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Last weekend I almost died.

I heard the opening two words of Billie Holiday singing "Gloomy Sunday" and it was touch and go for a few seconds but I survived. Hundreds of others haven't been so lucky. According to the New York Times 'Gloomy Sunday' has caused more deaths than any other song - over a hundred suicides - leading to the song being banned in the UK, the US and France.

It's an amazing story. And one needing to be told.

It starts in 1933 when Hungarian composer Rezso Seress broke up with his girlfriend on a Sunday. In utter despair he pens 'Gloomy Sunday.' The first publisher rejects his song as too depressing. The second commits suicide. But the third sees the potential and publishes 'Gloomy Sunday' throughout Europe.

People start dying immediately. In Berlin a man shot himself after telling relatives he couldn't get that damn song out of his head. In Rome, an errand boy heard a beggar humming the tune, got off his bike, gave the beggar all his money and jumped from the nearest bridge. In one year alone in Hungary seventeen suicides were found with notes quoting the 'Gloomy Sunday' lyrics.

Of course sceptics dismiss these claims as anecdotal, quoting the rather strange fact that Hungary was so well known for its high suicide rate that seventeen people found dead in one year clutching the lyrics to a song was 'par for the course.'

In 1936 the song reached New York and was marketed as 'The Hungarian Suicide Song.' Within a week a typist had gassed herself, requesting 'Gloomy Sunday' be played at her funeral.

As the death toll mounted, a third verse was added to the song. A happy verse that was intended to counter the depressive urges of the first two. A verse that said: wait, it was all a dream, she's not dead, there's no reason to commit suicide and, look, the sun's coming out!

It didn't work. The power of 'Gloomy Sunday' wasn't confined to the lyrics. It was the dirge-like melody. As the BBC found out when they banned 'Gloomy Sunday' but allowed an instrumental version. A recording was made and released on a 78. Which caused panic in North London when a woman kept playing the record over and over. Neighbours banged on her doors, the police were called, the door forced open and ... she was found dead inside - of an overdose.

With the BBC, the US and France all banning the song, another attempt to rehabilitate 'Gloomy Sunday' came in 1978 when English psychologist, Sir Edmund Hendricks, suggested an alternative third verse. Sir Edmund was a controversial figure in the world of psychology and a strong proponent of stiff upper lips and 'tough love.' His third verse went along the lines of: pull yourself together! You think Sunday's bad wait until Monday and you have to go back to work!

This re-released version sparked the infamous 'I don't like Mondays' California school shootings.

So, urban legend or frightening fact? The jury, what's left of them after four hung themselves, is still out.

But judge for yourself. Here's a short sample of the song and here, below, are the English lyrics as translated by Sam Lewis. To cut the death toll (this is a responsible blog) I've added a new, and very happy, third verse with a tempo change in the middle and a singalong ending.

Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows I live with are numberless
Little white flowers will never awaken you
Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought of ever returning you
Would they be angry if I thought of joining you?

Gloomy Sunday

Gloomy is Sunday, with shadows I spend it all
My heart and I have decided to end it all
Soon there'll be candles and prayers that are sad I know
Let them not weep let them know that I'm glad to go
Death is no dream for in death I'm caressing you
With the last breath of my soul I'll be blessing you

Gloomy Sunday

Happy are bunnies, with white furry fluffy tails
Dolphins are laughing and playing with big blue whales
So put away the noose, flush the tablets down the loo
Slam that oven door and put the gun back on the wall
Always look on the bright side of life...


Singers who have recorded this song include Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Bjork, Sarah McLachlan and Elvis Costello. Some are still alive. Not composer Rezso Seress however. In 1968, you guessed it, he committed suicide.

So, what's your saddest song? Mine isn't 'Gloomy Sunday' or even 'Honey' by Bobby Goldsboro or 'Seasons in the Sun' by Terry Jacks' or any song by Leonard Cohen. It's the last verse of 'Puff the Magic Dragon' which should have been banned years ago. Even today I have to run from the room before it gets to that last verse.

Leave a comment
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From:brownkitty
Date:October 31st, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
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I think you know a different last verse to Puff than I do.
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From:chrisdolley
Date:October 31st, 2006 03:22 pm (UTC)
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Dragons live forever but not so little boys...

I can't type any more than that it's too ... too tragic, thinking of that poor dragon with no one to play with...

(rushes off in search of chocolate)

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From:brownkitty
Date:October 31st, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC)
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Yup, definitely a different verse. Although the one I know is actually an altered chorus. And I remember a video track but not sure from where.

Last verse I know, and heard at a live concert in the late 1980s:

Puff the Magic Dragon, lives by the sea (PRESENT TENSE!)
And frolics in the autumn mists, in the land of Hanna-Lee
Puff the Magic Dragon, lives by the sea
And frolics in the autumn mists in the land of Hanna-Lee!

The video track is a cartoon, and has someone who looks like an adult version of Jackie Paper introducing small child/children (my memory fails, but small child/children look a lot like Jackie used to) to Puff, getting a hug, and then watching small child/children walk off down the beach holding hands with a dragon who is once-again smiling. And the whole cycle starts again.
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From:lizziebelle
Date:October 31st, 2006 04:41 pm (UTC)
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I've always thought that was a depressing verse for a children's song, but then the old fairy tales didn't always have happy endings, either. I always felt badly for poor Puff, though. He should hook up with Peter Pan.
From:amberubyla
Date:July 16th, 2008 04:19 am (UTC)
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I have always encouraged my daughter (8 years old) to read but have never found the time myself. Anyway, I packed the book and started to read it in the car and found that I could not put it down, I needed to know what happened.
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From:cailleanlarkin
Date:October 31st, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC)

Puff!

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UGH! I cannot, under any circumstances whatsoever, listen to that song. It is utterly tragic and horrifying to me and I sob every time I hear it. I shudder just thinking about it.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 8th, 2006 10:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Puff!

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I COMPLETELY agree with you, and get this--my grandmother requested that Puff be played AT HER FUNERAL. OMG, talk about the most horrific combination of sad things ever....
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From:platypus_fiesta
Date:November 8th, 2006 10:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Puff!

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I COMPLETELY agree with you, and get this--my grandmother requested that Puff be played AT HER FUNERAL. OMG, talk about the most horrific combination of sad things ever....

(sorry about the anonymous post)
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From:orejen
Date:October 31st, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
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"Cat's in the Cradle" often makes me cry, dangit, as does "When She Loved Me" by Sarah McLaughlin.

For years, and I have no idea why even now, America's "Sister Golden Hair" is an instant downer song. *shrug*
From:anothernathan
Date:October 31st, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Pretty much anything by Lionel Richie makes me want to shoot myself.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 1st, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
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Rolf Harris's "Two Little Boys" always makes tears stream down my face. Should I seek treatment?
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From:chrisdolley
Date:November 1st, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)

Re:

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Definitely. I recommend listening to Rolf's version of 'Stairway to Heaven.' It's a tad 'kill or cure' but effective.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 5th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC)
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If anyone posts anything about a dog called Shep that dies, I aint coming back to this website no more...

Shep
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 6th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)

Gloomy Sunday

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How could someone play a record over and over if she's dead of an overdose?
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From:chrisdolley
Date:November 6th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)

Re: Gloomy Sunday

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Record player on auto-repeat. Annoying neighbours for over half a century:)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 31st, 2007 07:39 am (UTC)

Re: Gloomy Sunday

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ya,i agree with you.
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From:antipholus
Date:November 6th, 2006 03:38 pm (UTC)
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Ronan Keating's cover of Fairytale of New York makes me want to kill Ronan Keating!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 31st, 2007 07:38 am (UTC)

gs

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then why you did't kill ronan keating then??????i'm just kidding.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 31st, 2007 07:34 am (UTC)

gs

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well,the song itself is very interesting.I'm really curious if i would die after hearing that song.im not saying this because of any reason,it's just that i wanna know if this song was really a dangerous one to hear....that's all.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 27th, 2007 07:09 am (UTC)

boang ka!atay ka!asa ang original version?

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original ako gusto!bonag ay
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 27th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)

jkang and boybolabog

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inday jeday bayot! franco bungot! mawi gi lubot c franco vigilante! remark pangag! JVR jed valovot remark! jed victor robo2! e butang ang original version sa gloomy sunday!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:38 am (UTC)

JkAnG/Kingkong/Jed palubot/Boy bolabog

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ang way labot suya mo!!! hahaha


JED VALOVOT RITO!!!!
From:websmuggler
Date:August 13th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)

Gloomy Sunday's danger is overrated.

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It's an irresistable story - a song so depressing that just listening to it drives people to suicide.
But there's scant evidence that Gloomy Sunday is that song. Sure, the song IS sad. But it tries too hard to be sad, especially with its hokey minor-chord arpeggio melody, and thus it crosses the line into corniness.
It's important to note two things: that Gloomy Sunday got most of its airplay in Hungary, which then and for many years thereafter had the highest suicide rate of any nation. Anyone who is determined to find a correlation between any 2 things, say a song and a suicide, can do so, but correlation does not prove causation.
Second, it's hard to imagine anyone being made suicidal by the ridiculous English version. Strictly speaking, a song can't be translated, because the words have to be completely changed or they won't rhyme. The original lyrics ARE reputed to be much more depressing, as Hungarian has a certain reputation for that; They start off with "All love has died on Earth..." and go downhill from there.
But it's downright fun to believe in a dangerous song! So people do. It's the stuff of which urban legends are made.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 12th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC)

jammarlibre

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Good night
Thanks for your site.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 5th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)

xaxaxa

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all of you are bad!!!! you scare me a lot..... i hate you.... i regret that i play this music in the youtube....
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 31st, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
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This is a really interesting piece. but I still find it hard to believe that this song actually cased these deaths in my humble opinion it is far more likely to be a symptom than a case this song touches people because it ecos the sadness they are already feeling and touches them deeply. if they had been perfectly happy to begin with one song would never have pushed them over the edge. is the verse u put at the end suposst to be a joke? I have never heard that ending before. through frankly the real one is just as cheesy (Oh I woke up and it was all a dream well thats Ok then)a crummy ending to a beautiful song. I agree totally about puff the dragon though that song should be PG13 It used to make me cry buckets.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 17th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)

The writter of Gloomy Sunday.

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Rezso Seress was indeed the composer of Gloomy Sunday, However he did not WRITE or as you stated "PEN" Gloomy Sunday.
gloomy sunday was infact written by Seress's friend Laszlo Javor.
This song has been reported the cause or in connection to 200 suicides worldwide since its birth of adverse in 1936.
yes it was written in 1933 but it got little attention untill its highly noticed rash of connections to ongoing suicides in Hungary.
The so called "Suicide Song" was NOT banned worldwide but only banned in the US and HUNGARY.
yes, there most likely were deaths in other countries, but the song was not banned anywhere else but where i stated above.
I do not know what your source is, but you should look at some others.
here's mine!

http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/gloomy.asp
and a couple of 909045666 books im sure you can check out from your library.

Alicia Malm-
I do not have an account here, but here is my E-mail.
MrsAliciaSmith@Gmail.com
THANK YOU.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 29th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
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I loved and learned Gloomy Sunday years ago and listened to it even through my deepest darkest depressions. I had no suicidal thoughts through the song however I did try to commit suicide twice after completely unrelated occurences in my life. I have never cried during this song. I love the song for it's beautiful melody and I think it captures the true feelings after the loss of a loved one. I have the very same thoughts in my head about human frailty and tragic loss every moment of my life, and I manage to live with them-why would a song drive me to sucide? Mostly, I think that the people who killed themselves were already depressed and therefore were attracted to the song. So then conincidentally they died after listening to the song that had possibly nothing to do with their emotions. Stop trying to starts mysterious legends of curses....
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 3rd, 2009 11:26 am (UTC)

a beauiful dolorous song to die to

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Of course if you wanted to suicide and this song was at hand of coure you would use it as your morbid soundtrack, just as you might use "tell me why I dont like mondays" for an early morning school shootout. Or have sex to Ravels "Bolero"... I guess. It may well have been associated but not causal. I love your happy ending, and agree about Puff. Just for the record, the song makes me sad about auschwitz and gypsies - not about romantic loss but the tragedy of life. I think the film although fictionalised is brilliant and does justice to the sentiment of deep loss and dignity. I cant identify the film i mean. have to look it up.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 3rd, 2009 11:46 am (UTC)

Re: a beauiful dolorous song to die to

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Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod is the film i meant.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 3rd, 2009 12:07 pm (UTC)

Re: a beauiful dolorous song to die to

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well this is interesting. the original reszo seress lyrics before the poets romanticised and individualised them. from www.phespirit.info/gloomysunday/lyrics_seress.htm
Makes sense of my hunch (above) and this kind of despair is much more understandable given the historical conditions. Perhaps even with changed lyrics this mood struck to the real core of oppression and injustice!

LITERAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

It is autumn and the leaves are falling
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked...

Love has died!

The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes...

The world has ended!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 29th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)

Great...

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I got myself researching for this song as I read its really encourage me :). I just found that I like it! Thanks for this blog its really a great one.

From the Philippines,
Imee
ChooseYourOwnAdventureBooks.org for Kids, Adults and Teachers (http://www.ChooseYourOwnAdventureBooks.org)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 6th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)

SADDEST SONG

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I THINK "A COTTAGE FOR SALE" IS THE SADDEST SONG.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 7th, 2012 10:17 am (UTC)
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i am aaronkarlo, a feature writer in the philippines. i've listened to gloomy sunday as sung by billie holiday as a challenge taken from a friend. i have suicidal tendencies but has turned to God and His awesome words just this year. the first time that i have downloaded this song, i felt down, like i was reverting back to my suicidal episodes. i felt cold, i felt depressed. the song has no magical tendencies to drag you to your knees and kill yourself. its pull comes from its solemn, and downright drowsy melody, and the lyrics are very assisting to its cause to inculcate grief and etch sorrow into the listener's ears. i am still alive, had a sad moment but never gave in. it is just a simple song - born out of a heartbreak, that's it. the composer was so struck for his loss of a loved one. most break-ups, if not all are painful, it just so happened that he penned it in a way that depresses effectively.
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