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.
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.