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Famous Schizophrenics

  • Aug 6, 2011
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I believe someone, I forget who, once said that there is a fine line between insanity and genius. The people on this list prove that that is true.
Pablo Picasso
Schizophrenics often suffer from split realities and a huge sense of paranoia. You can almost feel the paranoia in his art. Each piece seems so manic, I don't think there is one Picasso piece in which I feel a sense of calm, even when he's painting the most benign of subjects. He's no Monet, that's for sure.
Syd Barrett, lead vocalist and guitarist for Pink Floyd during their psychedelic years(and also a painter), was kicked out of the band due to allegations of mental illness fueled by heavy drug use. He however was a major influence on psychedelic rock, space rock and psychedelic folk. He ended up in a self-imposed seclusion for 30 years with just his painting and gardening to keep him company until he died in 2006.
Jim Gordon
The most influential drummer....ever and also the most tragic rock-n-roll tale on this list. In the 60's and 70's, there wasn't a song on the radio that didn't have Gordon on the drums. He played with The Byrds, Everly Brothers, John Lennon (Imagine), The Beach Boys (must've been interesting studio sessions with Wilson aka #5), Carly Simon (You're So Vain), Derek and the Dominos (Layla, which he won a Grammy in 1993 along with Eric Clapton, though he was in prison), Alice Cooper, Steely Dan and many more. He laid down the drum break on the Incredible Bongo Band's 1972 Bongo Rock album's version of "Apache", which was sampled by Sugarhill Gang to make the breakdance classic of the same name.

In 1983, after years of suffering with misdiagnosed schizophrenia (doctors thought it was alcoholism), he bludgeoned his mother so she wouldn't feel the pain of his stabbing her. He was trying to stop her voice in his head who he felt was responsible for encouraging him to starve, not sleep and who was responsible for the deaths of Karen Carpenter and another friend. In 1984, he was sentenced to 16 to life for second degree murder. The jurors agreed that he was schizophrenic, after he was finally rightfully diagnosed in court. However, California had passed legislation restricting the use of the insanity plea (this was during Reganomics when Regan also released all the mental patients out of hospitals to save money). As of today, 27 years later and after multiple failed parole attempts, he remains in prison.
Mary Todd Lincoln
The First Lady during the Civil War, with relatives on both sides of the war, was born into privilege but, profound grief later in life would prove too much for her to mentally handle. She was diagnosed with quite a few illnesses including bipolar as well as schizophrenia. The death of some of her siblings during the war, the assassination of her husband, and death of her two sons spawned an unshakable paranoia.

She went to go visit her oldest son in Chicago, convinced he was ill though he was perfectly healthy, she told him someone tried to poison her on the train and that a man took her purse but, would return it. She walked around with $56,000 sewn into her clothes, fearing that one day she would suffer poverty.

Placed in a fancy sanitarium in 1875 by her son who feared for her safety to herself, she escaped three months later. After writing about the sanitarium to the editor of the Chicago Times, the director fearing for harmful negative publicity, released her to her sister. She died, living housebound in her sister's house in Springfield at the age of 63.
Brian Wilson
Lead singer, songwriter, Bassist and Keyboard player of the Beach Boys, Wilson was overwhelmed by the demise of his second project with Capitol, Smile, and the birth of his daughter, Carnie. After production reins were handed to younger bro, Carl, Brian started slipping into cocaine. His family in an attempt to revive him and his career, put him in the care of Eugene Landry who would eventually create a puppeteer relationship with Wilson, controlling every move he made, including musical decisions, books, finances, and relationships (largely responsible for cutting all ties with The Beach Boys). Eventually, he would have his license taken away and a restraining order from Wilson. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, affecting his relationship with his daughters. He is still composing music, having done a cover of Buddy Holly song, "Listen to Me" for an upcoming tribute album for Buddy Holly, to be released September of this year.
John Forbes Nash, Jr.
John is the perfect example of straddling the insanity and genius line. A mathematical genius, in the purest sense of the word, whose work is used in market economics, computing, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics and military theory.

Famously shown in A Beautiful Mind by Russell Crowe (in what I believe is Crowe's best role), his paranoid schizophrenia had him believing that men in red ties were in a communist conspiracy against him and wrote Washington DC that they were establishing their own government. He heard voices, had a fear of persecution, and delusions. He was forced into hospitals and only faked "normalcy" to get out. He said eventually he was able to "cure himself" by ignoring the delusions and voices but, felt extremely limited in his thinking.
Peter Green
The blues-rock guitarist and founder of Fleetwood Mac has been lauded by B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Like others he succumbed to self-medicating with drugs and professional obscurity, eventually landing in psychiatric hospitals with electro shock therapy in the mid-70s. It was believed that LSD aggravated his schizophrenia.

In 1977, he threatened his accountant with a shotgun which landed him in yet another hospital. In addition to schizophrenia, he underwent bouts of prison, mental hospitals, heavy sedation and the growing of ten inch nails, according to Mitch Reynolds, the lady who looks after him, manages him and is a true friend to him.

In an answer to a Terrascope interview question, "Are you feeling good within yourself?" Green answered, "Not really, no. Sometimes something happens, I get a funny little feeling and everything goes right. I don't know what it is though. It seems to be someone else's hands. Other times I might be kind of miserable"
Antonin Artaud
Though he was forced to go to a sanitarium, it only contributed to his paranoia and delusions. He was THE director of the Surrealist period. He ran the Bureau of Surrealist Research (yes, it was a real thing) in which he became frustrated with their only desire being disrupting the bourgeois art events and causing scandal. They kicked him out. He then went on to direct surrealist films. He also was famous for writing the manifesto for the Theatre of Cruelty.

Upon his return to France from a drug fueled trip to Mexico, he obtained a knotty walking stick that he believed belonged to St. Patrick as well as Lucifer and Jesus Christ. He went to Ireland, speaking very little English and misunderstood, he attempted to return the walking stick. On the boat home, he was convinced that two crew members and retaliated, landing in a straightjacket in jail. He died alone in a psychiatric clinic room, holding his left shoe, from an overdose of chloral hydrate.

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August 26, 2011
whoa. I did not know that about # 4. Thanks for that, Sam!
August 26, 2011
Neither did I before researching for this list, pretty fascinating.
August 24, 2011
An excellent list, this - capably written and researched.

Barrett's Jugband Blues is probably the best extant passive-aggressive "fuck you" yet delivered in the context of experimental music of any variety, popular or erudite. Waters, Gilmour, et al. took it in stride and even aided the production of his solo albums after Barrett was jettisoned from Floyd. Barrett's peak songwriting occurred during the span of but a few years from '65 to '67, but this was an exceptionally fertile period for him, generating songs on which he'd coast until abandoning music entirely in the mid-'70s - as much a result of indifference as madness.

Wilson never recovered from a pre-release listening of Sgt. Pepper that an enthusiastic McCartney afforded him in L.A. while Wilson was laboring on Smile. That fragile condition was jarred by A Day in the Life, and comparisons to his own project devastated him. What amazes me is that he waited until the aughts to complete it - from scratch, based on deteriorated audio fragments - long after he was well enough to do so. Regardless of age, an abundance of free time and fandom can do wonders for people.

His lifelong addiction to laudanum did nothing to alleviate Artaud's madness. Faith, Artaud was too radical for the BoSR; Breton, always as much an opportunist as an artist, not only expected his position usurped by Artaud, but rightly assumed that the Bureau wouldn't last months under the explicitly dangerous direction of a man who was as deranged as creative. All that aside, Artaud's ejection from all formal artistic society was a tragedy, the isolation of an extraordinarily gifted author, albeit one who was personally insufferable. His The Seashell and the Clergyman (which preceded Un chien andalou by a year) is not only the first but also perhaps the most infectious of all surrealist films. Both Seashell and Richter's Ghosts Before Breakfast exerted an incalculable influence on everyone from Buñuel to Arrabal to Jodorowsky, Has, Svankmajer, Ishii, Lynch, Cronenberg, K. Kurosawa, et cetera.
August 26, 2011
And your answer is capably written and researched! Thanks for reading and commenting.
August 24, 2011
What an awesome list - I enjoyed reading it and was fascinated. I had no idea that May Todd Lincoln wasn't all together there! I can't imagine being schizophrenic in a time when it could be misdiagnosed for just being a nut, especially when it contributes to violence. Great idea and interesting list Sam!!
August 26, 2011
Thanks Brenda! I had a good time putting it together :)
August 24, 2011
I'd add Philip K. Dick t the list. Even though the films differ noticeably from his novels/stories, it's still very easy to see his psychiatric disorder in all its glory in BLADE RUNNER  ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?") and TOTAL RECALL ("We Can Remember it For You Wholesale").
August 24, 2011
Though Dick's mind and imagination were warped by hallucinogens and alcoholism, I don't think him classifiable as schizophrenic, though, the unique circumstances of his birth certainly imprinted some sort of bifurcated impression to his psyche.
August 25, 2011
I'm not quite as familiar with his personal history as you seem to be ( in regards to drug use etc), but his delusions seem to be pretty consistent if you look to some of his better know works for examples.
August 26, 2011
Great addition, I think that often schizophrenics self-medicate with street drugs in order to balance out their chemical imbalance.
August 26, 2011
I think that in some cases it can be a question of the chicken or the egg too. Is he psychotic because he self-medicated or does he self-medicate because he's psychotic?
August 26, 2011
August 23, 2011
The aura of a public persona creates a certain separation from reality and an obsession with appearances and correctness. At that level, people need to both succeed and fail at things large and small. Otherwise, there can be no meaningful experimentation and trying out new things without the fear of a penalty or public ridicule.
August 22, 2011
Wow, that's insane! No pun intended :P I'm fascinated by the fact that these are mostly older people who have passed because I can't help but think about what their knowledge of schizophrenia was back then, and how they effectively dealt with it. Nice list!
August 26, 2011
Or ineffectively dealt with it. In older times, they would electroshock people and give them frontal lobotomies, so yeah, they really had no clue how to deal with it. I'm not sure we do nowadays, either! Thanks for reading :)
August 22, 2011
I heard about this list from the voice in my head. LOL! Just kidding. In all seriousness though, this is an intriguing idea for a list. Another person who very well may have been schizophrenic and is equally fascinating is Jeanne D'Arc (Joan of Arc) whose angelic visions have often been believed to be mere hallucinations, which makes her all the more interesting if she indeed took all her guidance from them.
August 26, 2011
LOL...I've heard the same thing about her!
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