The Oscars come and go every year. Hollywood loves a chance to pat itself on the back and for the luvvy-duvvy aren’t-we-just-fabulous awards malarkey to go into overdrive. They are also serious business for the film industry, however much they may play it down with their faux nonchalance about it all. It’s a marketing game and battle of egos that goes on almost throughout the year. Of course, winning an Academy Award is a big deal for many, whether it’s for Best Actor or Best Sound Editing. Even receiving a nomination is considered an honour and can (sometimes) add value and exposure to a career.
Yet not all that glitters is gold with the Oscars. For some winners and nominees even Academy Award glory and recognition is not enough to make life worth living. Here then, is a list of Oscar winners and nominees who would later tragically commit suicide. It’s a sombre, depressing list that shows how even the glory associated with the little golden man can’t compensate for the pain and disappointment in the lives of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
10. Mario Monicelli, Italian Director-Screenwriter
Tuscan-born Monicelli was a highly-respected director and screenwriter in Italian cinema. He was one of the leading talents of Italian film’s social-realist comedy of the 1950s and 60s, along with contemporary greats like Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio de Sica. He worked with European acting giants like Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Monica Vitti, Liv Ullman and Catherine Deneuve. The prolific Monicelli continued making films until 2006, and was known for his often political and satirical films.
It was as a screenwriter that Monicelli was twice nominated for an Oscar: for 1963’s I Compagni (“Comrades”) and Casanova 75 in 1965, both of which starred Mastroianni. Monicelli committed suicide on November 29th, 2010, by jumping out of a hospital window in Rome. He was apparently depressed at having prostate cancer. What is so shocking is that Mario Monicelli was 95 when he ended his life.
9. Elizabeth Hartman, Tragic Debut Star
Hartman became an instant star as the blind white girl who falls in love with a black man (Sidney Poitier), in her debut performance in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue (for which Shelley Winters won Best Supporting Actress the same year). At just 21, Hartman was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in what was considered a daring film during a time of palpable racial tension in America. It all seemed to go downhill after that for Hartman. She spoke of it in a 1969 interview when she said, “That initial success beat me down…I was not ready for that. I suddenly found myself failing”.
She would go on to have starring roles in films like “The Fixer” and “Walking Tall”, but never became as big a star as her debut film seemed to promise. Plagued with depression she wound up depending on social security, disability income and family hand-outs to survive. Elizabeth Hartman committed suicide on June 10th, 1987 by leaping from the window of her small 5th floor New York apartment. She was just 43.
8. Charles Boyer, Suave French Heartthrob
Boyer was born in a small town in France in the final year of the 19th century. He abandoned his studies at the famous Sorbonne in Paris and by the 1920s he had become of biggest stars in French cinema. He
arrived in Hollywood barely speaking a word of English, and became the protégé of Irving Thalberg at MGM. Boyer became famous for his suave elegance and accent. By 1942 he had immortalised his hand and shoeprints in cement outside the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood
Boyer was received no less than four Best Actor nominations for his roles in Conquest (1937), Algiers (1938), Gaslight (1944) and Fanny (1961), and received an honorary award in 1943. He acted into the 1970s, but was devastated by the death of his wife, Pat, to whom he had been married for 44 years. Overcome with grief, he committed suicide two days later on August 26th, 1978, with an overdose of barbiturates.
7. Richard Farnsworth, Rugged Stuntman & Gentleman
Farnsworth was born in Los Angeles. He was a professional bronco on the rodeo circuit before becoming a stuntman in Hollywood in 1938. He would remain a stuntman in Hollywood movies for 30 years, acting as a stunt double for leading actors such as Henry Fonda and Kirk Douglas, whilst remaining a professional rodeo competitor. He eventually gave it up to concentrate on being an actor and was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar in 1978 for Comes a Horseman and again for Best Actor in the critically acclaimed and poignant film, The Straight Story (1999).
Incredibly, despite being nominated twice for Oscars, Farnsworth didn’t have his first significant speaking role until 1976 at age 56. Many were shocked when he committed suicide by gunshot on October 6th, 2000, just a few months after his Best Actor nomination. It was revealed that he had been fighting terminal cancer for many years. It was also revealed that he had been in considerable pain when filming what would be his last role in The Straight Story.
6. Joseph Brooks, Lecherous Music Man
Brooks became a rich man at a young age writing jingles for Dr Pepper and other products, and won a Best Original Song Academy Award for “You Light Up My Life” for the low-budget 1977 film of the same name. Incidentally, the song as sung by Debby Boone was a massive hit and spent 10 weeks at the top of the U.S. charts in 1977.
Brooks would go on to gain notoriety later in life. In 2009, aged 71, Brooks was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting 13 women at his swanky Manhattan apartment on the pretext that they were auditioning for a role. He was awaiting trial at the time of his suicide in May, 2011. The suicide was bizarre – he had wrapped his head in plastic and had connected a hose to a tank of helium, resulting in death by asphyxiation. With poor health (he had earlier suffered a stroke), mounting debt and rape charges against him, who knows what compelled Brooks to end his life.
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