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Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein
 Heart Attack
May 9, 1999
Age 66

Shel Silverstein, 68, 
Enchanting Poet for Children, Dies 

          By WILLIAM H. HONAN  

              Shel Silverstein, whose goofy, gross and macabre yet always  
          enchanting poetry for children sold more than 14 million books,  
          was found dead Monday morning at his home in Key West, Fla. He was  

          Neither the time nor cause of death had been determined Monday  
          afternoon, said Shel Vidibor, his friend and lawyer.  

          While Silverstein's talents led him into a diverse series of careers as a   
          cartoonist, playwright, singer and song writer, it was his children's verses that  
          are best known and often compared with masters of the form like Dr. Seuss 
          and A.A. Milne.  

          His collections of children's poetry, "Where the Sidewalk Ends: The   
          Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein" (Harper, 1974) and "A Light in  
          the Attic" (Harper 1981), both enjoyed long runs on the best-seller ists.  

          Silverstein was also the author of the children's classic "The Giving Tree"  
          (Harper, 1964).  

          In addition to his writings for children, he contributed cartoons to  
          Playbody magazine for many years and wrote nine plays for adults. In  
          1988, when several of those plays were packaged as "Wild Life" and  
          were produced at the Vanguard Theater in Manhattan, Frank Rich, in his  
          review in The New York Times, suggested that playwrighting "may  
          eventually prove his most fruitful career to date."  

          Silverstein's career as a children's author began in 1963 with the  
          publication of "Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot  
          Back" (Harper).  

          This yarn about a lion who acquired a hunter's gun and practiced until he  
          became a good enough shot to join the circus, was only a moderate  
          success. It was not until publication of "The Giving Tree," a story about a  
          tree that surrenders its shade, fruit, branches and finally its trunk to a boy  
          in order to make him happy, that Silverstein developed a mass following.  

          In 1974, when he published the collection of  
          poems called "Where the Sidewalk Ends," his  
          work was compared to that of Dr. Seuss and  
          Edward Lear.  

          The combination of silliness and sophisticated  
          word play in Silverstein's poetry is illustrated  
          by the poem "Eggs Rated" in the collection  
          "Falling Up" (HarperCollins, 1997). Here, the  
          syllable "ex" is wittily replaced by "egg," as in  
          "Eggstra fluffy,/Eggstremely tasty/Cooked  
          eggsactly right . . ." But those eggs are "much  
          more eggspensive than I eggspected."  

          Many of the poems reflect a ghoulish taste that  
          children tolerate better than many adults. In  
          the poem "Safe," also in the collection "Falling  
          Up," a child preparing to cross a street  
          carefully looks to one side and then the other  
          before confidently proceeding oblivious to a  
          steel safe hurtling down from the heavens.  

          Silverstein, who maintained residences on  
          Matha's Vineyard, Mass.; Key West;  
          Greenwich Village, and on a houseboat in  
          Sausalito, Calif., refused the grant interviews in recent years.  

          Shelby Silverstein was born in Chicago in 1932, and backed his way into  
          publishing. "When I was a kid -- 12 to 14, around there -- I would much  
          rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls," he once  
          told a reporter for Publishers Weekly. "But I couldn't play ball. I couldn't  
          dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that.  
          So I started to draw and to write. By the time I got to where I was  
          attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to  

          In the 1950s Silverstein served with the United States armed forces in  
          Japan and Korea and began drawing cartoons for Stars and Stripes, the  
          American military publication.  

          When he returned to the United States, he began drawing cartoons for  
          Playboy magazine.  

          Apart from his cartoons, Silverstein began writing songs in the  
          country-western style. In 1969 one of these, "A Boy Named Sue," was  
          made a hit for the singer Johnny Cash. In 1980 Silverstein recorded a  
          country music album called "The Great Conch Train Robbery."  

          Silverstein is survived by his son, Matthew, and a sister, Peggy Myers of  

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - Shel Silverstein, the author of such acclaimed children's books as ``A Light in the Attic'' and ``Where the Sidewalk Ends,'' was found dead Monday morning of a heart attack. He was 66. 

Silverstein's books, which he illustrated with his own humorous images, are packed with colorful characters like walruses with braces and camels in brassieres. 

Silverstein is best known for his children's poetry. His work includes ``The Giving Tree'' (1964), ``Falling Up'' (1996) ``Where the Sidewalk Ends'' (1974) ``A Light in the Attic'' (1981), ``The Missing Piece Meets the Big O'' (1981) and ``The Missing Piece'' (1976). 

He won numerous awards for his work including the Michigan Young Readers Award for ``Where the Sidewalk Ends.'' 

Before turning to children's poetry, Silverstein wrote verse for adults only. His career began as a writer and cartoonist for Playboy magazine in 1952. 

Silverstein also was a celebrated lyricist, publishing numerous songs including Johnny Cash's ``A Boy named Sue'' and Loretta Lynn's ``One's on the Way.'' He also wrote the folk songs ``Unicorn'' and ``25 Minutes to Go.'' 

Survivors include son. 



Shel Silverstein: Author, Artist, Composer,
Musician,Performer, Playwright 
and So Much More!
Biographical Information 

Shel Silverstein began writing when he was twelve years old. He would have preferred to be playing ball with children his age, but he had no athletic ability. Also, girls showed no interest in him, so he began to write. He was not familiar with the style of any famous poets. Since he had no one whom he could mimic, he began devloping his own technique. In the 1950's, Silverstein enlisted in the armed forces and served in the Korean War. 

Author and Artist:
During his time in the military, Shel Silverstein worked as a cartoonist for "Pacific Stars and Stripes," a Pacific-based U.S. military publication. After completing his military duty, he was hired as a staff cartoonist for "Playboy" in 1956. Silverstein contrubuted several poems including "The Winner," "Rosalie's Good Eats Cafe," and "The Smoke-off" (see links below to read some of these) and wrote the books "Playboy's Teevee Jeebies" and "More Playboy's Teevee Jeebies: Do-It-Yourself Dialogue 
 for the Late Late Show." In 1963, at the suggestion of fellow illustrator Tomi Ungerer, he was introduced to Ursula Nordstrom who convinced him to begin writing for children. One of Silverstein's most popular books, "The Giving Tree," was published in 1964. Ironically, just a few years prior, editor William Cole rejected this book, claiming that it would never sell because it fell 
 between the interests of children and adults. In 1974, Shel Silverstein wrote "Where the Sidewalk Ends," which won the New York Times Outstanding Book Award, 1974, and went on to win the Michigan Young Readers' Award, 1981, and the George G. Stone Award, 1984. He wrote "The Missing Piece" in 1976, a non-traditional books which Silverstein himself sees as being a little "disturbing" because of the unique ending he chose for the book. "A Light In the Attic," a collection of poems and drawings, was published in 1981, and won Best Books, School Library Journal, 1981. This book also won the Buckeye Awards, 1983, and 1985, the George G. Stone Award, 1984, and the William Allen White Award, 1984. The 1981 
 publication, "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O," a sequel to "The Missing Piece," won the International Reading Association's Children's Choice Award in 1982. His most recent book, "Falling Up: Poems and Drawings," appeared in bookstores in 1996, and has been praised by critics everywhere. Silverstein currently writes and draws for "Playboy," which published his poem "Hamlet as Told on the Street," in the January 1998 issue. 
Composer, Musician and Performer:
Shel Silverstein was drawn to folk music in 1960 and later became a respected composer. He wrote the lyrics for and composed "A Boy Named Sue" in 1969, which became a number one hit for Johnny Cash. He appeared in and composed music for the film "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Such Terrible Things About Me?," which opened in 1971.  In 1980, Mr. Silverstein released a country music album that he recorded entitled "The Great Conch Train Robbery." Shel Silverstein co-wrote the soundtrack for the 1990 film "Postcards From the Edge," which was nominated for an Academy Award for best song in 1991, and for a Golden Globe for the same category and year.  

Silverstein began writing plays in 1981. One of his best known scripts, "The Lady or the Tiger Show," was a one-act play first produced in New York City in the same year. It was a satire about a game show in which contestants risked their lives by choosing between two doors: behind one is a beautiful woman, and behind the other is a tiger. He also collaborated with David Mamet on the screenplay for the 1988 Colubmia Pictures film "Things Change." He wrote the drama "The Devil and Billy Markham" (see link below for poem and illustrations), which was combined with David Mamet's play "Bobby Gould in Hell" under the collective title "Oh, Hell! Two One-Act Plays," and was produced in New York at the Lincoln Center in 1989. 

Email:  jenzeiler@juno.com