Isaac Newton wrote the laws of gravity, Ludwig van Beethoven composed his ninth symphony, and Vincent Van Gogh painted Starry Starry Night, while all existing as famous people with mental illnesses. Although mental illness is often stigmatized, it gave them the creative power of divergent thinking. Creative geniuses with mental illness have envisioned the world differently throughout history. They found momentary solace in a notebook, canvas, typewriter, airplane, or looking up at the stars above. However, untreated, many famous people with mental illness met tragic ends.
Famous People with Mental Illnesses
Isaac Newton 1643-1727
Isaac Newton discovered calculus, founded the three laws of motion – the basic principles of physics – and lead a scientific revolution. He was also known to throw tantrums and have nervous breakdowns. At the time, no one understood the gravity of the situation, but it is now suspected he suffered from bipolar disorder.
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827
Ludwig van Beethoven composed his greatest classical masterpieces during manic episodes. His range in emotions resonated in dark symphonies that combined unusual keys and notes for a dramatic, groundbreaking sound. Afflicted with bipolar disorder and deteriorating hearing, Beethoven self-medicated with opium and alcohol. He died of liver disease years after finishing his ninth and final symphony in complete deafness.
Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910
Leo Tolstoy was a prolific Russian Novelist famous for War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In his memoir A Confession Tolstoy revealed the degree he suffered from depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. His acute understanding of suffering is evident in his descriptions of dissatisfaction, although he described joy with just as much eloquence. He wrote, “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890
Vincent Van Gogh is famous for his beautiful post-impressionist paintings and for cutting off his own ear and delivering it in an envelope. He suffered from seizures, depression, and delusions. Many famous people with mental illnesses also dealt with co-occurring addictions, such as Van Gogh who drank abundant amounts of absinthe alcohol. His emotional intensity is visible in his sweeping brush strokes, bold colors, and ability to turn a seemingly ordinary setting into a vibrant tableau. He took his own life with a gunshot to the chest.
Virginia Woolf 1882-1941
Virginia Woolf was a famous British novelist with bipolar disorder who wrote Mrs.Dalloway, A Room of Her Own, and To The Lighthouse. She brilliantly reveals her character’s psychological motives and thoughts with a Stream of Consciousness style- an invention of her manic mind. She committed suicide at the age of 59 by drowning in a nearby river, her pockets filled with stones. In Orlando she wrote, “all extremes of feelings are allied with madness.”
Howard Hughes 1905-1976
Howard Hughes was a pioneer in aviation, business, and filmmaking, remembered as a recluse billionaire with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He produced controversial movies like Scarface, set world flight speed records, and risked his life testing his innovative aircrafts. After an almost fatal plan crash he became addicted to Codeine. Afterwards, he confined himself to his private screening room, watching movies and slipping further into delusion. He remained a hermit the rest of his life and was nearly unrecognizable at death, his body withered from drug use and untreated mental illness.
Sylvia Plath 1932-1963
Sylvia Plath was a brilliant poet and novelist famous for her novel The Bell Jar that describes depression in gruesome detail. She confessed everything in her writing, her manic depression palpable in her lucid descriptions. In The Bell Jar she wrote,”if neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.” Her fragmented sense of self gave her poetry a dark and mysterious beauty. She committed suicide at age 30, putting her head in the oven while her children slept.
Carrie Fisher 1956-2016
Carrie Fisher, famous for playing Princess Leia in Star Wars, was candid about her struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse. She wrote the semi-biographical novel Postcards from the Edge about an alcoholic actress, played by Meryl Streep in Fisher’s film adaptation. In her writing, she never downplayed her struggle or lost her sense of humor. Fisher – who received treatment for addiction and mental illness – told ABC News that she “outlasted her problems.” Unfortunately, in 2016, Fischer suffered from a heart attack and suspected relapse that led to her death.
Elton John 1947- Present
Elton John’s unique blend of rock and pop made him one of the best-selling musicians of all time, and makes him one of the most famous people with mental illnesses in the world. He has over fifty Top 40 hits and composed the musical score for the Tony award-winning musical Billy Elliot. Elton John suffered from the eating disorder bulimia and a cocaine addiction for many years before getting help. He considers treatment, “the best thing I ever did. But, you know, those three words — I need help. If only I’d said them earlier.”
Mental Health Treatment at Morningside Recovery
At Morningside Recovery, you don’t have to be like these famous people with mental illnesses who suffered their whole lives. We offer premiere mental health treatment to help people struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and personality disorders overcome their difficulties. Additionally, we offer dual diagnosis treatment to help people suffering from both addiction and mental health disorders. If you’re interested in enrolling yourself or someone you love in one of our programs, then call us today at 855-416-8202.