Famous people who committed suicide have been on my mind lately. Maybe it’s because I’m still feeling the effects of Chester Bennington’s anniversary. Or perhaps I simply have a morbid streak and an insatiable curiosity.
Either way, I think that it’s peculiar how many people believe that celebrities are untouchable. Because we think they are special, we almost don’t see them as fully human. What’s more, because they live their lives surrounded by wealth and luxury, we think they couldn’t possibly be missing anything. They must be happy, right?
Well, I’m sure some of them are. But others are as miserable and prone to depression as the rest of us. As someone who’s fought many battles on the dreaded fields of depression, I know how gut-wrenching and morose it is.
As a society, we tend to turn our heads away from mental illness when we should be talking about it. This don’t ask, don’t tell policy leads to not only misconception but also people being scared to ask for help.
When untreated, depression can lead to suicide. Celebrities are no exception to this. In fact, they could be even more prone to keeping quiet about what ails them because people generally think that famous people don’t deserve to be sad. They have everything — money, fame, popularity — so they should be happy.
As if life works that way. As if depression cares about your bank account or your social status. No matter how famous and rich you are, you can’t escape depression. This list of famous people who committed suicide attests to that.
Famous People Who Committed Suicide
Of course, the most famous suicide in history was that of Adolf Hitler. An act of desperation after capitulation in WWII, I can’t include it in this list of famous people who committed suicide. The same goes for Cleopatra, who killed herself after Octavian defeated her forces.
Although not a cowardly act like Hitler’s, Cleopatra’s suicide still doesn’t really fit this list. Unfortunately, many others do.
1. Vincent Van Gogh
Although Van Gogh wasn’t famous when he took his own life, his act of desperation is still one of the most well-known. One hot summer morning in July of 1890, Vincent Van Gogh succumbed to his self-inflicted gunshot wound.
This came as no surprise to those close to him, as Van Gogh often talked about death in his letters. What’s more, he was struggling with mental health issues practically all of his adult life. The year before, just four months after cutting off his ear, Van Gogh had swallowed some of his paints and turpentine, but his doctor saved him.
Nowadays, people hypothesize that perhaps someone else shot Van Gogh. However, because he spoke of killing himself so often, his doctor and his friends, brother Theo, as well as esteemed colleagues like Gauguin, had no trouble believing that Van Gogh took his own life.
2. Virginia Woolf
A woman who shaped the literary world in the 20th century, Virginia Woolf, did so while battling bipolar disorder. In March of 1941, she filled her pockets with stones and walked into the river behind her house. Never one to do anything half-way, she chose quite a grueling way to die.
Her suicide note is one of the most famous cases of media misrepresentation. At the time, the media took it upon themselves to change some of her wording, thus creating a completely different image of Virginia. They put a cruel spin on her last words which lead to an uncompassionate response from the general public.
3. Ernest Hemingway
When they hear about famous people who committed suicide, the public often asks, Why?
That’s a difficult question to answer because suicide doesn’t have a singular cause. The case of Ernest Hemingway sheds light on this fact more than some others do.
Hemingway was a strong, seemingly healthy man. However, one bright July morning in 1961, he got out of his bed, went to his gun closet, pulled a shotgun out, put it to his forehead, and pulled the trigger. His beloved wife, Mary, was still asleep in their bed.
The public adored Hemingway and idealized him, which is why his suicide shook people to their core. How could he do such a thing?
The truth is, PTSD from the war was probably a huge issue for Hemingway. Furthermore, there was a strong possibility of some long-lasting traumatic brain injuries that were the consequence of various concussions. These, as well as many other factors, could have contributed to his decision to take his own life.
4. Sylvia Plath
Another one of the literary legends of the 20th century, Sylvia Plath took her own life in February of 1963. She famously committed suicide by putting her head in her gas oven.
She took her own life not long after her husband left her for his mistress. The general public was adamant that had been the reason for her suicide, especially because the mistress also committed suicide in the same way as Plath did, six years after her death.
Plath was only 30 years old when she took her own life. She suffered from clinical depression and attempted suicide multiple times during her short life.
5. Vladimir Mayakovsky
In general, it seems that poets and writers are more prone to depression and, consequently, suicides. That, of course, isn’t entirely true. However, the public is quick to believe the image of a struggling artist on the verge of suicide.
Mayakovsky was one of Russia’s leading poets before he took his own life in 1930. His work shaped the Russian revolution, and his suicide shook the Russian public greatly. Like many people on this list, Mayakovsky didn’t exactly take his own life out of nowhere.
People close to him claim that he often spoke of suicide and had a great fear of growing old. He was only 37 when he died.
6. Yukio Mishima
A man who left a huge mark on Japan’s 20th century’s literary world, Mishima took his own life by performing the harakiri ritual after a failed coup attempt. Along with four other militia members, Mishima got into Japan’s military headquarters and captured the commandant, General Masuda.
His goal was to hold a speech against the spineless postwar diplomacy, which he ultimately did. However, his speech was not received with the praise he had expected, as the military troops shouted him off after only seven minutes.
Mishima was a trailblazer, one of the most successful authors in Japan in the 20th century, and a political activist. He fought for traditional values and the return of Japan’s emperors. Thus, his suicide in Japan’s military headquarters in November of 1970 was politically motivated.
7. Hunter S. Thompson
The inventor of gonzo journalism and the author of the world-famous Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson took his own life in February of 2005 by shooting himself in the head.
Thompson’s wife was on the phone with him while he was cocking his gun, and she was hanging up the phone as he fired the deadly shot. However, she mistook the sound for the sounds of the typewriter’s keys, so she wasn’t aware of what had happened until the police contacted her.
8. Robin Williams
One of the most beloved actors in history took his own life by hanging himself in 2014. The funniest man alive struggled with depression, substance abuse, and Lewy body disease which ultimately led to him killing himself.
People who had laughed alongside Williams for more than 35 years were left speechless when they heard he chose to end his own life. At 63 years of age, Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia, which probably contributed to his decision.
9. Chris Cornell
One of the pioneers of grunge, Cris Cornell, dazzled the audience as the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. A revolutionary musician and an extraordinary singer, Cornell had millions of devoted fans who couldn’t believe that he took his own life in May of 2017.
One of the most heartbreaking facts is that Cornell committed suicide in Detroit after one of his gigs in his hotel room. Grunge’s leading architect was only 52 at the time of his death.
10. Chester Bennington
Three months after Cornell’s suicide, in July of 2017, Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park and Cornell’s close personal friend, also took his own life. Bennington took Cornell’s death pretty hard, but his audience never thought he’d follow in his footsteps. The most heartbreaking fact (although probably coincidental) is that Bennington committed suicide on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
Bennington struggled with depression his whole life. Suicide and mental health issues were often heavily featured in his songs.
11. Kurt Cobain
When it comes to famous people who committed suicide, Kurt Cobain probably tops all charts. Cobain was one of the godfathers of grunge and a beloved musician in the late 80s and early 90s.
A member of the infamous 27 Club, Cobain died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in April of 1994. His suicide started a media frenzy, and the details that reached the public stirred many conspiracy theories. Because of the high doses of various drugs in his system, the public believed that Cobain was actually murdered, as he wouldn’t have been able to pull the trigger himself.
Although controversial, his death was most likely a suicide. Cobain suffered from depression and substance abuse and this wasn’t his first suicide attempt. In fact, in the month leading to his suicide, he tried to kill himself several times.
12. Alexander McQueen
Another bright young artist who decided to take his own life by hanging himself, McQueen was only 40 years old when he died. At the time of his death, in February of 2010, McQueen was quite unhappy, doing a lot of drugs, and skipping his therapy sessions, as his friends say.
McQueen was also grieving his beloved mother at the time, who died a week before his suicide.
13. R. Budd Dwyer
You might not know who Dwyer was. People don’t talk about him as they do about some other famous people who committed suicide. But his death was the talk of the town back in the 80s, as he killed himself during a live press conference.
Dwyer was a State Treasurer in Pennsylvania from 1981 until his untimely death in 1987. The State accused him of tax malversations as well as taking a bribe. He insisted on his innocence, but the allegations and subsequent guilty verdict led to his highly public suicide.
Dwyer called a press conference on the 22nd of January in 1987, a day before his scheduled sentencing. Everyone thought he wanted to resign publicly and apologize for his crimes. Instead, Dwyer said he was innocent and shot himself with a Magnum .357 on camera.
14. Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain, one of the most famous celebrity chefs, documentary makers, and authors, took his own life by hanging himself in his hotel room in Germany. Bourdain was in the middle of filming an episode of his famous show Parts Unknown.
Although Bourdain was an addict, he was clean and sober at the time of his death in June of 2018. When it comes to famous people who committed suicide, Bourdain was perhaps the most shocking case. The public was in the dark when it came to his troubles with mental health.
A Few Parting Words
The media often romanticizes celebrity suicide (and suicide in general). However, the alarming rate at which famous people keep taking their own lives should make everyone pause and think about the repercussions of suicide. What’s more, the general attitude surrounding suicide and mental health issues in general, needs to change.
For that to happen, everyone needs to do better. People need to work on removing the stigma that goes hand in hand with mental illness and suicide.
All of these famous people who committed suicide were struggling, just like many regular folks are. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, reach out to any of the suicide hotlines. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!