The SoloistBMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c791 (Published 10 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c791
- Iain McClure, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh
Many readers will remember Scott Hicks’s multiple Oscar winning 1996 film Shine, which told the story of David Helfgott, a gifted pianist whose promising career was devastated by the onset of schizo-affective disorder in his early 20s. Like many who saw this film I was moved by Shine’s theme: that to achieve genius the prodigy must pay the price of consequent madness. This notion is an endlessly fascinating theme for film makers; and so 13 years on it is perhaps not surprising that another film has been released telling a story of a real life, gifted but mentally ill musician.
Nathaniel Ayers has allowed it to be known on public record that he has schizophrenia that is, to date, resistant to treatment. In the 1970s he studied the double bass at the Juilliard School, America’s finest musical academy, at a time when it was almost unthinkable for a poor black boy to achieve such a privilege.
Like Helfgott, Ayers developed his first symptoms of mental illness while attending music school, and his inchoate stellar career suddenly collapsed. He was given psychiatric …