Welcome to part two of our list of Oscar winners and nominees who tragically ended their lives too soon. Read on to find out learn about the next five Oscar suicides:
5. John Monk Saunders, Early Film Screenwriter
Minnesota-born Saunders was a Rhodes Scholar and served as flight instructor during World War I. He adapted his own novel “Single Lady” into the film The Last Flight, and is notable for being the screenwriter of the 1927 film Wings, which would be the first ever winner of a Best Picture Academy Award. He also wrote and directed the film The Conquest of the Air in 1936. Obsessed by war and aviation, which were common themes in his films, it was the 1930 war film, The Dawn Patrol that Saunders won his Oscar for Best Story.
He was the first husband of blonde bombshell Fay Wray, who famously played the female lead in the original King Kong. It has been alleged that Wray spoke of two ‘beasts’ that shaped her life – King Kong and Saunders, and Saunders was a known depressive alcoholic. He committed suicide by hanging himself in a cottage at Fort Myers Beach, Florida on March 11th, 1942, aged just 42.
4. George Sanders, English Character Actor
It’s often assumed that Sanders was English-born, but he was in fact born in St. Petersburg, Russia to English parents. They fled from Russia because of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Sanders did everything before becoming an actor, including working at a tobacco company in Argentina. He eventually became a contract player for Twentieth Century Fox, and it was Alfred Hitchcock who gave him his big break in 1940’s Rebecca. He appeared in many films in the 1940s, very often as an evil German or archetypal cad.
It was for his 1950 role as an acidic critic in the now-classic film All About Eve that Sanders won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. By the 1960s the film roles had become scarce. In failing health, he checked into a Barcelona hotel on April 23rd, 1972 and overdosed on the contents of five bottles of Nembutal. His suicide note became famous, in which he wrote, “”Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.”
3. Malik Bendjelloul, Swedish Documentary Filmmaker
Swedish-born documentary filmmaker Bendjelloul had made just one documentary in his too-short career. But what a stunning success his debut film had been. The 2012 low-budget documentary Searching for Sugar Man told the story about the rediscovery of long-forgotten folk singer Sixto Rodriguez (or simply Rodriguez). It went on to win prizes at film festivals around the world and would eventually make $10-million at the box office. Most touching was that it single-handedly resurrected the career of Rodriguez. The fairy tale culminated in a 2013 Best Documentary Feature Oscar for Bendjelloul as producer.
Just over a year later Bendjelloul committed suicide on May 13th 2014 by jumping in front of a Stockholm metro train. Even more shocking than the way he died at just 36 was that there had been no signs of mental illness; he appeared happy and full of projects. Everyone who knew him was stunned at his death by suicide. The fairy tale for Malik Benjelloul was over.
2 Robin Williams, Iconic Comedy Genius
To try and succinctly write a profile about Robin Williams would be to belittle a talent so enormous that a short paragraph wouldn’t do it justice. The filmography of Williams is truly impressive, with his roles in films like The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Morning Vietnam (for which he earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1988), Dead Poets’ Society (in his second nomination for Best Actor in 1990), Awakenings, The Fisher
King (in 1992 and his third nomination for Best Actor), Mrs Doubtfire, Birdcage – the list goes on and on.
He would finally win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998, playing a psychiatrist in Good Will Hunting. His manic comic timing was second to none (his voice work as the Genie in Aladdin was Oscar-worthy). He was a comedy legend whose presence in interviews and presenting
awards was guaranteed dynamite (his must-see presentation of the Best Director award at the 1988 Oscars is stunning in its wit and delivery). Which is why his suicide by hanging on August 11th, 2014, aged 63, was unbelievable for so many of us. Who could have guessed he was that depressed and emotionally vulnerable? His death robbed us all of an outstanding, unique and enormous talent.
1 Gig Young, Tortured Hollywood Actor
Gig Young doesn’t make number one on this list because he is the biggest star (after all, who can compete with the star power of Robin Williams?). The reason why will soon become apparent. Handsome and debonair when he started out in Hollywood in the 1940s, work was steady for Young. By 1960 he had been nominated twice for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in Come Fill the Cup (1952) and Teacher’s Pet (1959).
It was his mercurial performance as a slimy emcee in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which won him a Best Supporting Oscar in 1970. However, his Oscar win only seemed to intensify his alcoholism and psychological demons. Deeply depressed, he was finding it increasingly difficult to memorise his lines. On October 19th, 1978 he killed his newlywed wife, 31-year-old Kim Schmidt, 33 years his junior, with a gunshot to the back of her head, and then shot himself dead in their New York apartment. Police couldn’t ascertain if it was a murder-suicide or a suicide pact. But two people lay dead. It was a shocking and sordid end to the life of Byron Barr, better known to cinemagoers as the Oscar winner, Gig Young.
There then are ten film people, all so creative and so talented in their own ways, and for who not even an Oscar win or nomination would suffice. One would think that glory alone could make life worth living – but that’s clearly expecting too much of the little golden man. Their untimely and tragic deaths are a timely reminder to us all – perhaps life is not about the big events or big victories, but about the little things that actually make it worth living.
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