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Five noted directors who committed suicide

August 20, 2012|By Susan King
  • French director Max Linder committed suicide in 1925.
French director Max Linder committed suicide in 1925.

The world of cinema is still reeling with the news of the apparent suicide Sunday of "Top Gun" director Tony Scott.

Over the decades there have been several high-profile filmmakers who have committed suicide, often in connection with depression or another illness. Here is a look at five noted filmmakers who killed themselves:

Max Linder (1883-1925)
The famed French silent movie clown/director battled chronic depression and other health issues after witnessing the horrors of combat as a dispatch driver between Paris and the front lines during World War I. His depression got so bad that at times he couldn’t work. In 1923, he married Helene “Jean” Peters, who was 18. They made a suicide pact in 1924. After one unsuccessful attempt at suicide, the two committed suicide in 1925. He was 41.

James Whale (1889-1957)
The acclaimed British director, who helmed such classics as 1931’s “Frankenstein,” 1935’s “Bride of Frankenstein” and 1936’s “Showboat,” suffered strokes and depression in 1956. He took his life by drowning in his swimming pool. He was 67. For years, it was considered an accidental death because his companion held on to the suicide note until just prior to his own demise three decades later. Ian McKellen earned an Oscar nomination for best actor as Whale in the 1998 film “Gods and Monsters.”

W.S. Van Dyke (1889-1943)
“Woody” Van Dyke was one of MGM’s top film directors, earning an Oscar nomination for 1934’s “The Thin Man.” He also directed 1932’s “Tarzan, the Ape Man,” 1934’s “Manhattan Melodrama,” 1936’s “San Francisco” and six musicals starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. He was already battling cancer and heart disease when he directed his last film, 1942’s “Journey with Margaret.” A devout Christian Scientist, Van Dyke refused treatment and was quiet about his condition. He committed suicide to end his suffering. He was 53. The newspapers of the day kept the fact out of their obits and the method of his suicide was never revealed.

Richard Quine (1920-1989)
The former actor came into his own as a director in the 1950s. He made several films with his girlfriend Kim Novak, including her first film, 1954’s “Pushover,” as well as 1958’s “Bell, Book and Candle,” 1960’s “Strangers When We Meet” and 1962’s “The Notorious Landlady.” His last completed feature was 1979’s “The Prisoner of Zenda” with Peter Sellers. Suffering from depression and health issues, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 68.

Donald Cammell (1934-1996)
The Scottish filmmaker wrote and co-directed 1970’s “Performance,” with Nicolas Roeg, an X-rated gangster thriller starring Mick Jagger and James Fox. He directed the Julie Christie 1977 thriller “Demon Seed” and the 1987 horror thriller “White of the Eye.” His last film, 1995’s “The Wild Side,” was re-cut without his permission by the producer and premiered on cable television. Friends said he had been depressed about the film being re-edited and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 62.

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