History's most famous suicides
Celebrities are all too often are affected by mental health problems, and unfortunately in some cases this leads to premature death. We discuss some of the most famous suicides in history.
Losing someone to suicide is one of the most difficult experiences that is emotionally imaginable. When a famous person takes their life, the world is left in shock.
Like all humans, celebrities are faced with the stresses and anxieties that life throws at them. Mental health struggles for public figures are often battled away from the public eye, which means many people would not know they were struggling with their health.
When beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide, his followers were devastated. Williams battled depression for much of his life and a few months before his death was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. No matter how rich or well-known you are the strain of life can have a profound effect.
Whitney Houston and Philip Seymour Hoffman are other prominent names who were unfortunately took their own lives in during the twenty-first century, but the history of suicide goes back much further.
The first recorded suicide took place in 6th Century BC. The man, Periander, was considered one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece. Historical data suggests it’s likely he died in died in 585 B.C. Stoicism was a popular belief in Ancient Greece, the idea that pain and hardship should be endured without reaction. Stoics including Aristotle and Plato considered suicide to be wrong, except under certain circumstances. These scenarios included: when it was "legally ordered by the state" (as in the case of Socrates); for painful and incurable diseases; and when one is "compelled to do so by the occurrence of some unbearable misfortune”.
Periander (6th century BC) was one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece. The Greek historian Diogenes Laertius told how the Corinthian tyrant wanted to prevent his enemies from dismembering his body when he took his own life. Periander chose a secluded place in the forest and commissioned two young soldiers to assassinate him and bury him there. To cover his tracks he instructed two other men to follow his assassins, assassinate them and bury them a little further away… but the story doesn’t end there. He instructed another two men to kill the assassins of the previous assassins and bury them a few feet away. The instructions of murder continued and this story escalated from one suicide to large scale massacre.
The French surrealist poet Jacques Rigaut wrote prose like "My bedside book is a revolver (...) and maybe one day, when I go to bed, instead of pressing the light switch, distracted, I make a mistake and pull the trigger". Most of his works discussed or were on the topic of suicide. He even wrote a work entitled The General Suicide Agency (Agence Générale du Suicide).
Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly Rigaut took his own life in 1929, aged 30. He shot himself in the chest. He reduced the sound of the impact by placing pillows on his body and he used a ruler to ensure that the bullet would pass through his heart.
Spanish poet Ángel Ganivet attempted suicide by throwing himself into the North Sea. He was initially rescued by a ship but, according to documented reports from his rescuers, he threw himself back into the water a second time and succeeded in his intentions of drowning. He committed suicide on November 29, 1898.
The French poet and translator Gérard Labrunie, was best known under the pseudonym of Gérard de Nerval. He was a major figure in French romanticism. For him, the ‘real world’ was hell. He wrote: "This life is a slum and a place of ill repute. I am ashamed that God sees me here,". As a true romantic, he fell madly in love and could also be described as neurotic. He fell in love with actress Jenny Colon, but she married another man and died soon after. Throughout his life, he suffered numerous setbacks and was hospitalised several times. During his most challenging moments, he recorded the thoughts of his troubled mind in detail. He hung himself on 26 January, 1855.
English British writer Virginia Woolf was considered one of the most influential modernist writers of the 20th century. Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder, a mental health condition that plagued much of her life. The day she ended her life, she filled her pockets with stones and jumped into the River Ouse. She drowned on 28 March 1941.
Hunter Stockton Thompson was a American journalist, who was the founder of the ‘gonzo journalism’ movement. He was a drug addict and an alcoholic, who always lived on the edge. He ended his life of 20 February 2005, aged 67.
Slyvia Plath was one of the most dynamic poets of the twentieth century. For this American writer, words were everything from a very young age. Throughout her career she was plunged into deep episodes of insomnia and depression. It is now assumed she suffered from bipolar disorder. Plath wrote: "I want to commit suicide, escape responsibility, slowly return to the womb," in one of her many journals. She committed suicide on 11 February, 1963 by putting her head in the oven of her London home, while the gas was left on.
The well-known American actor and comedian Robin William took his own life on 11 August, 2014. Despite a long documented battle with depression, Williams’ wife, Susan, said that he had never expressed suicidal thoughts or behaviour. Three months prior to his death Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He also had a "recent increase in paranoia," according to a medical history authorities recorded at the scene.
“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” Robin Williams.
Early in the morning on 2 July, 1961, American writer Ernest Hemingway committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a shotgun. The writer who loved boxing, bullfighting, hunting, sailing and drinking excessively, took his own life without explanation. The FBI investigation could not shed light on this. Psychiatrists who studied the case believe that underneath his façade of hyper-masculinity and overwhelming personality were hidden mental health issues, which is likely what led to his death.
Japanese novelist and poet Yukio Mishima, was considered one of Japan's greatest writers of the 20th century. He had planned his death for more than a year, had finished his last novel and had ordered his finances. He died on 25 November 1970 by ‘seppuku’ or also known as ‘harakiri’, a traditional form of Japanese suicide by disembowelment. .
Cleopatra was the famous queen of Egypt, lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She took her own life after the defeat of their forces against Octavian's army in Alexandria. She decided to commit suicide before her victor led her to Rome to exhibit her as a war trophy. Cleopatra was the last queen of Ancient Egypt and committed suicide by drinking a mixture of poisons.
Nero could be described as one of Rome’s most infamous emperors. He committed suicide on the outskirts of Rome on 9 June 68 AD. with the help of a servant. He had actually been condemned to death by the Senate at the time, but could not bear idea of this, so he decided to commit suicide by stabbing himself with a dagger.
The Greek astronomer and philosopher Eratosthenes, famous for his measurement of the Earth's radius, decided to commit suicide at the age of 79 in 194 B.C. It understood that he lost his sight and was almost blind by the time he decided to take his own life.is Faced with the impossibility of being able to read, he committed suicide by starvation.
The case of Socrates is a little different. This incident is most accurately described as forced suicide. Probably the most famous in history. The Greek philosopher was forced to die by drinking hemlock (poisonous plant) for trying to 'corrupt' young Athenians and having expressed ideas against belief in ancestral gods.
Mayakovsky was the leading poet in the Russian revolution of 1917. He became a well-known figure in the Russian Futurist movement. He used poetry to express the importance of breaking away from the constraints of tradition. He became disillusioned with the Stalinist bureaucracy and felt the only way out was to take his own life. He died on 14 April, 1930.
The American poet Anne Sexton, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Death, along with suicidal and sexual fantasies, were the backbone of her work. She suffered from depression most of his life and went through numerous courses of psychological therapy. Sexton suffocated in her garage and died of carbon monoxide poisoning on 4 October, 1974.
American singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain was best known as the frontman of grunge rock back Nirvana. Cobain expressed his fight against inner demons through his music and discussed his mental health battles in a number of interviews. He committed suicide on 5 April, 1994 by shooting himself in the head.
English fashion designer Alexander McQueen was found dead in his London apartment on the eve of his mother's funeral on 11 February 2010. He was 40 years old. His clients included Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama.
American Footballer Junior Seau (Tiaina Baul) was a linebacker in the National Football League (NFL).He shot himself in the head on 2 May, 2012. Seau was later found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by multiple blows to the head. He was considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL and played for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.
American writer David Foster Wallace, famous for his novel, Infinite Jest. He committed suicide in his home on September 21, 2008. Infinite Jest was named one of TIME magazine's "100 Best English Novels Between 1923 and 2005”. He was 46 when he died.
American singer and musician Elliot Smith became famous for his melancholy songs before taking his own life in 2003. He was just 34 years old. He regularly expressed openly how he was thinking about committing suicide, particularly to those who were close to him. His music reflected his depressed state. The day Smith committed suicide, he had a fight with his girlfriend. She locked herself in the bathroom. When she came out, she found Smith lying on the floor with a knife stuck in his heart. He died 20 minutes later in the hospital on 21 October, 2003.
The director of Public Enemy, Top Gun and Red Tide, Tony Scott, committed suicide on 19 August, 2012. He was 68 years old. He committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in California. Forensics determined that his death was suicide after finding two notes in his car parked on the bridge where he took his life. One containing his contact information and the other a farewell note to his family. The autopsy revealed that Scott had a massive dose of antidepressants in his nervous system at the time of his death.
The American football player Jovan Belcher committed suicide on 1 December, 2012. Prior to his death, he murdered his girlfriend with a shotgun and then proceeded to drive to headquarters of the Kansas City Chiefs (the team he played for) and shot himself in front of his coach and manager.
Later reports from neuropathology revealed that his brain showed signs of brain damage similar to what has been found in other deceased NFL players. It is likely that Belcher had CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a neurodegenerative disease related to dementia, memory loss and depression.
American actor, director and screenwriter Jonathan Brandis began his career as a teenage idol in the 1990s thanks to his starring role on the television show SeaQuest. At the height of his popularity, Brandis received up to 4,000 fan letters a week and needed three security guards to escort him through the crowd of fans to the SeaQuest set. On 12 November, 2003, he hung himself. He was 27 years old. His friends speculated that Brandis was depressed about his career, but no one really knows why he took his life.
British actress Peg Entwistle’s death was particularly shocking and tragic.
She had a successful career on Broadway before moving to film. Gaining a small supporting role in a film called Thirteen Women, this was the beginning of her demise.
The film received bad reviews and Entwistle decided to take her own life. She climbed to the top of the Mount Lee in Los Angeles, where the famous Hollywood sign is positioned. She climbed to the "H" and jumped.
Her suicide note read: "I'm afraid, I'm a coward. If I had done this a long time ago, I would have saved a lot of pain.” She died on 16 September, 1932, aged 24 years old.
Tim Bergling, professionally known as Swedish DJ and music producer Avicii was found dead in the capital of Oman on 20 April, 2018. Prior to his death he has a number of health issues which lead to cancelling his 2014 tour. He stopped touring in 2016 but continued to create music.
His family confirmed that the artist took his own life because he "could not find peace”.' The details of his death were not revealed at the request of his family.