“Gloomy Sunday” which is also known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song” was written in 1933 and according to legend, caused several (possibly up to 200) people to commit suicide. But how much of this is fact and how much is fiction?
“Gloomy Sunday” was originally composed by a Hungarian pianist named Rezso Seress. The original lyrics to this song were titled Vége a világnak (The world is ending) and were about despair and war, and ended in a quiet prayer about sin.
Later on, poet László Jávor created his own lyrics for the song which he titled Szomorú vasárnap (Sad Sunday). These lyrics were much more popular than the other lyrics. This set of lyrics is about someone wanting to commit suicide after learning their lover has died. This version of the song was recorded by Pál Kalmár in 1935.
The English Version Of Gloomy Sunday
The version of Gloomy Sunday with English lyrics was first recorded by Hal Kemp in 1936 with lyrics by Sam. M. Lewis. It became very popular throughout the English-speaking world after Billie Holiday recorded her own version in 1941.
Gloomy Sunday Linked To Suicides?
Supposedly there was a rash of suicides in Hungary that were somehow linked to Gloomy Sunday. Some stories claim that people were found with the lyrics written on paper that was nearby. Other stories say just listening to the song made people kill themselves. But unfortunately none of these stories can be verified.
But it’s important to note that for a long time, Hungary had the highest rate of suicide of any country. It was as high as 45.9 per 100,000 at one point. So a rash of suicides, although very tragic, wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. But whether or not “Gloomy Sunday” played any role at all is impossible to determine.
Was Gloomy Sunday Really Banned?
According to the legend this song was banned in several countries. That’s an exaggeration but it’s not entirely false. In fact, the BBC banned the version of the song by Billie Holiday because they thought it was “detrimental to wartime morale” but they still allowed instrumental versions of the song to be played. There is no evidence of any other radio bans of Gloomy Sunday but the BBC didn’t lift it’s ban until 2002.
What Happened To Rezso Seress?
Rezso Seress, the composer of “Gloomy Sunday” was put into a labor camp by the Nazis during World War II. He survived and later worked in the circus and theater. Later on he returned to writing songs, but he never had a hit take off like “Gloomy Sunday” did.
There is a story (and it’s very likely just that, a story) that he tried to get back together with an ex that inspired the song. Then he heard she had killed herself with poison and that there was a copy of the sheet music from “Gloomy Sunday”. But there is another version of this story that states she simply had a piece of paper in her hand with the words “Gloomy Sunday”.
These stories are probably not true but unfortunately it is true that Seress committed suicide himself in 1968. He jumped from the window of a building in Budapest.
The Legacy of Gloomy Sunday
Aside from becoming an urban legend, “Gloomy Sunday” has been recorded by several other singers. The Wikipedia article about the song has 88 artists listed.
It was in the movie Schindler’s List and it was also mentioned in the recent Original Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.
If you liked this, you should check out the story of how the Greenbrier ghost put a man in prison for murder.