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Famous psychiatric patients

October 21, 2009


After deciding to write a blog on famous people with psychiatric illnesses I realized that this is a very sensitive topic. I realized it after seeing several web pages (123) with lists of famous people, celebrities with different psychiatric diagnoses. The list included contemporary artists from Robin Williams to Jim Carrey. Even in a yahoo answers page one was asking ” Does Robin Williams have really bipolar disorder?” (Yes, I myself have heard it several times, too). Someone chooses to answer that question this way “I don’t know. It might be. But look I have found this page” People loove hearing bad things about people, it is either a psychiatric disease, or another diagnosis. People are curious about the famous people, which is normal and has always been like that. But 1) Who are we to say anything? R.Williams has never confirmed that he had bipolar disorder says one web page. So what are we going to do with that? 2) Whatever is in the internet must be true (!). It is amazing how internet allows us to reach the information so fast and so wide. Here in Canada, in a TV station, in the news they were talking about how people quit using encyclopedias. This is the dark side of the internet. So, I will leave the living people alone, and list only 10 famous people who had been known as patients with psychiatric disorders.

Who has what? can also be confusing in terms of politics. In the list of people who committed suicide (famous people , of course) we see the name of the socialist leader from Chile Salvador Allende with a note like this “shot himself during a coup d’état by General Augusto Pinochet — some sources allege that he was killed. See also Death of Salvador Allende” “.

You see “the famous psychiatric patients” list might not only come to a “stupid paparazzi story to feed public’ s craving to know the bad things about the famous” “; it also can be used as a political weapon. By the way; the naked truth that Allende was killed or not, is not our subject here.

Another topic, which is quite interesting, is the relation between creativity and psychiatric disease, particularly affective disorder. The literature on that topic is huge. My ex-boss, a great scientist and a well-known psychiatrist in the world Nancy Andreasen from University of Iowa studies this topic, as she is a former academician of English literature, she studies writers. Here is a nice document on that topic titled as “Affective Disorders and Creativity: A Blessing or a Curse for the curious reader.

Finally, below you will see information on 10 famous psychiatric patients I have chosen from the history. Another blog with a similar title might be ordinary people who became famous after their psychiatric conditions, most of whom found place in the brain research literature with their initials due to confidentiality. The brain researchers learned a lot from them. This, however, is a topic of another blog.

As a medical doctor, and a man who has studied the brain I say “NO” to the stigma. People are people, and not disorders.

P.S.: Of those web pages I mentioned in the first sentence, I think you will find the pages with “famous suicide notes” (12) interesting.

1- Syd Barret


He was as a founding member of psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd, providing major musical and stylistic direction in their early work, although he left the group in 1968 amidst speculations of mental illness as a consequence of, or exacerbated by heavy drug use.

Well…What can one say about the legends of Rock: Pink Floyd? It is Pink Floyd; and I think no more definition is needed.

Syd Barret suffered from schizophrenia and drug use probably co-morbid to his disease. As you will also see in the video below, the character in the Wall “the rock singer Pink” was actually Syd (Remember the scene where Pink smokes and does not feel the pain while the finished cigarette burning his finger; it is a typical symptom of schizophrenia where patients do not recognize such pain). The Wall was the boldest critique ever made to the “system”.

During his withdrawal from public life there were numerous works about him, most notably his former band Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

After battling diabetes for several years, Barrett died at his home in Cambridge on Friday 7 July 2006. He was 60 years old. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, but this was usually reported as “complications from diabetes”. The occupation on his death certificate was given as “retired musician.” He was cremated, with his ashes given to a family member or friend.

Syd was an important figure in the music field and inspired millions. He is missed by Pink Floyd fans. R.I.P.

A documentary on Syd Barret and his illness; the legendary Pink Floyd’s members are talking about his illness.

A tribute to Syd from Pink Floyd: Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

2- Kurt Cobain

KurtCobain Kurt Cobain was the as the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the rock band Nirvana. He was suffering from major depression and substance abuse as a co-morbid illness.

Kurt Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, Washington, United States on April 8, 1994. He had checked out of a drug rehab facility and been reported suicidal by his wife Courtney Love. The Seattle Police Department incident report states that Cobain was found with a shotgun across his body, had a visible head wound and there was a suicide note discovered nearby. The King County Medical Examiner noted that there were puncture wounds on the inside of both the right and left elbow. The Seattle Police Department investigated, and after an autopsy by the King County Coroner’s Office, Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by a single gunshot blast coming from his jaw then exiting through the top of his head.

Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.

Nirvana – The Man Who Sold The World: Live

Thanks for the good music, Kurt.Rest in Peace, whereever you are now.

3- Sigmund Freud


 Freud was an Austrian neurologist who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. He was an early user and proponent of cocaine as a stimulant as well as analgesic. He wrote several articles on the antidepressant qualities of the drug. It is believed that his death was by a physician-assisted morphine overdose.

4- Vincent Van Gogh

477px-VanGogh_1887_Selbstbildnis There are numerous articles in scientific journals about the psychiatric diagnosis of Van Gogh. In a paper a few years ago, I had read that there were more than a dozen possible diagnoses for him, affective disorder being only one of them. I think the research for his diagnosis of this great painter could be the topic of several postings. Whatever it was, he was one of the greatest painters ever lived.

5- Ernest Hemingway

hemingway He was an was an American writer and journalist. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls are the two novels among other important novels written by him. In the spring of 1961, three months after his initial treatment at the Mayo where he received a series of ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy;also known as electroschock used for the treatment of depression) treatment, Hemingway attempted suicide. Mary convinced Saviers to hospitalize Hemingway at Sun Valley hospital and from there he returned to the Mayo where he was “given ten more shock treatments.” Weighing only 155 pounds, Hemingway was released from the Mayo in late June and arrived in Ketchum on June 30. On the morning of July 2, 1961, he committed suicide by shooting himself with his rifle. Arriving at 7:40 a.m., Dr. Scott Earle certified the death.[119] At request of the family, the coroner did not do an autopsy.

6- Adolf Hitler

Adolf_Hitler In the final days of the war, at the fall of Berlin in 1945, Hitler married his long-time mistress Eva Braun. Facing capture by Soviet forces less than two days later, the two committed suicide.

Here is an interesting article from University of Colorado psychiatric assesment of Hitler according to DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).


7- Abraham Lincoln

abraham-lincoln-portrait Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserving the Union and ending slavery.

Abraham Lincoln himself was contemporaneously described as suffering from “melancholy” throughout his legal and political life, a condition which modern mental health professionals would now typically characterize as clinical depression.

8- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

mozart-01 By mid-1788, Mozart and his family had moved from central Vienna to the suburb of Alsergrund. Although it has been thought that Mozart reduced his rental expenses, recent research shows that by moving to the suburb Mozart had certainly not reduced his expenses (as claimed in his letter to Puchberg), but merely increased the housing space at his disposal.Mozart began to borrow money, most often from his friend and fellow Mason Michael Puchberg; “a pitiful sequence of letters pleading for loans” survives. Maynard Solomon and others have suggested that Mozart was suffering from depression, and it seems that his output slowed.

In 1791, Mozart was afflicted by morbid depression. Mozart was commissioned to compose the “Requiem Mass” (music for the dead) from a mysterious stranger (actually from a nobleman, who wanted to pass it off as his own work), which Mozart misinterpreted as a pronouncement of his own death. Mozart could not finish the “Requiem”.

On December 5, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died after a fit of delirium and probably from uraemia. One of the greatest composers of all time, Mozart died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Vienna.

The “Requiem” scene from the movie “Amadeus” which won 8 Academic Awards including the Best Picture.

9- George Sanders

George_Sanders Sanders was an Academy Award-winning English film and television actor.

In 1950 Sanders drew his greatest popular and commercial success as the acerbic, cold-blooded theater critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

David Niven wrote in his autobiography Bring On the Empty Horses that his friend Sanders, in 1937 at the age of 31, had predicted he would commit suicide when he was 65. On 23 April, 1972 he checked into a hotel in Castelldefels, a coastal town near Barcelona. He was found dead two days later, having taken five bottles of Nembutal. Sanders was 65 years old. He left behind a suicide note which read:  

Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.

Sanders’ body was cremated and the ashes were scattered in the English Channel.

10- Virginia Woolf

virginia_wolf Woolf was an English novelist, essayist, epistler, publisher, feminist, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.

After completing the manuscript of her last (posthumously published) novel, Between the Acts, Woolf fell victim to a depression similar to that which she had earlier experienced. The onset of World War II, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her condition until she was unable to work.

On 28 March 1941, Woolf committed suicide. She put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, then walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself. Woolf’s skeletonised body was not found until 18 April. Her husband buried her cremated remains under a tree in the garden of their house in Rodmell, Sussex.

In her last note to her husband she wrote:

” I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I cant recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”

6 Comments leave one →
  1. anthony permalink
    October 21, 2009 8:48 am

    I don’t believe Hitler belongs in this category. Although he had is own demented views on the world, his suicide was merely to avoid capture by the Soviets and an attempt to die with “honour”

  2. October 21, 2009 9:06 am

    That is an interesting comment, Anthony. Thanks for that. As you said, he had his own demented views, so I think he should be in that list. The suicide, whatever reason it was for, I guess was a result of his “path” in life. Maybe you can find for me “the profile of Hitler” from a psychological view?

  3. October 21, 2009 9:13 am

    Ok, I could not wait and here is an interesting article for you, Toni.

  4. dvora24 permalink
    November 6, 2009 12:28 am

    All your posts are very informative & I have learned a lot. I look forward to your new ones. The letter that Virginia Wolfe wrote is very powerful and very sad … to think that all those people you mentioned may have been helped by modern medicine.

    About Hitler, the only thing I can say about him is yes, he was seriously ill, but what about all those people who followed him & did evil & heinous deeds, were they all ill like him?

    • November 6, 2009 5:06 am

      Thanks Devorah for your comment. I have not felt so necessary to write a lot on Hitler, as it seems like a work of deep academic research. I do not think the followers of him at that time was also “ill.” We have to asses facts considering the time when they occured. Maybe we can shortly say it was related to the psychology of each individual living in that area connected to the overall psychological profile of the society. There are people who confessed that they were a member of the Nazi Party once, who are famous figures, and seem insane. It might not be judge “what is happening today” but might be easier after half a century.
      I also have found Wolfe’s note sad and touching. As she was a writer, she explained the pre-suicide agony strongly I think.
      I will be writing the “coming soon” posts (I can’t wait to write them, actually) till the end of this month. I also would like to write on two more posts; patients who became famous, and the anatomy of laughing.


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