Mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway to speak
Oscar-nominated actress Mariel Hemingway has been running from crazy all her life.
The granddaughter of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest “Papa” Hemingway has a family legacy of mental illness, including seven suicides, rampant alcoholism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression.
However, she doesn’t gloss over the pain and heartache left in the wake of mental illness.
Instead, the divorced mom of two adult daughters, 28 and 29, fulfills her mission of erasing the stigma. She speaks about mental illness around the country and encourages others to discuss the mental illness in their own families.
On Thursday, Hemingway will be the keynote speaker at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham for the 25th anniversary of the Rose Hill Center, a rehabilitation facility in Holly for adults with mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year.
“People think celebrities don’t really have problems or that there’s some magic that happens with them,” Hemingway told The Detroit News in a phone interview Monday from Malibu, California. “But we’re really all very similar.
“By telling our stories, it is the first step toward finding balance and solutions.”
Dan and Rosemary Kelly are the founders of Rose Hill. Dan is chairman of the board; Rosemary serves as vice chair.
“Over the past 25 years, Rose Hill has developed to where it is today, a world-class, second-to-none treatment and rehabilitation program, so it’s time to celebrate,” Dan Kelly said. “Every day, through all of our communication, we strive to educate people on the nature of mental illness, and the fact that it’s no different than other conditions like diabetes or heart disease.”
Rosemary Kelly added, “Mariel Hemingway is an outstanding spokesperson and a leading force in advocating for people with mental illness. We’re honored she’s going to be here to share her message and her story with our guests.”
Hemingway, who turns 56 on Nov. 22, has written six books, including the two most recent, published in 2015, “Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction and Suicide in my Family” (Blackstone Audio) and “Invisible Girl” (Regan Arts). The latter, she said, was written for young adults about the same subject matter but from her 14-year-old self’s perspective.
Hemingway briefly turned her attention to the recent surge of actresses revealing personal stories of sexual harassment in Hollywood. Although she said she never had an encounter with film producer Harvey Weinstein, she did have awkward situations with filmmaker-writer-actor Woody Allen and famed dancer-choreographer-director Bob Fosse. She said she turned down Allen’s invitation to Paris after she appeared in his film “Manhattan” at age 16. She also rejected Fosse’s advances.
At the time, she was appearing in “Star 80,” a 1983 film based on Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, who was murdered by her husband Paul Snider in 1980. It was the last film directed by Fosse.
“I was playing the part of a Playmate, but I had to tell (Fosse) that I can’t imagine myself being naked with you,” she said. “It’s just not who I am, and for me, it was never a choice. I was scared to say it, but I think he respected me afterward.”
In her 2013 documentary “Running From Crazy” by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple and executive producer Oprah Winfrey, Hemingway strived to better understand her family’s history of suicide and mental illness, returning to Idaho where she was raised.
“It is so interesting because I had been speaking out at different organizations about mental illness, but I didn’t realize until making the documentary that it was my purpose,” she said. “That purpose is really to share with people how to find solutions to whatever is going on in their lives, and being able to share your story.”
Her story is filled with family members whose struggles ended in suicide.
“There was Ernest (grandfather Hemingway), Ernest’s father, Ernest’s brother, a great aunt, a cousin of Ernest’s, an uncle, which some question, and my sister Margaux,” Mariel said.
Ernest Hemingway died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Idaho home four months before Mariel was born. Her actress/model sister Margaux Hemingway (who changed the spelling of her birth name from Margot), committed suicide at 41 in her California studio apartment. She died of a barbiturate overdose in 1996.
Mariel Hemingway said her grandfather suffered from depression and manic highs.
“Honestly, I think if he were diagnosed today, he would be considered bipolar,” she said. “
Her now deceased parents, Jack and Byra Hemingway, were alcoholics. Her only living sibling, Joan “Muffet” Hemingway, 59, lives with a caregiver in Idaho. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Mariel Hemingway describes her own long-standing depression and how she eventually beat it.
“There was a time when I was incredibly depressed,” she said, “but I never took any medication because there was just too much drug-taking in my family.”
Instead, she relied on diet, exercise, meditation and lifestyle changes. Most recently, she said she participated in brainwave optimization, a non-invasive way of what she describes as balancing the brain’s hemispheres.
“I did about 20 sessions and realized how depressed I had been most of my life,” she said. “But, I woke up the other day and said to Bobby (her boyfriend, former Hollywood stuntman Bobby Williams), ‘I am really, really happy.’ ”
The Rose Hill Center 25th Anniversary Dinner
6-9 p.m. Thursday
100 Townsend St., Birmingham
Limited tickets are $250 and must be purchased by 5 p.m. Wednesday.