to the question for the topic, sorry about that.
    When was he born? When did he die?
    How do you draw those lines?
    Isnt he always was? Isnt that what we usually call is?
    Was he enlightened? What isnt?

    I'm definately God but sincerely not.
    • We are simply stated the universe experiencing itself in this particular way, no more or no less signifigant than the infinite space between the galaxies or any other facet of it. Alan's death was by his choice - his bodhisattva day's completed. We all understand the nothing and the something as one. To cling to any one aspect of it is to miss the main course and eat the menu instead, as Alan has brilliantly pointed out. Peace and serenity to all through logic and common sense was Alan's message from the Buddha to us.
  • When touching on the subject of death i don't think it would be necessary to look upon it in a bad light.. Alan would have never wanted people thinking 'OH HOW TERRIBLE ALAN WAS POISONED' or 'OH HE WAS A TERRIBLE ALCOHOLIC'.. who is this person you're talking about being something? is it this Alan Watts? truly and deeply I feel he already knew the here and now is eternal and always changing, and death is just as much a part of it as anything else...... huge respect for Alan and the people in this forum keeping the way alive :)
  • . Alan was my adopted grandfather.. My mother was his personal assistant at ucsf when he was teaching there. And when My parents married in the 50s, Alan gave my mother away, for she had already lost her father. So I always new him as grandpa alan. We saw him all the time at our house, or house parties. in the richmond district in sf. HE scared me with his huge laugh at times for I was very young in the sixties. He named his boat after my mother.. He did drink, but a happy drinker he was. My mother always said ,," He was too much for the world to handle. Too smart.. Too wise.
    And some people really fought him at times about his wisdom.
    Mom never recovered from his loss, and always shared his teachings with me untill the day she died a few years ago.
    She loved him like a father, And I like a grandfather..
    I feel. possibly ,, he wanted to leave, or felt he needed to... Thanks for your time.. Skybear
    • This is a letter written to Jean Burden from Maud Oakes.
      Dear Jean,
      Last Sunday , by invitation, there was a Christian mass , I guess I should say an Anglo Catholic mass at Alan's library. It started at nine AM and lasted about an hour. Then there was a fire ceremony given by a character if there ever was one. He is a Buddhist, a fire worshipped. This was fascinating with the strange music that went with it. Then this man and Ram Das jazzed about to more strange music. After this, the Zen priests came and half of Alan's ashes (bones) were put in a hole in the earth with a hand carved stupa over it. This was done to chanting and the sprinkling of water, salt and rice. The priest with chop sticks dropped the first bone into the hole and Jano followed with each of the family after her. Jano has been wonderful and realizes she has a life to lead of her own, hence she is not drinking. After this at 2 AM , the 100 day final Zen ceremony at Green Gulch where the other half of the ashes will be.
      Now in June, the 9th there is to be a public ceremony in honor of Alan in the afternoon and evening in San Francisco. The talent by friends of Alan's.
      I am well and hope that you are and that you don't work too hard.
      Love ,

      I thought you would enjoy this Skybear.
      Any have info on any of the event mentioned in this letter? I am very interested in these events. This is the first time this letter has been made public.
    • Hey Skybear, do you have any photos of Alan at the wedding?
      I am a big fan of his and knew a great love of his named Jean Burden. I posess most of Alan's works, some photos, and some origonal poetry and calligraphy.
      I hope to write a book on the subject of the counterculture in the fifties and sixties.... I believe Alan is a key figure as he was at the heart of it.
      • K
        offline 269

        "I believe Alan is a key figure."

        I confirm. This is importantly, provably true. And I have put forward the "gospel of Alan", the youtube stuff, on ten tribes for those interested.
        Real material. Real philosophy. Still good.

        Buddhist spiritual doctor

        PS - friend requests from Alan Watts fellow travelers always appreciated ( if not yucky )

Recent topics in "Alan Watts"

Topic Author Replies Last Post
Alan Watts and the ladies offlineMike 1 November 23, 2014
Meeting Alan Watts, and moving from belief to faith K 1 October 30, 2014
man loves man for sex Unsubscribed 1 October 28, 2014
Stumbled Upon Alan Watts By Accident Michael 3 December 26, 2012
Watts in other languages? Jestor 1 November 21, 2012