- His father committed suicide — by shooting himself, in fact. This may have planted the idea in Ernest’s psyche from a very early age.
- He drank too much. Doesn’t help anything. Plays in with depression or loss of control.
- His personal philosophy ended up being materialistic, self-centered, self-serving, and hedonistic. His personal religious views ended up being something on the order of a sentimental attachment to the idea of belief, not actually leaning his soul on anything supernatural or being daring enough to actually trust in something he couldn’t see, feel, shoot, woo, or drink. (This has a bigger role to play than most people think — if there is no God, not in the final analysis or in any real, definable way that you have to answer to Him/Her/It/Them for how you live, why not kill yourself?)
- He had no real capacity for coping with suffering — he was bold and brash when he felt strong (or he’d had a few belts), but this proved hollow in the end and gave him no staying power. (Again, the lack of any religious belief is a telling corollary here.)
- He had apparently decided earlier in his life that if things got too tough or he wasn’t having enough fun anymore, he’d do the only sensible thing and end it. He spoke of this often and often surprised people who knew him only in passing, or only middling well, that this was his avowed intention.
- He had always felt able to write, to come back at the critics once more, to rise up from the canvas and deck his opponent (literally or figuratively.) After a few horrific plane crashes that mangled his body and (worse yet) nearly broke his spirit and sapped his strength, he seems to have lost that ability. Hard living and flagrant disregard for limits took their toll, moreso than he might have anticipated early on his life.
By the end his friends and his fourth wife, Mary, were wrestling with him on a regular basis to get the gun out of his hands. She locked the shotguns up, but he knew where the key was — and once someone has set their mind not to live anymore, it’s awfully hard to hold them back. Even though he lived a life full of adventure and derring-do, he still was unable to face up to spiritual realities at the end, and for that I feel sorry for him.