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Thursday, September 6, 2007Success And Suicide
I was surprised and saddened last week to read of the reported suicide attempt by actor Owen Wilson. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are staff favorites here, and we’re definitely hoping and wishing for Wilson’s full recovery. But as I started thinking about the comedy star, and mulling over the constant stress of his profession, it made me realize just how pervasive suicide attempts are among high-profile people. Here are some selected 20th century celebs who attempted suicide, but managed to turn their lives around:
Halle Berry – admitted to Parade magazine that, distraught over her failed marriage to baseball star David Justice, she tried to end her life by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Greg Louganis – depressed, abused and confused, Greg attempted suicide three times (including once by an aspirin-and-Ex Lax combo) after a knee injury at age 12 ruined his dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast. Luckily, he recovered, and made it to the Games as a diver.
James Stockdale – H. Ross Perot’s former running mate attempted suicide while a POW at Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam in 1969 to avoid torture.
Donna Summer – tried to leap from an 11-story window at a New York hotel at the peak of her career in 1976, but was discovered by a housekeeper.
Drew Carey – after a rough childhood that included sexual molestation by an unknown party and his father’s death, the lovable Price is Right host attempted suicide twice in his teen years.
Mike Wallace – in a 2006 retrospective honoring his retirement as a 60 Minutes correspondent, Wallace revealed a suicide attempt twenty years prior.
Paul Robeson – the “Ol’ Man River” vocalist tried to off himself by slashing his wrists in a Moscow hotel room in 1961, although his son (Paul Jr.) claims the event was caused by a CIA/FBI conspiracy that drugged him with LSD.
Elizabeth Taylor – hoped to end her life in February 1962 with an overdose of Seconal, although she said she did so only because she “needed to get away.”
Fred “Rerun” Berry – the What’s Happening!! star said he tried to kill himself three times prior to finding religion in 1984.
Robert Young – yes, even the Father Knows Best father fell victim to depression later in life, culminating in a 1991 attempt on his own life.
And an alphabetical list of some others:
Maxene Andrews – survived after attempting suicide via a pill overdose in 1954, distraught over the breakup of the vocal group she’d formed with her siblings, The Andrews Sisters.
Adam Ant – tried to OD on pills in his early 20s after breaking up with his girlfriend.
Mary Astor – alcoholism led to a reported suicide attempt in 1951 with sleeping pills; she maintained it was an accident.
Tai Babilonia – attempted suicide after she became addicted to alcohol and amphetamines following her Olympic skating disappointment in 1980.
Drew Barrymore – after leaving drug rehab in 1989 at the age of 14, she tried to kill herself, but received treatment and successfully kicked the habit.
Brigitte Bardot – attempted suicide several times, first as a teenager. At 26, she downed a bottle of sleeping pills and slit her wrists, but recovered. “I took pills because I didn’t want to throw myself off my balcony and know people would photograph me lying dead below.”
Danny Bonaduce – made headlines by attempting suicide in 2005 during the filming of the reality show Breaking Bonaduce after his wife asked him for a divorce. Neither the attempt (nor the subsequent hospitalization) was shown on-screen.
Maria Callas – frustrated with her efforts to lure Aristotle Onassis away from then-wife Jackie Kennedy, she reportedly tried to OD on barbiturates in May 1970 (but later denied the attempt).
Martine Carol – thought that a triple-whammy of alcohol, drugs, and drowning would end her life when this French actress threw herself into the Seine at the age of 26. The cab driver who drove her there ended up saving her life.
Nell Carter – became addicted to cocaine and attempted suicide during the run of her hit TV show Gimme a Break.
Johnny Cash – in 1967, the “man in black” withdrew to a cave just north of Chattanooga, Tennessee, hoping to lose his way (and his life). He found his way out.
Gary Coleman – announced in 1993 that he had tried to commit suicide twice by taking sleeping pills.
Nadia Comaneci – while she denied it for years, the gymnastics legend was so stressed out (due to several factors, including her parents’ divorce) that she tried to end her life by drinking bleach just two years after her 1976 Olympics success.
Sammy Davis, Jr. – the biography Me and My Shadow reveals that a distraught Davis, fed up with cracks about his race, religion, and height, tried to kill himself on his wedding night by driving off a cliff.
Diana, Princess of Wales – told an interviewer that she threw herself down some stairs while pregnant with William, hoping to put an end to her unhappiness.
Walt Disney – the Leonard Mosley biography Disney’s World reveals a rumored suicide attempt.
Micky Dolenz – performed a suicide scene in The Monkees’ 1968 film Head, then tried it for real a few years later after the band had broken up by walking into traffic and sitting down in the roadway.
Patty Duke – bipolar disorder resulted in several attempted suicides during her life.
Eminem – tried to overdose on Tylenol in 1996 after wife Kim Mathers dumped him. She attempted suicide four years later by slitting her wrists.
Marianne Faithfull – attempted suicide in Australia 1969, after which she broke up with boyfriend Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones.
Peter Fonda – in 1950, a few months after his mother committed suicide, the 10-year-old shot himself in the stomach. Claims it was “stupid and accidental,” but some believe it was the youngster’s attempt at taking his own life.
Clark Gable – hoped to die during a high-speed motorbike rampage shortly after wife Carol Lombard was killed. He then joined the Army and flew missions over Germany during World War II.
Stan Getz – the celebrated saxophonist became addicted to heroin and tried to kill himself with a drug overdose in 1954 when police confronted him over an ill-fated attempt to rob a Seattle pharmacy. He spent three days in a coma.
The next time you crap the bed on some important project at work, remember this: even geniuses screw up. And when they do, it's often in a huge, spectacular, terrifying way that us commoners could never have dreamed possible.
For example, we've stolen our title from the book When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein, a cautionary tale about a company that hired some of the most talented people on the planet, then managed to lose almost two billion dollars in a single month.
Here's more proof that even the best can fall flat on their rich, smirking faces:
#1.The Star Wars Holiday Special
Why It Should Have Been Awesome
The special was filmed just a few years before the release of Empire Strikes Back and featured the original cast. The franchise was still young, George Lucas hadn’t yet had time to make the shit-ton of money that would eventually cause him to totally lose touch with film goers, and the best film from the series still hadn’t been made.
What Went Wrong
Oh, gosh, so many reasons. Let’s see, the plot focuses on Chewie and his family (Mala, Lumpy and Itchy) as they struggle to peacefully celebrate “Lifeday,” despite the oppressive Imperial Forces that wish to outlaw the holiday.
Chewbacca’s family, taking a cue from the audience, apparently would rather watch anything else, so we’re occasionally treated to whatever happens to be on their TV. On one channel, you can find Luke Skywalker waving and smiling. On another, you can find—you guessed it—Bea Arthur singing and dancing with a bunch of puppets (Holy shit! You guessed that?). A third channel features Princess Leia singing a “Lifeday” song to the Star Wars theme.
Look, describing any more of the plot would just be beating around the bush; if you’re really brave you can check out this compilation of the highlights:
Or you could just take our word that the film is total shit. Even George Lucas, an open advocate of total shit, has said that if he “had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of that program and smash it.” If we had a time machine and a sledgehammer, we’d go right to the source, George.
#2.2001-2007 New York Knicks
Why They Should Have Been Awesome
You know how each year baseball fans bitch about how the Yankees are only better than everyone because they outspend all the other teams in the league. Well, the New York Knicks’ team payroll is a ridiculous 40 percent more than the median team pay roll in the NBA. They also have Isiah Thomas, one of the greatest on-court leaders in the history of the NBA, behind every decision they make.
So why don’t you hear NBA fans complaining about the Knicks’ out-of-control spending each postseason?
What Went Wrong
Well, because the Knicks have posted six, consecutive losing records and have missed the postseason in every full season with Thomas at the helm. The Knicks make it this high on the list because they’ve put their faith in the blind acquisition of talent (Thomas has often been accused of acquiring talent like he's putting together a fantasy roster instead of an actual NBA Team) and going higher up, the Knicks front office seems to be under the mistaken impression that Thomas’ on-court genius translates to an ability to run a multimillion dollar business.
To see why this is ridiculous, just compare Thomas’ on-court resume, leading the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back championships in the late ’80s, to his off-the-court one, which features failed stints as coach and general manager in the NBA and a short one year stretch as the president of the Continental Basketball Association. Why such a short time at the helm of the second-tier hoops league? Well, because that’s how long it took Thomas to put the entire LEAGUE out of business. Having Thomas run point for you 20 years ago was like having James Bond running point on a covert military op. Thomas even earned the nickname “The Smiling Assassin” for being so deadly on the court. Given his track record in the business world, hiring Thomas as the president or coach of your team is like hiring John Hinckley as your bodyguard.
So how have the Knicks’ brass responded to Thomas’ management style, which the press has affectionately described as “erratic” and “rudderless?” Well, after years of embarrassing failure as president, they hired him as their coach. No, not instead of, but in addition to his role as prez. Then, in the middle of a mediocre season as the coach, they gave him a ludicrous contract extension, basically giving Hinckley a contract extension after he’s not surprisingly shot you in the back, reloading his gun for him and then handcuffing yourself to his wrist.
#3.Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Why It Should Have Been Awesome
It starred Emmy winner Bradley Whitford, four-time Emmy nominee Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley, one of the guys from Wings and was written by four-time Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin. With all the star power the show had to offer, it wasn’t surprising when there was a huge network bidding war and critics anticipated Studio to be another Sorkin hit and lousy with Emmy nominations. Also, it was a show about being behind the scenes on a Saturday Night Live-esque show and, if 30 Rock is any indication, that is an awesome idea.
As if the idea behind it didn’t get our hopes up enough, the first episode of the show was actually pretty damn good. Sorkin fans, SNL fans and Bradley Whitford fans programmed our DVR’s and settled in for the long haul.
What Went Wrong
To begin with, Sorkin took the Cliffs-Notes-of-As-the-World-Turns approach to plotting, cramming a pregnancy, a wedding, two crippling drug addictions, allegations of racism, an arrest, a sexual harassment lawsuit, weekly allusions to the Iraq war and a kidnapping into one short season. All that was missing was Matthew Perry getting stuck in a bear trap.
But the biggest problem was the show within the show: Sorkin is the best around at writing dialogue when the stakes are high and national security is on the line. He won Emmys for doing it on West Wing and is responsible for the line “You can’t HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Unfortunately that’s the only tone he knows, and when you take Sorkin characters out of a military tribunal, and put them back stage on a comedy show, they’d better be talking about the funniest damn show in the history of TV. Otherwise the whole level of screaming urgency is going to feel a little unearned.
Sorkin apparently realized this, and injected the dialogue with comments about how the media was calling the show within the show the most important thing to happen to the planet Earth, ever! Of course, it wasn’t (otherwise, why not just make that show and skip the middle man.) It was more like watching the cast of Mad TV have an off night. To put it another way: How are you supposed to care about what goes on behind the scenes of a show that would ask Howie Mandell to guest host?
#4.24: Season Two - 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Why It Should Have Been Awesome
The talent of the cast and crew behind the series 24 has been recognized with Emmys in categories including Best Drama, Directing, Casting and, of course, Acting, where Kiefer Sutherland has been lauded for his role as Jack Bauer, the CTU agent who accomplishes so much in one day he makes 1950’s James Brown look like a lazy sack of garbage. All cylinders were firing during the show's second season, jam-packed with non-stop, over-the-top explosive action. Then, between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., something went terribly, terribly wrong.
What Went Wrong
These episodes were the exact point when most fans realized the writers of 24 were flying by the seat of their pants, apparently slapping together last-minute plot twists during desperate all-night writing sessions. Therefore, in the middle of Jack's race to save Los Angeles from nuclear destruction, we get these two episodes about Jack's daughter, Kim.
Kim gets into a car accident en route to Los Angeles. Then she wanders into a bear trap. Yes, a bear trap. Where she is menaced by a nearby cougar. Instead of eating the shit out of her helpless ass, the cougar opts to stroll off in search of even easier prey: a woman in a bear trap with no arms, lying on a plate with an apple in her mouth, perhaps. We don’t even get a chance to think about Kim starving to death when, just as quickly as she stepped into a bear trap, she is rescued by some random, roving lunatic, who, after releasing her from the trap, soundly disappears. The entire, ridiculous chain of events has precisely zero effect on the story and left us half expecting to find out it was all a crazy dream Jack was having during a much-needed power nap.
For a show infamous for juggling a dizzying array of action and twisty plots, hours six through eight seems like the one time the crew took their eye off the balls and let them go bouncing haphazardly around the room.
#5.John McCain’s 2008 Presidential Campaign
Why It Should Be Awesome
So you're a major political party and your President's approval rating is hovering right below cancer. How in the world do you try to get the country to vote for another Republican in 2008?
Well, luckily for you, the world's second-most famous Republican got his reputation by butting heads with the aforementioned unpopular president. His name is John McCain, and he wants to run.
In McCain you have an appealing set of contradictions: he was a congressman and senator who isn't seen as another corrupt Washington insider. He was a war veteran, but seems less hawkish than most Republicans. He looks like he belongs in a Centrum Silver commercial, but he seems more at ease on The Daily Show than some of the show’s own correspondents.
As if that wasn’t enough, McCain got Terry Nelson, the man who managed the seemingly impossible task of getting Bush re-elected in 2004, to manage his campaign. To the Republicans, McCain was less the front runner and more a gift sent straight from the heavens.
What Went Wrong
There is a fine line between having contradictions in a "he's his own man" sense and having them in a "sleazy two-faced politician" sense. And suddenly there was McCain, speaking at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, despite saying years earlier that Falwell was an “agent of intolerance.”
And so once more we find out that politics is a ravenous beast that eats good men and shits party hacks. McCain had to start pandering to the Christian-Republican base (right, burying his face in the president's chest) and in the process stopped paying attention to the things that made people like him so much in the first place. Perhaps McCain was managed (or over-managed) by the wrong guy. After all, Nelson had his most notable success with a president whose popularity was at an all-time low. Still others blame his startling similarity in both looks and back story to ex-Vietnam commando and disguise specialist John “Hannibal” Smith.
These days McCain is considered a long shot, especially after July 10, 2007, when Nelson abandoned the campaign. Oh, and according to the Washington Post, a co-chair for his campaign was recently arrested for “offering to perform oral sex on an undercover officer” in a public bathroom, giving McCain’s campaign the one kind of scandal the party cannot tolerate: the gay sex kind.
Pro wrestler Chris Benoit suffered brain damage from his years in the ring that could help explain why he killed his wife, son and himself, a doctor who studied Benoit's brain said Wednesday.
A doctor who studied Chris Benoit's brain says the pro wrestler had signs of degenerative brain damage.
The analysis by doctors affiliated with the Sports Legacy Institute suggests repeated concussions could have contributed to the killings at Benoit's suburban Atlanta home.
Steroid use also has lingered as a theory, since anabolic steroids were found in the home and tests conducted by authorities showed Benoit had roughly 10 times the normal level of testosterone in his system when he died.
The institute, which researches the long-term effects of concussions, coordinated the testing using samples of Benoit's brain tissue provided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The Waltham, Massachusetts-based institute's president is former pro wrestler Christopher Nowinski, who has said he had to quit the ring after a kick to the head. Nowinski still has ties with World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., which runs the league he and Benoit were in. Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains how concussions and brain damage may have affected Chris Benoit. »
A lawyer for Stamford, Connecticut-based WWE did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment. The company has maintained steroid use did not cause Benoit to snap.
Despite the results of the institute's tests, there was no way to know if Benoit's concussions contributed to the murder-suicide, said Dr. Robert Cantu, a member of the institute who also is chief of neurosurgery service at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts.
"Whether it is the sole factor I believe is speculation and I will not go there," Cantu said by phone.
The level of brain damage Benoit had can cause depression and irrational behavior, Cantu said.
Ex-wrestler focuses on brain injuries
Benoit's brain showed the same degenerative processes that doctors working for the institute found in the brains of three men who had played pro football and committed suicide, Cantu said. There were abnormal protein deposits caused by trauma to Benoit's brain, Cantu said.
There's no evidence that steroid use causes such protein deposits, Cantu said, though he noted the issue has not been exhaustively studied.
Investigators allowed the institute to test Benoit's brain tissue with the permission of his father, Michael Benoit, who lives near Edmonton in Ardrossan, Alberta.
Michael Benoit said Wednesday that he agreed to the testing because murder-suicide was out of character for his son. He also disclosed that after the killings, he discovered a diary written by his son that showed his son was having problems.
"After reading the diary, I would have thought it was written by someone who was extremely disturbed at the time," Michael Benoit said.
He did not elaborate, but he did say a friend told him that prior to the murder-suicide, Chris Benoit had been wearing a rosary, which he said was also out of character.
"I think it's the extreme that is in the wrestling industry today," he told reporters. "The human skull is not built to get hit by a chair or something."
Nowinski said concussions can happen in pro wrestling even though many of the moves are staged.
"I got four concussions in three years as a professional wrestler," said Nowinski, who works for the WWE on its initiative to encourage young people to vote. "A lot of concussions happen from mistakes."
Prosecutors have said Benoit, 40, strangled his wife with a cord, used a choke hold to strangle his 7-year-old son, placed Bibles next to the bodies and hanged himself on a piece of exercise equipment the weekend of June 22.
Authorities have said Benoit's personal doctor, Phil Astin, prescribed a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids to Benoit every three to four weeks between May 2006 and May 2007. Astin has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of improperly prescribing painkillers and other drugs to two patients other than Benoit. E-mail to a friend
A joint U.S.-Czech team from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Charles University in Prague suggests that the parent object of asteroid (298) Baptistina disrupted when it was hit by another large asteroid, creating numerous large fragments that would later create the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan Peninsula as well as the prominent Tycho crater found on the Moon.
The team of researchers, including Dr. William Bottke (SwRI), Dr. David Vokrouhlicky (Charles University, Prague) and Dr. David Nesvorny (SwRI), combined observations with several different numerical simulations to investigate the Baptistina disruption event and its aftermath. A particular focus of their work was how Baptistina fragments affected the Earth and Moon.
At approximately 170 kilometers in diameter and having characteristics similar to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, the Baptistina parent body resided in the innermost region of the asteroid belt when it was hit by another asteroid estimated to be 60 kilometers in diameter. This catastrophic impact produced what is now known as the Baptistina asteroid family, a cluster of asteroid fragments with similar orbits. According to the team's modeling work, this family originally included approximately 300 bodies larger than 10 kilometers and 140,000 bodies larger than 1 kilometer.
Once created, the newly formed fragments’ orbits began to slowly evolve due to thermal forces produced when they absorbed sunlight and re-radiated the energy away as heat. According to Bottke, "By carefully modeling these effects and the distance traveled by different-sized fragments from the location of the original collision, we determined that the Baptistina breakup took place 160 million years ago, give or take 20 million years."
The gradual spreading of the family caused many fragments to drift into a nearby "dynamical superhighway" where they could escape the main asteroid belt and be delivered to orbits that cross Earth’s path. The team's computations suggest that about 20 percent of the surviving multi-kilometer-sized fragments in the Baptistina family were lost in this fashion, with about 2 percent of those objects going on to strike the Earth, a pronounced increase in the number of large asteroids striking Earth.
Support for these conclusions comes from the impact history of the Earth and Moon, both of which show evidence of a two-fold increase in the formation rate of large craters over the last 100 to 150 million years. As described by Nesvorny, "The Baptistina bombardment produced a prolonged surge in the impact flux that peaked roughly 100 million years ago. This matches up pretty well with what is known about the impact record."
Bottke adds, "We are in the tail end of this shower now. Our simulations suggest that about 20 percent of the present-day, near-Earth asteroid population can be traced back to the Baptistina family."
The team then investigated the origins of the 180 kilometer diameter Chicxulub crater, which has been strongly linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Studies of sediment samples and a meteorite from this time period indicate that the Chicxulub impactor had a carbonaceous chondrite composition much like the well-known primitive meteorite Murchison. This composition is enough to rule out many potential impactors but not those from the Baptistina family. Using this information in their simulations, the team found a 90 percent probability that the object that formed the Chicxulub crater was a refugee from the Baptistina family.
These simulations also showed there was a 70 percent probability that the lunar crater Tycho, an 85 kilometer crater that formed 108 million years ago, was also produced by a large Baptistina fragment. Tycho is notable for its large size, young age and its prominent rays that extend as far as 1,500 kilometers across the Moon. Vokrouhlicky says, "The probability is smaller than in the case of the Chicxulub crater because nothing is yet known about the nature of the Tycho impactor."
This study demonstrates that the collisional and dynamical evolution the main asteroid belt may have significant implications for understanding the geological and biological history of Earth.
As Bottke says, "It is likely that more breakup events in the asteroid belt are connected in some fashion to events on the Earth, Moon and other planets. The hunt is on!"
The article, "An asteroid breakup 160 Myr ago as the probable source of the K/T impactor," was published in the Sept. 6 issue of Nature.