December 15, 2004 by

Jonathan Aurthur


Categories: Writers/Editors

jaurthur.jpgWhen his son Charley committed suicide in 1996 by leaping onto the Santa Monica Freeway during morning rush hour, Jonathan Aurthur felt both sad and liberated.
Charley suffered from psychotic episodes and had repeatedly tried to kill himself. He flipped the family car into a ditch, took pills, slashed his own wrists and stabbed himself in the heart with a Swiss army knife. But when Charley finally succeeded in his efforts at 23, Aurthur took some comfort in knowing his son no longer suffered.
In the years after Charley’s death, Aurthur quit his copyediting job and wrote the 2002 book, “The Angel and the Dragon: A Father’s Search for Answers to His Son’s Suicide: The Myths and Realities of Mental Illness.” To help other parents of troubled teens, he discussed the treatments his family had sought for Charley, and quoted liberally from his son’s 10 spiral notebook journals.
Born in New York City, Aurthur studied at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., and UCLA. He worked as a community organizer and documentary filmmaker for three decades, and dedicated his spare time to volunteering for environmental causes. Aurthur also edited the journal, Appeal to Reason, and wrote the 1977 book “Socialism in the Soviet Union.”
In recent years, however, Aurthur had been unable to find a job. Friends said he grew depressed over his mounting credit card debt, the re-election of President George W. Bush and the ever-present pain of losing his son.
On Nov. 22, Aurthur borrowed a friend’s Plymouth and drove into the Angeles National Forest. The car was discovered there three days later, blocking an access road. Inside the car was a suicide note that read: “I jumped near the entrance to the dam.” Searchers found his battered body on Nov. 29; he had plunged about 500 feet to his death. Aurthur was 56.

12 Responses to Jonathan Aurthur

  1. Christine from 60s

    Jonathan was one of the smartest, funniest, and most compassionate, committed, and feisty people I ever knew. I think he was broken by simply too many things going wrong at once, and by trying to deal alone with many impossible challenges. Many of us who knew him would have done anything to help him, if he had only asked. Please, everyone who reads this, promise that in your darkest hour you will reach out to your friends before doing what Jonathan did. None of those heartaches were your fault, Jonathan, and none of them should be faced alone, by anyone, not even a tough and headstrong guy like you. We loved you Jonathan, and we’ll carry you in our hearts.

  2. Barbara

    Jonathan was my good friend at St. John’s College in the 1960’s. In later decades, in California, we met a few times. I visited his house once in L.A. and he stopped by mine in S.F. I still have an email he wrote last August when Giora and I were trying to get him to come up here for a visit. Pained that we didn’t try harder and reach out more.

  3. Danielle Littell

    I was a friend of Charley’s, then a friend of Jonathan’s. I ended up knowing Jonathan longer than his son. He was an amazing man, and I am having a difficult time dealing with his death. His strength in writing a book about his son made me think he would never do this. I’m so sad to know he did. However I could not even imagine the pain he felt, and I guess he faked it until he could no fake it no more. RIP Jonathan. You’ll be missed.

  4. C

    I can totally understand why he did it. Both Jonathan AND his son, Charley. the world sucks. The world is a crappy place, unless you are lucky enough to be born into elitist society. I totally know what it’s like to be a spectator in one’s own life. AND, another four more years of George Bush? I don’t think so. If it weren’t for the fact that my mom would blame herself, and I don’t want to do that to her, I’d have killed myself on re-election day.
    R.I.P. Jonathan. You seemed like a great guy, but I feel your pain, and I understand.

  5. Tim Coyne

    From 1999 until his death, Jonathan volunteered for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Jonathan’s contributions to PPLA were numerous. He often attended Pro Choice Volunteer Nights and most recently helped paint one of our offices. This past year, he recevied a volunteer award for his efforts. Why did he volunteer for PPLA? His own words, as attached in a letter to his volunteer application in 1999, state it quite clearly:
    “The main reason I’m interested in PPLA is that I’m horrified at the way the religious right/antichoicers have managed to restrict , by both legal and illegal means, women’s ability to have access to sex education, birth control, abortion, etc. I would like to do my part to change that situation.”
    Jonathan was a great citizen. He will be greatly missed by the PPLA volunteer family.

  6. Larry Mellman

    Why we did it.
    Jonathan, across the table,
    serves home-baked bread;
    we dine with a full complement
    of monogrammed family silver
    from Tiffany, elegant and spare.
    “If I had gone to film school
    and started writing movies,
    by now I would have written a few,
    directed a few, and never
    had a life.”
    Jonathan, who traded St. Johns
    and East Hampton for the
    middle floor of a Brooklyn brownstone
    with the flaky but decent comrades on
    the first floor, Doctor Hard-Ass
    and Doctor Wimp upstairs, and, above them,
    the Guyanese families who had
    the greatest parties:
    six or seven bottles
    of Johnny Walker Red lined up,
    eight-year olds dancing
    with eighty-year-olds,
    and them — Jonathan and Elinor —
    privileged white kids in the black ghetto
    in the middle of the Viet Nam war.
    “What does Lech Walensa stand for?”
    he asks, indignantly. “Do you know?
    Does anyboy know that?
    At least the Bolsheviks had a program.
    Lenin wrote forty volumes spelling it out.
    Who’s got a program?” he asks
    from the depth of his heart.
    “I stuffed envelopes for Rose Bird
    and marched at abortion centers.
    I have to do something, or I’d die…”
    But done it differently?
    Traded months in the magic valley,
    El Valle de Lagrimas,
    with Rosa and Jesus and Antonio,
    the farmworkers and the union organizers
    in the fields of the Rio Grande,
    Traded that? For what?
    A BMW? A swimming pool?
    Or the long march of the
    Texas Farmworkers from Austin, Texas
    to Washington, D.C.
    to rally an outcry against Section 14B
    of the Taft-Hartly act
    amid their brothers
    across the South?
    trade that? For anything?
    A life lived in the heat of passion
    and the absolute conviction of commitment;
    there is no shame in that:
    a life lived for ideals, for the elevation
    of society, for the elimination
    of poverty, for the flowering of human culture,
    free of the tyranny of classes
    and the dictatorship of private property–
    a vision religious in its ardor
    in the prophetic passafes of
    The State and Revolution,
    in the hallowed stories of partisan
    anti-fascist bravery,
    in the memories of the veterans of
    all the struggles, from Spain
    to Viet Nam, from the forests
    of the northwest to the red
    clay of Georgia.
    “I don’t know,” Jonathan says over
    exquisite fruit tarts. “I was
    thinking of emigrating
    to Albania.”
    Los Angeles, 1991

  7. DSB

    When I read a review of Jonathan’s book in the St. John’s Reporter, I wrote to him because my own son had recently gone through a terrible time much like his son – he sent me his book at once. We only corresponded occasionally, and I am heartbroken to find that such a talented and compassionate man is gone. How I wish I could have helped him as much as he helped me. I am so sorry, Jonathan.

  8. janet

    I miss you every day, Jonathan. It doesn’t take much to think of you: a bike passing on the road, a demonstration held, cooking just about anything from broccolli pasta to latkes,cleaning my kitchen, a moment in the car where I would’ve called you to whine about something, any good food, even a goddamned rubber tip…I salute your tree that was planted in that gulch in Playa Vista as I whiz by on the 90, and I water the struggling Mexican lime tree that I planted in my front yard when I couldn’t find the other one on your birthday last year and I thought that it’d died. When the pathetic thing finally coughs up a usable lime Sara and I are going to drink to you, my friend. I have a million things that I could write in tribute to you, about your humor and your incredible blend of intense caring about the world mixed with your cynical but accurate views about the capitalist system, about what a great friend you were, about how incredibly smart and what a natural intellectual you were,about your cooking (my epicurean revolutionary) and how all of my best recipes lead back to you, how your writing continues to astonish me with each re-read even after you’re gone, how much you loved your kids, how you painted amazing eclectic subjects with such intensity, how you were political and an activist from doing clinic defense to dressing as a frog to save the wetlands to getting arrested with Critical Mass to demonstrating and always being out there to fight the good fight… Yeah. A million things. You were an original and they broke the mold, baby…if there’s a heaven for atheist lefties I imagine you’re there…totally surprised but going with it… I love you. j

  9. Craig Highberger

    I never knew Jonathan, but I met his father, Robert Alan Aurthur, in the early 70’s when I went to NYU film school, because my dad was an old friend of his and I was trying to break into the business. Just now I clicked on Robert Alan Aurthur on IMDB and discovered in his bio that he died way back in 1978 and reading further, I read about the terrible tragic suicides of his grandson, Charley Aurthur, his son Jonathan Aurthur.
    Reading this blog page and the tributes just brought tears to my eyes… now I am going to have to call my father (who is in his 80s) and tell him the sad news about both Charley and Jonathan. I just bought his book on-line.

  10. Shizuko

    I kept sending him e-mail and it kept comming back. Finally, I got the courage to search for him on the net to find out just an hour ago. I hope that Jonathan is with Charley. He really helped me get over charley’s death by listening to me. I remember him making me letil soup. I suppose death to both of them was a kind of forgiveness to themselves.
    I am speechless.

  11. Celeste Canino

    Jonathan called me shortly before his death. I never returned his
    phone call. It’d had been over a year since we had spoke. I see
    now he was trying to reach out and I would understand him.
    Thank you for that wonderful meal you made for me Jonathan.
    I’ve learned from your death. We met at the “Alive and Running”
    benefiting suicide prevention 10K run.

  12. Alicia R. Montalvo

    Jonathan: I am shocked! You just don’tknow how I looked for you, Charlie, Jenny and Elinor. I send out letters and they were returned. I searched the internet many times to no avail.
    You and Elinor were my best friends in Chicago. I taught your children and I loved them as my own. Today is a tragic day for me. Not one of the Aurthurs but two! Why did you not reached me? Four years and today I find this out, I am truly devastated.
    Elinor and Jenny If you read this, please e-mail me at

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