Acclaimed Conductor and Wife End Lives Together in Assisted Suicide

BY Arts Desk  July 15, 2009 at 11:57 AM EST

British conductor Sir Edward Downes ended his life last week at the age of 85, alongside his wife Joan, 74, in Switzerland. He had not been ill (though his daughter reported he was nearly blind and deaf), but Lady Downes had been suffering from terminal cancer. After 54 years of marriage, the couple had decided to die together, in front of their two children, after travelling to an assisted suicide clinic in Zurich. Edward was the conductor of the BBC Philharmomic Orchestra, had conducted over 950 performances at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and had gotten his start in 1952 working with legendary soprano Maria Callas. Lady Downes had been a ballet dancer, choreographer and television producer, but had retired to spend her time as her husband’s assistant. Their high-profile deaths have provoked debate about assisted suicide in Britain, which is illegal.

Here’s a clip of Downes conducting a Royal Opera House performance of “Stiffelio,” an opera by Verdi, one of his favorite composers.

And on the NewsHour Wednesday, Stephanie West from Independent Television News had this report.