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Death in Hollywood

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 22 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1441

Any relation between self worth and mortality is uncertain

  1. George Davey Smith, professor of clinical epidemiology
  1. Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 2PR(

    Appearances are deceptive p 1491

    Death in Hollywood—the subject of a paper in this issue (p 1491)1—brings to mind the page turning pleasures of Kenneth Anger's classic tales of a contemporary Babylon. 2 3 The mixture of drugs, drink, sex, violence, monstrous egos, gangsterism, speed, and madness is often most starkly revealed in the premature deaths of (sometimes has-been) stars. The suicides can be particularly indicative of the roller coaster nature of fame: Albert Dekker wrote sections of the poor reviews from his last film in crimson lipstick on his body before hanging himself; Lou Tellegen stabbed himself with gold scissors engraved with his name, surrounded by film posters, photographs, and newspaper cuttings from his days of triumph; and Peg Enwistle jumped to her death from one of the giant letters of the Hollywood sign (setting off a spate of copycat leaps into oblivion). Among the better known suicides are (probably) Marilyn Monroe and her Oscar-winning co-star in All About Eve, George Sanders, whose note read “Dear World: I am leaving you because I am bored. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool.”

    To these suicides can be added the long list of those for whom the road to excess led to premature demise. Among the stars of the silent screen were Wally Reid (morphine), John Gilbert (drink), Alma Rubens (heroin), Olive …

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