Patton Oswalt Says Daughter Saved Him From Self-Medicating After Wife's Death

By Victoria Kim 06/12/19

"I would have just eaten to live and then would have drunk so that I didn’t feel anything any more and then would have repeated it every single day," Oswalt shared.

Patton Oswalt

Comedian Patton Oswalt says he would have “merely existed” rather than learn to enjoy life again after the sudden passing of his wife, had it not been for his young daughter Alice.

True-crime writer and Oswalt’s wife of nearly 11 years, Michelle McNamara, passed away unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 46.

“I can say with a pretty good amount of confidence that if I hadn’t had Alice, if I didn’t have a daughter, I think I’d be alive right now, but I don’t think I’d be functioning very well,” Oswalt said in the Guardian. “Drinking would have been a problem. Binge-eating would have been a problem… I would have merely existed. I would have just eaten to live and then would have drunk so that I didn’t feel anything any more and then would have repeated it every single day.”

The comedian reiterated the significance of having to wake up every morning and care for his daughter, who was 7 at the time of McNamara’s passing. Oswalt’s crippling grief would have led him down a very different path had it not been for Alice and his duties as a parent which forced him to stay in a routine and have that structure despite his pain.

“Having Alice was like: ‘I’ve got to get up, I’ve got to make breakfast, I got to take care of this little life.’ So, it’s almost like I had freedom from choice because I had our daughter,” Oswalt said.

This routine was vital to his healing. “The thing that people don’t tell you is, when you’re going through grief, every single thing that you do—no matter how mundane: making breakfast for your daughter, doing laundry—is part of your healing process, whether you want it to be or not. You are basically rebuilding your psyche, whether it’s in something ‘elevated’ like writing, or quotidian like paying bills.”

On April 21, 2016, Oswalt found McNamara in bed not breathing. Early on, he speculated that he had a “feeling it might have been an overdose,” he told the New York Times. An autopsy revealed that McNamara died from an undiagnosed heart condition coupled with a combination of prescription drugs including Adderall, fentanyl and Xanax.

He attempted to self-soothe with alcohol, but said that he “found out the hard way these past few months that alcohol really doesn’t help.” Oswalt told Playboy magazine in 2017 that if not for his daughter, he would be a “shut-in alcoholic.”

Despite the trauma of losing his wife, Oswalt is moving on. He married actress Meredith Salenger in 2017, and has continued to work. His latest projects include Veep and the upcoming The Secret Life of Pets 2.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr