Suicide Prevention Month: Celebrities, Addiction and Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is a tragedy that hits the addiction community especially hard, as those struggling with substance abuse issues are at an especially high risk for suicide. Lest we forget them, here’s a list of celebrities who committed suicide after struggling with addiction. The list runs the gamut from writers to musicians to fashion designers. No group is exempt. All deserve to be remembered.

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David Foster Wallace
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David Foster Wallace
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David Foster Wallace was an incredibly gifted and troubled writer, best known for his hefty, intricate tome, Infinite Jest. Born in Ithaca, New York, Wallace’s family moved to Illinois when he was a kid and the future novelist became a regionally ranked tennis player, a fact that works itself into his writing at times. He attended Amherst College and then the University of Arizona, where he began struggling with depression and addiction issues.

He went to Harvard and then lived in Syracuse for a time, which is where he penned much of the 1996 book that would become his claim to literary fame. Although he’d gone to both a psych hospital and a halfway house in Boston, he was not able to overcome the demons that plagued him. In 2008, he hanged himself.

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Robin Williams
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Robin Williams
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Robin Williams’ death in 2014 shook the entertainment industry. Williams had become a household name in the late '70s with Mork & Mindy, an ABC sitcom in which Williams starred as an alien from Ork. Although he enjoyed successes in his comedic career, Williams struggled with cocaine and alcohol abuse until John Belushi’s death in 1982 prompted him to get sober. He later told People, "The Belushi tragedy was frightening. His death scared a whole group of show-business people.”

Though he stayed sober for more than two decades, in 2006, Williams reported that he’d relapsed and entered treatment. He also began struggling with health issues. In August of 2014, he hanged himself in his California home. He was 63. 

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Kurt Cobain
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Kurt Cobain
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Kurt Cobain’s death has long been shrouded in controversy. The lead singer of grunge band Nirvana was born in 1967 and signed with a major label in 1991. That same year Nevermind was released. Around that time Cobain began using heroin. The success of Nevermind was followed by 1993’s In Utero, which featured titles such as “Rape Me” and “All Apologies.” The album soared to the top of the charts, but Cobain’s drug use increased and he began fighting with his wife, Courtney Love.

In March of 1994, Cobain tried to kill himself by overdosing in a hotel room in Rome. Just a month later, the 27-year-old singer committed suicide in the guest house of his Seattle home. He shot himself and left a suicide note, although some have questioned if he was actually murdered. 

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Hunter S. Thompson
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Hunter S. Thompson
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The death of Hunter S. Thompson in 2005 was a loss to the world of journalism and to counterculture enthusiasts. He is remembered for creating “Gonzo journalism,” a style of reporting that notably lacked objectivity and often involved the writer as a key player. He led a lifestyle steeped in drugs and drinking, both of which made their way into his fictionalized account of a Sports Illustrated assignment in Las Vegas. That account, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, became Thompson’s best-known work and was later made into a popular film of the same name, starring Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp. Thompson shot himself at his home in Colorado on Feb. 20, 2005. 

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Mindy McCready
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Mindy McCready
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Mindy McCready, the country singer from Florida, died a little over two years ago at the age of 37. Although she gained critical acclaim with the album, Ten Thousand Angels, released in 1996, she also had a troubled life. In May of 2005, she was arrested for drunk driving. Then, in July, she attempted suicide and in September she overdosed.

In 2007, she was arrested on misdemeanor charges and, in 2008, she attempted suicide again. She served 60 days in jail that year and the following year she appeared on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. On Feb. 17, 2013—a month after her boyfriend killed himself on the porch—McCready shot her dog and then herself on that same porch in Arkansas. 

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Freddie Prinze
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Freddie Prinze
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Freddie Prinze—father of actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.—was a New York-born comedian whose first taste of fame was doing stand-up on The Tonight Show, back when Johnny Carson was the host. He quickly became a sitcom star, but as his success grew so did his struggles with addiction. He’d begun using cocaine in his teens and in 1976 he got arrested for a DUI while under the influence of Quaaludes.

A few weeks after his DUI, his wife filed for divorce. In 1977, Prinze, who was suffering from a growing depression, scrawled a quick note and shot himself in the head in his Los Angeles home. He was 22.

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Marilyn Monroe
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Marilyn Monroe
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Born Norma Jeane Baker, Marilyn Monroe had a tough childhood. She never knew her father, and her mother was often in an asylum, so the future star went through a series of foster homes and ended up spending time in an orphanage. In 1946, she took on the name Marilyn Monroe, but she didn’t become a big-time star and renowned sex symbol until the 1950s.

She married a number of times, including a short pairing with baseball great Joe DiMaggio. She led a tumultuous life and, in 1961, ended up in a psych ward. She became dependent on barbiturates and later, in 1962, died of a barbiturate overdose. Although the coroner deemed it a “probable suicide,” others have theorized that she was actually murdered. 

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Alexander McQueen
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Alexander McQueen
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London-born Alexander McQueen was a world-renowned fashion designer. At one point, he was head designer for Givenchy, a Louis Vuitton fashion line, and later he went on to launch his own fashion line circa 2004. He grew up in a working-class family, the son of a cab driver and a teacher. From a young age, he knew that he was gay and was teased about it relentlessly in school. Thus, at 16 he dropped out and began working for well-known Savile Row tailors.

He worked in Italy for a while and then attended college at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Although his career blossomed, McQueen struggled with addiction and depression. In 2010—the day before his mother’s funeral—he committed suicide. According to The Daily Mirror, “The fashion designer slashed his wrists with a meat cleaver and ceremonial dagger while high on cocaine and sleeping pills before hanging himself in a wardrobe on the eve of mum Joyce's funeral.”

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Johnny Lewis
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Johnny Lewis
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Sons of Anarchy star Johnny Lewis died under bizarre circumstances in 2012. The LA native first began to make it big when, as a 16-year-old, he scored guest spots on 7th Heaven and Malcolm in the Middle. Later, he landed recurring roles on other shows and ultimately became well-known for playing Kip “Half Sack” Epps on Sons of Anarchy.

However, according to The Los Angeles Timeshe was “drowning in drugs and mental health issues” in the last year of his life. He was arrested three times in the course of one year and had done a few short bids in jail. As a result of his legal troubles, Lewis had gone through treatment. Then, in September 2012, he strangled his 81-year-old landlady, killed her cat, and either fell or jumped off the roof of his home. The autopsy later determined that he did not have drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

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