Director Tony Scott, best known for directing Top Gun, committed suicide a few weeks ago. Apparently he jumped from a bridge. I heard about it on NPR while driving home, and I had a number of reactions. I found it ironic for a high-profile celebrity suicide to occur so close to suicide prevention week (Sept. 9-15). The reporter was droning on about his film legacy so I flashed back to grabbing a quick lunch at Kansas City Barbecue in San Diego when I was at a conference earlier this year. It was across the street from my hotel, and I didn’t realize it was the bar where some scenes from Top Gun were filmed until I was leaving. However, I’ll bet his family doesn’t remember him primarily for his IMDB credits or this 80’s movie.
Families are devastated by suicide, and for the Scott family “director” was just Tony’s job. This reminded me of the school bus monitor Karen Klein, who was videotaped being bullied by schoolboys. When that went viral, people were outraged at the callousness of the boys, who said (among other things) that her family had all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be around her. In fact, her oldest son did commit suicide, and she wept on camera after their taunts.
Probably all of us have encountered suicide throughout our lives. According to NIMH, about 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year. My most recent encounter was the day I wrote the first draft of this blog, when I found out that a casual acquaintance and friend-of-a-friend (Ted) shot himself to death the previous evening. My first exposure was as a boy, when my father’s fishing buddy killed himself in his backyard with a shotgun. My dad was enraged that nobody referred him for professional help, even though a couple people knew how depressed this man had been after his wife’s death from cancer. Although I was maybe 12, my dad censored no detail, and I never forgot his point: suicide is often preventable.
Suicide can be prevented. Learn the warning signs, like severe depression, expressing a wish to die, and making overt threats of suicide. Take all talk of suicide seriously. Ask lots of questions—you aren’t suggesting anything they haven’t already been thinking. Get professional help—immediately if necessary. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255; (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org). Locally, the number for Townhall II is 330-678-4357; (www.townhall2.com).