Mariel Hemingway Details Family's History of Suicide, Depression And Addiction

By John Lavitt 08/05/16

In her new memoir, the actress, who is the granddaughter of legendary writer Ernest Hemingway, addresses her family's dark history of addiction and mental illness.

Mariel Hemingway Details Family's History of Suicide, Depression And Addiction

Mariel Hemingway is not scared of facing the demons of her family history, especially if it helps other families and maybe saves lives. In her new memoir, Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family, the actress records her family's dark history that includes seven suicides—including those of her grandfather Ernest Hemingway, one of the legendary writers of the Lost Generation, and her supermodel sister, Margaux. In every case, the suicide seemed to have been brought on by depression and substance abuse. 

The haunting family stories in her memoir have clearly been percolating in Mariel Hemingway's head for some time. In a 2015 interview with Entertainment Tonight, Hemingway illuminated the challenge of bearing the weight of the tragedies in her life:

"Suicide's really rough to deal with as a family. I mean, [when it came to my sister Margaux] my father denied it. We all pretended that it didn't happen—that it was actually an accidental overdose," she said at the time. "The alcohol is self-medication for the pain that my family couldn't deal with. There was no conversation about stuff, so rather than having conversation, they drank."

Once a top supermodel, Margaux Hemingway died alone in her apartment in 1996 from an intentional overdose of pills. Beyond addiction and alcoholism, Margaux was plagued by depressive episodes and dyslexia. "I was drinking by myself. I was very suicidal, but I always had a smile on my face," she told ET in 1990.

Many members of the Hemingway clan, including Mariel, were plagued by mental illness as well. Mariel believes her grandfather Ernest was a victim of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He shot himself in Idaho four months before she was born in 1961. Several other family members killed themselves due to the deadly combination of depression and substance abuse.

"I thought I could fix my family when I was a kid," she told the Miami Herald in July. "If somebody could have talked to me, it would've taken all that pressure off me. I actually thought it was my job to make my family better because everybody was so messed up. I thought, 'Well, somebody's got to clean up after the crazy.'" Since she battled depression when she was younger, Hemingway decided to take a stand and help people face the challenge of mental illness. 

"There's still a stigma," she continued. "It's funny, because I'm such a healthy, balanced person now. But with people in the industry, because of a couple of stories that came out, they were like, 'I don't know if we can hire her—isn't she depressed?' But you can be a drug addict or you can beat your wife or husband, you can do all kinds of crazy stuff and still get hired, still get a promotion. But even now, when you talk about mental health, people are really afraid, because it's too close to home."

As the divorced mother of two grown daughters, Hemingway feels she now has the freedom to tell her story. While focusing on how she escaped the genetic pitfalls of her family heritage, she also celebrates the wonders of recovery. Seeing so many people in need across the country, Hemingway felt compelled to help. 

"I started to realize I had a great understanding of the whole space. I was drawn to being able to tell a story so that other people don't feel alone, so they don't feel isolated inside the darkness because there is so much darkness when you don't speak about it, and there's so much hope and light in recovery if you're able to tell your story … I grew up watching a family that was completely amazing and creative but also destructive and self-medicating. All of them, they were addicts. I didn't want to end up like that."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.