Gene Tierney wasn’t sure what she intended when she stepped out on a New York City window ledge in 1957. “I felt tired, lost and numb — but unafraid,” she confessed in her 1979 biography Self-Portrait. “I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to take my own life.”
Despite her success and exquisite beauty, Gene, who played the title character in 1944’s film noir classic Laura, suffered from crippling anxiety and depression after a series of heartbreaks. “I had no trouble playing any kind of a role,” she said. “My problems began when I had to be myself.”
After graduating from a Swiss finishing school, Gene worked on Broadway then starred in a series of films, including 1945’s Leave Her to Heaven (which earned her a best actress Oscar nod). “In my circle, you married a Yale boy after school,” she said. “I wanted to be an actress.”
But then Gene fell in love. In 1941, she upset her family by eloping with designer Oleg Cassini, who was older, divorced and not yet the fashion icon he would become. For a time, the couple relied on Gene’s earnings to survive, which led the actress to realize that her father, who acted as her agent, had squandered her savings.
The strain on the young couple worsened after their daughter Daria was born in 1943 with severe mental challenges caused by a case of rubella Gene had contracted while pregnant. They had a second daughter, Christina, born healthy in 1948, but their marriage couldn’t be saved. Gene and Oleg divorced in 1952.
After her suicide attempt, Gene underwent therapy, including electroshock treatment. “It took me four years to face the truth,” she said of her life’s heartaches. “[But] I was most fortunate.” In 1960, Gene married a Texas oilman and continued to occasionally act. “I learned that the mind is the most beautiful part of the body,” she said. “And I am grateful to have mine back.”
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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