Category Archives: William S. Burroughs

No One Owns Life, But Anyone Who Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death

William S. Burroughs? Apocryphal?

pan08Dear Quote Investigator: Pronouncements about the dichotomy of life and death are often somber, serious, and banal. However, William S. Burroughs, the postmodernist author of “Naked Lunch” and “Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict”, apparently crafted the following eccentric statement:

No one owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.

Is this genuine? You are my last hope for finding a citation.

Quote Investigator: The Summer 1959 issue of the short-lived periodical “Big Table” printed an article titled “Anyone Who Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death” by Alan Ansen which discussed William S. Burroughs and his writings. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A tall ectomorph—in Tangier the boys called him El Hombre Invisible—his persona constituted by a magic triad of fedora, glasses and raincoat rather than by a face, his first presence is that of a con man down on his luck. But that impression soon gives way to the feeling that, whatever his luck may be, yours has been very good. A cracker accent and use of jive talk fail to conceal incisive intelligence and a frightening seriousness. “No one owns life,” says Burroughs, “but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.”

Ansen and Burroughs were friends, and QI believes that Ansen heard the quotation directly from Burroughs.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1959 Summer, Big Table, Number 2, “Anyone Who Can Pick Up a Frying Pan Owns Death” by Alan Ansen, Start Page 32, Quote Page 37, Published quarterly by Big Table, Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on paper)