It’s always tragic when someone takes their own life. When it’s someone who was in the spotlight because of their work in literature, music, movies, and sports, it can be a substantial blow within the public sphere. The tragedy is compounded when it’s the death of someone who was young, or had something spectacular to offer the world.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 38 000 people in the United States committed suicide in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available). The vast majority — 90 percent — acted out because of some kind of mental illness, usually depression. When looking at the statistics, up to 80 percent of all suicides are committed by males compared to females who, although attempting suicide almost as much as men, account for 75 percent of all non-fatal suicide attempts.
It’s never easy to determine the causes that trigger a person to take their own life. But, especially for celebrities and public figures, it can be speculated that day-to-day pressures, anxieties, relationships and constant public scrutiny could all play a role. Seeking help or admitting there is a problem can be a very difficult process and, like any other person who experiences some sort of mental illness, celebrities are not above their staggering and overpowering emotions.
Of course, the more high profile the death, the more conspiracy theories abound. Was Marilyn Monroe murdered by the order of the Kennedy family? Was Kurt Cobain killed by his wife, Courtney Love? Was Ernest Hemingway’s death actually an accident? These are just a few of the popular theories that surround the deaths of these celebrities whose suicides were sudden and tragic. Despite their deaths, they have never been forgotten.
10. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe became an international sensation and was one of the original divas. She was the poster girl for sexiness, class, and grace all rolled into one. As the BBC reported, one morning in 1962, Monroe’s body was found in her home after she reportedly overdosed from barbiturates and sleeping pills. The death was ruled a suicide. The death of America’s sweetheart came as a shock since she was only 36-years old and still on the rise in both her career and personal life.
9. Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain rose to rock stardom as the singer and guitarist for Nirvana in the 1990s. There’s no telling how far the band would have gone if Cobain, suffering from severe depression and drug addiction, didn’t take his own life in his Washington home. The official cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. However, Cobain had taken 2-times the lethal dose of heroin. He left behind his wife, Courtney Love, and his only daughter, Frances. Cobain was only 27-years old.
8. David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was a journalist and author who was heralded by critics as a genius of his generation. He was known for writing incredibly dense academic novels, and cynical yet hilarious feature stories for publications like The Atlantic. But, like the other writers on this list, he suffered from crippling anxiety and depression, a struggle he learned to cope with for years with the help of medication and electro-shock therapy. One day in 2008, the burden became too heavy for Wallace, and he took his own life by hanging. He was found shortly after by his father. His death was a shock to the literary community.
7. Ernest Hemmingway
Ernest Hemingway is arguably one of the greatest writers who ever lived. He travelled the world extensively with a lust for life paralleled only by his characters in books such as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Although writers are historically prone to depression, no one expected Hemingway to take his own life well into old age. His daughter claims that his death was an accident while he was cleaning his shotgun. Hemingway died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His daughter found him one afternoon after returning home.
6. Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was one of the greatest living American poets and authors. Not only were her poems well-crafted, they were wrought with disturbing and macabre imagery, and subject matter such as the unresolved issues with her father and ex-husband. In a poem written two weeks before she committed suicide by placing her head in an oven, she described heaven and “clouds with the faces of babies”. She killed herself in 1963, and it wasn’t the first time she attempted to take her own life. Her own father died when she was just 8-years old. In the poem, titled Sheep of Fog, she also makes reference to her father. Plath was 30 years old when she died.
5. Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith became famous for his melancholic songs before taking his own life in 2003. He was only 34-years old. Smith was known by his friends and family as pensive and melodramatic. He would never hesitate to openly tell those close to him that he was going to, or thinking of, killing himself. His albums, too, are wrought with depressing imagery and references. The day that Smith killed himself, he was fighting with his girlfriend. She locked herself in the bathroom. When she heard a scream, she saw Smith standing there with a knife in his heart. He was dead 20 minutes later in hospital.
4. Tony Scott
You might have heard of film director Tony Scott from his popular movies Top Gun, Enemy of the State, Man on Fire, and The Taking of Pelham 123. In 2012, when Scott was 68-years old, he jumped from a California bridge. It was a ruled as a suicide when two notes were found his car parked at the bridge: one containing his contact information and the other a note to his family. The suicide was also confirmed when the autopsy revealed that Scott had a massive dose of anti-depressants in his system at the time of jumping.
3. Jovan Belcher
The suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher is especially tragic due to its brutal circumstances. After murdering the mother of his child, Belcher put the gun on himself. Even more disturbing, Belcher kissed her forehead after shooting her nine times. Belcher’s final moments were standing in front of Chiefs’ General Manager and Coach. It’s reported that his final words were, “Guys, I have to do this. I got to go. I can’t be here.” Despite the brutal killing, he left his 3-month old daughter alive.
2. Chris Benoit
Canadian Chris Benoit was a professional wrestler to be reckoned with. Similar to Jovan Belcher, Benoit murdered his family and committed suicide in 2007. His wife Nancy and his 7-year old son were found suffocated with bibles placed next to them. Benoit himself had hanged himself. The murders and suicide were so unexpected that there was speculation that Benoit suffered severe brain damage from years of wrestling. This, as ABC News reports, might have ultimately been responsible for Benoit’s psychopathic behaviour.
1. Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen was a British artist famous for his unique fashion designs. His body was found in his luxury flat in Central London after he reportedly hung himself in 2010. This was just two years after Isabella Blow, the fashion designer who discovered him, also killed herself. McQueen was incredibly successful as a designer. He was the four-time winner of British Designer of the Year Award and his Alexander McQueen fashion brand was sported by celebrities across the world. It’s unconfirmed if the death of his friend and business partner Isabella Blow influenced his decision. However, he was distraught by her untimely death.