8 Rockstars Who Battled With Depression And Mental Illness
Against All Odds
The thing about depression and mental illness – it can hit anyone. Just because you’re rich, famous and on top of the world doesn’t mean your life’s all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, a recent study by Help Musicians UK showed that those in the music industry are three times more likely to suffer from the above-mentioned health issues than regular people.
Why? There are plenty of reasons which can vary from one rockstar to another. But for the most part, it can be blamed on the pressure to rise above the noise and even the physical aspect which is working for hours in the studio or hitting the road. For rising stars, minimum or lack of pay could also be a factor.
Now let’s look at some of these musicians who prove there’s a dark and grim side to fame.
8. Daniel Johnston
On the outside, Daniel Johnston is this talented, poetic guy. But emotionally and psychologically, he was badly damaged. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and he spent a significant amount of time in psychiatric institutions.
A documentary film that focused on his life was released on 2005 called “The Devil and Daniel Johnston.”
“I wonder if people go see him hoping to witness a nervous breakdown. Do they perceive him as their equal, or as someone they need to coax along and feel safe? As much as the audience may genuinely love his songs, I sense a lot of condescension. That’s always bugged me.” – Daniel Johnston’s friend Gretchen Phillips
His battle with severe manic depression enabled him to create memorable songs (his music is often referred to as having a “pure and childlike soul”) and lovely artworks (he has collaborated with skateboarding shop and clothing brand Supreme). But it also haunted him constantly.
7. Sinéad O’Connor
She was extraordinarily beautiful, talented and she had the world at her feet. And just this year, everyone was shocked when she posted a disturbing 12-minute video on her Facebook page that revealed her battle with her inner demons.
It was during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show on October 4, 2007 when she revealed that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in 2003. She also disclosed her suicide attempt during her 33rd birthday on December 8, 1999.
“My entire life is revolving around not dying, and that’s not living. Mental illness, it’s like drugs, it doesn’t give a shit who you are, it’s the stigma… I’m invisible, I don’t matter a shred to anyone.” – Sinead O’Connor in her Facebook video
It opened up conversations about mental health and for worried fans, O’Connor was brought to the hospital after her alarming admission and is currently receiving the best care.
6. Eric Clapton
Seeing Eric Clapton’s struggle with depression reminds us that he may be a guitar god who can fill stadiums but at the very core, he’s also just human. He was at the top of his game in the 1970s but when he’s not out performing in front of thousands of fans, he’s battling his drug and alcohol addiction. At one time, he became dependent on heroin he ended up passing out on stage.
“In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead. It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic.” – Eric Clapton in his autobiography
Years later, he also had to deal with his son’s death which inspired him to create one of the most heartbreaking songs of all time – “Tears in Heaven.”
5. Roky Erickson
Widely regarded as a pioneer of psychedelic rock, Roky Erickson was performing at HemisFair in 1968 when he suddenly started speaking gibberish. A year later, he was arrested for possessing a single marijuana joint. To avoid a ten-year jail time, he pleaded guilty by reason of insanity. He was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
He was sent to Austin State Hospital but after several escape attempts, he ended up in Rusk State Hospital where he was subjected to heavy medications and an electroconvulsive therapy.
“Uh-huh. At one time I had it notarised that I was from another planet. By a lawyer.” – Roky Erickson when asked why he told Nick Kent he was an alien in an interview
Some think he didn’t really have any mental illness and that whatever delusions he had was due to the combination of drugs and stress. And maybe, the trauma he experienced during his stay in a psychiatric hospital only added to that.
4. Kurt Cobain
Some who experience depression and have mental health issues find treatments that work for them. For others, however, it ends up in tragedy just like what happened to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Unlike the others on this list, there was no official diagnosis for Cobain.
His cousin, Bev, who was a registered nurse who worked with mental health patients, claimed that Cobain had bipolar disorder. She said in an interview:
“Kurt was diagnosed at a young age with Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD], then later with bipolar disorder [also known as manic-depression]. Bipolar illness has the same characteristics as major clinical depression, but with mood swings, which present as rage, euphoria, high energy, irritability, distractibility, overconfidence, and other symptoms. As Kurt undoubtedly knew, bipolar illness can be very difficult to manage, and the correct diagnosis is crucial. Unfortunately for Kurt, compliance with the appropriate treatment is also a critical factor.”
From his interviews to the lyrics in the songs he wrote, you can tell Cobain had his inner battles that no one else could fight for him. And this became even more apparent when he took his own life.
3. Ray Davies
Ray Davies was the singer-songwriter and rhythm guitarist for The Kinks. While the general public knows the beef between Ray and brother, Dave, not everyone is aware that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and also attempted to commit suicide by overdosing in 1973.
“Because I’d just come offstage and sunk a bottle of downers because I wanted to kill myself. Then I changed my mind. I was dressed as a dandy, it might have looked like a clown to everyone else. But even clowns can have bad days. I didn’t have time to change because I would have died. Was it a cry for help? No, I liked that outfit.” – Ray Davies on the time he turned up at the Whittington Hospital in London
He and Dave reunited for a performance last 2015 and on March this year, he was knighted by Prince Charles and even hinted on a new album.
2. Brian Wilson
Perhaps the only upside to rockstars who make their struggles known to the public is for awareness. Few people are comfortable talking about what they’re going through – even more because it’s difficult to make others understand the demons you are fighting against.
The Beach Boys founder was diagnosed with depression and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type after he started hearing “voices.” It began when he was just 25 years old but his mental battles can be traced back to his anxiety attacks at 14.
“Lots of the music I’ve made has been my way of trying to get rid of these voices…. When I walk into the studio music happens and the voices stop happening. It’s kind of a magic.” – Brian Wilson
He may be a tortured and damaged soul but his musical brilliance allowed him to tame those demons and finish what he deemed as his greatest accomplishment – the project Smile, the supposed follow-up to Pet Sounds which was abandoned due to certain issues.
1. Syd Barrett
Without Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd wouldn’t exist. Aside from founding and naming the band, he was also the singer-songwriter and guitarist in the early days. But by 1967-1968, Barrett started becoming unpredictable. His erratic behavior is often attributed to two things – LSD and schizophrenia (there were also speculations that he had bipolar disorder). Like Kurt Cobain, however, there was no official diagnosis regarding the status of his mental health.
But he was deteriorating and everyone around him noticed it – he became depressed, socially withdrawn, had intense mood swings and also experienced hallucinations.
“I don’t think I’m easy to talk about. I’ve got a very irregular head. And I’m not anything that you think I am anyway.” – Syd Barrett
After departing Pink Floyd, he recorded two solo albums then went into seclusion. He lived out the rest of his life enjoying simple things like gardening and painting. In 2006, he passed away due to pancreatic cancer.