Suicide and dark side of celebrity fairy tale

When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion icon Kate Spade killed themselves within the space of three days in June, many couldn’t fathom the tragedy of two people who seemed to have it all.
The suicides followed a slew of similarly shocking headlines in recent years about rock stars Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, Hollywood figures Tony Scott and Robin Williams, to name a few.
Spade’s demise, in particular, resurrected painful memories of the suicides of fellow designer Alexander McQueen, whose life and 2010 death at the age of 40 are explored in film-maker Ian Bonhote’s new documentary, ‘McQueen’.
The feature-length film, which hits US theaters on Friday, combines archive footage and new interviews to arrive at an authentic portrait of a tortured artist with a singular vision.
“Though all suicides leave a trail of desperate loss and confusion in their wake, celebrity suicides make a particularly palpable imprint,” therapist and academic Denise Fournier wrote after Bourdain’s death.
“In a culture that idolises celebrities and holds fame and fortune high on the aspirational totem pole, the notion that someone who’s reached those heights would choose to end it all is incomprehensible.”
Born and raised in working-class east London, McQueen — known by his given first name Lee to friends and family — was destined to follow his father into a life of manual labour.
Instead, he was discovered by Isabella Blow, a wealthy socialite with a nose for uncovering raw fashion talent who brought his entire graduation collection when he completed his studies at the prestigious Central Saint Martins school.
An almost traditional romanticism combined with a mischievous, punky side made McQueen an icon of the 1990s-era “Cool Britannia”, a British youth culture explosion the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Swinging Sixties.
At the height of his powers, he designed stage costumes for David Bowie, directed videos for Bjork and dressed stars from Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman to Madonna and Rihanna.
“My shows are for excitement and goosebumps. I want heart attacks. I want ambulances,” McQueen once said.
From his apprenticeship at a Savile Row tailor to his final show before his suicide, McQueen reveals himself to be an unmatched creative talent.
A showman at heart, he sent models down the runway with wolves, used armour and masks to hide some of the world’s most recognisable supermodels, drenched his runway in rain and blanketed it with snow.
At 27, with only eight collections under his belt, McQueen was named the creative director at venerated French house Givenchy, whose signature since the early 1950s has been genteel elegance, embodied by Audrey Hepburn.
But McQueen never really felt at home in Paris, longing for his friends, London and his dogs, while the French fashion media did not share Britain’s appreciation of the designer’s rebel spirit.
He fell out with Blow over money and she began a downward spiral that also ended in suicide.
McQueen, on the other hand, sold a controlling stake in his label to Gucci for $50 million but couldn’t enjoy the money. He was depressed by Blow’s suicide and the death of his mother Joyce.
He had told friends his “Plato’s Atlantis” spring-summer 2010 collection would be his last. By the time it hit the high street, McQueen was dead — not lying peacefully among mourners in a funeral parlor, nor surrounded by fans, but by his own hand, alone at home.
A US government report published in June, around the time that Bourdain and Spade took their own lives, found that suicides have increased by more than 25 per cent since 1999 to become the 10th-leading cause of US deaths.
Celebrity suicides are unique though because they present the public health challenge of “suicide contagion” — a rise in vulnerable people taking their lives after a high-profile death. — AFP