It is a succinct, disquieting, apparently context-less tweet that has become a classic of the form. But why did Piers Morgan write it? Calum Henderson investigates.
At 12:51pm EDT on Sunday the 2nd of September, 2012, Piers Morgan tweeted “I want to die.”
Those four words typed by the divisive television personality and former newspaper editor have since been retweeted more than 152,000 times. It is one of the world’s few perfect tweets, one which continues to pop up on my timeline at least two or three times a year. Every time I see it I make a point to un-retweet it and retweet it again, and I know many others do the same.
“I want to die.” is Piers Morgan’s masterpiece. It will be his legacy. But for most of us the origins of the tweet are a mystery lost to the ravages of time.
We can be fairly sure that he didn’t really want to die, not in any meaningful way. So why did he say he did? The sole explanation in the tweet’s long reply thread, written in November 2016, only begins to tell the story:
The full story starts on the 15th of August, 2012, when Piers Morgan’s beloved Arsenal football club announced the transfer of star striker Robin Van Persie to rivals Manchester United for £22.5 million. Piers Morgan was upset by this news and expressed his feelings through a series of angry tweets. He railed against the club’s CEO Ivan Gazidis (‘#IvanTheTerrible’), its manager Arsene Wenger, and Van Persie himself, whom he started calling ‘Robin Van Pursestrings.’
The 2012-13 Premier League season began three days later, on the 18th of August. Arsenal drew their opening game of the season 0-0 against Sunderland, and were held to the same scoreline in their following game at Stoke City. Piers Morgan, like many of the club’s fans, grew quickly frustrated with the lack of a suitable replacement for Robin Van Persie, who had scored 30 goals in 38 league appearances the previous season.
On the 25th of August Van Persie scored his first league goal for Manchester United. His classy strike in the tenth minute would prove the difference as his new club beat Fulham 3-2 to claim their first win of the young season. The three points moved them ahead of Arsenal on the table.
The 2nd of September was a Sunday. Piers Morgan woke up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he had travelled to cover the 2012 Democratic National Convention for CNN. He got up and headed to Rí Rá Irish Pub to watch Arsenal’s Premier League match against Liverpool live on television with his fellow ‘Gooners’.
At 8:29am local time, moments before kick off, Piers Morgan sent a tweet from his BlackBerry saying he was the only person in the pub.
Arsenal would go on to beat Liverpool 2-0 thanks to goals from Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, both attacking players who had been signed that summer, ostensibly as replacements for Robin Van Persie. Toward the end of the game a celebratory Piers Morgan tweeted that Van Persie had been “confined to the dustbin of treacherous history”.
There is a gap of just over two hours between this tweet, sent from Twitter for BlackBerry, and the next one you will see, which was sent from Twitter Web Client. This suggests Piers Morgan left the empty Rí Rá Irish Pub at the conclusion of the Arsenal game and returned to his accommodation, where he would watch another game of Premier League football: Southampton vs Manchester United.
This tweet was written early in the second half. It describes the moment Morgan Schneiderlin scored Southampton’s second goal to give them a 2-1 lead. Earlier in the game a 23rd-minute strike from Robin Van Persie had cancelled out Rickie Lambert’s opening goal for Southampton.
In the 68th minute, Van Persie was brought down inside the penalty area by Southampton defender Jos Hooiveld. Referee Mike Dean immediately pointed to the spot and the striker stepped up to take the penalty kick. Van Persie took the penalty ‘Panenka’ style, but ended up gently chipping the ball straight at goalkeeper Kelvin Davis.
Piers Morgan laughed. “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha,” he typed, tagging in Robin Van Persie in the hope that he might see it when he checked his phone after the game. Little did he know it was the tweet’s intended recipient who would be having the last laugh.
For now, though, Manchester United were down 2-1 and time was running out. Piers Morgan fired off a rapid volley of tweets joking about Robin Van Persie. One referred to a quote the Dutchman gave reporters after his transfer was announced: “I always listen to the little boy inside of me in these situations,” he had said. “That boy was screaming for Man United.”
The joking stopped in the 87th minute. With Manchester United hot on attack, a cross found England defender Rio Ferdinand unmarked in the box. He headed the ball into the ground and watched as it bounced lazily off the left-hand upright and landed directly at the feet of Robin Van Persie. This time the striker made no mistake.
With the score now locked at 2-2, Manchester United continued to press for the matchwinner. The 90th minute came and went. “Hang on, Southampton,” Piers Morgan tweeted as the match entered injury time. “Please.”
Southampton did not hang on.
The winning goal came in the second minute of added time. A perfectly-weighted corner delivered by Portuguese winger Nani found Van Persie in the box. With a short, sharp flick of his head he sent the ball flying past the goalkeeper into the far top corner of the net.
It was a goal only one man could have scored. 3-2 Manchester United. A hat-trick for Robin Van Persie.
As the former Arsenal player reeled off in delight to celebrate with his new teammates, Piers Morgan returned to Twitter.com and typed four short words followed by an emphatic full stop. He clicked ‘Tweet’, instantly publishing that immortal sentence.
“I want,” he wrote, “to die.”