Profiles in Dementia: Woody Guthrie (1912 – 1967)

23 May

An account of Woody Guthrie’s Huntington’s Disease

Going Gentle Into That Good Night

Woody Guthrie as a Young ManWoody Guthrie was born into a troubled life and family in Okemah, Oklahoma. From an early age, life was harsh and unsettled and the instability affected Guthrie in profound ways and probably was responsible for his lifelong wanderlust.

Guthrie’s father, Charles, was, according to Guthrie, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was personally involved in the 1911 lynching of Laura and L. D. Nelson.

His mother, Nora, suffered from Huntington’s Disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that eventually includes dementia among its late-stage symptoms. Nora is believed to be responsible for setting two house fires: the first killing her 7-year-old daughter, Clara, and the second severely burning her husband, Charles. After the second fire, Nora was committed to the Oklahoma House for the Insane where she died in 1930.

Guthrie married his first wife at the age of 19, but soon headed out to California during the Dust…

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