Just ask Superman

supermanWhy do some people refuse to address their own or a loved-one’s mental health issues?

Well, do you remember the 1978 movie Superman? Do you remember what happened to its leading stars?

Superman was a cheesy adaptation of the famous comic book hero and television show, but its cast was stunning.

Some of Hollywood’s most enduring and iconic figures were featured in that film, including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine and Margot Kidder.

The film also launched the career of Christopher Reeve, a handsome, muscular man who was cast in the leading role as the Man of Steel.

While participating in a 1995 equestrian competition in Virginia, Reeve was severely injured and became paralyzed. His injuries elicited support from all over the globe. He spent the rest of his brief life trying to help others with spinal cord injuries and established the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

He was a sympathetic hero. He touched us all. The man of steel could not escape this batch of Kryptonite. He died in October 2004 and millions mourned his passing.

Now, let us examine the fate of Superman’s leading lady, Margot Kidder, a successful actress who was cast as the petulant, cynical and manic reporter, Lois Lane.

A year after Reeve was paralyzed, Kidder was found by police hiding in the bushes in a suburban neighborhood near Los Angeles, California. She was taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation.

The world was not so nice to Ms. Kidder.

Kidder has a bipolar disorder, so she became fair game for the media, late night comedians and a slew of derisive web site commentary. She was certainly no Superman.

She was human, frail and vulnerable but in a different way than her co-star, and that difference was best amplified by the ridicule that continues to follow her today, some 15 years after her illness became fodder for her former Hollywood colleagues.

Maybe that’s why fellow Superman star Marlon Brando spent so many years keeping his mental illness a secret.

By the time Superman was released in 1978, Brando was already known as one of Hollywood’s most iconic figures. The star of “On the Waterfront” and “The Godfather,” he was a tough guy’s tough guy.

But his mental illness apparently was a bit tougher.

Brando was a deeply troubled man struggling with depression, anger, and loneliness, according to those who knew him and detailed in an article by the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability.

Brando was from a generation of those who didn’t talk about mental illness. A generation that believed depression was little more than self-pity run amok or some other sort of character flaw.

It was that same generation of actors which produced the original Superman, George Reeves.

George Reeves (no relation to Christopher) was an actor best known for his leading role in the 1950s television series, The Adventures of Superman.

Reeves’ untimely death at age 45 was officially ruled as a suicide by police, although there is much speculation about that fact, most notably in the 2006 film Hollywoodland, which stars Ben Affleck as George Reeves.

Whether Reeves committed suicide is irrelevant and will probably remain a mystery for a long time to come.

But we do know how Hollywood would have treated him if he had talked publicly about battling depression.

Just ask Lois Lane.

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