Survivor guilt is a particular type of guilt that may develop in people who have survived a life-threatening situation. Individuals who believe it is unfair that they survived when others died and/or believe they did not do enough to save the lives of others may come to experience survivor guilt after trauma or a catastrophic event.
Waylon Jennings was a guitarist for Buddy Holly’s band and initially had a seat on the ill-fated aircraft on The Day the Music Died on February 3 1959.
But Jennings gave up his seat to the sick J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, only to learn later of the plane’s demise. When Holly learned that Jennings was not going to fly, he said, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings responded, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” This exchange of words, though made in jest at the time, haunted Jennings for the rest of his life. Jennings, who later became a country music star, expressed survivor’s guilt about Richardson’s death.
In 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank in the Philippine Sea. Most of the crew survived the sinking but were left adrift for days. Only 317 survived the whole ordeal. The Captain of the USS Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay III was court-martialed for hazarding his ship. Despite the captain of the Japanese sub standing up for McVay, he was convicted of gross negligence. Living with survivor’s guilt and hate mail for years, McVay killed himself in 1968.
In an interview on Lifetime TV’s Unsolved Mysteries, Lawrence “Larry” Geller, one of Elvis Presley’s closest friends, reported that Elvis, as a “twinless twin”, was plagued by guilt over the death of his infant brother, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn.
Elvis had confided to Geller about his concerns that maybe he had absorbed more than his share of the nutrients while he was developing inside his mother’s womb, causing his twin brother to starve to death before he was born. Elvis had also related to Geller about how his mother had tried to comfort her son by assuring him that “they would all meet in Heaven” after their lives on Earth were completed.