O. Henry was born William Sidney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 11, 1862, to a middle class family. He changed the spelling of his middle name to Syndey later in life. At the age of three, his mother and brother died William's father was a physician ( of sorts) but neglected his practice by drinking and working on inventions He never took his practice seriously. William was educated by his grandmother and his aunt, Lina Porter, from 1867 to 1876. Young Porter had a knack for drawing and storytelling. He read widely and was well educated as a child. While still a teenager, he apprencticed at his uncle's drugstore. He worked at the pharmacy for several years and soon the bright, outgoing boy became a licensed pharmacist. He enjoyed entertaining the customers by drawing pictures of them. He fell in love with a young woman but was too shy to ask her out. Restless and probably a bit frustrated, he moved to Texas. He learned Spanish and how to ride horses. He enjoyed being a cowboy and started to write about the West.. He never submitted his early western stories to publishers. He decided to move to Austin and took a job as a bank teller. This would prove to be a mistake, as he was not careful with account books and money. In 1887 he eloped with Athol Estes and they soon had a son who sadly died shortly after birth. In 1889 they had a daughter, but after the birth, Athol's health declined. She never fully recovered. Despite her illnesses, she encouraged Henry to write and submit his stories to the Detroit Free Press. The work at the bank was very boring and Henry did not attend to detail and made mistakes with the books. This came back to haunt him because the bank accused him of embezzlement. He denied the charges but afraid of prison, he made the mistake of fleeing to Honduras He stayed there for seven months, only to come back to Texas upon learning his wife was near death. She died several months later. At the age of 35, Henry was convicted and sentenced to five years in the Ohio Penitentiary- a harsh prison. Henry was lucky he had a pharmacy background as that proved useful to the prison officials. Henry received special treatment and more time to himself. He began to write stories to help support his daughter and adopted the pseudonym O. Henry. His stories were published in popular magazines with the help of friends, who concealed his real identity and his incarceration. The stories were very well received and this mysterious writer became well liked. Readers eagerly waited for his stories to be published.
Henry was released from prison in 1901, with two years off his sentence for good behavior. He went to live in New York City at the request of his editor. He wrote over 100 stories about New York, North Carolina and Texas, all with his trademark smart wordplay, likeable characters and ironic, surprise endings. He remarried in 1907 and moved to Ashville that same year, only to return to New York, a city he loved. His final years were not happy ones. The pressures of work, his commitments to publishers and his rich lifesyle led to overdrinking. His wife left him in 1909. He died on June 5, 1910 due to complications from diabetes, overwork, an enlarged heart and cirrhosis of the liver. After the funeral in New York City, he was buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Ashville. Not many years later, his only daughter was buried beside him. His last stories were published after his death and eventually biographies were written. He is now regarded as one of the best short stories writers of early 20th century America, if not by the critics, at least by the general public. Every year-to this day- prizes for the best short stories are named in his honor.