Eat and Die are words that were closely linked in Indiana’s mind. In a March 1965 Vogue interview with Ninette Lyon Indiana explained that “’eat’ can also mean death; it was my mother’s last word. While I was a soldier stationed in Alaska I was called home to her bedside. By sheer willpower, she had survived until I got back to Indiana where we lived. As I went into her room she said, ‘Boy, have you had anything to eat?’ and she died.” The two words appear throughout Indiana’s oeuvre, together in works such as Eat/Die (1962) and Column Eat/Hug/Die (1964), and individually in works including Eat (1962) and Die (1962).
Although Indiana did not complete Die until 1984, he began the sculpture in 1962, while living in New York, linking it directly to the herms of that era, for example Star (1960–62). He completed the work in Vinalhaven, Maine, where he had moved in 1978. The incorporation of a skull at the top of the work, in place of the haunched tenon seen in his herms from the 1960s, points towards the constructions he would later make with wood and objects scavenged from the island. The work was exhibited soon after completion, in the exhibition Wood Works: Constructions by Robert Indiana, at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.