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5 Accomplished, Incredible People Who Attempted Suicide

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One of the hardest parts about suicidal thoughts (other than the whole, you know, wanting to die thing) is the shame.

You can feel weak. You can feel inadequate. You can ask yourself: Why is this so hard for me? Why can’t I just carry on like everyone else?

It’s cliche to say “You are not alone” – and often that doesn’t really help. Oh, good, other people want to die too? So life and the world are so fucked that many of us want out? Thanks, buddy.

What helps me, rather than focusing on the vast quantities of people who want to kill themselves, is to remember the ones that made it through and went on to do amazing things. It’s good for my perspective, in those dark moments, to remember that that’s just what they are: moments. And moments pass. And change is possible. Doesn’t have to be likely, just possible.

Want proof? Here’s five accomplished, incredible people who attempted suicide:

Elton John

In his Memoir, Elton John (whose original name was Reginald Dwight) said “I had been completely wrong when I thought that changing my name meant I’d changed as a person. I wasn’t Elton, I was Reg, and Reg was still the same as he’d been 15 years ago, hiding in his bedroom while his parents fought: insecure and body-conscious and self-loathing. I didn’t want to go home to him at night. If I did, the misery could be all-consuming.”

In 1975, John tried to take himself out with a decisive drug overdose of 85 Valiums. One of the most revealing details about his frame of mind at this time: He doesn’t even remember what prompted it.

He wrote the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” about his survival.

Drew Carey

When asked about his happy-go-lucky comedian persona, Carey said “There is a reason we want attention all the time. Living in Hollywood, you can get disconnected from everybody. You can feel like you are the only one. So you feel it, you hold it in and you don’t let it go and you don’t try to find help because you think, ‘Oh man if I tell anybody, I’m going to seem like I’m weak. I won’t get a movie deal. I won’t get invited to…’ whatever goes through your head.”

Carey attempted suicide twice, at 18 and 20, with sleeping pills. Because he survived, he was able to go on to create, host, and act in more TV than I care to list here… which is pretty cool.

Carey agrees, saying about living “It is pretty cool. I have a really good life.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Suicide, like humor, was a fixture in Vonnegut’s writing. He even wrote an entire collection of essays called God Bless You, Doctor Kevorkian where the premise was that he committed assisted suicide several times for the ability to interview the dead.

Vonnegut, a lifelong chain smoker, also jokingly (jokingly?) called cigarettes “the only honorable form of suicide.”

Whether he was trying to slowly kill himself with tobacco or not, in 1984 Vonnegut tried a more direct route: alcohol and sleeping pills. The novel he wrote the following year, Galapagos, is one of my all-time favorites… narrated from the distant future where human beings have evolved beyond a pesky vestigial thing called consciousness. From the novel:

“Why so many of us knocked us major chunks of our brains with alcohol from time to time remains an interesting mystery. It may be that we were trying to give evolution a shove in the right direction – in the direction of smaller brains.”

Johnny Cash

As a man of many well-known demons, it’s probably not surprising that Cash tried to check out… however, his method of doing so was pretty unorthodox. We’ve seen a lot of overdoses on this list, but Johnny Cash tried to commit what is probably the only documented case of suicide by cave.

illustration of Nickajack Cave

In 1967, Cash wandered into the black depths of Nickajack cave, got intentionally lost, and laid down on the floor to die. What happened next he describes as divine intervention, but just sounds like a psychological breakthrough to me:

“I didn’t believe it at first. I felt something very powerful, a sensation of utter peace, clarity and sobriety. I couldn’t understand it. How, after being awake for so long and driving my body so hard and taking so many pills—dozens of them, scores, even hundreds—could I possibly feel all right? The feeling persisted though, and then my mind started focusing on God. There in Nickajack Cave I became conscious of a very clear, simple idea: I was not in charge of my destiny. I was not in charge of my own death. I was going to die at God’s time, not mine.”

If Cash had gone out as he intended, more than 70 of his songs would never have been written.

Richard Pryor

As a stand-up comic myself, you bet I noticed that there are two comedians on this list.

In 1980, Pryor attempted suicide by self-immolation, dousing himself in rum and lighting his body on fire. He suffered 3rd-degree burns over half his body… but he kept his sense of humor about it:

You don’t have to be big and accomplished to keep on living, but at least give yourself a chance. Here’s me hoping you stay alive. If you’r thinking of checking out, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

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Max Bruno

Max Bruno

Editor, writer, comedian. My Myers-Briggs type is BDSM-SJW.