The changing pattern of mortality in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) led to an examination of the deaths in a long-term systematic analysis of 81 patients followed for five years at the University of Toronto Rheumatic Disease Unit. During the follow-up 11 patients died; six patients died within the first year after diagnosis (group I) and five patients died an average of 8.6 years (from 2.5 to 19.5 years) after diagnosis (group II). In those who died early, the SLE was active clinically and serologically, and nephritis was present in four. Their mean prednisone dose was 53.3 mg/day. In four patients a major septic episode contributed to their death. In those who died late in the course of the disease, only one patient had active lupus and none had active lupus nephritis. Their mean prednisone dose was 10.1 mg/day taken for a mean of 7.2 years. In none was sepsis a contributing factor to their death. All five of these patients had had a recent myocardial infarction at the time of death; in four, ti was the primary cause of death. Mortality in SLE follows a bimodal pattern. Patients who die early in the course of their disease, die with active lupus, receive large doses of steroids and have a remarkable incidence of infection. In those who die late in the course of the disease, death is associated with inactive lupus, long duration of steroid therapy and a striking incidence of myocardial infarction due to atherosclerotic heart disease.