Why does it seem like musicians are more depressed than the rest of us? Maybe it's impossible to write good music when you're really happy. Anyway, check out some of the most depressed musicians in history.
At the young age of 20, Nick Drake signed to a record label, and started recording his first album, Five Leaves Left. He began experimenting with drugs during his college years, taking acid and smoking marijuana. After his first record failed to get popular, Drake went back to the studio. He recorded Bryter Layter in 1970, which also failed to receive much attention. It is during this time that friends suspect he began doing heroin. He became more and more introverted, failing to speak much, and began smoking an amount of marijuana that would make even Snoop Dogg say, "Whoa, maybe you should take it easy, man."
When Drake's third album Pink Moon failed to take off, the artist had had enough. His refusal to promote the album did nothing to bolster sales, and he retired from music. After seeing a psychiatrist and being prescribed anti-depressants, Drake decided to stay at his parents house. He would often disappear for days on end, suddenly showing up at friends houses, not speaking, and leave, only the repeat the cycle months later. After a girlfriend had attempted to break up with citing him (shockingly) difficult to spend time with due to his depression, Drake over-dosed on his anti depressant medication amitryptiline. The coroner ruled it a suicide because, as those close to him stated that by that time, Drake had clearly given up on ever leading a happy life.
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Ludwig van Beethoven
You'd be depressed too if you the very body part you needed to enjoy the only love in your life stopped working. And that's exactly what happened to Beethoven: he lost his hearing. That's like telling Paris Hilton she had a hip disease that would prevent her knees from being further than 7 inches apart. Not surprisingly, Beethoven's hearing loss prompted him to contemplate suicide. His suicidal tendencies would only be exacerbated by bipolar disorder, an emotional disorder characterized by feelings of extreme happiness and extreme depression. Beethoven is also thought to have dealt with lead poisoning, which led him to be afflicted by terrible abdominal pain his entire life. Being an awesome classical composer back in the 18th and 19th centuries isn't the same as being the drummer for Motley Crue, despite the fact that Beethoven's compositions influenced music across the world, and Motley Crue's music isn't fit to line a rat cage. With that in mind, Beethoven wasn't exactly pullin' in the ladies, and that added to his already fragile state.
When his brother died Beethoven won custody of his son, Karl, which he would later lose after the boy tried to commit suicide due to his hatred of Ol' Ludwig. Oops. When Karl left, Beethoven was sent into a depressed downward spiral, culminating in his death on March 18th, 1827.
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Kurt Cobain never had it easy. His childhood was characterized by the classic "manly dad who doesn't understand, nor wants to, his son's love for art and music." After hating lots of sports, and being bullied by kids at his school for having a gay friend, Cobain decided he wanted a guitar. Another factor in Cobain's depression related to an undiagnosed stomach condition with which he dealt for much of his life. Doctors were unable to find a cause or cure, but Cobain found it in heroin. By 1990, at the age of 23, Cobain was fully addicted to the drug.
As the media paid more attention to him and Nirvana, Cobain fell deeper and deeper into depression and drug use. In March 1994, Cobain's wife Courtney Love found him unresponsive after he overdosed on Rohypnol and alcohol. Most people agree, if they were married to Courtney Love, they would take a lot of drugs. After entering and then escaping from a compound where he was undergoing detox treatment, Cobain spent the last few weeks of his life milling around Seattle. On April 8th, 1994, Cobain's body was found by an electrician, the victim of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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Things started out rough for Layne Staley. Following his parents divorce, Staley's father moved away. During his childhood, someone had even told Staley that his father was dead, but his family argued that they knew he was still alive, doing drugs, and generally not being a good dad. At 15, Staley turned to drugs. But don't worry, it was only the light stuff, you know, LSD and heroin. After making on and off appearances in the mid 90s in which he was very emaciated and weak, Staley was put on suicide watch in 1996 following the drug abuse related death of his ex-girlfriend. He had fallen into extreme depression.
From 1997 to 2002, he had become a complete recluse, failing to contact friends and family weeks and months on end, even when they came directly to his apartment door, begging him to greet them. Very little is known about his activities during this time, but many speculate that Staley spent most of the time alone, doing drugs. His body was found approximately two weeks after his death by police answering a 911 call from an unidentified source who claimed not to have seen or heard from him in weeks. In his apartment was found drugs and drug paraphenalia. To make matters creepier, the coroner estimated his death as April 5, 2002. Eight years to the day after the death of his friend Kurt Cobain.
Click here to download Stayley's music.
The singer/songwriter Elliott Smith, who was renowned for his deep lyrics and whisper-like singing style had a history of drug addiction. Smith was also known as a heavy drinker, which only added to his depression when he combined alcohol with anti-depression medication. 2002 was particularly rough for Smith. In a few of his shows, Smith was barely awake, and looked sickly. At a college show, Smith clumsily played the guitar, and could barely remember the lyrics to many of his songs, prompting a Chicage area writer to claim that he would be surprised if Elliott Smith lived another year.
The circumstances surrounding his death are altogether mysterious. The weeks leading up to the tragic day had been described as some of the best in his recent life, and many of those close to him were shocked by it. According to police, Smith's girlfriend Jennifer Chiba claimed the two had gotten into a fight, where she locked herself in her room. At one point she heard Smith scream, and went downstairs to find a knife in his chest. A note nearby read "I'm so sorry. Love, Elliott. God forgive me." On October 21st, 2003, Elliott Smith was dead. Police listed his death as a possible homicide, but most evidence supports that he committed suicide.
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Robert Schumann's life began with tragedy. In his teens, his father died unexpectedly, and his sister committed suicide soon after, prompting Schumann's friends to say, "We might want to keep an eye on this guy." Things started to look pretty good for Schumann though, when he met Clara Wieck, who was actually pretty hot for an 1800s chick. And she and Schumann got busy. They had seven kids. Oh yeah, they met when she was 15 and he was 24. It was a different time. Obviously, his requests for marriage were met by a stern "No" from Clara's stereotypically protective father, and the two battled it out in court before they finally tied the knot.
In 1844, Schumann entered a persistent nervous state which created the bizarre anxiety of metal things, the less bizarre fear of heights, and the strange but not that strange fear of death. He even believed the "A" note was constantly being played in his ear. In 1854, things got really weird. He claimed to have visions of demons, and started to believe he was going to hurt his wife, because as we all know, demon-ish visions are never a good sign. Schumann attempted suicide by jumping off of a bridge and into the Rhine. He survived, and spent the remainder of his life in a psychiatric hospital which in those days meant being tied down in a box and then shoved into a closet. Modern historians believe Schumann could have died as a result of mercury poisoning due to symptoms consistent with that and syphilis.
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Ian Curtis', frontman for British post-punk band Joy Division, is considered one of the greatest lyricists in his short career. His depression was apparent early on when people noticed that his lyrics were dark and dealt with such topics as death and isolation. Curtis was also a skilled poet, and the imagery in that body of work was similarly depressing. In addition to his already quiet and dark demeanor, Curtis dealt with epilepsy, and he'd been known to have seizures right in the middle of performing.
As Joy Division's popularity increased, Curtis' depression worsened. His marriage was failing, and his health was fragile thanks to epilepsy. The band had signed on to play their first tour of the United States, and some speculate that the pressure of constant travel so far away made him nervous. On May 18th, 1980, Curtis watched Werner Herzog's Stroszek, and hung himself in his kitchen. His tombstone reads "Ian Curtis, 18 5 80 Love Will Tear Us Apart." A line from the popular Joy Division song.
Click here to download Curtis' music.