Penguin art director found dead at Lewes home

A highly-respected figure in the world of publishing had been drinking heavily on the day of his sudden death at the age of 55, an inquest heard yesterday (Thursday, May 23).

Friday, 24th May 2019, 11:12 am
The inquest was held at Eastbourne Town Hall
The inquest was held at Eastbourne Town Hall

The body of John Hamilton, Penguin Random House’s long-time art director, was discovered by his wife Claire in the bedroom of their home in St Swithun’s Terrace, Lewes, on February 10.

Analysis of a blood sample showed he had 463 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal drink-drive limit is 80 milligrams.

The inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall heard Mr Hamilton was feeling under the weather on the day he died. He was also tired after a particularly challenging week of work in London.

The father of two had drunk beer at a football match that day and later a quarter bottle of whisky.

He was unsteady on his feet that evening and went to bed early. He was later found lying on the bedroom floor with his head on the corner of the bed.

Mrs Hamilton paid tribute to her husband in a statement read out at the inquest, describing him as a devoted family man who was warm, charismatic and kind.

One of the great passions of his life was cooking and he collected vintage cookery books, amassing more than 1,000 of them.

East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze said the cause of death was alcohol toxicity resulting in cardiorespiratory failure, with the possibility of postural asphyxia - that the unusual positioning of his body may have caused suffocation.

He said that, either way, without the alcohol the tragedy would not have happened.

Mr Hamilton had a 30-year career in publishing that saw him invigorate hundreds of book covers while bringing unknown creative talent to the forefront.

He worked with many best-selling authors, from Zadie Smith, William Boyd and Nick Hornby to Jamie Oliver, Dawn French and Antony Beevor.

Tom Weldon, Chief Executive at Penguin Random House, paid online tribute to Mr Hamilton shortly after his death, praising his “incredible spirit” which “helped define” PRH.