FIFTEEN FAMOUS PEOPLE WHO WERE SUCCESSFUL DESPITE THEIR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
From Mike Wallace to Mark Twain — they not only survived but thrived.
I have always been an anxious person.
Last year I was diagnosed with C-PTSD (Complex Post Trauma) stemming from childhood traumas. I know that I am not alone in my dealings with anxiety/panic or mental health issues. They are rampant these days, not only among the general population but also celebrities and famous people.
When I was doing research for a book I wrote recently about Creative People titled Creative People and What Makes them Tick, I found there were quite a few famous people who suffered from serious and not so serious bouts of:
Bi Polar disorder
Postpartum depression to
Anorexia and Eating Disorders
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. (Hey, that goes without saying).
In this article I will focus on the creative successful people with mental illnesses who despite their darkness lived productive lives. To me, this topic is far more inspiring.
Research shows that harmful stereotypes about mental illness often prevent people from seeking treatment or speaking out at all.
Luckily, in recent years, we’ve seen a shift in the way people view and talk about these issues.
I’m so glad there are more and more conversations about depression, anxiety, addiction, etc. in our society. I think it is vital to open up the dialogue, to get to the root of these issues, which are the cause of so many of society’s woes from bullying to the school shooting epidemic.
According to mental health experts it really helps to talk about this stuff. In fact, when public figures open up about their own mental health struggles, it can help break down stigmas, and even inspire people to go get help and seek treatment.
I told a friend on the phone today about my researching this subject. She said, “WOW you only found 15 famous people with mental illness for your article? I’d say probably 90 percent of all creative people have some sort of mental illness.” This could be true. (I haven’t done that research yet.)
Those who are depressed, highly anxious, 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 the Mentally Ill. (Hey, this might even be a large percentage of people we all know and deal with every day, right? Ha-Ha.)
I always joke that we all have our OWN kind of crazy.
Here is a poem I wrote about this in my book ‘Limerick Explosion’:
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!
Here are Fifteen Famous People who were successful despite their admitted mental illness issues:
1. MIKE WALLACE, 60 minutes fame
At his lowest and most desperate, a bottle of pills and a suicide note seemed like the only answer for the legendary journalist Mike Wallace.
The CBS 60 Minutes correspondent could make some of the most powerful leaders and news makers in the world sweat with his fierce and brutal interviewing 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 he was sued, along with several others for libel. Wallace was the chief correspondent for the investigative report “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,” in 1982.
“I was on trial for my life,” Wallace said.
The public humiliation and questions of integrity he said 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.”
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.”
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 in 2014 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!’, he said. “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, by finally lifting the veil of secrecy behind it, and 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. PRINCE HARRY
Prince Harry spoke to a therapist about his mental health after two years of “total chaos” in his late twenties.
In April, the Prince told The Telegraph that he “shut down all his emotions” for almost two decades after the death of his mother, Princess Diana. It wasn’t until he was 28 years old — during a period of time when he felt “very close to a complete breakdown” and faced anxiety during royal engagements — that he began to see a professional to address his grief.
Now 33 Harry says he is “in a good place.”
He has encouraged others to open up about their own struggles. In 2016, he started the Heads Together campaign with Prince William and Kate Middleton to help “end the stigma around mental health issues.”
“The experience that I have is that once you start talking about it, you suddenly realize that actually, you’re part of quite a big club,” he told The Telegraph.
This is great news. Someone with his popularity and stature coming forward is a wonderful thing and hopefully will help future generations by his speaking out.
4. JIM CARREY, Actor
Comedians are not exempt from the extremes of mental illness. Actually many comedians find that the flip side of comedy is tragedy. So many comedians have gone through significant trauma and have admitted that comedy was the only escape.
Jim Carrey is well known for starring in many classic funny movies including: Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, etc.
He is one of the most beloved hardworking actors of his generation and one of the top 25 actors of all time. 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 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.
His specific depression was overcome through spirituality, perceptual changes of life, maintaining a sense of purpose, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Recently he took up visual art and is creating huge acrylic paintings in his studio and says he is ‘calm’. He brought the house down at the 2016 Golden Globes with his clever wit and antics.
Jim Carrey has survived his dark times and today is very open about his mental state.
I’m glad he is speaking out so proudly and emphatically about his depressions and mental health issues.
5. 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, in response to the difficulty of coping with his sister’s illness, some say, 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.”
6. 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.
He is widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative and influential creative forces in popular music by critics and musicians alike.
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. I am so glad he survived his serious pain and has come out the other side! I wrote about him in my current book A.H.A!.
The Bee Gees Brian Wilson
Wrote hit songs in his robe.
He penned some genius albums
That sold millions round the globe.
His band members asked him
To join them on their tour.
He said ‘nahhhh — -I wanna stay home
In my socks and write some more.’
He instinctively felt he needed quiet
‘Leave me alone with my brain!!’
So, they left, and he wrote, and he wrote, and he wrote
And his songs led to Award-Winning fame.
His psychiatrist filled him with pills,
But instinctively he followed his muse
Went instead where his creative mind led,
Didn’t listen to societal cues.
He said ‘Yes! I’m a loner!
But now I’ve got more time
To focus all my energies
On penning my new rhymes!’
We might not have Wouldn’t it be nice?
Or the classic Good Vibrations
If Brian stopped and said,
‘I’m too crazy!!’
And put his pen down
7. CATHERINE-ZETA JONES, Actress
The seemingly unshakable actress Catherine Zeta-Jones was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder a few years ago.
She says it was brought on by ‘prolonged stress’ while dealing with her husband Michael Douglas’s high-profile battle with stage IV throat cancer.
Stress is one common trigger for bipolar disorder, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. The condition can also be spotted if someone has a prolonged feeling of agitation, trouble sleeping, major changes in appetite, and thoughts of suicide.
While Douglas announced that he was cancer free, he and Zeta-Jones then had to battle Douglas’ first wife, Diandra, who was suing Douglas for a portion of the royalties from his movie, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
“After dealing with the stress of all of those issues, Catherine made the decision to check into a mental health facility for a brief stay to treat her bipolar II disorder,” Zeta-Jones publicist said in a statement.
“When it comes to mental illness, you talk about it more as controlled and managed and it’s something she will probably be dealing with for her entire life…” Although mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder are often stigmatizing, ABC News consultant Howard Bragman says,
Zeta-Jones’ public announcement of her condition may help others seek help for their own mental health.
“No matter what the reason it was courageous on her part to own this to such a specificity,” Bragman told “Good Morning America.” “I think it will create a teachable moment in a dialogue among health care people, among normal people.”
8. Dwayne, The Rock Johnson
Dwayne Douglas Johnson (born May 2, 1972), also known by his ring name, The Rock, is an American actor, producer, and semi-retired professional wrestler.
After sustaining several serious injuries his freshman year of college, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson experienced his “first of three depressions.”
“I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to do anything. I had never experienced anything like that,” he revealed in 1994.
Johnson shared what helped him cope. “I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. “You’re not the first to go through it. You’re not going to be the last to go through it …
I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s gonna be OK. It’ll be OK.’
People think of Dwayne Johnson as a ‘rock’ but I think it’s great to see that even a ‘rock’ can be vulnerable and shaky at times.
9. Anne Rice, Novelist
She managed to escape only by losing herself in her writing.
‘I found that my only relief from despair was 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 to me as a writer.
10. 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 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.
Her openness to reveal herself, warts and all has always inspired me so much. I miss her boldness and candor and I think the world will miss her willingness to speak up about mental health issues.
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.’
11. 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. 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…at that point I was definitely clinically depressed.”
“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. Her story has always been an inspiration to me as a writer. Ithink of her dribbling on napkins during some of her lowest points in life often.
12. KRISTIN BELL, Actress.
Kristen Bell, who struggles with depression and anxiety, is an outspoken advocate for mental health.
In an essay for Motto, the actress slammed the stereotype that people who suffer from mental illnesses are weak. “Anxiety and depression are impervious to accolades or achievements,” Bell wrote.
“Anyone can be affected, despite their level of success or their place on the food chain.”
Bell also emphasized the importance of “mental health check-ins” and awareness: “It’s important for me to be candid about this so people in a similar situation can realize that they are not worthless and that they do have something to offer. We all do.”
13. TED TURNER — Entrepreneur
Turner is 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.
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.
14. Stephen King, Author
Stephen King, a modern master of suspense and terror, 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, such as The Shining, Pet Sematary, and Carrie.
The good news is that today Stephen King is on top of his game and he is still just as popular as ever. Stephen King has retained his appeal despite the problems he faced in the Eighties.
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 and he continues to write prolific works in spite of and during his years of depression.
(A side note: One of my favorite books of all time is his book for writers titled ‘On Writing’.)
15. MARK TWAIN, Author
Mark Twain was the iconic Author of many beloved American classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Although Mark 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.
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 and productive person in spite of mental illness.
You can not only survive but thrive — which to me is the most inspiring thing of all.
THANKS FOR READING
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