Celebrity Meltdown – famous, important people who have suffered depression

Art Buchwald

History shows that brilliance often goes hand in hand with mental illness. During the last millennium, thousands of our heroes endured ineffective therapies and dodged social stigma by keeping mental maladies–from manic depression to multiple personalities to schizophrenia–out of the public eye. But today’s greats are swinging wide the closet door, and feel passionate that we all should too.


I had two depressions, one in 1963 and the other in 1987–the first clinical depression, the second manic depression. One of my major fears during my depression was that I would lose my sense of humor and wind up in advertising. I was hospitalized because I was suicidal, but I wouldn’t have followed through anyway because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the New York Times obituary page. I was fearful that Gen. De Gaulle would die on the same day, and no one would recognize my passing.

But I still thought about it constantly.

My wife knew I was in this state, and on a visit to my hospital bed, she surreptitiously placed a photograph of my three children on the nightstand. When I saw it, I realized I would be hurting them more than myself.

In the early ’90s, I went on Larry King Live with Mike Wallace and Kay Jamison to discuss depression. I wasn’t sure I should do it because I didn’t want to become a poster boy for mental health. But I did. As it turned out, the show had the most viewer reaction of any Larry King show.

There were more depressed people in America than anyone guessed.

Celebrities can play a role in helping depressed people: When Bill Styron or Mike Wallace admit they struggled with depression, sufferers say, “If they can have one, then I guess so can I.” Styron, for one, is a role model for me.

Mike, Bill and I suffered from depression at the same time; the only difference among the three of us being that Mike and I suffered–and Bill made a million dollars.

All kidding aside, the message is simple. You do get over depressions. More important, you are a better person for having had one. I seemed to wipe out many of my skeletons in a short period of time and discard many fears that had bugged me before. You become more sensitive and kind. In my case it was so.

I agreed to write this introduction because talking about depression seems to help me as much as the people I am talking to. I wouldn’t want another depression in a million years but I have made peace with the two I have had.

SIGMUND FREUD (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud is known ubiquitously as a scientist, genius, polemic, revolutionary, doctor and analyst–but not as a patient.

According to numerous biographers, Freud often obsessed about his sex life and money; he wrote 900 love letters to the woman of his affections; he suffered bouts of depression and despair; he frequently seethed with resentment at rivals; and, according to one biographer, he was “overly credulous” when it came to crackpot medical theories.

Freud’s demons and quirks sparked his desire to learn more about human motivation and behavior.

Indeed, his early family life, marked by his resentment at having to share his mother’s love and attention, led Freud to develop his theories of human development.

Freud has forever altered the world’s view of the human mind with his radical concepts such as the Oedipus complex, free association, dream theory, and the division of the mind into the id, ego and superego; everyday lexicon is littered with Freudian terms such as “repressed,” “narcissistic,” “rationalization” and “projection.”

But that doesn’t preclude Freud from being susceptible to the same kinds of delusions and problems with which he diagnosed his patients.

MARILYN MONROE (1926-1962)

Marilyn Monroe, the icon, actress, birthday serenader, model and immortal vixen, couldn’t beat chronic depression–and ultimately paid for it with her life. At the end of her short, wild career, Monroe was under the constant care of a psychiatrist, and was prone to mixing prescription drugs with alcohol. While she received acclaim for her work in Some Like It Hot (1959), she became increasingly unreliable, was fired from the last film she worked on and was briefly hospitalized in a mental clinic. Three years later, at the age of 36, she was found dead, apparently having overdosed on barbiturates.

TED TURNER (1938- )

Turner tried lithium for a while to help him fight manic depression, but stopped relying on it before Turner Broadcasting merged with Time Warner in 1995. Turner, now 61, essentially responsible for the birth of cable television, possesses over $2 billion in company holdings, despite–or possibly due to–his illness.


Greg Louganis, the most successful diver in history, has recently gone public with the news that his mental health took its own plunge years ago.

Louganis, the winner of five Olympic medals, first experienced depression at age 12 when a doctor told him that because of knee damage, he would have to give up gymnastics and his dream of competing in the Olympics.

Louganis attempted suicide by downing aspirin and Ex-Lax, trying again twice before the age of 18. While counseling sessions accomplished little, Louganis found that diving–a sport less grueling for the knees–was a satisfying way to express his physical talents.

By 1971 he had qualified for the Junior Olympics. Five years later, at the age of 16, Louganis won a silver medal at the Montreal olympics in the 10-meter platform diving competition. He went on to win gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.

But Louganis felt acute insecurities and inner conflicts about being gay. In a crushing blow, he found out in 1987 that he was HIV-positive.

For years, Louganis did not share the news of his illness for fear that it would cost him his diving career. He relied on the income from endorsements and appearances to pay his enormous medical expenses rather than submit the bills to his insurance company.

Louganis has since gone public with his illness, touring the country to give speeches about his life experiences and act as a positive role model.


While on tour to promote her platinum album, Jagged Little Pill, Morissette began to feel helpless. “Schedule-wise, my health and peace of mind weren’t a priority,” she told reporters. “There had been this dissonance in the midst of all the external success. Because on the one hand, I was expected to be overjoyed by it, and at the same time I was disillusioned by it.” To combat her depression, Morissette traveled to India and Cuba, read, competed in triathlons and reconnected with friendships that she had let lapse. Feeling better within a year, she went on to produce a second hit album.


Lionel Aldridge thought winning three Super Bowls was a challenge. But at least he could trust and feel comfortable with his teammates.

A year after retiring as a defensive end for the world champion Green Bay Packers football team in 1973, Aldridge went to work as a sportscaster at WTMJ-TV, where he began to feel suspicious of his co-workers and hear incendiary voices in his head. He checked himself into the hospital, but after a period of drug treatment, felt “zombied out.” Aldridge stopped taking the medicine so he could go back to work.

The voices continued, though, telling him he was a terrible husband, that he didn’t deserve his job, that strangers were out to destroy him and that people in the TV set could see inside his soul. Soon his wife left him, and, in 1980, he quit his job.

The former sports hero spent the next two years traveling around, staying in homeless shelters. He returned to Milwaukee in 1983, moved into the Rescue Mission and got a menial job at the Milwaukee post office. With a toned-down dose of medication, Aldridge was able to lower the frequency of the voices and function at work.

Aldridge went on to become a board member of the Mental Health Association of Milwaukee County and a full-time speaker for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, traveling around the country to talk about mental health issues. He died of heart failure at the age of 57 in 1998.


Honest Abe kept some things in the closet.

He not only suffered from depression his entire life, but also had frequent anxiety attacks with burning eyes, headaches, indigestion and nausea. He was plagued by nightmares, visions and premonitions of his own death.

While some historians attribute Lincoln’s illness to the death of his mother when he was 10, others say his “melancholy” came from a swift kick in the head by a horse when he was a boy.

Lincoln fell into “the shadow of madness,” as he called it, in 1835 after the death of first love Ann Rutledge. After he broke off his engagement to Mary Todd in 1841, Lincoln’s friends watched him around the clock, fearing he’d commit suicide. He was unable to work, and rumors of his insanity began to spread.

During the early 19th century, there was little available to assist people through their depression. The prevailing therapy of the time was the Christian-oriented moral treatment, based on exhortation, kindness and support.

A decade later, Lincoln was able to channel his depression by obsessing over his legal and political career. He had a few more lapses during the Civil War, especially after Bull Run and toward the end of combat, but nonetheless was able to emerge as one of the greatest American presidents.

LEO TOLSTOY (1828-1910)

Though he had limitless energy for his many creative projects, Tolstoy told fellow writer Ivan Bunin: “There is no happiness in life, only occasional flares of it.”

While finishing his novel Anna Karenina, Tolstoy began to experience episodes of depression, and even contemplated suicide. But during this dark period, he found new meaning in Christianity. He expressed his celebrated mantra of “universal love and passive resistance to evil in the form of violence” in a series of writings that amplified his newfound faith.


Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes has informed, aroused and incensed millions with his documentaries–not always handling the criticism well.

In 1982, Wallace’s documentary on government misrepresentation of Vietnam War enemy troops inspired a general to file a libel suit. In reaction, Wallace developed psychosomatic pain: the feeling of “knives” in his arms and weakness in his legs. He battled suicidal thoughts and relied on sleeping pills for rest.

When the trial finally began in 1984, Wallace collapsed and was hospitalized for two weeks. His doctor diagnosed him with clinical depression and gave him the drug Ludiomil.

When the trial ended in 1985, Wallace was able to stop taking medication. But he suffered two more bouts of depression over the next 10 years.

Since 1993, the antidepressant Zoloft, combined with therapy, has kept his depression under control. Wallace, now 81, appeared in the 1998 HBO documentary Dead Blue: Surviving Depression and is working to destigmatize the illness.

GEORGIA O’KEEFFE (1887-1986)

Georgia O’Keeffe was so deathly afraid of being unoriginal that she destroyed all of her paintings shortly before her 30th birthday. O’Keeffe’s self-confidence was crushed in the late 1920s when her husband had an affair with a woman 40 years his junior O’Keeffe was briefly hospitalized for depression, but emerged feeling reborn. She wrote to her husband: “I am not sick anymore. Everything in me begins to move.” Shortly after this episode, she found inspiration in the Southwest, and subsequently created many of her haunting landscapes.

ROSEANNE (1952- )

Roseanne is one of those comedians whose rakish and raunchy humor is driven by the tragedies in her life.

In 1994, Roseanne announced publicly she had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and agoraphobia. In her autobiography, My Lives, she reveals a childhood marked by sexual, physical and verbal abuse allegedly committed by her parents.

Specialists say Roseanne may have developed “multiple personalities” to cope with such trauma. She was hospitalized several times, including a yearlong stay in a state hospital at age 16. Roseanne is still in “heavy duty psychotherapy,” as she puts it, and has taken antidepressants, including Prozac, but she has still managed to become a successful comedian, TV star, producer and writer, currently hosting a syndicated talk show, The Roseanne Show.

ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)

Isaac Newton had some choices for treatment: bloodletting, purging, potions of mixed sedatives, prayer, a walk in the woods or a good book. These were your options if you suffered from mild schizophrenia or manic depression–as Newton did–in the late 1600s.

Nobody knew exactly what was wrong with him and most simply labeled him “mad.” But Newton’s insanity seems to have inspired his discovery of calculus, the laws of mechanics and gravity. In fact, during a manic period in his early 20s, Newton worked night and day–often forgetting to sleep, eat and bathe–and made most of his important discoveries.

But the insomnia and anorexia, on the other hand, often induced periods of depression. Newton suffered memory loss, confusion and paranoia.

As a child, he raged against his mother; he was a hypochondriac; he didn’t fit in with his classmates; and he was oblivious to his schoolwork. Newton thought he had a personal relationship with God, was obsessed with sin and preoccupied with death.

But in his 50s, Newton entered a manic phase that led him to London, where he worked with the government, served as the president of the Royal Society and was eventually knighted. He died at 85, an unusually old age for the time.

FRANZ KAFKA (1883-1924)

Serial heartbreak, an empty job and a dysfunctional relationship with his father are the essence of Franz Kafka’s genius work–and may ultimately have led to his demise.

Kafka’s work is inspired and defined by loneliness, frustration and oppression, anxiety, stress and depression. While his options for therapy included walks or personal retreats or possibly psychoanalysis (since he lived in the same time and place as Freud), Kafka considered writing to be his “form of prayer,” doubling as therapy. In his stories, he toyed with both expressionism and surrealism, and his style was an ironic mixture of fantasy and reality.

Like so many other greats, Kafka didn’t live to see his celebrity. His best known works, The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika, were published posthumously, against his wishes that ail manuscripts be destroyed after he perished.

Kafka developed tuberculosis in 1917 and died seven years later in an Austrian sanitarium.


Throughout his vibrant career in film, Van Damme has used drugs, been diagnosed with cyclic manic depression and accused of spousal abuse. As a teen-ager, he took refuge in karate, ballet and in daydreams, which he calls “rosy dreams.” Today he takes medication to help mitigate the effects of his illness.


Carrie Fisher, best known as Princess Leia in Star Wars, has suffered from manic depression since age 15. After a 1985 overdose, she spent 37 days in rehab, where she was treated for an addiction to the prescription barbiturate Percodan. Talking and writing herself through her manic episodes, often staying up all night to do so, Fisher relies on comic relief to get through her depressions. Combined with medicine and therapy, Fisher’s coping skills have allowed her to focus on her work; she is currently developing a TV series and two movies, and is writing a fourth novel.

TIPPER GORE (1948- )

Vice president Al Gore knows depression more intimately than most, since his wife and mother-in-law have battled with it for years.

Tipper Gore’s mother endured a lifelong dependency on antidepressants and was hospitalized twice.

Tipper Gore herself succumbed to depression after her son nearly died in a car accident in 1989. She was diagnosed around 1991, tried various medications and sought professional guidance from a social worker friend.

After her recent decision to publicize her experience with clinical depression, the Second Lady has fought to raise awareness for sufferers by coordinating the first-ever White House Conference on Mental Illness.


The man famous for splashing and dripping paint across canvases was also a depressed, argumentative boozer, who ultimately died drunk behind the wheel. During his lifetime, he saw an analyst, but never took medication. Reaching fame posthumously, Pollock is now considered the pioneer of expressionism, his pieces selling for as much as $18 million each.



SA-Suicide Attempt


Public Figures

Barbara Bush * Former First Lady

Gamet Coleman * Texas legislator H

Kitty Dukakis * Former First Lady of Massachusetts H

Thomas Eagleton * Lawyer, former U.S. Senator H

Lynn Rivers * U.S. Congresswoman

Sol Wachtler * Judge H

Phil Graham * Owner of the Washington Post

Abble Hoffman * Writer and political activist S

Robert McFarlane * Former National

Security Adviser SA, H


Ilie Natase * Tennis player and politician

Jimmie Piersall * Baseball player and announcer

Muffin Spencer Devlin * Pro golfer H

Bert Yancey * Pro golfer H, SA


Buzz Aldrin * Astronaut, second man to walk on Moon H

Karl Paul Link * Chemist

Steven Hawking * Physicist, developed the

Big Bang creation theory

Salvador Luria * Scientist of bacterial genetics,

Nobel Laureate


Francis Ford Coppola * Director of The Godfather

Patty Duke * Actor on The Patty Duke Show SA

Linda Hamilton * Actor from The Terminator movies

Alvin Ailey * Dancer and choreographer

Dick Clark * Host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

Drew Barrymore * Movie actor and director SA, H


William Faulkner * The Sound and the Fury H

F. Scott Fitzgerald * The Great Gatsby H

Ernest Hemingway * The Old Man and the Sea H, S

Joseph Conrad * Heart of Darkness SA

Eugene O’Neill * The Iceman Cometh H, SA

Tennessee Williams * A Streetcar Named Desire H

Virginia Woolf * A Room of One’s Own H, S

Jules Feiffer * cartoonist for the New Yorker

and the Village Voice


Irving Berlin * White Christmas” and “God Bless America”

Cole Porter * Anything Goes

Hector Berlioz * Symphonie Fantastique

Kurt Cobain * Former musician for the band Nirvana S

Sting * Formerly of The Police and now a solo performer

Tam Waits * Experimental, progressive musician

Brian Wilson * Former member of the Beach Boys

Axl Rose * Singer for rock band Guns n’ Roses

Ray Charles * Legendary R&B performer

Eric Clapton * Blues-rock musician H

Sheryl Crow * Rock musician

Sarah McLachlan * Pop singer and creator of Lilith Fair

Robert Schumann * German classical composer H, SA


T.S. Eliot * The Wasteland

Sylvia Plath * The Bell Jar

Edgar Allen Poe * “The Raven” SA

Anne Sexton * Live or Die S

Walt Whitman * Leaves of Grass H, S


Vincent Van Gogh * Starry Night, Sunflowers H, S

Michelangelo * Renaissance painter of the Sistine Chapel

ceiling and sculptor of David

Edvard Munch * The Scream H

Mark Rothko * Modern, color-block painting pioneer S

Art Buchwald has been called the “Wit of Washington” for his celebrated column in the Washington Post and nearly 50 years of political humor writing.3

COPYRIGHT 1999 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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