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John Kennedy Toole estate focus of tonight's episode of The Will

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

The disappointment of his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, being rejected for publication contributed to John Kennedy Toole's breakdown and ultimate decision to commit suicide, as viewers will learn on tonight's episode of The Will: Family Secrets Revealed.

Celebrities and high-profile individuals often lead crazy, drama-filled lives. But, when they pass away, the estates they leave can be the source of even more heightened craziness and drama for family, friends, business associates—anyone who can claim a stake in whatever they left behind. This week, Investigation Discovery looks at the estate of aspiring author John Kennedy Toole on The Will:

In 1969, aspiring author John Kennedy Toole commits suicide. With no will, his parents are entitled to an estate that includes his unpublished manuscript, the future Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, along with a second manuscript.

John Kennedy Toole was born on December 17, 1937. His mother, Thelma Ducoing Toole, was convinced that her son was a genius, and isolated him from other children during most of his childhood. By the time he attended college, he had already written his first book, The Neon Bible. However, the book was not published until well after his death. At Tulane University, he began his studies in engineering, but ultimately received his undergraduate degree in English; he received a master’s degree from Columbia University. He pursued a doctorate at Columbia, as well, but was drafted into the Army in 1961, before completing it. It was actually during his time in the military that he completed the first draft of A Confederacy of Dunces.

Toole was more than pleased with A Confederacy of Dunces; he believed it to be a masterpiece. So, when Simon and Schuster rejected it, the disappointment and stress contributed to a breakdown. Drinking heavily and taking medication for severe headaches followed, and, ultimately, Toole committed suicide on March 26, 1969, placing a garden hose into his car’s exhaust and leading it into the car's window, where he sat awaiting death. His mother destroyed the suicide note her son left behind, which has been a source of conflict ever since.

After his death, his mother pursued publication for A Confederacy of Dunces. It was ultimately published in 1980, and Toole received the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1981. His first completed novel, The Neon Bible, was also published after his death, but not until 1989.

Learn more about the estate of John Kennedy Toole—and the publication of his two novels—tonight, Thursday, December 20, on The Will: Family Secrets Revealed, which airs on Investigation Discovery at 9 p.m.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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