On 8 December 1995 at the age of 43, Bauby suffered a massive stroke. When he woke up twenty days later, he found he was entirely speechless; he could only blink his left eyelid. Called locked-in syndrome, this is a condition wherein the mental faculties remain intact but most of the body is paralyzed. In Bauby's case his mouth, arms, and legs were paralyzed, and he lost 60 pounds (27 kg) in the first 20 weeks after his stroke.
Despite his condition, he wrote the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking when the correct letter was reached by a person slowly reciting the alphabet over and over again. Bauby had to compose and edit the book entirely in his head, and convey it one letter at a time. To make dictation more efficient, Bauby's interlocutor, Claude Mendibil, read from a special alphabet which consisted of the letters ordered in accordance with their frequency in the French language. The book was published in France on 7 March 1997. Bauby died of pneumonia just ten days after the publication of his book, and is buried in a family grave at the PÃ¨re-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France.
In 2007, painter-director Julian Schnabel released a film version of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It starred actor Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and won Schnabel the Best Director prize at Cannes, a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
The script written for the film has been criticized by Bauby's lover as not faithful to events and biased in favour of his ex-partner.
French science fiction author Bernard Werber's novel L'Ultime Secret is known to be inspired by Bauby.