Roald Dahl’s Daughter Died Of Measles, 26-Year-Old Letter Supported Vaccinations

Famed children’s author Roald Dahl’s daughter died after contracting the measles, and the tragic experience prompted him to write this heartbreaking letter urging parents to vaccinate their children against the potentially deadly disease.

Dahl, who passed away in 1990, is the author of children’s classic such as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, and many more. However, in 1962, the unthinkable happened when his eldest daughter died from measles. Twenty-six years later, the author wrote a letter titled “Death of Olivia” to Sandwell Health Authority, which was eventually published in one of its pamphlets.

“Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of colored pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.”

“Are you feeling all right?” Roald Dahl asked his little girl.

“I feel all sleepy,” Olivia replied.

An hour later, she was unconscious. In 12 hours, she was dead.

The Disney measles outbreak — which started at the California theme park — continues to spread across the country with 102 confirmed cases, according to new information released on Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the problem continues, Dahl’s words have increased significance.

Olivia was not vaccinated against the measles, Roald Dahl shares in his touching appeal because, in 1962, a reliable, safe vaccine had not been discovered by scientists.

“[T]here is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.”

However, the Disney measles outbreak has revealed that most of the victims were not vaccinated against the disease, for different reasons. Many parents say they are afraid of the immunization’s alleged link to autism, but Dahl — who was British — made a passionate case to do this to simple thing to potentially save their children’s lives.


“It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunized are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunization is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

“Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunized, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.”


“Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.”

Roald Dahl goes on to make the case that in 1988, one in one million children who got vaccinated against the measles suffered any side effects.

“I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunization.”

“So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunized.”

Roald Dahl says that after Olivia passed away from measles encephalitis, he dedicated his books James and the Giant Peach and The BFG to her, and she would be so happy to know other childrens’ lives could be saved because of her story.

[Image via Getty Images]