Famous Musician Cause of Death Finally Revealed — Through DNA

Unlocking a mystery

F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE
5 min readMar 22, 2023

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I’m going to open this week with a case.

In addition to the jaundice, this acute illness was accompanied by fever as well as diffuse edema, and the patient underwent several abdominal paracenteses to drain excess fluid. One consulting physician administered alcohol to relieve pain to little avail.

The patient succumbed to his illness. An autopsy showed liver injury, as well as papillary necrosis of the kidneys. Notably, the nerves of his auditory canal were noted to be thickened along with the bony part of the skull, consistent with Paget’s disease of the bone and explaining, potentially, why the talented musician had gone deaf at such a young age.

An interesting note on social history. The patient had apparently developed some feelings for the niece of that doctor who prescribed alcohol. Her name was Therese — perhaps mistranscribed as Elise — and it seems he may have written this song for her.

This week, we unravel the curious case of Ludwig Van Beethoven thanks to modern DNA extraction techniques, genome-wide association studies, and 8 locks of hair.

We’re talking about this paper in Current Biology, by Tristan Begg and Colleagues, which gives us a look into the very genome of…

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F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE

Medicine, science, statistics. Associate Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Yale. New book “How Medicine Works and When it Doesn’t” available now.