New tests confirm that Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from lead poisoning. The legendary composer, who experienced decades of illness that left him in misery for most of his life, died in 1827.
Researchers aren't sure why his lead levels were so high, but they have some ideas. "There are many possibilities," says Bill Walsh, who headed a team that studied Beethoven's hair samples and fragments from his skull at the Department of Energy laboratory in Argonne, Ill.
The composer was a wine lover, and wine at the time was known to contain high lead levels. He also drank out of a goblet made partially of lead and stayed at a spa where he drank mineral water, Walsh says. But Walsh says Beethoven may not have been exposed to higher-than-normal lead levels. The composer may have been hyper-sensitive to lead and his body may not have been able to eliminate it, Walsh says. Walsh says researchers are convinced the hair and bone samples they tested are Beethoven's because they came from two different sources and were matched by DNA tests.
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