Robert Johnson, the father of modern blues and the rock and roll lifestyle, died at 27 years, 100 days old on August 16, 1938. The cause of death has been historically blamed on poisoning by strychnine, but this was never verified due to the circumstances surrounding the event, and to the hearsay nature of the evidence.
Johnson was a handsome ladies man who, the story goes, unwittingly drank poison-laced whiskey supplied by a husband of one of the ladies. He had been the house entertainer at a dance hall in the country outside of Greenwood, Mississippi.
Since his tenure there had been ongoing for several weeks, he had made a few connections with women in the area, as he was in the habit of doing. His flirtations and dalliances apparently became known to the wrong people, an additional and ironic side effect of gigging in the same place too long, and someone came after him with a vengeance.
Whether he ingested poisoned hooch given to him by a lady or a man is not known, but friends say they had warned him about accepting open bottles from anyone, only to be basically told to mind their own business. Johnson’s love for ladies and liquor apparently was his downfall. But there are problems with the idea of strychnine as the agent of death. He took 3 days to die after the initial ingestion, and many researchers have said that strychnine would have acted almost immediately. In addition, to be effective, a large dose of the poison is needed, and it would have been easy to smell and taste from the bottle. But whatever the specific substance was, it accomplished the goal of causing him an agonizingly slow death, at 27 years of age.
Anyone wanting to pay his or her respects to Robert Johnson will have to make a tour of the countryside near Greenwood. A total of 3 grave markers have been placed at possible sites of his burial. All are unsubstantiated and based on conjecture. It is likely that he was buried in a pauper’s field as close to the site of death as possible – since he died penniless and unattached, nobody knows for sure. The location of his final resting place is only one of the many mysteries in the story of his life, and death.
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