Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
January 5th, 2011

Unnecessary deaths

Alexander McQueen (1969 - 2010), Mark Linkous (1962 - 2010) and Andrew Koenig (1968 - 2010)

It is customary at the end of each year to look back and remember important figures who have died. For Busted Halo's Faithful Departed, instead of a laundry list of well-known deceased people with their accomplishments, we ask our writers to reflect on the spiritual impact that people who have passed away had on them. While most of our subjects had no explicit religious connections, we focus on their ability to touch souls. In these reflections you can see through the eyes of each writer how they experienced the sacred in people.

(l to r, Linkous, McQueen, Koenig)

(l to r, Linkous, McQueen, Koenig)

You could probably compile a similar list any year, but this struck me.

Mark Linkous, who performed mostly under the project name Sparklehorse, was widely respected and actively involved in numerous interesting projects in indie rock and ambient music. At 47, he was close to completion of a new album last March when he shot himself in the heart. It’s reported that he was very drunk when he killed himself.

Andrew Koenig was Boner in the 80s TV series Growing Pains. It’s not unusual for child stars to struggle with their adult careers, compounded in this case by having a famous father, Walter Koenig (Chekov in Star Trek: TOS). But Andrew had seemingly made the transition to behind-the-screen work and last August he had several projects in the works, an acting role just completed, and ongoing work in human rights activism when he took his life at age 41.

Alexander McQueen had been head designer at Givenchy, replacing Galiano, before striking out on his own and eventually joining forces with Gucci. He was one of the brightest and best-known stars of fashion. While his company was in debt, he would certainly rebound from it, and as if he needed any further validation of his relevance, his latest muse, Lady Gaga, had just catapulted to the top of the music and fashion worlds, wearing McQueen designs all over her videos and appearances. He struggled with depression and was known to abuse drugs, having overdosed twice in the past, and his own mentor committed suicide two years earlier. In February, at the age of 40, McQueen hanged himself in his closet.

I see time and time again people whose lives seem wrecked slowly rebuild their hopefulness, taking small positive actions in faith until they are once again glowing with life. Call it grace or call it hard work, it’s a miracle every time. To destroy the chance of turning things around by taking one’s own life is a terrible crime against nature.

Add to these David Foster Wallace, a gentle soul who I had the pleasure of meeting and a breathtaking talent — one of my key creative inspirations — who in 2008 took his life in the middle of a brilliant career at 46.

These four people, who had contributed much to the world; who could be gratified by the lives they had touched; who seemed to have a passion and a calling; who had more accomplishments to point at than most of us ever do — each took his own life, a heinous act of nihilism, in his 40s. This past year saw the campaign, “It gets better,” telling kids struggling with bullying to stick it out, saying that once you grow up, you can put all that in perspective and move on with your life. Well, many people struggle with depression and hopelessness as adults too. In some cases, they struggle with a downturn in their success. But just as often, there is no such downturn. Some struggle with clinical depression. Some don’t. Some with addiction; some don’t. (Though a striking number do deal with addiction.) The only common denominator is that each of these talented, gifted and successful people was overwhelmed by life and saw no way out, no hope of things getting better.

I see time and time again people whose lives seem wrecked (in reality or in their own minds), whose outlooks are bleak, slowly rebuild their hopefulness, taking small positive actions in faith until they are unrecognizable as the men and women I met a year before, because they are once again glowing with life. Call it grace or call it hard work, it’s a miracle every time. To destroy the chance of turning things around by taking one’s own life is a terrible crime against nature. I mourn the loss and the suffering of these men.

The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
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  • Georgia

    A sensitive piece – until the line: “To destroy the chance of turning things around by taking one‚Äôs own life is a terrible crime against nature.”

    No, it is nature committing the crime. Having been on the point of suicide twice in my life, and having experienced the suicide of my son=in-law, I know that deep dark place. You get to that deep dark place because your brain tells you lies. Your brain tells you that you are worthless and that your loved ones would be better off without you.

    In short, as the phrase goes, “you are not in your right mind.”

    Simple depression – the kind brought on by difficult, painful experiences – is not enough to get you to that place. You hurt terribly, but you live on because you know people need you regardless.

    It’s when your brain tells you that’s no longer true that the impulse comes upon you. And that’s not your own doing. It’s the nature of brain chemistry, as it was with my beloved but bipolar son-in-law.

    The more I think of about this, the angrier I get. Supposedly God gives us each our own “crosses to bear.” Those of us who’ve known mental illness have carried that one, and it is very very heavy. Add to mental illness the tragedies of our lives that “normal” people suffer as well, and we are doubly burdened.

    If God gave us “free will,” then why did “He” also give us mental illness, which takes away our free will?

    The Catholic idea that suicide is a “sin” is about the most hurtful concept ever created. Suicide is NOT an act of free will, but rather the result of the burdens laid upon those who suicide, amplified by the mental illness which which we were born.

    God does not punish people who die from cancer or any other bodily disease – so this so-called loving God will punish those who suffer from mental disorders?

  • Deacon Tom Evrard

    I too mourn the loss of these men and their talents.
    “There is a solution.” So states one of the opening chapters in the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” the guidebook of the program of the same name.
    (I do not speak for AA.)
    The article states that “a striking number do deal with addiction”. The psychic change of those in recovery restores the spiritual grace that you speak of while people in the program practice the 12 Steps. It is in living a spiritual lifestyle that maintains what is defined as sobriety—that is, the absence of mind altering substances—Alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, overeating, lust, debt, etc. It is of significance that AA has been around for 76 years and the meeting rooms are packed. Thank God that more young people are seeking and finding recovery and are spared the 10-20 years of misery (or suicide) wrapped in the clutch of addiction. Addiction is an illness. So is depression.
    Many who practice the program(s) have dual addictions and seek additional help.
    I believe that these programs are not advertised nor publicized enough. There are no AA books in my local library and any public service announcements are on TV/Radio/Cable in the early morning hours. These men may have had a chance if they had heard the message.
    Regarding suicide the teaching of the Catholic church is clear: “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.” CCC2280. However, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives. CCC2283. May these men rest in the palm of God’s hand.

  • Steve

    Suicide is a mortal sin, but only if there is full consent of the will and the person understand that it is wrong. With most suicides, the person is mentally unstable, which calls into question whether they are indeed committing sin. It is best to leave the judging up to God and trust in his mercy.

  • brendan

    “–Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men. As far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.”

  • AnnMarie

    Suicide is not a crime. To have Catholics
    think so,is to put their thinking back in
    middle ages,when these souls would not have been allow in Catholic cemeteries.

  • William Grogan

    The “It gets better” campaign is for children who are victims of bullying, many of whom are, or are perceived to be gay. As a caring society, we must do all we can to encourage them and to lift them out of the state of hopelessness they find themselves in because of relentless and cruel bullying, not necessarily depression. I don’t feel one is inexorably linked to the other. For children growing up with bullying, it does get better as they grow and find empathic and caring individuals through clubs, organizations and role models to help them with their identity as individuals. This author does a disservice in seemingly dismissing that point so cavalierly. That said, Adults need to accept, among other things, that their value lies not in career choice or success but in who they are as individuals. Happiness does not stem from without but within. Until that truism is accepted, true happiness will be fleeting.

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