TWELVE FAMOUS PEOPLE WHO WERE SUCCESSFUL DESPITE THEIR MENTAL ILLNESS
From Mike Wallace to Mark Twain…they not only survived but thrived.
OUR OWN KIND OF CRAZY
We all have our own kind of crazy
Yes some of our brains are just hazy
Some drink too much booze
Jump overboard on a cruise
Life’s a movie
Just call up Scorsese!?
From my poetry book Limerick Explosion.
While doing research for my book about Creative People I found quite a few famous people who suffered from serious and not so serious bouts of:
- Mental illness
- Bi Polar disorder
- OCD issues
and other ‘craziness’(?) but who were still quite successful.
That’s what I want to focus on in this story. The good news — not the fact that there are many mentally ill creative people.
DUH! I mean we all know that’s true.
In this article I want to focus on the:
Creative successful people with mental illnesses who in spite of their darkness and flawed mental health issues still lived productive and meaningful lives.
To me, this topic is far more interesting, and inspiring.
Talking to a friend on the phone today about my research she said, “WOW, you only found 12 people for your article? LOL… I’d say probably 90 percent of all creative people have some sort of mental illness…”
This could be true.
Those who are depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, OCD, or who have panic, anxiety, social phobias, heavy drinkers, alcoholics, food addicts, compulsive gamblers, sex addicts or compulsive shoppers might also be put into this category of : MENTALLY ILL. (So yes, this might be a large percentage of creative or even un-creative people)
So, here are 12 FAMOUS PEOPLE who were successful in spite of their admitted mental illnesses:
1. MIKE WALLACE, 60 minutes fame
The CBS 60 Minutes correspondent could make some of the most powerful leaders in the world sweat with his assertive interview style but Wallace will also be remembered as a voice and face for those who have suffered in silence with depression and other mental illnesses.
Mike Wallace’s first major bout of depression was triggered in 1984 after U.S. Army General William C. Westmoreland sued Wallace, along with several other names, for libel. Westmoreland was featured in the CBS documentary, “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,” in 1982, and Wallace was the chief correspondent for the investigative report.
“I was on trial for my life,” Wallace said.
The public humiliation and questions of integrity made him feel “dead inside…”
When Wallace’s wife Mary asked whether her husband could be suffering from clinical depression, the doctor reportedly told the couple, “Forget the word ‘depression’ because that’ll be bad for your image.”
But depression consumed him.
Wallace described his rock bottom point, when he attempted suicide. “I have to get out of here,” he recalled thinking.
“So I took a bunch of sleeping pills, wrote a note and ate them, and, as a result, I fell asleep,”.
“You’re not a nutcase if you want to go see a psychiatrist.” MIKE WALLACE
Talk therapy and antidepressant medications pulled Wallace through the severe bout of depression in the mid-1980s.
After his suicide attempt he found treatments that allowed him to cope better.
This was written about Mike Wallace’s admission of depression in 1991:
“Until very recently, individuals in positions of power, influence, and authority went to great lengths to hide their mental illness, such as depression, out of fear that the stigma associated with the illness might negatively impact their careers,”
However, the illness also allowed Wallace to have a familiarity with despair that allowed him to have empathy and a deep sense of connection with victims of injustice. This came across in his interviews during his tenure on 60 minutes and his work as a producer.” — NEW YORK TIMES
Mike Wallace went on to become one of the most successful and respected broadcasters on television and was an award winning correspondent on ‘60 minutes’ until he died in 2012.
2. WAYNE BRADY. Entertainer, Comic.
After his fellow comic Robin Williams died a few years ago Wayne Brady also felt a bout of depression and decided he wanted to talk about it.
Robin Williams’ suicide taught Wayne Brady a serious life lesson.
“…Secrets kill’ he said. Some days you don’t want to move,” describing his struggles, which he’s kept secret until now.
“You can’t move in the darkness.”
Although he’s battled depression for years, his fans and even friends would likely never know because of his quirky and funny onscreen appeal.
“People are like, ‘Wayne Brady’s always happy!’… “No I’m not. Because I’m human.”
Brady described how his overwhelming feelings of sorrow would kick in once the cameras were off.
“You’re like, ‘I am just going to sit right here and I want to wallow in this because I am that horrible of a person.’
He found his way out of his dark time, he feels, by finally lifting the veil of secrecy behind it — by talking about it!
Since ‘coming out’ about his depression Wayne Brady has gone on to much success appearing as a stand up, on the show ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway?’, and as host on ‘Lets Make a Deal’.
3. JIM CARREY, Actor
Jim Carrey is well known for starring in many extremely funny movies including: Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, etc.
Jim Carrey’s is one of the most beloved and hard working actors of his generation. He is one of the top 25 actors of all time in terms of box office earnings. His films average just under $100 million in sales.
But, Jim Carrey has dealt with major depression for a significant portion of his life.
In fact, at one point, his depression became so debilitating, that he didn’t know how he would overcome it.
Like many people, he sought out help from a doctor and was prescribed Prozac. ‘It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever.’
In addition to having depression, Jim Carrey was also diagnosed with ADHD. This is a diagnosis that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with depression.
Many comedians have admitted to going through significant trauma and that comedy was the only escape.
Comedians are not exempt from the extremes of mental illness.
His specific depression was overcome through spirituality, perceptual changes of life, maintaining a sense of purpose, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Thankfully he is still a creative working actor. He continues to act in movies and recently, he has turned to visual art as his creative outlet.
Jim Carrey has survived his dark times and today is very open about his depressions and mental issues.
4. Tennessee Williams, Playwright
One of the greatest American playwrights, Tennessee Williams, wrote the classics The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, among other works.
Both feature heroines suffering from mental illness, which some critics have linked to his sister’s schizophrenia and his attachment to her.
Williams, perhaps in response to the difficulty of coping with his sister’s illness, became dependent on alcohol and struggled with bouts of depression.
The good times, unfortunately, did not last.
In 1957, Williams’s play ‘Orpheus Descending’ opened on Broadway. It was a critical and commercial flop, closing after only sixty-eight performances.
Williams became deeply depressed and underwent psychoanalysis.
Two more of his plays soon flopped as well.
In 1961, The Night of the Iguana premiered and won Williams his third and final Tony Award. The play was his last critical success for a decade.
Substance abuse contributed to Williams’s creative collapse.
In the mid-1950s, Williams started using drugs and alcohol to deal with his constant anxiety.
By the early 1960s, his daily intake of substances had grown to staggering proportions: two packs of cigarettes, as much as a fifth of liquor, plus a handful of pills.
In 1969, he had a nervous breakdown and his brother had him committed to a mental hospital in St. Louis, where Williams stayed for three months.
He wrote a string of critical stinkers, some of which closed after fewer than a dozen performances.
Though he was hurt by the reviews at times, Williams refused to give up his craft.
“I’m very conscious of my decline in popularity, but I don’t permit it to stop me because I have the example of so many playwrights before me” he told an interviewer.
“So I keep writing. I am sometimes pleased with what I do — for me, that’s enough.”
5. Brian Wilson, Songwriter
Brian Douglas Wilson is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer best known for being the multi-tasking leader and co-founder of the rock band the Beach Boys in which he wrote more than two dozen Top 40 hits for the group.
Brian Wilson was also widely known to have suffered very serious mental illnesses and depression — along with major drug addiction.
Wilson said music is his favorite remedy for depression.
“My emotional problems subside when I’m on the piano,” he said. “When I’m working on a song, I shut my emotional depressions to the side for a while, until I’m done with piano. Then they come back a little bit. It just goes away when I go to the piano.”
What I found most inspiring is that he wrote almost all of his greatest hits during some of the darkest times in his life.
He also wrote a wonderful Memoir a few years ago called I am Brian Wilson (which I recently finished reading and highly recommend).
It was a riveting and brutally honest account of his life and his mental illness but also how he found his way out of it all.
I admire his tenaciousness and his work ethic in the midst of his depressions.
Brian is still on tour today, at age 74.
He said this when asked about his new tour.
“What would I do if I retired? Sit there and go, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be 74'?”
I love Brian Wilson and his music. I am so glad he survived his serious pain and has come out the other side!
6. DEMI LOVATO, ENTERTAINER
Before Demi Lovato received her official diagnosis of bipolar disorder, she spent a lot of her life feeling vulnerable, sad and withdrawn.
At times she couldn’t even find the strength to get out of bed.
Teased for her weight as a kid, Lovato developed an eating disorder that turned into a lifelong struggle with food.
“That’s kind of what I’ve been dealing with ever since,” she admits. “I was compulsively overeating when I was eight years old. So, I guess, for the past 10 years, I’ve had a really unhealthy relationship with food.”
Lovato’s family helped her seek professional help to treat her bulimia, but the singer’s depression only worsened when she began cutting herself at the age of 11.
Finally she was diagnosed with the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, called bipolar depression.
By working with her support team she was able to partner with a health care professional, open up to family and friends, and over time find a treatment plan that worked for her.
Demi has gone on to have a very successful and lucrative career in the pop music field. She also works tirelessly now to help others deal with their mental illnesses. Recently she had a well publicized overdose but she is back in recovery again.
“You can live well with a mental illness. It may take time, but it’s worth it. You deserve to live a happy and healthy life’ — DEMI LOVATO
7. Anne Rice, Novelist
Novelist Anne Rice didn’t find success as a writer until tragedy struck her life.
Rice is said to have fallen into a deep depression after her 5-year-old daughter died from leukemia.
She managed to escape only by losing herself in her writing.
She started a novel, and — writing continually — finished it within five weeks.
That first novel, Interview With a Vampire, was turned into a successful movie, followed by many other tales in The Vampire Chronicles series.
Today, this famous depressed writer has a huge cult following. Though many writers struggle with their work, there are others — such as Rice — for whom writing is a release.
I love this quote love from Anne Rice about depression and writing:
“Don’t ever let despair or depression stop you. Remember this, that if you don’t write it, it isn’t going to be there. It’s that simple. And, if you are really down and out and really sad, look at it this way — decide that you are going to write it, and if you don’t like it, you are going to throw it away. I’ve done that quite a few times, and I’ve never wound up throwing the book away.”
Anne Rice has continued to write. Some say, some of her best work is in her recent years, after surviving her devastating depression. She is an inspiration.
8. CARRIE FISHER, Actress
Carrie Frances Fisher was an American actress, writer and humorist.
She was known for a long list of acting performances in Star Wars as the popular Princess Leia, but she also wrote seven full-length books and was a prolific script consultant.
Fisher wrote several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge and the screenplay for the film of the book, as well as an autobiographical one-woman play, and its non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on the play. She worked on other writers’ screenplays as a script doctor.
In later years, she earned praise for speaking publicly about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction.
Miraculously, she worked steadily throughout the years while also publicly and privately battling her bipolar disease.
She was an example of one who continued onward and even used her mental illness for ‘fodder’ for her writings and comedy act.
She described herself with fearlessness:
‘I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.’
9. J.K. Rowling. Author
Perhaps one of the most famous depressed writers of the modern era is J.K. Rowling,
She conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.
The seven-year period that followed saw the death of her mother, birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband and relative poverty until she finished the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 1997.
‘Rowling has lived a “rags to riches” life story, in which she progressed from living on state benefits to multi-millionaire status within five years. Today she is the United Kingdom’s best-selling living author.’
But, her life was not an easy journey. Up until her success late in life she suffered from many years of depression.
In 1993 when her marriage ended she began writing feverishly. She got a job teaching but she continued to write in every spare moment.
“It was only when I came to rest it hit me what a complete mess I had made of my life. That hit me quite hard. We were as skint as you can be without being homeless and at that point I was definitely clinically depressed…”
That was characterized by a numbness, a coldness and an inability to believe I will feel happy again. All the color drained out of life. I just thought I want to write so I wrote the book. What was the worst that could happen? It could get turned down by every publisher in Britain. Big deal. I’d gone into that very depressive mind set where everything had gone wrong”
She eventually found hope and turned her life around. Rowling is one of the most successful authors of our time and today continues to write her popular and inspiring books.
10. TED TURNER — Entrepreneur
Ted Turner is an American icon and philanthropist, billionaire media mogul and founder of CNN. He was also the former owner of NBA teams Atlanta Braves and Alanta Hawks.
Turner is considered one of the most brilliant entrepreneurs and businessmen of the 20th century.
He also suffers from bipolar disorder.
It was reported that after his third marriage (to Jane Fonda) dissolved in 2001, Ted Turner contemplated suicide, which is a prominent symptom of bipolar disorder.
Turner’s father had also committed suicide almost 50 years ago.
One of his more notable accomplishments was his founding of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in late 1994.
In the mid-1980s, Turner became a force for the colorization of black-and-white films and in 1985, the film Yankee Doodle Dandy became the first black-and-white movie redistributed in color after computer coloring.
Turner suffered with his bipolar disease through most of his life but still became a hugely successful and influential pioneer in his field.
He was admired not only for his business acumen, but also for his courage and strength in the face of adversities, including but not limited to bipolar disorder.
He was definitely a man who thrived not only survived in his life with his mental illnesses.
11. Stephen King, Author
Stephen King, a modern master of suspense and terror, has quite a body of work to his name.
He is one of the most respected, prolific and widely read authors in the world.
He wrote over 63 books over 35 years, with best-selling stories such as Carrie, The Shining, Misery and The Green Mile turned into blockbusting movies.
King has long been one of the world’s most successful authors, with an estimated fortune of 135 million.
Throughout much of his life though, substance abuse and alcohol use often played a role as he attempted to self-medicate.
He was described by many who knew him as chronically ‘unhappy’.
According to the Daily Mail.com story titled: ‘Stephen King’s Real Horror Story: How the novelist’s addiction to drink and drugs nearly killed him’:
‘ … he spent most of the Eighties on an extended drug and alcohol binge which so fogged his mind that even today he cannot remember working on many of the books he wrote during that period.’
For King, drink and drugs helped provide an escape from the unhappiness which has dogged him since he was a child, growing up in poverty in Portland, Maine, after the Second World War.
But, during those years, this famous depressed writer also produced some of his best-known works.
King’s writing may no longer be fueled by his addiction to drugs and alcohol, but King is still driven to tell stories as a way of allaying his many fears. He continues to write prolific works in spite of and during his years of depression.
The good news is that today Stephen King is on top of his game and he is still just as popular as ever.
(A side note: One of my favorite books of all time is his book for writers titled ‘On Writing’.)
12. MARK TWAIN, Author
Mark Twain was the iconic Author of many beloved American classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Although Twain was thought to be one of the most brilliant literary minds of our time he was also said to have suffered from bipolar disorder and other mental disorders.
During his most accomplished years he was also said to have been in much mental turmoil and anguish.
Early in his marriage, he and his wife Livy had lost their toddler son, Langdon, to diphtheria; in 1896, his favorite daughter, Susy, died at the age of 24 of spinal meningitis.
The loss broke his heart, and adding to his grief, he was out of the country when it happened.
His youngest daughter, Jean, was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. In 1909, when she was 29 years old, Jean died of a heart attack.
For many years, Twain’s relationship with middle daughter Clara was distant and full of quarrels.
Many believed that he was susceptible to serious bouts of depression in the latter part of his life also.
His most notable work, Huckleberry Finn might have even had its roots in his tendency to depression.
It is said that later in his life Twain had ‘volcanic rages and nasty bouts of paranoia, and he experienced many periods of depressed indolence, which he tried to assuage by smoking cigars, reading in bed and playing endless hours of billiards and cards’.
So, Mark Twain was one of the most widely read and well loved authors in spite of his propensity towards depression and other mental illness.
What I’ve learned through my research for this story is that you can be a successful creative person in spite of mental illness.