Marilyn Monroe, Carrie Fisher, & Other Celebs With Bipolar Disorder

Updated on October 16, 2018
Timothy Anderson profile image

Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.

Actress Vivien "Scarlett O'Hara" Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder for many years.
Actress Vivien "Scarlett O'Hara" Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder for many years.

1. Vivien Leigh

The actress who played one of the big screen's most beloved characters would slowly over her lifetime fight mental and emotional battles that were as real to her as the actual Civil War.

Vivien Leigh was one of Hollywood's most beautiful stars of her era and won an Academy Award for her moving portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara who fought to maintain control of her southern plantation, Tara, during the Civil War.

Leigh divorced her first husband and married acclaimed actor Laurence Olivier shortly after the premiere of Gone With The Wind. By all accounts the pair was deeply in love, but over time the lovely actress began to suffer from wild mood swings. During the filming of 1945's Caesar and Cleopatra which starred Leigh and Olivier, the couple learned Leigh was pregnant with their first child. Shortly thereafter during filming, the actress fell on a slippery floor and miscarried. This appears to have been a tragic turning point in her mental health and she sunk into a deep depression, sometimes becoming hyperactive where she'd berate and verbally attack those around her, and at other times stay in bed in a state of sheer mental exhaustion.

"Scarlett O'Hara" endured electroshock therapy in a failed attempt to conquer her promiscuity and mental health problems.
"Scarlett O'Hara" endured electroshock therapy in a failed attempt to conquer her promiscuity and mental health problems.

Numerous extramarital affairs followed and her marriage to Olivier began to suffer. As each year passed, her condition only worsened. Today observers looking back think Leigh was suffering from what will later be termed a "bipolar disorder."

In 1954 while filming Elephant Walk in Ceylon, Leigh began having hallucinations and had a complete meltdown. Her co-star and current lover was actor Peter Finch, a close friend of her husband. Finch called Olivier who flew in to be with his wife, but after four fruitless days of trying to help, he agreed to have her sedated and flown to England where she was quietly admitted to a mental health facility.

Over the next decade Vivien Leigh would be in-and-out of various mental health institutions. She was being administered electric shocks and powerful psychotropic drugs and to make matters worse she was battling tuberculosis. Her friends noticed drastic changes in her personality. She could go for days and weeks being perfectly pleasant and then suddenly become paranoid, erratic and suffer from hallucinations.

Finally, hubby Laurence Olivier could take no more and the one-time "power couple" of Hollywood divorced. To make matters worse, Leigh's tuberculosis had been spreading and the movie offers were drying up.

Vivien Leigh, the female star of the greatest movie of all time, passed away in the summer of 1967 from tuberculosis. In the end, her weakened body was simply unable to fight off the disease due to the many years she'd spent being treated with psychiatric drugs and electroshock treatments.

How well do you know Vivien Leigh?

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In Star Wars, Princess Leia fought against the Galactic Empire.  In real life, Carrie Fisher fought against imaginary demons.
In Star Wars, Princess Leia fought against the Galactic Empire. In real life, Carrie Fisher fought against imaginary demons.

2. Carrie Fisher

Princess Leia wasn't only fighting against Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire--she was also fighting life-threatening demons only she could see.

Born in 1956 to actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher was "flying high" long before she ever boarded the Millenial Falcon with Hans Solo in Star Wars. She began smoking pot at age 13 and after filming her first Star Wars movie began experimenting with LSD. She will later admit that when she filmed the second and third Star Wars movies, she was often high on cocaine. Not too long after completing her third appearance as Princess Leia in 1983's The Return of the Jedi, Fisher overdosed on a deadly mix of sleeping pills and prescription medications and was rushed to the hospital. During her one-month stay she will later say she began hallucinating and imagined the television was talking to her. She will also later claim her Beverly Hills mansion was haunted, and that this was one of the reasons she was taking drugs.

It was during this period in her life when doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder.

"I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive."

— Carrie Fisher

Over time, her mental health issues caused her to become addicted to psychotropic drugs and also endure electroshock therapy. Carrie will later admit in interviews that her drug use made her feel "normal," and allowed her to function.

Although she would never achieve the fame her Star Wars movies brought, some other Carrie Fisher movies include When Harry Met Sally, and The Blues Brothers. It was during the filming of The Blue Brothers that co-star John Belushi actually told her he was concerned about her drug use. Two years later Belushi died from a heroin and cocaine overdose.

On December 23, 2016 while on a flight from London to Los Angeles, Fisher stopped breathing just 15 minutes before landing. Rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, she spent four days in intensive care before dying on December 27th. Autopsy reports will later reveal that while the exact cause of death could not be pinpointed, she had heart disease and cocaine in her system and other drugs, including opiates, MDMA (Ecstasy), and traces of heroin.

One day after Fisher's death, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, suffered a major stroke and died several hours later.

While researching the symptoms of bipolar disorder, one of the most helpful and highly acclaimed resources I found was David J. Miklowitz' The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, Second Edition. While I don't suffer from this affliction, I was impressed with the simplicity with which he explains just what this is.

A psychologist, Miklowitz has many years of experience helping people cope with this sometimes devastating disorder. He has easy-to-read worksheets that can help the reader identify and overcome the symptoms. This book will help those suffering to understand how to deal with this affliction which society is only now beginning to understand and treat.

Margot "Lois Lane" Kidder (1948-2018) battled bipolar disease for most of her adult life.
Margot "Lois Lane" Kidder (1948-2018) battled bipolar disease for most of her adult life.

3. Margot Kidder

Margot Kidder was born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada in 1948. After a few bit roles in Canadian movies, Kidder headed south to Los Angeles where she was able to pick up some bit parts on several TV series, and a few roles in various movies with actors like Beau Bridges and Gene Wilder. Director Brian DePalma noticed her and signed her to star in his cult 1973 movie Sister, Sister.

Her star began to rise and she was cast in a lead role in Robert Redford's 1975 film The Great Waldo Pepper.

In 1978, Kidder landed what would become her most famous role: playing Lois Lane, the love interest of Superman who was played by a handsome young rising star named Christopher Reeve. Kidder would go on to reprise the role in the three subsequent Superman movies. Although she would never reclaim the notoriety and acclaim she got for doing the Superman movies, Kidder had a busy career and would film dozens of movies after her initial Superman appearance.

"You take the cards you're dealt. You couldn't pay me to go near a psychiatrist again."

— Margot Kidder

However, in April 1996 Kidder suffered a breakdown now believed to have been a manic episode caused by bipolar disorder. She had been working on an autobiography on her computer when a virus caused her computer to crash, erasing three years worth of writing. Something inside her snapped and she wandered around outdoors aimlessly for four days. When she was found bruised and scratched hiding in some bushes in a residential neighborhood, her hair had been "butched" and her clothes disheveled. The caps on her teeth were missing, later believed to have been knocked from her mouth during an alleged rape attempt.

After saying she believed she was being followed by the CIA, Kidder was taken to Olive View Medical Center by police officers for initial evaluation, and later moved into psychiatric care.

Thankfully, after this initial summer of distress, and having had the problem identified as a bipolar disorder, Kidder has apparently not had any further manic episodes and was able to return to work.

The actress left California and settled in Livingston, Montana where she passed away on May 13, 2018. Margot Kidder's death was unexpected and her millions of fans worldwide grieved her sudden passing. She was 69 at the time of her death.

Locked up in a psych ward against her will, Marilyn Monroe's former husband Joe DiMaggio came to her rescue.
Locked up in a psych ward against her will, Marilyn Monroe's former husband Joe DiMaggio came to her rescue.

4. Marilyn Monroe

Ever heard of the world's most famous sex symbol, Jean Adair?

Most people haven't, but that was the stage name Norma Jean Doughtery nearly picked before deciding on the name we know her by now: Marilyn Monroe. She no doubt put a lot of effort and thought into her selection, because it's been reported the one-time "California Artichoke Queen" of 1948 had an IQ of over 160.

But as smart as she was, Marilyn couldn't escape the mental demons of an unhappy childhood. After her mother Gladys was institutionalized for mental health problems, young Norma Jean was shuttled about between different foster homes. She will later admit to being sexually abused during this dark period of her life.

Over the years as her fame grew, so did her mental and emotional problems. Today, experts says her depression would be labeled bipolar disorder. In 1960, after divorcing her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, Marilyn began to unravel and ended up being committed to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. She thought she was going in for a short rest, but ended up being locked inside a cement cell, lost her personal freedom and privacy, and had to endure forced baths.

Before the week's end, the unhappy actress managed to contact her second husband, retired Yankee baseball star Joe DiMaggio who, over the staff's objections, was able to retain her release.

In early 1962 she bought a home in Brentwood, California, just north of Los Angeles. She apparently was trying to restart her failing career, but on August 5, 1962 the world's greatest sex symbol was found dead in her bedroom from what the L.A. Coroner would later pronounce a probable suicide from lethal amounts of pentobarbital and chloral hydrate.

Ashley Judd joined her big sister Wynonna in a Texas mental health institute.
Ashley Judd joined her big sister Wynonna in a Texas mental health institute.

5. Ashley Judd

Ashley Tyler Ciminella was born in California in 1968.

Her mother was Naomi Judd Ciminella who was married to her high school sweetheart, Micheal Ciminella, a horse racing industry marketing specialist. Older sister Wynonna was four years older and grew up thinking Ciminella was her father. But it wasn't until her real father, Charles Jordan died in 2000 that she learned the truth, which made Ashley her half-sister.

Before Naomi and Ciminella were married, she'd been seeing Jordan and ended up getting pregnant. Wynonna was the result. After her mother's divorce from Ciminella when Ashley was just four, as she grew up the young lass was subjected to sexual abuse by some of her mother's many boyfriends.

Her mother and sister Wynonna eventually found fame and fortune as country singing superstars, "The Judds," and Ashley would go on to find success as a actress. One of her first roles was on the cult TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. She played ensign Robin Lefler, the romantic interest of Wil Wheaton's character, Wesley Crusher.

She went on to the big screen, appearing in Natural Born Killers, although her scenes were cut. However, she made up for this by winning a lot of critical acclaim for her 1993 movie, Ruby in Paradise. Three years later she was nominated for "Best Actress" in the Emmys and Golden Globes for the TV mini-series Norma Jean & Marilyn. Judd played the young and innocent Marilyn, whereas actress Mira Sorvino played the sex symbol as an adult movie star. Ironically, both Marilyn and Ashley spent time in mental health facilities.

In 2006 Ashley began to realize she needed help. She'd been visiting older sister Wynonna at the Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas, where Wynonna was stayed to help fight an eating disorder.

Several of the counselors had noticed some odd behavior on Ashley's part. An obsessive-compulsive disorder gave her a strong need to clean. At the same time she was battling bipolar disorder and the troublesome issues of her past. That February she checked in to the same facility for a nearly 50-day stay and credits the program for saving her marriage at the time, and turning her life around.

Roseanne Barr was locked up in a psychiatric hospital for eight months.
Roseanne Barr was locked up in a psychiatric hospital for eight months.

6. Roseanne Barr

She could have been Peg Bundy ... but instead she chose to be herself, Roseanne Barr. By doing so she became the most powerful woman in Hollywood in the early 1990s.

Roseanne Barr was born in Salt Lake City to immigrant Jewish parents from Russia. She later joined the Mormon Church and participated in youth-oriented church activities. However, her life changed forever when she was hit by a car when just sixteen, suffering traumatic brain damage. The lingering injuries caused major behavioral problems and the Mormon teen soon found herself institutionalized for eight months at the Utah State Hospital in Provo.

Upon her release, she drifted around listlessly for a year before bolting to Colorado. She began doing stand-up comedy which eventually led her to Los Angeles and a 1985 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Three years later, after turning down a chance to play Peg Bundy in Married With Children, Roseanne starred with actor John Goodman in a hit TV sitcom called Roseanne. Their sitcom finished #2 in the Nielsen ratings its first year, and then in 1989 became #1, making the sitcom the most watched show on TV. During her nine years on the sitcom, Roseanne won an Emmy and a Golden Globe award for her role on the show.

In 2012, Barr announced her candidacy for the Green Party's presidential nomination, but lost to Jill Stein. She then went over to the Peace and Freedom Party, and although well behind the winner, incumbent Barack Obama, she finished in sixth place, receiving nearly 62,000 votes in the general election.

In 2018 her Roseanne TV show began a new run on ABC but was cancelled shortly after the close of its first very successful season after Barr Twittered some controversial comments about Valerie Jarrett, a former official in the Barack Obama adminstration.

Today she still battles bipolar disorder, and says her comments about Jarrett were partly due to her taking the sleeping aid Ambien.

Winona Ryder fought monsters on the big screen, and mental demons in her private life.
Winona Ryder fought monsters on the big screen, and mental demons in her private life.

7. Winona Ryder

Winona Laura Tomchin. That could have been her name. We know her as Winona Ryder, but her father changed his surname from Tomchin to Horowitz before she was born. Later she will adopt the stage name "Winona Ryder," and become a Hollywood celebrity and one-time girlfriend of actor Johnny Depp.

Ryder was born in 1971 in Winona, Minnesota to parents who could be described as hippies. They moved to the San Francisco area where Winona would enroll at the American Conservatory Theater when she was just 12.

Her first notable role was playing Geena Davis' goth daughter in Tim Burton's 1988 classic, Beetlejuice. Two years later she paired up again with director Burton in Edward Scissorhands where she met up-and-coming superstar Johnny Depp, and the two became engaged for three years starting in July 1990. She was initially scheduled to act in four films that year, and had signed to play the important part of Mary Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part III. But after flying to Rome to begin filming, Ryder began to suffer from depression and exhaustion and withdrew from the film and entered a psychiatric hospital for several weeks of treatment. The part of Mary was then filled by Coppola's own daughter Sofia who received scathing reviews in the role.

Ryder's career and relationship with Depp began to suffer. She was experiencing regular panic attacks and anxiety. She also was plagued with aquaphobia from a near-drowning incident when she was 12. When she was filming underwater scenes for 1997's Alien Resurrection, this caused expensive delays as many of her scenes had to be re-shot many times. Word got around that Ryder could be difficult to work with. Finally in 2001, the actress was arrested for shoplifting and the resulting bad publicity only caused her a new round of mental anguish. At her shoplifting trial it was revealed she'd been using Vicodin, diazepam, and oxycodone without valid prescriptions. The judge sentenced her to nearly 500 hours of community service and required her to undergo drug and psychological counseling.

Today Ryder's movie career has slowed considerably, but she makes occasional film appearances and continues to battle anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Can you answer this Winona Ryder quiz?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Tim Anderson

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      • Timothy Anderson profile imageAUTHOR

        Tim Anderson 

        5 months ago from Utah

        You're welcome Patty! I'm glad you had fun with the quizzes--I learned a lot when I researched these amazing women.

      • profile image

        Patty Russell 

        5 months ago

        While I did know a lot about most of these ladies I still learned a lot especially about Vivian Leigh. Thanks again Tim for a good read and I love the quizzes.

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