A cry was heard from his room and he was found in his bedroom, lying on the floor and grasping an electric fan. Merton had come out of the bathtub, slipped on the tiled floor, and grabbed a fan to break his fall. The fan electrocuted him and he died instantly.
...in Bangkok, on a warm day while taking a bath, he slipped in the bathtub, grabbed an electric fan and was electrocuted.
...stepped out of a bathroom shower during a visit to Bangkok. Slipping on the wet floor, he grabbed a poorly wired fan for support and was electrocuted.
He takes a shower. On his way out of the shower, he slips, grabs a fan, and is electrocuted.
James J. Martin, SJ
former Congressman, UN
Ambassador, & Mayor of Atlanta
Rev. C. John McCloskey
Research fellow at the Faith and
Reason Institute in Washington, D.C.
Rev. James J. Martin, SJ,
Editor-at-large of the
Jesuit magazine America
Paul R. Dekar
Professor Emeritus Memphis
After lunch, he retired to his room. A few hours later, another conferee found Merton’s body with a fan lying on top of his body. He probably tried to move the fan. Perhaps he stepped on its faulty wiring. While it is impossible to be certain of the circumstances, the cause of Merton’s death was electrocution.
...he had died by an electric shock when he touched a live wire on a floor lamp. That was just this month on December 5th. He had been taking a shower before an evening conference he was giving.
Fr. Jacob Restrick, O.P.
author & academic
[Thomas Merton] died...in a bathroom.
What is the standard or accepted account of Thomas Merton's death?
Religious writer Thomas Merton died when a radio fell in the bathtub.
Faulty wiring electrocuted him as he directed a fan’s air flow after his shower.
Rev. George Kilcourse
…returned to his room; took a shower; bumped into an old upright electric fan; and was accidentally electrocuted…
Fr. John Dear
He took a shower and, afterwards, slipped on the wet bathroom floor; he grabbed a rotary fan for balance and was electrocuted.
Merton took a shower around 1:30 in the afternoon and, in an attempt to move a large fan, was electrocuted...the facts seem more straightforward: he died either from electrocution directly or from a heart attack precipitated by the shock he received or he had a heart attack and fell over the fan."
Notre Dame Professor
What seems the most likely reconstruction is that Merton came out of the shower either wearing a pair of drawers or naked...Merton may have slipped and drawn the fan sharply toward him for support, or he may have simply tried to change its position.
Authorized Merton biographer
He was electrocuted accidentally when he touched a fan coming out of a shower in Bangkok.
Fr. Louis died by electrical shock moving a fan with a shorted circuit.
Bro. Paul Quenon O.C.S.O.
Abbey of Gethsemani monk
Bro. Patrick Hart O.C.S.O.
Abbey of Gethsemani
[Merton] returned to his cottage at about 2:30 and proceeded to take a shower before retiring for a rest. Standing barefoot on the terrazo floor he apparently had reached for the large standing fan (either to turn it on or pull it closer to the bed) when he received the full 220 volts of direct current.
Fr. James Fox O.C.S.O.
Abbey of Gethsemani
Said Br. Patrick [Hart] and seconded by Br. Lawrence: "Fr. Flavian received a message...that [Thomas Merton] had been electrocuted by a faulty wire in a large fan in his room. Either he had a heart attack and grabed (sic) the fan and it fell with him; or he grabed (sic) the fan and it fell with him; or he had been fixing the fan and grabed (sic) a badly insulated hot wire."
It seems to me very obvious that when you just step out of a shower you are naked and that when you are electrocuted you urinate involuntarily…When the Thai police arrived…they discovered that the body had a pair of drawers on. In fact, it is a second pair. The first pair they put on him must have been put on while the fan was still running because they have burn marks. So he is given a second pair. He's all cleaned and ready for inspection. The naked monk is made modest.
Authorized Merton biographer
…Merton had been found dead in his room after an accident in the shower.
He slipped in the shower, grabbed a rotary fan, and was electrocuted.
The International Thomas Merton Society, Corpus Christi Chapter
[Merton] had a shower, and then, very possibly with the soles of his feet still wet, grasped a large standing fan that was defective and took a full 220 volts of direct current.
Roman Catholic Journalist
Eventually, I got through to the embassy in Bangkok and they confirmed it and they said there had been an accidental death: nothing more than that.
Rev. Abbot Flavian Burns, O.C.S.O.
Abbey of Gethsemani
In his room he took a shower. Afterward he happend to grasp a large standing fan at a point where the covering on the electric cord had worn thin, exposing the copper wire within. Receiving the force of 220 volts of current, he cried out, collapsed, and died of heart failure.
Friend of Thomas Merton
[Merton] will return to his room for a bath, reach for a fan, and receive the accidental electric shock that will end his life.
School of Divinity
Wake Forest University
Louis A. Ruprecht
Chair of Religious Studies
Georgia State University
[Merton] returned to his room, and was electrocuted in his bath;
Thomas Merton always could make an exit. He returned to his room and took a nap, then a shower, there’s a wet floor, a fan with bad wiring, 220 volts. The official explanation is death by accidental electrocution.
Morgan C. Atkinson
Merton died in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution.
Certainly, the story of Merton's death is very straightforward...He touched a fan after a bath in the afternoon...I don't think that Merton, no matter how prominent he was, was done in by the CIA. I think that's a little bizarre.
I did ask the monks at Gethsemani, Patrick Hart his secretary most prominently, about what they thought of his death...Hart said, Most of us are amazed that he didn't kill himself in the hermitage. He was unbelievably klutzy. He never learned to drive a car. We kept expecting he was going to be found dead electrocuting himself in the hermitage. No, no, no. This fits in with Merton."
While at a conference in Bangkok, Merton was accidentally electrocuted and died on December 10, 1968.
Steven P. Millies
Catholic Theological Union Chicago
...Merton's tragic accidental death — he was electrocuted by an electric fan near Bangkok...
National Catholic Reporter
I also concluded that, contrary to Mott’s dismissal of Merton not having had a circumstance in which to take his life, he did so while participating at a conference in a village in Samutprakarn, 20 miles from the Thai capital of Bangkok,
The Irish Times
...a faulty fan electrocuted him as he emerged from the bathtub.
Radio host / colummnist
In Bangkok, Merton stepped out of his shower, slipped on the floor, reached instinctively for support, grabbed an electric fan, and died.
Distinguished Professor of Humanities
He had taken a bath and with wet feet walked across a terra cotta floor to pull an electric fan over to his bed. The fan had a faulty wire, it shocked him, then fell over him…
James T. Baker
Western Kentucky University
…he went back to his room, took a shower and in doing so accidentally electrocuted himself,
Esther de Waal
UNIQUE among history’s great spiritual writers, Thomas Merton is also the only one whose death certificate reads that an electric fan killed him as he stepped out of the bath...Most would say that he simply needed to be more careful in bringing together water and electricity.
Sister Janet Fearns, FMDM
A faulty electric fan fell on him as he was coming from the shower, and he was electrocuted.
It is somehow touching that the room in which Merton died not only has no marking or plaque, but in a sense does not exist anymore. The partition on the right side of Bungalow # 11, which had made it into private quarters, has been removed. Chairs and a table, sitting out in the center of the area, now form a sitting area. Why does it seem like a sitting area no one uses?
The bathroom at the rear contains a toilet and in one corner, a squared off area of ceramic tile forms the equivalent of a sink or small tub. Water from a spigot above fills the tub. With a pan, a person can bathe themselves -as Merton did-taking a sort of a shower. The water drains through an opening in the wall to a klong at the rear. The spigot has a faulty washer and drips constantly.
I walk out of the bathroom, tracing Merton's steps, across the dustless terrazzo floor and stand in the middle of the room ... I kneel down on the floor. I touch my hand to the terrazzo...But in that moment, my hand pressed to the spot where he fell, I feel as close to him as I know I may ever be in this life.
[Merton] emerged dripping from his shower and stumbled over an electric fan with faulty wiring; electrocuted at 53.
Virginia Spencer Carr
Columbus State University
[Merton] retired to his room for a shower and a nap. There he was later found dead, apparently electrocuted by the faulty wiring of a fan.
Editor in Chief
...Merton received an electrical shock from a faulty fan while coming out from the shower in Bangkok...
Cristóbal Serrán-Pagán y Fuentes
Valdosta State University
It was on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 that Thomas Merton took an afternoon shower...Merton's death of course was unexpected.
Fr. Dan Horan, OFM
Chicago Theological Union
his untimely accidental death by electrocution in a hotel in Bangkok on December 10
Professor and Emeritus Fellow
University of Cambridge
He was a klutz and accidentally electrocuted himself in the bathroom; not a heroic death, to be sure.
There were even rumors after he died in Bangkok that he wasn’t actually dead, but had faked his death in order to become a Buddhist monk and live in the East!
Jon M. Sweeney
Merton went to his room, where he took a shower. After this, while still not quite dry, he grasped a defective standing fan which sent 220 volts of direct current through his body.
Wyatt North Publishing
...Merton's chance encounter with a faulty electric fan caused a major heart attack from which he died.
La Trobe University
He was electrocuted coming out of the shower in his bedroom, apparently slipping and grabbing onto a large, stand-up fan with faulty wiring.
On his first major trip, after giving the talk, he went back to his cottage, took a shower, stepped out of the shower and somehow or other grabbed a floor fan and was electrocuted. That is a koan!
He died tragically in Bangkok of accidental electrocution due to faulty wiring...I saw Merton once for just a moment, as he (and Mother Teresa, believe it or not) walked by me while I was visiting the monastery in early June of 1961.
Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Merton was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan.
Jaechan Anselmo Park, OSB
Merton was electrocuted by a fan after taking a shower.
Cyprian Consiglio, OSB
He died in a freak accident on Dec. 10, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was electrocuted by an electric fan while stepping out of his bath.
Mary Ann Poust
It is believed that Merton had returned to his room and took a shower before taking a nap. After he got out of the shower he touched the fan while standing on a wet tile floor and was electrocuted.
Officially, and as far as anyone can tell, it was an accident: he stepped from the shower, stretched his hand to start a large, electric fan only to find it live and falling, down, across his chest, killing and making him at last completely useless.
…the manner of Merton's death—accidental electrocution caused by his grasping the frayed cord of an electric fan…
Sister Therese Lentfoehr
Rumors that Merton's death was not accidental, that he was a victim of the CIA or some other nefarious group, have circulated for years. There is absolutely no hard evidence for this. I have read the accounts of those who first examined the body (and I have seen pictures of the corpse), including that of one of the abbesses at the meeting who was also a medical doctor. An ungrounded fan was found across his body. Either he had a heart attack and fell against the fan or touched it and was electrocuted. Anyone who has lived in the less developed world will attest to, if not undependable electricity, at least “adventures” with electricity. Merton scholar Robert Grip has done extensive work on this issue and concludes the death was accidental.
Rev. Dr. Bonnie B. Thurston
Int'l Thomas Merton Society
In 1968, Thomas Merton died accidentally and tragically while in Asia…
Mary R. Somerville
The Merton Legacy Trust
I asked Brother Patrick to help with a tour when I brought a group of Protestant friends to Gethsemani...We ended up in a conference room where Merton's secretary, fielding questions, held forth with candor and a sly sense of humor...Then, from a savvy questioner, "Did the CIA kill Merton?" Brother Patrick: "Merton was always a klutz, never to be trusted with machinery. He was accident prone. His death was just that, an accident."
Timothy Radcliffe, OP
Roman Catholic priest and Dominican friar
former Master of the Order of Preachers
Bishop of Killaloe
County Clare, Ireland
There was all kinds of theories that there was a conspiracy to kill him, but there is no substantiated evidence to prove that. The general consensus is that it was accidental electrocution when he emerged from the bath, in a hotel, in Bangkok. And it was an air conditioner that was badly wired and he was electrocuted through that.
- November 12, 2020