By early 1959 Holiday had cirrhosis of the liver. She stopped drinking on doctor’s orders, but soon relapsed. By May she had lost 20 pounds (9 kg). Friends Leonard Feather, Joe Glaser, and Allan Morrison unsuccessfully tried to get her to a hospital.
On May 31, 1959, Holiday was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in New York with liver and heart disease. She was arrested for drug possession as she lay dying, and her hospital room was raided. Police guarded her room. Holiday continued staying under police guard. On July 15, she received the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church, before dying two days later from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver on July 17, 1959, at 3:10 am. In her final years, she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with $0.70 in the bank and $750 (a tabloid fee) on her person. Her funeral mass was at Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City on July 21, 1959. She was buried at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery.
Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times, who had been the narrator at Billie Holiday’s 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts and had partly written the sleeve notes for the album The Essential Billie Holiday (see above), described her death in these same 1961-dated sleeve notes:
Billie Holiday died in Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her. The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.
- April, 07, 1915
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- July, 17, 1959
- New York City, New York
Cause of Death
- cirrhosis of the liver
- Saint Raymonds Cemetery
- Bronx, New York