How Eugene O’Neill’s youthful battle with tuberculosis inspired many of his greatest plays

Oct 16, 2017

One of America's greatest playwrights was born 129 years ago this day.

Eugene O'Neill was a prolific writer whose works earned him four Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize.

And it was his youthful battle with tuberculosis that inspired many of his greatest works.

Dr. Howard Markel, University of Michigan medical historian and PBS contributor, joined Stateside with O'Neill's story.

“He had two birthdays,” Markel said. “We’re celebrating his birthday today, his actual birthday, but he considered when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis as his second birth — his transformation.”

Before the diagnosis, Markel described O’Neill as just “knocking about.” He was sleeping on benches and hanging out in “flop houses.” But all of that changed for him when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1912.

“It was a death sentence,” Markel said, but “Eugene broke all the rules, all the time.”

O’Neill was cured. He went on to write dozens of plays before his death more than four decades later in 1953. Many of those works were influenced and inspired by time in the sanatorium after his diagnosis.

Listen above for the full conversation.

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