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Margaux Hemingway

Margaux Hemingway seemed to have it all, yet a drug overdose led the actress to an untimely death.

She was six feet tall in her bare feet—five foot twelve, she’d say—with such a remarkable face and such a radiant presence and such an alluring name that when she walked into a room, conversation left it. If she shook your hand, you might think your wrist was going to snap. If she knew you well enough she might call you “boopsie” and haul you off on a hike, or a trip to India; of course, with her long legs came great lungs, and you didn’t hike with her, you gasped for breath behind her. When she laughed, it came out big and childlike and innocent. Her looks were so distinctive that when she went to a club and left her purse at home, she could reassure an exasperated companion, “But I don’t need any I.D. I have my eyebrows.”

She started right at the top with the first million-dollar contract ever awarded a model. She wasn’t even out of high school. She asked for none of it. She was just a wide-eyed bronco-riding speed-skiing adventure-loving kid from Idaho who was spotted by Errol Wetson, an entrepreneur who became her first husband, who knew someone who knew people. “No one,” her father said, “could take a bad picture of her.”

Margaux Hemingway.

On July 6, 1996, her ashes were buried in Ketchum, Idaho, in the shadow of a memorial to her grandfather Ernest Hemingway, arguably one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated literary figures. Like her famous forebear, Margaux Hemingway took her own life—the fifth to do so in four generations of Hemingways and on the eve of the thirty-fifth anniversary of her grandfather’s death.

The coroner’s report ascribed her death to “acute phenobarbital intoxication.” Her many friends have publicly voiced their disbelief. They contend that any overdose had to have been accidental; that she took the drug for her epilepsy, with which she had been afflicted since age seven; and that it would be just like Margaux to forget she had taken one dose and then down another. But the bottle of drugs found by her bedside was not prescribed. And the coroner’s report put her body’s level of the drug well beyond the therapeutic range.

What made Margaux Hemingway take her life is a great mystery to those who knew her. Hours before she died she was with a longtime friend, standing at a microphone in front of 500 people and singing her well-toned lungs out at one of Hollywood’s hippest restaurants, Cicada; she longed to sing the blues like her friend Millie Kaiserman. After two decades during which her career had plummeted she was forced to declare personal bankruptcy, take on sexually kinky B-movie roles, and endorse a psychic hotline.

But the kinds of things that make people commit suicide are not always visible to the naked eye. Like an underground spring, a vein of vulnerability can run through a life and claim it in a bad second. Families, too, have unspoken ways of designating members to live out their legacies, and no one could dispute that a legacy of doom hovered over the Hemingway clan the way the Sawtooth Mountains dominate the Idaho landscape where three generations of Hemingways frolicked, where Ernest blew his failing brains out, and where Margaux’s father, Jack, the oldest of Ernest’s sons, set up house, just down the road from Sun Valley.

By all accounts, Ernest Hemingway was a tormented man, much like his father before him, never at ease with himself. Drinking, insomnia, violent outbursts, a sense of dread, perpetual movement and travelling, and great guilt over his own roguish behavior—four wives, many liaisons—marked his personal life. Biographer Kenneth Lynn reports that by the late 1940s, when Papa, as he had long called himself, was in his late forties, “fantasies of suicide thronged his mind, intermingled with fears of insanity.”

Helped by his huge physical presence, Hemingway had concocted the myth of his own toughness. “What is more likely the truth of his own odyssey,” Norman Mailer has written, “is that he struggled with his cowardice and against a secret lust to suicide all his life, that his inner landscape was a nightmare.” Although his own depression wasn’t formally diagnosed until his last, paranoid days, because getting professional help went against the Hemingway persona, mental instability and manic-depressive personalities inhabit virtually every branch of the family tree; indeed, Margaux’s older sister, Joan, whose nickname is Muffet, has been in and out of mental institutions since age 16.

It is undoubtedly a mistake to let a final act speak for a whole lifetime, but the death of Ernest Hemingway still unconsciously reverberates, despite the family’s avoidance of the subject. Margaux could almost never be engaged in a discussion of her family history, friends said. Above all, the Hemingways are people of action; they do not give themselves over to introspection or emotions.

Margaux had only recently begun to crack her grandfather’s famous books; dyslexia inhibited her. Yet this never stopped her from living her life in his footsteps. In 1988, Margaux went to the Betty Ford Clinic to overcome her addiction to alcohol. As she explained to People magazine shortly afterwards, she had been stunned by her swift elevation to celebrity. “I loved to dance and went to Studio 54 at least twice a week. But I always felt nervous around the people there. I was in awe of that whole Halston-Liza Minnelli crowd. To me, they were the real celebrities and I was just a girl from Idaho. So I drank to loosen up. I never thought then that alcohol would become a problem. In my grandfather’s time, it was a virtue to be able to drink a lot and never show it. And like him, I wanted to live life to the fullest, with gusto.” What Margaux didn’t say was that at the time her drinking worsened, causing thoughts of suicide and frightening seizures, her mother was dying in Idaho; the two had never been close and now they never would be.

What makes the life and death of Margaux Hemingway so compelling are that this beautiful woman had many serious problems and she met them all with a brave face.


Hemingway married Errol Wetson, a hamburger chain heir and marketing entrepreneur 14 years her senior, in 1975, but their relationship soon crumbled. “He never seemed to be able to hold a job other than advising me on important issues such as my wardrobe,” she said. Her life took another difficult turn the next year when she landed a role in Lipstick, a thriller about a model who gets raped by a music teacher. The critics panned her and the movie but praised Mariel, then only 14, whom Margaux had suggested for the role of her sister. “It was as if people were tired of me and gave her all the attention,” she said. “I buried my feelings because I was taught it was Hemingwayesque to take your blows and walk stoically through them.”

As her marriage to Wetson unravelled (they divorced in 1978), and her sister’s career took off (Mariel won raves for her role as Woody Allen’s teenage mistress in 1979’s Manhattan), Hemingway turned even more to alcohol and drugs. In 1979 she married Venezuelan film director Bernard “Baron” Foucher, whom she had met and fallen for while still married to Wetson, and moved her fast-lane life across the Atlantic. The couple lived for more than a year in Paris, often staying at the flashy Nova Park Hotel. A Paris socialite recalls that “Margaux would talk very loudly about things you don’t normally hear in polite society, about her sex life with Bernard.” She spent money like a drunken sailor too. “I had no sense of finances,” Hemingway said, “and was deeply in debt.”

In 1981 she got the idea of making a documentary with Foucher about her grandfather. But after several trips to Cuba to interview the writer’s friends and acquaintances, she realised the project was in a chaotic state. “I became very depressed,” she said years later. “No one was interested in what I had to say, and everything seemed like it was out of control.” In 1985 she called off the project, divorced Foucher—and dived head-first into despair. “I drank more and more and was slowly killing myself with alcohol,” she recalled. “My thoughts were erratic, and I had trouble with my memory. I thought about suicide periodically, especially when I was drinking heavily.”

The previous year, Hemingway had injured herself skiing in Austria; during her nine-month recovery she gained 75 pounds and sank deeper into depression. A 28-day stay at the Betty Ford Center in 1987 probably saved her life. Emerging trim and looking healthy, she devoted herself to running, yoga, painting, singing and to cooking dinners in the Manhattan apartment she shared with Stuart Sundlun, a businessman she had met on a blind date before entering rehab in 1987. But she was also anxious to resume her acting career, and when her role in the 1990 French movie Love in C Minor failed to gain Hollywood’s attention, she did what many a struggling actress has done: posed nude for Playboy.

Her centrefold helped pay off the $900,000 in back taxes she owed the IRS but led nowhere. After she and Sundlun broke up in the early ’90s, Hemingway turned her attention to what she called healing her spirit. She consulted with a Cheyenne Indian medicine man. She learned about the shamanic art of the Northwest Coast Indians. She had training in the huna philosophy of the Hawaiian kahunas. And in 1993 she began working with a network of chiropractors to treat her lifelong battle with dyslexia, her epilepsy and her bulimia, a problem from her modelling days. “I needed to go inside and clear the blockages,” she said in 1994, “because nothing was coming to me, no jobs, no work.”

In some ways, Hemingway did seem at peace. “She had a light touch on a heavy life.” Model Cheryl Tiegs, a friend since the high times of the ’70s, warmly remembers, “She was totally into the great outdoors. That was her main interest. She would come out to my house in Montauk [N.Y.] and sit on the beach, communing with the seagulls. Everyone would come in the house and whisper and think it was kooky.”

In 1994, in pursuit of even greater spirituality, Hemingway took a trip to India, where she spent two months visiting holy sites. But according to Dr Elin, the trip went badly. “Some sort of a breakdown happened over there,” says Elin. “We don’t know if she had an [epileptic] seizure followed by a breakdown or what. But whatever happened, the people there were unaccustomed to her condition, and she supposedly spent some time in jail. We eventually got her back, and she was hospitalised.”

Like everyone in her family, Margaux was a fabulous outdoors person. Like them, she could ski, fish, and shoot. But she felt little sense of emotional connection to her family. Her mother, Puck, died in 1988 after a long illness. Jack remarried, and there was not much communication between father and daughter, many friends said. Of all her family members, she was closest to Mariel, and she wanted more contact with her.

Margaux’s epilepsy, and especially its timing, may have played a subtle role in distancing her from her parents. Her seizures first manifested themselves in 1962, when she was seven, shortly after her grandfather died. The family was still reeling from the tragedy and the stigma of suicide. Make no mistake about it, suicide was a stigma—the family had to settle for giving Papa, in the words of his youngest son, “a semi-Christian burial, omitting some of the services as is required for those who still have an option.”

The last person to speak to Margaux may or may not have been Caren Elin, a self-described teacher, chiropractor, and “reincarnationist.” She had known Margaux for five years. They met over a mutual belief in reincarnation. Elin was not particularly chummy with Margaux. Margaux was a “spiritual friend” who, she says, wove in and out of her life.

Elin says she was surprised when, on Friday, June 28, fixed by the coroner as the probable day of death, she received a message from Margaux saying she needed help. On this all her friends agree—Margaux never before had asked for help.

Elin says she called Margaux back but she sounded upbeat, engaging Elin in a discussion of her very favourite subject—”over there.” Elin had just been released from the hospital after a life-threatening infection and Margaux presumed she had had a near-death experience. “Isn’t it wonderful over there,” Margaux exclaimed. Elin says they spoke for half an hour about life and death and reincarnation. “I could sense that Margaux did not want to hang up. Maybe she wanted reassurance.”

She also wanted Elin to use her contacts as a chiropractor to get her a couple of months’ supply of phenobarbital. “She told me she was going to be away for a few months and needed it for her epilepsy,” Elin says. “Until then I didn’t even know she had epilepsy.” Elin didn’t furnish the phenobarbital; her contacts were out of town.

Farrah Fawcett, Cary Grant and Margaux Hemingway at Studio 54 circa the 1980s in New York. PL Gould/IMAGES

Denne Petitclerc is a writer who knew Ernest Hemingway, visited him in Havana, and first met Margaux there when she was a toddler. Over the years, they had had many discussions about “this great mystery she was passing through.” They disagreed about reincarnation. But in Ketchum on the morning of Margaux’s funeral, he was up before dawn, looking at the mountains. “What came to my mind was a vision of a cheetah in the Serengeti Plain stretching in the sun. And when she turned to look at me she had Margaux’s eyes.”

Margaux had about twice the lethal level of phenobarbital in her system when she died–so much of the drug that she succumbed before she could even digest all the pills in her stomach, coroner’s officials said.

“The high level of phenobarbital found in her system was the key finding that led to a determination that it was suicide,” said Scott Carrier, spokesman for the coroner’s office. Carrier said the ruling was delayed because Hemingway’s body had decomposed so badly that pathologists could not obtain a standard blood sample. Instead, toxicologists relied on tissue samples from her brain, kidney and liver to measure the level of the drug.

Coroner’s investigators also revealed new details of the circumstances surrounding Hemingway’s death.

Just days before her body was discovered, the actress had been asking friends if they knew where she could obtain phenobarbital. She said she needed the drug for a trip to Germany, where she was scheduled to film a television program. Hemingway had a prescription for another medication, clonazepam, that epilepsy patients use to control seizures. But she had no prescription for phenobarbital. The two medications would typically not be given in combination, coroner’s officials said.

The coroner’s office said that when authorities entered Hemingway’s apartment, they found three vials of clonazepam–two empty and one partially filled. (On the day the body was discovered, Santa Monica police insisted they found no evidence of drugs.) Authorities also found an empty bottle of phenobarbital that was labelled for 100 tablets. The absence of a blood sample made it impossible to estimate how many of those tablets Hemingway had taken

Hemingway seemed to obliquely refer to her own death in the last weeks of her life, speculating with friends about what the afterlife might hold.

“She never said, ‘I would like to kill myself’ or ‘It would be better if I was dead,’ ” said Craig Harvey, chief of investigations for the coroner’s office.”But she had spoken with friends about ‘the other side.’ And all her friends had encouraged her to stay here and work out her problems.”

Finally, Hemingway had put off appointments with friends that had been scheduled for the last weekend in June. Her body was found the following Monday when her friend Judy Stabile became concerned that she could not reach Hemingway by phone.

Coroner’s officials said they will continue their investigation in an attempt to find out who supplied Hemingway with the pills that killed her. But because the phenobarbital bottle was not marked with a doctor’s or pharmacist’s name, it is unlikely the culprit who dispensed the medication without a prescription will be found, Harvey said.

Whatever the cause of death, Hemingway seemed confused in her final hours. At around 4:30 on Friday, June 28, she called Elin and left a message on her answering machine. “She didn’t sound okay,” says Elin. “She was slurring. She was just rambling. Her last sentence to me was, ‘God loves you, God loves you, and I love you too.’

In Woody Allen’s 1979 comedy Manhattan, the filmmaker, then 44, dated a 17-year-old character played by Mariel Hemingway.

A family haunted by depression, alcoholism, illness, and suicide. Born just a few months after her grandfather Ernest Hemingway shot himself, it was Mariel’s mission as a girl to escape the desperate cycle of severe mental health issues that had plagued generations of her family. The twisted legacy of the Hemingway family has never quite let go of Mariel.

She opens her eyes. The room is dark. She hears yelling, smashed plates, and wishes it was all a terrible dream. But it isn’t. This is what it was like growing up as a Hemingway. Mariel tells the story of her troubled childhood in a famous family haunted by depression, alcoholism, illness, and suicide in her memoir Out Came the Sun.

Born just a few months after her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway shot himself, it was Mariel’s mission as a girl to escape the desperate cycles of severe mental health issues that had plagued generations of her family.

As a little girl, Mariel Hemingway always began the night full of hope. Maybe, she’d think with childlike optimism, this evening won’t end with tears, blood, spilt wine and shattered glass. Just maybe, things won’t escalate in alcohol-fueled rage and then recede into chilly quiet. “I’d think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a happy night.’ I fell for it every flipping time,” says Mariel, now 51, of her parents’ nightly ritual. “Wine time,” as they called it, began pleasantly enough. At 5 p.m. her father, Jack Hemingway, cooked up, say, freshly caught trout at their house in Ketchum, Idaho, while her mother, Byra, looked on, drinking dry cabernet on ice. Then things would turn. “It would get tense, and it would get ugly, very loud, and all the walls would come down. Then everybody would get quiet, and we’d eat gourmet meals on TV trays and watch Jeopardy! in silence.”

From the age of 7, it was Mariel’s job to pick up the pieces. She padded downstairs late at night to collect wine bottles or mop the floor. Her sisters Margaux and Joan were 7 and 11 years older, but “I was the cleanup girl,” she recalls. Looking back, the granddaughter of writer Ernest Hemingway realises she grew up in “a house of insanity.” Back then, “everybody was on edge and nobody spoke about anything.”

Such despair and denial set the tone for much of Mariel’s life. “Tragedy was in my wake,” who for years was haunted by an infamous legacy marked by generations of addiction and mental illness. At least seven family members committed suicide

Left – Mariel and Dree; Right – Mariel and her sister Margaux. Dree’s mother, Mariel Hemingway, is the daughter of Jack Hemingway.

Surrounded by a family tortured by alcoholism (both parents), depression (her sister Margaux), suicide (her grandfather and four other members of her family), schizophrenia (her sister Muffet), and cancer (mother), it was all the young Mariel could do to keep her head. In a compassionate voice, she reveals her painful struggle to stay sane as the youngest child in her family, and how she coped with the chaos by becoming OCD and obsessive about her food, schedule, and organisation.

Mariel quietly took a supporting role in her sister’s first starring vehicle. Within a few years, Margaux was out of the movie-star race, Mariel had only just begun, co-starring as Woody Allen’s teenaged lover in Manhattan (1979).

Mariel claims that Woody Allen attempted to lure her to Paris once she turned 18—two years after she had filmed Manhattan. “Our relationship was platonic, but I started to see that he had a kind of crush on me, though I dismissed it as the kind of thing that seemed to happen any time middle-aged men got around young women”. The actress suggests that Allen attempted to act upon the crush by flying to her parents’ home in Idaho and inviting the teen to Europe.

According to an excerpt obtained by Fox News, the actress cautioned her parents “that I didn’t know what the [sleeping] arrangement was going to be [in Paris], that I wasn’t sure if I was even going to have my own room. Woody hadn’t said that. He hadn’t even hinted it. But I wanted them to put their foot down. They didn’t. They kept lightly encouraging me.”

Hemingway says that she woke up at night with the realisation that “no one was going to get their own room. His plan, such as it was, involved being with me.” She says that she went into his guest room and woke him up asking, “I’m not going to get my own room, am I? I can’t go to Paris with you.”

The actress says that Allen left Idaho the next morning.

In a 2013 documentary “Running from Crazy,” Mariel Hemingway says she’s realised that her late father, Jack, son of writer Ernest Hemingway, sexually abused her two older sisters.

A dutiful child who sought refuge in nature, Mariel watched her sisters grab the spotlight. Margaux was rebellious; Joan, known as Muffet, showed early signs of mental problems and used LSD. “By the time I was 13, I knew my sister had issues, but no one ever talked about it,” says Mariel. When Muffet was in psychiatric hospitals, “I thought she’d just gone off to school.” Muffet was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Raised on secrets, the Hemingway girls hid another dark truth, Mariel says: Their father was inappropriately “intimate” with Margaux and Muffet in their teens. She recalls lying still as her dad visited the room the three sisters shared. “I didn’t see anything specific, but something funky was going on: some kind of uncomfortable intimacy. I think dad was trying to find love.”

Deeply conflicted about sharing the revelation because she loved her father, a writer and conservationist who died in 2000, Mariel hopes it will help “inform why my sisters were the way they were. The hard part for me is my father was a wonderful human being,” she says. “I know it in my heart of hearts that he didn’t even remember [in the morning]. I think living under the shadow of Ernest Hemingway was daunting for him. I don’t condone anybody doing weird s–t, but alcoholism is a bad disease, and you do f’ed up things.”

“We were WASPS and we didn’t talk about our problems,” she said. Everyone drank. Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961; Mariel lives near the house where he shot himself. She didn’t know until she was in her 20s that it was not accidental.

There’s also a lot of home movies of Jack and his wife at home in Ketchum, Idaho with the girls as kids and as adults in the documentary. They look like a Norman Rockwell painting. But under the surface, there is a lot of pain. A particularly wrenching episode: when Margaux is in recovery at Betty Ford and none of the Hemingways come to see her on family day. It breaks your heart.

Hemingway’s eldest sister Muffet, now 67,  is bipolar and schizophrenic. “My sister was in and out of hospitals for years,” she says. “She wasn’t diagnosed until she was 17 or 18. My WASPy parents would say she is going off to college and then we’d pick her up at a state hospital. I just wondered why there were bars on the window.” Hemingway also believes her late sister Margaux “suffered from bipolar disorder but was never properly diagnosed,” she says. “She was diagnosed with addiction and had been drinking since she was 14.”

Recovering from an eating disorder was a long process for Mariel Hemingway – one that helped her to realise that the issue was deeply ingrained in her family. She says her father, Jack, and grandfather, Ernest, both had their own preoccupations with eating and exercise.

“My grandfather was obsessed with food, completely obsessed with food. He wrote down his weight every single day next to the toilet. If you go to Cuba and you see in the bathroom, he wrote down his weight every day. He was obsessed!”

“My father was also obsessed,” she says. “I didn’t realise that because you never realise those things [as a kid]. You just think that that’s normal – like my dad obsessively exercised. He never got super skinny but he was completely obsessed with exercising and his diet. He’d go off his diet and get heavy – and that’s what my grandfather did.”

“This is one of the things that have been such a deep issue for my family and myself in the past,” the actress, now55, says. Her own eating disorder stretched on for 24 years. “A long time. From about age 16 to 40.”

Mariel’s sister Margaux, who committed suicide in 1996, a day before the 35th anniversary of Ernest’s suicide, inherited the family obsession with being thin. “She had such a horrible eating disorder and it was to try to be this thing she had to be in order to [model],” she says.

Mariel was not without demons; depression lurked behind her cheery exterior. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re the grounded one,’ but it wasn’t like I felt sane,” she says. Even after her own career took off, “I became obsessed with my body and with what I ate because I felt I could control it.” She compulsively exercised and fixated on extreme food plans, eating only fruit for days or fasting until her thyroid shut down. “It wasn’t like I didn’t have happy moments – like the birth of my children – but my underlying through-line was, ‘I’ll just get through it,’” says Mariel and at one point she contemplated suicide.

Today she is a woman transformed. “Finally I quit thinking somebody else had an answer, and I started to trust myself and found balance,” she says. She also found love.

In 2015, the actress, who wrote a book about her family’s history, Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family, says, “If you can figure out what someone is suffering from earlier on, it would help so many families. Then you can figure out the right medication and a healthy lifestyle and hopefully save a life.”

Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness …

Mariel Hemingway Says Woody Allen Tried to Seduce Her When She …

Mariel Hemingway Says Father Sexually Abused Two Older Sisters …

Mariel Hemingway – Rotten Tomatoes

Mariel Hemingway Breaks the Family Cycle with Her Eating Disorder …

Margaux Hemingway Is Dead; Model and Actress Was 41 – The New …

What Killed Margaux Hemingway? | Psychology Today

Mariel Hemingway reveals the story of her famous family haunted by …

Margaux Hemingway’s Death Ruled a Suicide – latimes

1970s Supermodel Margaux Hemingway in Vogue – Vogue

Mariel Hemingway Says Father Sexually Abused Two Older Sisters …

Margaux Hemingway, 1978: A Look Back | HuffPost

The Death of Margot Hemingway – Findadeath


A Life Eclipsed – People

Margaux Hemingway – Wikipedia

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