Gottfried von Bismarck was found dead in his flat in Draycott Place last Monday afternoon. He was 44. A coroner is looking into the cause which is likely to involve drugs. Those of a sensationalist bent will prefer to blame the family curse. We knew Bismarck, slightly, at Oxford, and even challenged him to a duel for "looking like a howling cad". The duel was slated to be fought at dawn on Christ Church Meadow, on bicycles, with broomsticks taking the place of lances. Fortunately, the duel didn't happen as mutual drunkenness intervened, we missed each other in the dark. This was probably just as well, for Bismarck's high-jinks had a habit of turning fatal.
Although an intelligent and sometimes convivial man Bismarck was best known for his association with two tragedies. The first was the death of the charming Olivia Channon (daughter of then minister Paul Channon) in his rooms in Christ Church in Oxford in 1986.
She died after taking an overdose of heroin, combined with a lot of alcohol, while celebrating the end of her Finals examinations. In Olivia Channon's case there was much ludicrous talk of a "Guinness curse" as she was related to the brewing family.
Although Bismarck wasn't directly to blame for her death, there was much scandal because of the drugs. Bismarck himself said, perhaps somewhat self-pityingly, that he was still being blamed, years later, for staining his family's name. He felt he didn't fit into Oxford having attended what he called "an aristocratic Borstal" in Swizerland and having worked on the New York Stock Exchange. Even so, he was a member of such exclusive and self-satisfied Oxford drinking clubs as the Bullingdon and the archly camp Piers Gaveston Society.
The second death happened last year when a man fell to his death from Bismarck's balcony during a party invariably described as a drug-fuelled gay orgy. Again Bismarck was not suspected of anything beyond being the party's host.
Bismarck combined pride in his ancestry (descendant of the Iron Chancellor) with contempt for conventions. This led him to a consciously "aristocratic" lifestyle of excessive self-indulgence and épater la bourgeoisie. He said, if he'd chosen to go for a job in competition with a Schmidt, a Muller and a Meyer, he'd get it jst for the name ( Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen). We question whether that is true, inverted snobbery being what it is. Anyway, he had the brightness, and the Prussian steel, to have succeeded in a more conventional way, whatever his surname, but he had little interest in such a path.
Update, 10th October 2007 - The coroner has found that Bismarck's death was the result of "reckless" cocaine use. Bismarck, we learn, had been injecting cocaine every hour during the day and night before he died. Reckless is about right. R.I.P.