The Case of Margaux Hemingway: Tormented by Fame

Fame has become a legitimate drug which everyone craves. Therefore, we reckon, it’s okay to desire it, but we remain largely oblivious to the high demands it will place upon us. Margaux’s rise to fame was meteoric. Nine months after moving to New York from her family home in Idaho, she had managed to break into the modelling industry and grace the covers of countless magazines. She was only 21.

This catapulted her on to the treadmill of fame such that she was always fearful of losing it. When fame is acquired at a young age, it becomes difficult to conceive of a meaningful existence without it. If someone feels that his or her existence is validated by being famous, there is a danger that fame will become addictive. The myth is that the world is divided into celebrities and nonentities, but the unexpected reality is that there are many celebrities who feel like nonentities. In fact, it is that very sense of low self-esteem which drove their lust for fame in the first place.

After landing the Faberge advertising deal for ‘Babe’ perfume, she became known as ‘the highest paid model in history’. Fame is a game – play your cards right, and it can yield, in the short term, wealth and status; but just as it can elevate you to dizzy heights, it can knock you off its pedestal with a devastating blow to your ego, career and social status. To an outsider looking in, her life seemed glamorous beyond description. She was a regular at the famous ‘Studio 54’ nightclub – the playground of the rich and famous. The VIP room became associated with drugtaking and hedonism.

If your entire identity or sense of self is wrapped up in fame, you will find your soul expanding or contracting relative to its vicissitudes. Margaux, at heart a country girl, was ill at ease with the glitzy world into which fame placed her. Also, she perhaps felt undeserving of its privileges and struggled to live up to the larger than life image which the media had created; and so she began to enjoy the escape from reality which drugs and alcohol afforded her. Unbeknownst to her she was falling captive to the Hemingway curse – a great love and capacity for alcohol. This only served to increase her epileptic seizures.

Following her month’s stint in rehab at the Betty Ford clinic, she emerged with a newfound sobriety and determination to begin a new chapter in her life. In a BBC interview she flippantly shared that she had toyed with suicide ideation, and confessed her bouts with bulimia. This is not uncommon in the fashion industry where there was huge pressure to remain unnaturally thin. Perhaps the most telling confession was that she had been sexually abused as a child by her godfather. In an interview she alluded to the lack of love from her mother. But this may have been a projection on to her mother what was in reality a lack of self-love and acceptance. How can we love ourselves better? If we don’t love ourselves, we will have a tendency to sabotage ourselves. The ultimate sabotage is suicide.

After her spiritual mecca to India, she came back in such an incoherent state that her family committed her to an asylum. This led to an increase in her anti-epilepsy medication. The ide effects were debilitating. In her final months in Los Angeles, she was desperately searching for spiritual meaning and insight to make sense of a life which seemed discombobulated, confused and chaotic. An unlikely suicide completer, she seemed to have the world at her fingertips. She had attempted suicide at least once before. For her entire 41 years she had wrestled with the demons of alcoholism, bulimia and depression. In the weeks prior to her death she had had exchanges with others about the afterlife.

She died on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the death of her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway. The coroner ruled that her death was due to ‘acute phenobarbital intoxication’, and it was ruled a suicide. To this day, many of her surviving friends and close associates doubt the ruling and think it was more likely accidental death. Loren Coleman, author of the book ‘Suicide clusters’ (1987), attests to a false euphoria that often occurs before suicide. It’s as if the person has finally made peace with the decision to end his or her life.

She lived in the shadow of her famous grandfather about whom she tried to make a documentary ‘Searching for Hemingway’ which was not the success she anticipated. After a brief introduction to fame in her twenties, she was never able to regain this level of fame which seemed to fall so easily into her lap at the beginning. The transformative magic of the camera as a model, perhaps deceived her into thinking that the camera could always remove her from the harsh realities of her life – the challenges of dyslexia, epilepsy and a family history of alcoholism, mental illness and suicide. But we must face ourselves each day in the mirror, and it is the internal voice to which we must pay the most attention, not the voice of the fans, critics or advertisers. The truth of who we really are, not the image we portray, will ultimately always have the last word.

Insights taken from the documentaries ‘Running from Crazy’ and ‘E true Hollywood Story – All American Girl: The Tragedy of Margaux Hemingway’.

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