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Blog - Wendy Young

Women Who Have Committed Suicide

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The recent suicide of L’wren Scott appears to be overshadowed by headlines about Mick Jagger being her boyfriend e.g. ‘Mick Jagger says ‘’I will never forget her’’ and ‘Mick on stage in Australia when he hears the tragic news’.  Why would Ms Scott, a successful fashion designer with ‘A’ list clients take her own life?  It is probable that no one apart from her clients and the beast that is the fashion world would have heard of her until now.  It has been revealed that she was in debt to the tune of millions of dollars and that she really did not want to fail but did not want to ask Mick for help. Being an adopted child, did she feel she had to find herself, prove herself? She appears to have been a strong lady who left her Mormon roots in Utah to become a model at 17, the profession where one has to look like a stick insect to get work.  Although models are generally naturally thin it is a widely known that along with dancers, they will smoke to stop the hunger pangs and suffer vile inhuman rhetoric from the powerful who can dangle them on a string for not being exactly what they want. To eat is to be earthed and not doing so can send the mind into the ether. Certainly going out with Mick Jagger would open more doors for her, but now she had found success, was it too much to live up to?

And learns too late that men betray

Sparky was a nice girl in her 20s from a mining village. She was dragged into a house by two ‘men’ who raped her.  She was brave and reported the violation to the police. The case went to court but the two ‘men’ got off, they laughed in her face outside. She tried to cope but got more and more depressed until one day she swallowed a load of paracetamol. She vomited and told her mum who thought she’d be alright and said to go to bed and sleep it off.  Sparky never woke up. Do the perpetrators sleep easy in their beds? Do the presiding judge and jury on the case weep for the innocent who tried to fight the wrong she suffered and was humiliated even further and saw no other way out? Or is Sparky seen as another victim of circumstance?

What charm can soothe her melancholy?

Paula Yates was the glam, punky, TV presenter who had a tumultuous childhood but calmed down to family life with Bob Geldof and had cocoa before she went to bed. Naturally witty and clever she didn’t need the drugs and booze some women need to gain confidence, she was a natural. Before ‘Sir Bob’ got his title by being involved in Live Aid, Paula was the instigator, sticking notes to the fridge door to be aware of the starvation in Ethiopia. However, Bob took it on as his life’s cause. She complained that he didn’t shower, was unkempt, and this lack of attention probably pushed her into the arms of Michael Hutchence, the Rock God from Oz. Was it constant confrontation with ‘Sir Bob’ (he informed her he was ‘above the law’) that made her revert to her old life of drinking and drugs?  She had four kids but the strange, untimely death of Michael seemed to far outweigh her family life.  Did the return to drugs and drink make her vulnerable, blurring her future?

What art can wash her tears away?

Margaret Sullavan is the frail looking, nervy actress in a film called ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ (1940) (the blueprint for You’ve Got Mail in the 1990s).  Although from a wealthy family, she was brilliantly quirky and original in her role as the poor Hungarian girl who desperately wants a job and desperately wants to meet the man she writes to in the classifieds (James Stewart who along with Henry Fonda she studied drama).  There is something about her character that says she gives everything to the part, even though her first love was the theatre.  She was married to Henry Fonda for a while and her temperament and straightforwardness drove her to throw a jug of iced water on him.  She also showed her strength of character another of her ‘blow ups’ almost literally killed Sam Wood, one of the founders of the Motion Picture Alliance who was a keen anti-Communist.  He dropped dead from a heart attack shortly after a raging argument with Margaret, who had refused to fire a writer on a proposed film because of his left-wing views.  Whilst this would show spirit in a man, when women react they are seen as headstrong and highly strung.  It was a man’s world, it possibly still is.  After all, there is evidence out there of men (and women) to whom feminism and women’s rights seem to have passed them by.  Eventually she took to her bed permanently.  She had a lack of hearing and as her life was mostly about acting she was possibly scared of missing a cue.  She was deeply depressed – she had a nervous breakdown when her children wanted to live with their father.  All in all a fraught personal life drove her to overdose with barbiturates.  One daughter died of an overdose the same year Margaret died in 1960 and her son committed suicide in 2008.  One could question the instability of artistic parents.  She felt she could always learn more acting skills in the theatre, bring them to the screen and show Hollywood what she could really do.  Was anything ever enough for this woman who seemed to strive for perfection?​  Is it ever enough for us?

The only art her guilt to cover

The great Welsh actress Rachel Roberts quoted herself as ‘’frail personally but not professionally’’.  She was accomplished in Shakespearean roles, graduate of the University of Wales, and won the Athene Sayler award at RADA.  She was gritty in ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’ and when she received a BAFTA for best actress in ‘This Sporting Life’ Richard Harris was getting  all the attention.  At the party she got on the table and pulled her skirt up to reveal no underwear (see Robert Sellers’ book Hellraisers).  She was married Rex Harrison who told her to cover herself up and get down she refused saying ‘’you can’t get it up anyway you old bugger’’.   She was a rebel who said ‘’everybody has a  story…and a scream’.  What was her scream?  Something dark and deep hidden in her past?  Her last curtain call was a plate glass window she went through after downing weed killer.  The account of her death is as follows could be a more than a match for any female in Greek mythology or  Shakespearean tragedy: Actual suicide was a result of swallowing lye, alkali, or another unidentified caustic substance on top of the barbiturates which were ingested as detailed in her posthumously published journals.  The acidic effect of the poisonous agent was an immediate cause of death which propelled her body through a decorative glass screen.  She was found by her gardener cut to ribbons in a negligee on her kitchen floor amongst the shards of glass.

Reading two of her other personal quotes ‘’Whenever I act well, my head clears.  Always a bit frail I was personally, but never professionally.’’ and ‘’it is very difficult to be taken seriously when you’re introduced at a party to somebody as the fourth Mrs Rex Harrison’’ .  It seems that talent and brains were not enough, there was an underlying insecurity and her catastrophic end was as typical as powerful as the parts she played.

To hide her shame from ev’ry eye

Russian model Ruslana Korshunova posted on a social networking site “I’m so lost. Will I ever find myself?”.  From the Police reports it was concluded that Ruslana’s death was an apparent suicide, although no note was found.   Her short life (she was 21) ended after falling from the ninth-floor balcony of her apartment in New York.  With her family far away in Russia, this delicate girl who looked even younger than her years, was like a child looking for the good life and ended up in a hellish existence where there is speculation of prostitution rings involving high end clients.

To give repentance to her lover

In Woody Allen’s brilliant first film, ‘What’s New Pussycat’, there is a scene where the beautiful Austrian actress Romy Schneider who plays Carol falls out of Victor’s (Allen) bed with a bottle in her hand and with a tremendous bump!  You can almost feel the pain.  In another scene she is on a ladder in a library, stretching to deal with a bully who has her book (she tries to encourage ‘weedy’ Victor to win her love by telling him to hit the bully).  Of course she is in love with Peter O’Toole’s character (Peter James) but has a continual battle with his ‘hyperthyroid’ sexual dalliances.  She is equal  if not better and more natural an actor as O’Toole and Peter Sellers (a rampant sexologist) at clowning and acting.  Watching her highly physical and emotional performance emanates a feeling that this is an actress, and a woman, who gives too much, and you wonder if she lived very long.  Researching her life it seems inevitable that, sadly, she didn’t.

She was dumped by fiancé Alain Delon, himself from a stormy background, who left her for another actress but was courteous to send her roses with a ‘Goodbye’ card!  A mighty blow for Romy (they were French audiences’ favourite couple) who then married director Harry Meyen who would later commit suicide.  They had a son David, and after he was killed at the age of 14  attempting to climb a spiked fence, puncturing his femoral artery,  Romy began drinking alcohol excessively.  Who could blame her?  When she was found dead in her apartment at age 44, it was suggested that she had committed suicide by taking a lethal cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills.  Another post-mortem declared cardiac arrest.
Her early career was managed by her mother but also overseen by her stepfather who Romy indicated had an unhealthy interest in her.  How far did he go?  Is that the reason she lost herself in her roles?

In the public eye she appeared to have it all, but there is a pattern of extreme  unfairness of life that led Romy to an untimely death.

And wring his bosom-is to die

Everyday normal housewives and mothers, unbelievably, have survived many of the above tragedies and more but there seems to be a common thread with the artistic life, the high life – that you can’t have it all.  We all pay a price in life, whichever path is taken, daring people put themselves on the front line, others play it safe.  To know what one wants, to be able to choose, even if it’s the plodding side of life, can be the key.  Proving their worth seems to be a major key to the mystery of suicide victims. Models try to keep up with a lifestyle that is gruelling but are they fuelling their bodies and nourishing their minds?  To be on top of their game they have to satisfy so many people (even if means ignoring their own needs). The press can be cruel, society can be crueller.  The opposite sex could be a resounding factor but so is peer pressure – many women’s enemies are other women. There are too many stories of girls who have taken their own lives because they’re too fat, too pretty, too sensitive to take back their power and fight the bullies. On another level it could be said that the artistic temperament exposed to the public eye is to blame for what leads to mental illness and tragic endings. To fail seems a winner for a certain few who can spread the word, expose the bare bones of yet another victim until there is nothing left to see but a dramatic death for the obituary writers to get their teeth into.

Many do not commit the act of suicide outright but sufferings of childhood and life can drive them eventually to a slow death on many dangerous roads, choosing bad partners, alcohol, drugs and bad religion along the way.  The lists are too long, but for the actresses, the models, the girls next door, the mothers and all the women who have gone before their time, they will not be forgotten.


NB: The lines are from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem ‘When Lovely Woman Stoops to Folly’. Go to the Poetry Foundation website for information about the poet.

 

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