Influenza virus infection is considered a major worldwide public health problem. Seasonal infections with the most common influenza virus strains (e.g., H1N1) can usually be resolved, but they still cause a high rate of mortality. The factors that influence the outcome of the infection remain unclear. Here, we show that deficiency of interleukin (IL)-6 or IL-6 receptor is sufficient for normally sublethal doses of H1N1 influenza A virus to cause death in mice. IL-6 is necessary for resolution of influenza infection by protecting neutrophils from virus-induced death in the lung and by promoting neutrophil-mediated viral clearance. Loss of IL-6 results in persistence of the influenza virus in the lung leading to pronounced lung damage and, ultimately, death. Thus, we demonstrate that IL-6 is a vital innate immune cytokine in providing protection against influenza A infection. Genetic or environmental factors that impair IL-6 production or signaling could increase mortality to influenza virus infection.