Between January 1972 and December 1981, 50 patients with severe community-acquired pneumonia were admitted to the intensive care unit of a district general hospital. A causal pathogen was identified in 41 cases (82%). Streptococcus pneumoniae (16 cases), Legionella pneumophila (15 cases) and Staphylococcus aureus (5 cases) were the commonest. Assisted ventilation was required in 44 patients, of whom 25 died (57%). All 5 patients with staphylococcal pneumonia and 12(75%) with pneumococcal pneumonia died. Only 5 (33%) with Legionnaires' disease died. Mortality was significantly associated with age. Recommendations for the management of severe pneumonia are made.