Lou Leal, Park Historian, Jack London State Historic Park, wrote in October, 2016 (Edited by Laurie O’Hare):
“…Andrew S. Bomback, M.D. and Philip J. Klemmer, M.D., in their paper titled “Jack London’s chronic interstitial nephritis: A historical differential diagnosis” state that the main factor leading to Jack London’s death was likely mercury poison. While on the voyage of the Snark through the Solomon Islands, Jack London acquired the bacterial disease, yaws, that invaded his body through open sores and cuts. London’s treatment in a time before anti-biotics was mercury chloride.
During the five months spent in the Solomon Islands, there was ample time to accumulate a significant amount of mercury that would mostly settle in his kidneys. “Neurological, gastrointestinal, and renal systems are the most commonly affected organ systems in mercury exposure.” Over the next eight years, after abandoning the Snark voyage, Jack London suffered declining kidney function, a severe dermatitis with swelling and irritation of hands, feet, cheeks, and nose. Regarding Irving Stone’s claim of a calculation of an overdose of morphine, the doctors state that with London’s use of morphine for possibly as long as three years, he would have developed a tolerance, thereby making a calculation nearly impossible.
In April, 2011, Philips Kirk Labor, M.D., published a paper, “Jack London’s Death: The Homicide of the Suicide Theory” that presents a broad perspective. He mentions that in addition to London’s intake of mercury during the Snark voyage and the possibility that he suffered from systemic lupus erythematosis as suggested by Charles Denko, M.D., there is also a very real possibility that he may have suffered from both cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary disease brought on by his history of tobacco, alcohol, and poor diet.
Labor suggests that London may have been afflicted with polyarticular gout due to his protein rich diet. This would explain the many joint problems that afflicted him during the last eight years of his life. This rheumatologic disorder also afflicts the kidneys. The mercury and possible lupus support the claim that he had renal disease. London’s heavy use of tobacco would have had an adverse effect on his cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems as well as contributing to hypertension. Lastly, alcohol can negatively act on the cardiovascular system and also contribute to hypertension which can cause deterioration of kidney function.
Regarding the use of morphine before Jack London went into a coma, Labor states that a dose that normally might have been therapeutic, might easily have been rendered toxic by his weakened renal condition with the kidneys’ slowing down of metabolism.
Another possible factor that has not yet been studied is the use of water pipes containing significant amounts of lead during London’s time. The Centers for Disease Control states that the effects of lead in adults can cause progressive nephron loss leading to renal failure, gout, and hypertension.
So, with all the health factors presented by these men in the medical profession, it would seem that Jack London really did not have a chance to survive and was probably fortunate to last his forty years and ten months.”