People make the decision to take their own lives every day, which is a tragic part of the reality we live in. But it can seem like celebrity suicides occur at a higher rate than people who aren’t famous or have a following.
There may be a simple reason for this. After all, if someone we don’t know commits suicide, it’s unlikely that we’ll hear about it, but when a celebrity does so, we read about it online or see it on the news. With this in mind, the perception of celebrity suicides happening at a higher rate makes sense, but it’s likely false.
But how sure can we be about that? In this piece, we’ll look at some cases of prominent stars who took their own lives, explore what we can learn about how risk factors for suicide compare between famous and non-famous people and try to conclude whether celebrities are more likely to die by suicide.
Prominent Examples of Celebrities Who’ve Completed Suicide
Celebrity suicide isn’t a concept of the 21st century. In fact, it has been happening since practically the beginning of recorded history. Periander was a tyrant ruler in Ancient Greece who commissioned his own assassination. It’s thought that the famous Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, killed herself by drinking a poison mixture.
Here are some other historical figures and celebrities who completed suicide:
Ernest Hemingway, Author, 1961
Hemingway, one of the most renowned authors of his time for works like For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, took his own life after battling depression, likely due in part to his failing physical health.
Sylvia Plath, Poet, 1963
Sylvia Plath is renowned as one of the most respected poets of her time, drawing critical acclaim for her collection, The Bell Jar, in the late 1950s. Like many artists and creatives, Plath was extremely passionate, and as a result, tortured by some of the circumstances in her life. This led to her suicide at only 30 years of age.
Kurt Cobain, Musician, 1994
Kurt Cobain is most famously known as the former lead singer of the 90s grunge group Nirvana. He started drinking and using drugs at a young age while growing up in an unstable environment in Washington state.
As Nirvana grew in popularity, Cobain’s struggles with substance use and his relationship with fellow musician Courtney Love became more public but no less severe. He committed suicide with a firearm at the age of 27.
Alexander McQueen, Fashion Designer, 2010
Alexander McQueen rose from lower-class beginnings to become the lead designer for the legendary Louis Vuitton Givenchy line of fashion before establishing his own fashion brand in 2004. He committed suicide in 2010, likely in part due to his mother’s death 9 days before.
Robin Williams, Actor and Comedian, 2014
World-renowned actor, famous for films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, and Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams completed suicide in 2014 after a long-term battle with depression and addiction, and more recently, a form of degenerative brain disease called Lewy body dementia.
Anthony Bourdain, TV Personality and Chef, 2018
Bourdain, beloved for his ability to seamlessly blend into different cultures in his travel and food-oriented TV shows — most recently CNN’s Parts Unknown — started from humble beginnings. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Bourdain gained some notoriety when he published a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to work in a restaurant kitchen.
He had famously battled drug abuse in his earlier days and was very open about his past struggles. He was found dead by suicide at age 61 in a French hotel room by his close friend and fellow chef, Eric Ripert.
Why Do Celebrities Commit Suicide?
So what do celebrity suicides have in common with each other? For the most part, the same risk factors that all suicides tend to share: substance abuse and addiction, intense grief, mental health conditions and so forth.
But are there conditions that are inherent to being famous that make these factors more likely to lead to suicide? It’s hard to say, but there’s reason to believe that this might be the case. The Atlantic published an exploration of average life spans of celebrities — specifically, pop musicians — compared to the general population and found that musicians are more likely to die young, and that suicide is a leading cause.
The Pressure That Comes With Fame
One potential explanation for why celebrities complete suicide is that fame brings pressure and judgment from people all over the world. When you’re living a life where people pay to see you perform on stage, or in movies, it can be stressful. Actors, musicians and other celebrities are on the road a lot, away from their family and friends, and this stress can build up.
As we know, chronic stress is a predictive factor in addiction and a variety of mental health disorders. If a person doesn’t take the time to slow down and get professional help, it’s easy to see how they’d become overwhelmed by their lifestyle, no matter how great it seems from the outside.
Do Predictive Factors for Suicide and Fame Overlap?
There’s also evidence to suggest that many people who become famous have a unique brain chemistry that may put them at higher risk for depression and suicide. Swedish university Karolinska Institutet found that conditions like bipolar disorder were more prevalent in populations of artists, writers and performers than in the general population, suggesting a link between mental illness and creativity.
Increases in Suicides After a Famous Case
Fame may be a risk factor for depression and suicide, but compounding the issue, celebrity suicides have been followed by an increase in the overall suicide rate. In the months following Robin Williams’ suicide in 2014, suicides across the United States increased by nearly 10%.
This demonstrates that whether or not celebrity suicides are more common than suicides in the general population, the two are related in a tragic way. This could be explained by the fact that many famous people are considered role models by their followers. If a celebrity is seen as unable to overcome their own personal struggles, followers may wonder what chance they have.
What’s assured is that mental health disorders don’t discriminate. They can happen to anyone, and it’s easy to spiral out of control if you’re not getting the help you need. If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, contact FHE Health today.