Mental Health & Drug Abuse Issues: A Deadly Combination for Comedians

A special article written by our blog’s contributing journalist, Gabriel Patel.

Mental Health & Drug Abuse Issues: A Deadly Combination for Comedians

Sadly, mental health issues and drug abuse have taken far too many lives. Whether people unintentionally overdose or commit suicide by taking too many pills, addiction turns deadly for famous actors, musicians, and comedians who struggle with mental disorders and other mental health issues. A home that’s not healthy and happy may contribute to the malaise in these lives, and steps can be taken to transform living spaces into positive environments. But what else can and should be done?

Some of the world’s beloved comics took their lives as a result of their mental health challenges and addiction, and they can serve as a lesson to people struggling with those issues today: get help before it is too late. Josh Rachlis takes a look at a few celebrities who, unfortunately, lost their battles, and what could have possibly been done beforehand.

Robin Williams

When the world learned that funny man Robin Williams took his life, we were stunned. Of course, people were familiar with the comedian’s struggles with addiction over the years. When news of his suicide first broke, friends and colleagues pointed to depression and some members of the media and public speculated that he might have overdosed. Eventually, the truth came out that Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and was struggling with a progressive decline in mental abilities. 

Williams’ widow shared with the world the news that Williams “was well aware he was losing his mind, and tried to keep it together until he hit a breaking point in his last month.” Susan Williams also explained that even though the actor had struggled with addiction throughout his life, he was sober for eight years preceding his suicide. Unfortunately, according to Mrs. Williams, the comedian’s chronic depression and paranoia flared before he took his life. 

Depression and suicide often go hand-in-hand. Studies show that 90% of people who commit suicide have clinical depression or another mental disorder. In many cases, people who commit suicide have an alcohol or substance abuse problem; often, addiction accompanies mental health disorders. People with chronic physical illness are at a greater risk of committing suicide as well.

Ray Combs

Ray Combs became a beloved American comedian as soon as he hit the “Tonight Show” stage in 1986 with Johnny Carson and received a standing ovation. David Letterman had helped Combs get established in Los Angeles, California, in 1982 after he found audiences enjoying his shows at the Red Dog and other Cincinnati comedy clubs. Combs warmed up audiences for The Golden Girls and “Amen” and then became the host of Family Feud in 1988. He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy as best game show host in 1993. 

But, Combs’ good fortune took a turn in 1994 when he learned he would be replaced on the program. In July, he was in a car accident that temporarily paralyzed his arms and legs, and he later experienced issues moving his fingers and hands. His marriage ended in 1996, he defaulted on two homes, and he committed suicide after several attempts in 1996. 

According to First To Know, friends and colleagues had concerns about Combs because his life seemed to be spiraling out of control. The loss of his physical health, family, and homes led to depression and other mental health issues. He had destroyed the interior of his home, and harmed himself by banging his head against walls. He was admitted to the psychiatric ward for attempting suicide, but it was there that he hanged himself with a sheet.

Combs serves as a reminder that people with chronic pain are at a greater risk of suicide. People with chronic pain also develop substance abuse issues and addictions, because of taking opioids and other highly-addictive pain medications, that lead to suicide as well. Some people who have chronic pain and depression are among those individuals at the greatest risk of committing suicide.

Freddy Prinze

Comedian Freddy Prinze died in 1977 after shooting himself in the head. He was the star of television’s “Chico and the Man,” but he became severely depressed after his marriage fell apart. One of the reasons for the comedian’s failed marriage was Prinze’s addiction to Quaaludes; in fact, his wife filed for divorce because of his substance abuse problems. Prinze made a goodbye phone calls to his business manager, his mother, and his wife. He reportedly told his mother that he could not go on and needed to find peace, and he allegedly told his wife the same thing. By some reports, police found a suicide note that read, in part: “I must end it. There’s no hope left. I’ll be at peace.” 

Prinze had a history of depression, addiction, and suicide attempts from an early age. He allegedly attempted suicide at age 17 after a breakup with a girlfriend. And, he drank heavily and relied on drugs after his manager successfully sued him for breaching a business contract. Prinze turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the decline of his relationships, career, and marriage.

While most people think that people with mental health disorders are at the greatest risk of committing suicide, Psychology Today notes that addicts also are at a greater risk of taking their own lives. Depression and mood disorders are the leading risk factor for suicide, but drug and alcohol abuse is a close second. 

According to researchers, the strongest predictor of suicide is alcoholism rather than a psychiatric diagnosis, and people who abuse substances are approximately six times more likely to commit suicide than people who do not have substance use disorders. Comedians like Robin Williams, Ray Combs, and Freddy Prinze should serve as reminders to the general population that no one should hesitate to seek treatment for mental disorders, addiction, or suicidal thoughts.

Image via Flickr by Charles Haynes

Actor and comedian Josh Rachlis is also a cartoonist, politician, environmentalist and avid YouTuber. Find out more today!

Boccato Gelato & Crepes

Ottawa – July 3, 2021: I ate here with my mom, sister, and my sister’s kids. After checking out my mom’s art in the Glebe pop-up art show at Lansdowne Park. There’s a good selection of food. I had a hotdog first, because I was hungry. And then I had a gelato. They’ve got smoothies. Pastries in the pastry case. Sandwiches. And their little patio is a great place to sit and watch people walking around.

Gelato on the Boccato patio

Elgin Street Diner

Ottawa, August 7, 2021: I walked over to meet a woman from the Facebook dating app. I live downtown and I said we could meet somewhere in Elgin Street and she wound up at Elgin Street Diner. She used to go there when she was young and it turns out Jody the waiter (and co-owner) used to serve her Christian youth group 30 years ago. So she was all nostalgic. This restaurant is the classic place to go to with friends or after a bar or any time. There is a variety of food so there’s something for everyone. My friend had poutine and then a mochaccino milkshake with a banana. I got the big breakfast. It was so filling.

Today’s diary entry

I didn’t go for a “run” today. I kept meaning to. I wanted to do it first thing in the morning. Last night I thought about going to bed at 9pm. But my dad was watching TV. And then at 10pm a guy in San Fran wanted to call me to tell me about his company. He saw me ask a question to Michael Ovitz in a zoom call this week and wanted to talk to me because his company is involved in advertising and comedy, and I’ve worked in both. Anyway, I went to bed at 11:30pm and put on a podcast. Woke up at 7am, but was still tired, then woke up at 9am. Checked emails. Then at noon, did a zoom call, then another zoom call, then ran to the bank. So that was sort of my run. Took about 20 minutes to get there, and then 20 minutes back. Slowly along Elgin Street. I thought of running again later, but never found the time, because I watched a zoom call and then did another zoom call. I wanted to go to bed at 9pm tonight, but have spent 2 hours on Quora, reading answers to people asking “Is ___ too old to become a teacher?” Because I’m thinking that being a teacher would be the only thing that could make me happy. This week I did a stand-up act in a comedy club contest and it dawned on me how hard doing stand-up comedy is. And I don’t know if it would even fulfill me if I was doing it all the time. Oh, and I started answering questions on Quora, to things like “I’m a 21 male and have a 4 year old daughter and I miss going to bars with my buds and I’m depressed about it.” and “My 13 year old daughter is sad that nobody texts her.” I think I dolled out some good life wisdom. Do you want me to share my answers on Facebook? And do you have any questions for me? Maybe this is a small way that I can do some “teaching”.

Here’s the post on Facebook: