Here’s something that many people probably don’t know. One of the most popular children’s tales ever told, Peter Pan, was based on a real person. J. M. Barrie, the author of the story, based the title character on his informally adopted son, Peter Llewelyn Davies. What’s more, the real Peter Pan, as he would come to be known as, committed suicide in 1960, at the age of 63.
The life of the real Peter Pan, Peter Davies, was hardly one which can be described as a fairy tale. When he was aged ten his father died from cancer, leaving his mother to raise five sons, two older than him, and two younger. Three years later his mother also developed cancer and passed away. As the Davies and Barrie families were friends, Barrie became the de facto guardian of the five orphaned brothers.
As an adult he volunteered for service during World War I where he served as an officer. He was awarded the Military Cross during his service. In 1926 he founded the publishing house Peter Davies Ltd.
Why did the real Peter Pan commit suicide?
This is always a difficult question to answer, and many have speculated his reasons. Davies hated being connected with Peter Pan, and was expecting to inherit everything from Barrie, which he did not. Although he did received a legacy, this snub ultimately drove him to alcohol abuse. But there’s much more than being the real Peter Pan and being snubbed by J. M. Barrie to drive him to suicide.
On the day of his death, April 5, 1960, he had been drinking at the bar of the Royal Court Hotel. He left the bar and threw himself under a train as it was pulling into a station. At the time of his death he had been editing some family documents where he had reached a document that concerned one of his brothers suicides. Additionally, he was suffering from emphysema, and some have speculated that his illness had a factor in his death. But as if things weren’t bad enough for him, his entire family, wife and three children were also suffering from the usually fatal Huntington’s disease.
Even in death Davies couldn’t escape being the real Peter Pan, as his death at the time was reported in papers as the fictional character J.M. Barrie had created.
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