The Song That Can Kill You


Gloomy Sunday

Written in 1933 by Reszo Seress and Laszlo Javor, this beautifully spooky tune nicknamed “the Hungarian suicide song” killed people. 

Reportedly it filled people with a sadness that seeped into their souls and according to legend hundreds of the susceptible listeners committed suicide shortly after listening to it.

Who would do such a thing?

A teenage girl in Vienna drowned herself while clutching the sheet music of the song.  A Budapest shopkeeper who hanged himself left a note that quoted from the lyrics.  A London woman who overdosed while listening repeatedly to a recording of the song for starters.

All this might constitute a classic urban legend, but to those who scoff be advised of one thing:  Following the events described above, seventeen additional people took their own lives.  In each case, “Gloomy Sunday” was closely connected with the circumstances surrounding the suicides.

Rezso Seress was a struggling songwriter living in Paris in 1933. The story goes that after his fiancée dumped him, he went to the piano and out flowed this monumentally sad song. Seress’s friend Laszlo Javor penned an even bleaker lyric for it.

The ballad initially flopped, but that changed three years later, when it was connected to a rash of suicides in Hungary, and was allegedly banned.  Translated into english the despair was toned down, yet its tragedy value only increased when Billie Holiday recorded it and in the early 1940s.

The BBC deemed the song “too upsetting” for the general public, and later said that only instrumental versions were suitable for airplay.  When one too many suicides were linked to the song, they imposed a ban on it altogether which is still in effect to this day!

The song has since been covered by Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Björk and others including: Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, Elvis Costello, Sinead O’Connor, The Smithereens, Artie Shaw, and Ricky Nelson (released posthumously).

It is rumored that the music played without lyrics will put the listener into a deep sleep and induce vivid dreams and nightmares. The nightmares usually consist of falling or flying sensations.

Could it possibly get any more creepy than this?  You be the judge:

The song is featured at the start of the film “Schindler’s List”!

In 1997 Billy Mackenzie, vocalist with the Scottish band The Associates (who recorded a cover of Billie Holiday’s version of the song in 1982), committed suicide near his father’s home in Dundee.

The song is featured in the Quentin Tarantino movie “Grindhouse.”

The song was featured in the film “Wristcutters: A love Story”.

As a final note, the reader who is naturally curious about what eventually became of the girlfriend who inspired it all should be aware that the composer Seress attempted to reconcile with her but to no avail.  Shortly after, he heard that she poisoned herself and nearby she left a note that had on it only two words:  “Gloomy Sunday”.

And what of Reszoo Seress? “Gloomy Sunday”‘s composer took his own life in 1968 by jumping off a building.