One afternoon in the late winter of 1961, while Hadley Richardson was vacationing at a ranch in Arizona with her second husband, she got a call from her first husband, Ernest Hemingway. Though the writer had spoken to Richardson rarely since their divorce in 1927, and seen her just once in 22 years, she remained his most enduring muse — the model for the alluring but wounded Hemingway heroine — and recently, he’d been thinking about her a lot. He was working on a memoir of their years together in Paris, and he asked her a few questions about details he couldn’t recall. It was a warm conversation, filled with shared memories of their youthful union and delight in their grown son, Jack.
Still, when Richardson hung up, she burst into tears. She heard something in his voice that profoundly disturbed her; she heard hollowness and defeat and despair. She knew the long decline that had begun when he left her for another woman so long ago had finally run its course, that he was moving closer to the moment when he would end his life.
A few months later—on July 2, 50 years ago Saturday — when Hemingway shot himself to death in the foyer of the Ketchum, Idaho, home he shared with his fourth wife, Mary, it was the culmination of decades of loss, of dying passion and diminished creativity — conditions he always associated with his betrayal of Richardson. “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her,” he wrote unforgettably in “A Moveable Feast,” his lyrical memoir of their marriage and the last thing he worked on before his death.