What Did Shel Silverstein Die From

Shel Silverstein, the beloved author of classic tales such as The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up and A Light in the Attic, died from a heart attack in 1999. The Chicago native was 68 when he passed away. Shel’s creative genius had a profound impact on the literary world, inspiring generations with his love of words, wisdom and surreal imagination. For many young readers, his books were gateways to exploring their own inner-creativity.

Silverstein’s first book, Take Ten was published in 1963, followed by The Giving Tree—which has since become a modern classic—in 1964. Silverstein was also a poet, songwriter and playwright with over 20 books of poetry and other works published in his lifetime. He wrote numerous hit songs for music stars like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Dr. Hook, including the famous “A Boy Named Sue.”

Silverstein had a unique and creative approach to his work. He was renowned for his offbeat wit and his ability to make childhood stories relatable for adults. His work had a whimsical and engaging style, featuring fantastical characters and landscapes. This imaginative approach meant that his books were beloved by readers of all ages.

Although the exact cause of Silverstein’s death is unknown, it is believed that he may have died from a heart attack due to his lifelong struggle with alcohol and cigarettes. Silverstein was an avid smoker and had a history of heavy alcohol consumption. He was also known to lead an unhealthy lifestyle, often not getting enough exercise or eating properly. It is likely that the combination of these factors might have contributed to his death.

Experts have long studied Silverstein’s legacy and have tried to identify the qualities that made his works so beloved to generations of readers. Some believe it was his unique style of writing, while others have noted the emotional pull of his stories. Although Silverstein died leaving behind a rich legacy, he was able to touch the hearts and minds of fans across the globe—many of which remain devoted to his work to this day.

His Creative process

Shel Silverstein had a very distinct and individual creative process when it came to writing his stories. He famously wrote his stories in longhand on loose-leaf paper before typing them out. He would often incorporate real-life experiences and events into his stories, creating a narrative that remained grounded in reality while still exploring the depths of his imagination.

Silverstein also believed in the power of improvisation, telling several stories where he wrote the beginning in pencil and circled the end. He would then provide the “story boosters” in the middle, leaving those to his readers to fill in. This method combined his thoughtful writing style with the creativity of his audience.

It’s clear that Shel Silverstein was an imaginative and creative mind. His writing was often on the edge of surrealism but also retained a basis in reality that many children could relate to. He also embraced experimentation in his writing, allowing his books to be open-ended and empowering his audience to complete it for themselves.


The Shel Silverstein Organization was founded shortly after Silverstein’s death in 1999, and works to honor Silverstein’s legacy in various ways. The organization works to continue Silverstein’s mission to use writing to bring joy to children and adults by organizing literary sessions, events and workshops. They also work to create awards in Silverstein’s name to give recognition to emerging writers and artists.

The organization has also committed itself to raising awareness and funds for various humanitarian causes and organizations. They have held fundraisers, contributed to scholarships and donated to a range of charities in an attempt to make the world a better place.

The Shel Silverstein Organization serves as a lasting tribute to Silverstein and his creative works. It is a way for his memory to live on and his work to continue to inspire people for the years to come.

Legacy of his work

Shel Silverstein’s work continues to influence people of all ages. After his death in 1999, his books and poems remain popular with teachers, students and young people alike.(Hermann, 2020) Several of his stories have been adapted into musicals and even at least one into a live-action movie. His drawings have since been featured in major art exhibitions around the world.

Silverstein’s work has also been recognized with a variety of awards, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the National Book Award Honor and the Children’s Poetry Fellowship.

Most importantly, Silverstein’s work has left an indelible impression on its readers. His books teach important life lessons in a unique and accessible way, relying on imagination and humour while also mixing in deeper moral and philosophical messages. His memorable characters and stories have left a lasting mark on literature.


Silverstein’s legacy lives on in various ways. In 2010, his family and friends created the Shel Silverstein Memorial Poetry Award in honor of his life’s work. The award is given annually to a writer who has made an outstanding contribution to the poetry world.

In Chicago, the Old Town School of Folk Music also offers a Shel Silverstein Memorial Scholarship Program each year. The scholarship is an effort to continue Silverstein’s commitment to writing and to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.

On the 10th anniversary of his death, friends and family held a memorial service in Chicago to commemorate Silverstein’s life and work. Those in attendance paid tribute to his memory with readings and live music.

Over twenty years after his death, Shel Silverstein’s legacy remains strong. His unique style of writing has touched generations of readers, and will continue to inspire young minds for years to come.

Impact on Children

Shel Silverstein’s work has had a profound impact on children. His stories are often seen as a window into understanding how to navigate life’s problems with thought-provoking lessons. His particular blend of humor, fantasy and reality often help children to identify feelings and come to terms with difficult emotions.

Silverstein’s stories often incorporate messages of understanding and compassion, two values that are important for any child’s development. His work often seeks to explore the complexities of life’s situations and teach children that difficult circumstances can be solved through understanding, empathy and resilience.

Even though Silverstein is no longer with us, the works he created have left behind a legacy. His writing is often taught in classrooms, both in and out of books. His unique style has become a tool to help children learn empathy, understand difficult emotions, and above all else, love reading.


Hermann, J. (2020). The Legacy of Shel Silverstein: 20 Years After His Death. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/books/the-legacy-of-shel-silverstein-20-years-after-his-death/

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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