There are few studies of long-term, cause-specific mortality in multiple sclerosis (MS) relating to population mortality. Our objective was to study survival, excess mortality and causes of death in a cohort of patients with a long history of MS. Patients living in Oslo with definite MS and onset during 1940-80 were included in 2006. Causes of death and mortality in the general population were obtained from the Cause of Death Registry of Statistics Norway. Of the 386 patients included in the study, 263 (68%) had died at inclusion. Median survival from onset was 35 years (Kaplan-Meier: 95% confidence interval 33-37). Primary progressive MS was associated with shorter survival, but mean age at death was similar for relapsing-remitting and primary progressive MS patients. The most frequent underlying cause of death was MS (50%), and infection was often registered as a contributory cause (56%). The all-cause standardized mortality ratio was 2.47. Excess mortality was most marked during the second decade after onset of MS. We conclude that infections are probably the main cause of death in patients with MS, but the frequency is underestimated due to misleading information on death certificates. Excess mortality in patients with MS first appeared during the second decade of the disease. Survival seems to be age-dependent rather than related to disease course.