The actual life story of the author and illustrator was a tale of two wives and dark chapters.

The first words that spring to mind when you hear the name Dr. Seuss are most likely lighthearted semi-nonsense rhymes about colorful eggs, hat-wearing felines, or pops upon whom kids have hopped.

But you might not associate words like “infidelity” and “suicide” which actually tell the tale about the life of Theodor Geisel — beyond the pages of his many stories.

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The life of Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) involved a long, complicated, and tragic marriage to his first wife Helen Palmer, and a tumultuous relationship with his second wife, Audrey Dimond. The latter would end up caring for the estate of Dr. Seuss all the way until her passing in 2018.

RELATED: How a $50 Bet Helped Dr. Seuss Sell $600 Million Worth of Books

It’s a long story, in other words. But it’s one we should all know due to the immensity of the role the works of Dr. Seuss have had and continue to play in American culture — and beyond. Dr. Seuss’ books have been translated into some 45 languages, per Penguin Random House.

Once you know the true story of Dr. Seuss and his wives, you can make your own judgments on an approach to his books and stories.

Dr. Seuss’ First Wife: Helen Marion Palmer Geisel

Dr. Seuss and Helen Palmer were married from 1927 until her death in the year 1967. Helen was six years older than her husband, having been born in 1898.

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She attended Wellesley College and graduated with honors, then took on a job as an English teacher at a girl’s high school back in her native New York City.

In the mid-1920s, however, Helen Palmer moved overseas to pursue a graduate degree at Oxford University. It was there that she would meet her future husband, whom she simply called Ted.

Helen Palmer Was an Author Herself

The world today best knows Helen Geisel as the wife of Dr. Seuss, but in fact she was a talented author in her own right, having penned such books as Do You Know What I’m Going to Do Next Saturday?  and A Fish Out of Water under her maiden name.

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Though Helen could not bear children, she nevertheless gave to the world several books that remain cherished. And, in a manner of speaking, she gave to the world the works of Dr. Seuss, too.

Without Helen Palmer’s Direction, Seuss May Never Have Been a Success

In a sense, Helen created Dr. Seuss thanks to what she saw him. It was Helen who convinced “Ted” to give writing and illustrating a serious try at a time when he was committing to a life as an English teacher.

Seuss Returns to America and Begins a Career

Dr. Seuss eventually left Oxford in early 1927, returned to the States, and was soon embarking on the successful career we all know so well today. He married Helen that same year and thus began a 40-year union.

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But it was one that would end in a shameful way: it’s all but certain that Geisel was unfaithful to Helen, even as she was suffering from Guillain Barre Syndrome and depression.

The Death of Helen Geisel

The last dozen years of Helen Geisel’s life were plagued by pain caused by Guillain Barre Syndrome, the symptoms of which also included partial paralysis. As she was wracked by pain and losing full agency over her own body, her husband should have been helping support her, but instead he was turning away.

Seuss Was Not There for His Wife

As Helen’s illness progressed and she also developed cancer, Suess began an affair with the woman who would become his next wife just a year after his first wife — his spouse of 40 years — passed away having taken her own life.

It’s little surprise that Helen Palmer Geisel was a broken in spirit as she was in body given how the love of her life treated her at the end of her life.

Helen Palmer Left a Heartbreaking Suicide Note

In pain, Helen Geisel took her own life by consuming a deadly dose of barbiturates on October 23rd, 1967. She left a heartrenching suicide note that began “Dear Ted” and read in part, per Medium:

“What has happened to us? I don’t know. I feel myself in a spiral, going down down down, into a black hole from which there is no escape, no brightness. And loud in my ears from every side, I hear, ‘failure, failure, failure…’ I love you so much…I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are that I cannot conceive of life without you…”

Dr. Seuss’ Second Wife: Audrey Geisel

Dr. Seuss married Audrey Stone Dimond within a year of the death of his first wife. And it was to almost no one’s surprise.

Audrey had met her first husband E. Drey Dimond when both were medical students at Indiana University. They wed and had two daughters, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates and Leagrey Dimond, and soon settled in La Jolla, a neighborhood in San Diego.

It was there that the Dimonds soon befriended the Geisels. And soon, an affair began between Ted Geisel and Audrey Dimond, even though the former was 17 years older than the latter.

The Marriage of Dr. Seuss and Audrey Geisel

As noted, Suess and Audrey married within a year of Helen Geisel’s death. Audrey divorced her husband and Dr. Seuss would have some part in raising her kids as stepchildren, though it was broadly known the famed children’s author did not much care for kids in person.

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Seuss and Audrey would remain married until Seuss’s death, at age 87, in the early fall of 1991.

Audrey Carries on the Legacy of Seuss

In the early 1990s, not long after Dr. Seuss died, Audrey established Suess Enterprises, a company that would handle licensing of her late husband’s works and characters going forward. She would remain an active steward of Seuss’ life work for many decades more, as she survived until age 97, passing away in 2018.

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Should the Life of the Author Affect Our View of the Work

Dr. Seuss being controversial is hardly anything new. Even during his lifetime, which spanned from 1904 to 1991, many of his works were decried for racist depictions of many groups of people — especially his work during World War II — and the backlash against those depictions has only grown in recent years.

Frankly, there are some Seuss books so bigoted in their writings and drawings that they should be relegated to artifact status and removed from classrooms and libraries. But there are others that have wonderful messages that echo through the ages. And still others are just timeless fun.

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Can we be OK with both? With some books being blacklisted while others by the same man are celebrated? It comes down to a personal choice.

Considering Seuss in His Own Words

When reading Dr. Seuss Quotes, be they from noble (if slightly naïve) Horton the Elephant or from a silly rhyming book like Cat in the Hat, or from a more introspective work like Oh, the Places You Will Go or a decidedly heavier story like The Lorax, there is almost always of playfulness in Seuss books, even if there is a larger message.

Looking at the life of the real man behind all the writing and the whimsical drawings, Theodor Seuss Geisel himself, there is often a lot less levity, as we have seen. This beloved American children’s author lived a life often beset by heartache and tragedy, with these darker chapters usually related to a wife — though, to be fair, Dr. Seuss brought his woes upon himself.

It would take thousands of words to do real justice to the discussion of separating some of a creator’s work from others, but now you should have a fuller understanding of much of the author’s personal life, and you can draw what conclusions you need from there.