Famous Faces of TBI
No one is immune to the effects of a traumatic brain injury. Now, you can add ‘rock star’ to that list of larger than life public figures to be taken down by traumatic brain injury. Most probably remember the cause of INXS front man Michael Hutchence’s death to be suicide by self-asphyxiation. What most people don’t know is that Hutchence suffered a traumatic brain injury just five years earlier, an event that drastically altered the celebrity’s life.
In 1992, the singer was involved in a physical altercation with a taxi driver. He was punched, fell to the pavement and fractured his skull. Hutchence suffered the effects of a traumatic brain injury, which his sister Tina believes lasted until the time of his death.
“Michael always walked very tall, stood up straight, he’d look you straight in the eye,” she said. “He was slumped [when I saw him], and I said, “Something’s wrong,’ and he said, ‘Oh, it’s kind of tough lately. It’s just hard, life is hard.’
The famous front man and infamous ladies’ man could very well have been referring to the highly publicized drama involving his girlfriend, TV personality Paula Yates, their 16-month-old daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily and the endless legal battles with Yates’s ex-husband, rock singer Bob Geldoff. That would be more than enough to bring anyone down.
Yet, what so few knew was that Hutchence had been increasingly prone to bouts of depression ever since the taxi driver incident. For the two years leading up to his suicide, he had been taking the then-controversial antidepressant, Prozac. The most bizarre development of all was that he had lost his senses of taste and smell. “This loss of primary senses affected his notion of place in the world and, I believe, damaged his psyche.” says Australian filmmaker and close friend, Richard Lowenstein.
Lowenstein also noted, “I’d never seen any evidence of depression, erratic behavior or violent temper before it [the accident]. I saw all those things after it. Ever since the accident, he was on a slow decline.”
Michael Hutchence was found hanging from a belt attached to the door of his luxury hotel room on November 22, 1997. The media response was predictably sordid and morbid. Very little mention was made of traumatic brain injury. In a recent interview, however, sister Tina Hutchence had this to say:
“In the Nineties, nobody knew much about a TBI. Now if somebody gets hit on the football field, they expel them right away. With large sound, a lot of people, crowded places, most people with a TBI cannot handle that. Well, that was Michael’s business.’’
In 2010, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association declared that more than half of all people who suffer a traumatic brain injury will become depressed in the year after the injury, a rate eight times higher than in the general population. It went on to state that only about 45 percent of those who do become depressed are likely to receive adequate treatment. These are not normal day-to-day changes in mood. Symptoms tend to last for more than two weeks.
According to the lead author of the study, Charles Bombadier, Ph.D., professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, “symptoms to watch for include low mood, low energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, acting restless or slowing down, and thoughts of death.”
Prior to Bombadier’s research, research had already shown a higher rate of suicide following traumatic brain injury. Michael Hutchence had clearly been displaying symptoms of TBI, on top of all the strife already occurring in his life. If it weren’t for the tabloid fodder that followed him everywhere, perhaps a connection might have been made. On the other hand, as Bombadier himself noted:
“Any signs that the person may be thinking of killing himself should be taken serious.”