UPDATED: Impromptu memorials in front of Norway’s Royal Palace, countless messages on social media, condolences from top politicians and plans for a torchlight parade in his hometown of Moss were among the tributes pouring in after author Ari Behn’s suicide on Christmas Day. The former royal son-in-law may well have been as overwhelmed as his family, who have expressed gratitude for all the public support.
Newspaper Aftenposten devoted no less than nine pages to Behn and his family’s openness about his suicide when it started republishing on Friday after the official Christmas holidays. There was even open speculation in established media, which traditionally have shied away from reporting on suicides, over why the 47-year-old celebrity author, artist and father of three girls with strong ties to the royal family would take his own life.
Behn had a history of depression, noted various media outlets including Dagbladet Magasinet. It reported last year, for example, why Behn had chosen Inferno as the title of his latest book at the time that proved to be his last: “I have called the book Inferno for a reason,” Behn told Dagbladet. “It’s about sorrow over everything that didn’t happen, and the cleansing process, the effort to find yourself and new routines again. To get out of the darkness.”
On the book’s cover, Behn also wrote that “I’m a noksagt (so-and-so, you-know-who). I’ve always been too intense, full of words and much too much force. Out of balance … shy and shameless … I let things burn.”
He also told Dagbladet about an incident when he was taken by ambulance to a local hospital after what was described as a “panic attack,” and that he thought he was going to die. In another interview with magazine Massiv, seven years before his divorce from Princess Martha Louise (daughter of King Harald and Queen Sonja) in 2016, Behn said he was depressed, lonely and a difficult person to live with.
In a social media tribute from his mother, Marianne Behn used her nickname for her son when she wrote to her “dear beloved Mikis” that “The darkness never took you. It was the bright shining LIGHT merging with you.” She and other family members also issued a statement that they were “enormously grateful for the overwhelming support and all the condolences” they had received “in this tough time.” As more and more people left lighted candles, flowers, mementos and written messages on the grounds in front of the Royal Palace in Oslo, and myriad others shared their thoughts on social media, the family stated that it warmed their hearts “to see that Ari has meant so much for so many.”
Among them was Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, who wrote on Thursday that “we lit a light for you last night” (December 25, when news of Behn’s suicide was announced) … and we are sorry that none of us managed to light up the darkness you were in now.” Seierstad went on to state that “we are grieving that you are no longer among us, in pain that your daughters have lost their pappa.”
They include Maud Angelica (age 16), Leah Isadora (14) and Emma Tallulah (11). Trond Giske, the former deputy leader of the Labour Party who has had plenty of trouble of his own over the past two years, is the godfather of Maud Angelica, whose unconventional birth at home also made headlines as did all the girls’ names that were unconventional by Norwegian standards. Giske defended his old friend in a tribute of his own to Behn: “I wish all of Norway could have had the opportunity to get to know the good person you were. I wish you could have understood yourself how good you were.”
Others described Behn as “a warm, talented, colourful man, who really made a mark with everyone he met along his way,” and a man “who always went his own way.” There were tributes in newspapers, including Dagsavisen on Friday, from his first editor at Moss Dagblad in 1991, from Prime Minister Erna Solberg and from the mayor of Moss, where a torchlight parade was scheduled for Sunday at 2pm. “We are an entire city who stand together in sorrow over your death,” wrote Mayor Hanne Tollerud in a condolence protocol laid out at the Moss City Hall. Others stood in line on Friday morning to sign it, while also leaving candles and flowers outside.
“We were very fond of Ari and want to hail him,” the organizer of the torchlight parade, Heidi Bøhaugen Sjøstrøm, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday. “There are many of us who are still in shock, and then it helps to come together.”
The Norwegian flag was flying at half-mast outside the royal retreat Kongsseteren, in the hills above Oslo. That’s where King Harald, Queen Sonja, Princess Martha Louise, the daughters she had with Behn, and her controversial new partner, sjaman Durek Verrett, were gathered for the Christmas holidays when they also received news of Behn’s suicide. The church in Lommedalen west of Oslo, where Behn, the princess and their daughters had lived, also opened to the public and was the site of more candles and flowers.
Behn’s family announced late Friday that his funeral will be held on January 3 at the Oslo Cathedral, with services to be conducted by the bishop of Oslo, Kari Veiteberg. The cathedral serves as the capital’s main church and has seating for 900 people. Behn’s manager Geir Håkonsund told NRK that the late author’s family wanted many to be able to take part in the funeral ceremony.