Margot Kidder and Her Bipolar Disorder
Actress Margot Kidder died in 2018 at age 69, and was well known for her struggles with bipolar disorder. Of course, Kidder was also famous for her roles in such films as Superman and The Amityville Horror. It is to her credit that she demystified bipolar disorder by publicly acknowledging her diagnosis of it. Not only that, she even turned a passionate lifelong advocate for mental health awareness.
Kidder’s struggle with bipolar disorder became highly publicized after a 1996 manic episode that left her homeless for a time. Speaking about it later, she called it “the most public freak-out in history.” “The reality of my life has been grand and wonderful, punctuated by these odd blips and burps of madness,” Kidder told People Magazine shortly thereafter.
The 1996 Manic Episode of Margot Kidder
In 1996, she had a chance encounter with a Knoxville news crew at Los Angeles International Airport. This was in the wee hours of April of that year. As per numerous media reports, the then 47-year-old Kidder approached the news team and asked if they were with the media. The anchorman Ted Hall confirmed they were. Then, the actress identified herself and launched into a conversation. The conversation soon became increasingly strange. Hall recalls that Kidder was wearing dirty clothes, and she said her ex-husband was trying to kill her. Moreover, she asked the team if they would help her disguise herself and ditch her jacket. Because, she was convinced the jacket “was bugged.”
To avoid speaking, she scribbled notes to Hall at times. At one point she asked for money. Hall gave her $20. She bought a soft drink and gave the change back to Hall.
Eventually, Kidder, Hall and cameraman Liston made their way to Hertz rental cars. Here, Kidder reportedly made a scene. Thereafter, they hailed a cab for her. Before she parted ways, she handed Hall one last note that said, “I am dead.”
Hall later said that his experience with Kidder made him understand what those who suffer from her condition experience. “She wasn’t doing something wrong. … wasn’t being a bad person. She was going through something we couldn’t control.” After the encounter, Hall “did reach out to her a few times, just to make sure she was OK,” but Kidder didn’t respond. He said he did not pursue it further because “I didn’t want to intrude and remind her of what might have been a bad time in her life.”
Hall confessed, “I was really sad the day I found out she died. I was depressed the whole day.”
The next few days after the above episode were dark for Kidder. She tried to use an ATM machine when she realized she did not have enough money for a cab. But then, she became fearful it was about to explode. Kidder recounted to People magazine that she took off running, and slept in yards and on porches in a state of fear. She said she stayed with a homeless man in a makeshift cardboard shack (later fleeing for her safety). Also, she cut her hair very short to avoid being recognized. Finally, she identified herself to a homeowner when she was caught seeking refuge in the backyard of a Glendale home.
She got treated for the whole of next week. Eventually, the court released her convinced that she was no longer a danger to herself. Kidder then retreated to an island home in her native Canada. She learned to “accept the diagnosis” that she had been denying all along, and finally started taking lithium. Actually, she first started seeing psychiatrists when she was 21. But, her bipolar disorder was diagnosed only when she was in her early 40s.
Margot Kidder’s Troubled Past
At age 14, Kidder tried to commit suicide following a sudden break-up with her boyfriend. And, she also became pregnant and had an abortion while at university. During the 1970s, Kidder made over a dozen movies, including the box-office hit “Superman”. She married writer Thomas McGuane but divorced him just a couple of years later. Kidder had severe self-esteem issues while married to McGuane. She had a hard time maintaining her film career due to personal and mental health issues.
Kidder’s bipolar disorder spiraled into a manic phase in which she thought McGuane wanted to kill her. She believed that McGuane was working in cahoots with the CIA and they wanted her dead because they thought the book she was writing posed a danger to the world.
Margot Kidder Gets the Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
In 1988, Kidder was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, she could not accept the diagnosis at that time and refused to take lithium. Lithium moderates the extreme mood swings of bipolar disorder.
In the 90s Kidder faced many personal and professional problems, including injuries in car crashes and financial difficulty. In 1996, she took to writing her autobiography, and then the manic episode occurred as recounted above.
Following that, Margot Kidder started working in theatre and film again between 2000 and 2015. She even won an Emmy for one of her performances in a children’s show. In addition, she no longer had bipolar disorder cycles. Kidder started talking openly about her struggles with mental illness to various magazines and reporters. She took the stance that it is important, to be honest and open about mental illness and suicide so that there is no shame in dealing with mental illness. Later, she was even appointed as a spokesperson for an advocacy group on mental illness.
Honoring the Memory of Margot Kidder
At 69 years, Margot Kidder committed suicide by a self-inflicted overdose of alcohol and drugs.
Joan Kesich, a close friend of Kidder’s, eulogized, “Kidder was fearless, always speaking the truth regardless of the consequences.”
Kesich also said that during Kidder’s final months, “Margo was just herself — same kind of energy and love. But I want everyone to know this about her because she was really glorious, a blazing energy.”
Wally Prechter met Margot Kidder at a reception she hosted in 2005. “Margot was a force of nature,” said Wally Prechter. “She disliked the term ‘mental illness’ but nonetheless talked openly about her own struggles and what worked for her to overcome them. Her openness was crucial in breaking down the stigma around mental health. She was very sweet and funny and self-deprecating, and she loved hockey.” Mrs. Prechter signed off, saying, “Margot was a wonderful individual, dedicated to bringing awareness to mental health causes. She’ll be missed dearly.”
Margot Kidder’s suffering from bipolar disorder is no surprise because bipolar disorder is seen frequently among artists and highly successful individuals. Hypomania and mania do fuel creativity. Hence, many of these individuals refuse treatment thinking that it will kill their creativity. Such fears are unfounded, however, especially when one considers the risks associated with going untreated. Sure, the manic highs could serve as a springboard for creativity, but the depressive lows can be debilitating. Hence, it is important to seek early diagnosis and treatment if you suspect you have bipolar disorder.