The summer of 2014 took a terrible turn on August 11 when the world learned of the death of Robin Williams, who committed suicide after a lifelong battle with depression. I happened to be in Atlantic City with my wife and four children when I heard the sad news.
As many people noted, Williams’ career spanned many generations. One of my own favorite movies has always been "Dead Poets Society," in which Williams plays an inspiring English teacher at a stuffy boys prep school. It was genuinely touching to me just a few months back when my 13 year-old daughter expressed interest in the film. We watched it together and she loved it.
Williams, of course, won an Oscar playing a very different kind of teacher, Irish American therapist and community college instructor Sean McGuire in "Good Will Hunting."
Williams’ tumultuous personal life and struggles surely informed his depiction of McGuire, who, at times, is wise but at other times is clearly on the brink of a breakdown.
In real life, by August 11, 2014, Williams could fend off the demons no more.
Sadly, it appears the same thing happened to Jeremiah Francis Healy.
Healy was an accomplished mystery writer whose many books included two series with Irish American sleuths at their center. One was the John Francis Cuddy series about a Vietnam vet-turned-private investigator based in Boston. Healy’s other successful series was about a lawyer named Mairead O’Clare, also based in Boston, and written under Healy’s pen name, Terry Devane.
Just three days after Williams killed himself, Healy did the same at his home in Pompano Beach, FL at the age of 66.
“His fiancée, Sandra Balzo, said Mr. Healy committed suicide and had suffered from depression for many years,” The New York Times noted last week.
In an email, Balzo wrote: “My heart breaks to send you all this news… As you may know, Jerry has battled chronic severe depression for years, mostly controlled by medication, but exacerbated by alcohol. Last night he took his own life. Jerry was the smartest, kindest man I’ve ever met, and I thought we’d continue to grow old together.
“His demons had other plans. Please keep Jerry in your heart, as you all were in his.”
Healy had already confronted prostate cancer, which he handled (at least in writing) with humor as well as determination.
“If you had asked me a decade ago to draw a parallel between my father – a retired Army officer from World War II – and Johnny Ramone – a member of the landmark Punk-Rock band that bore his stage name – I would have been hard-pressed. But today, the answer is simplicity itself: They both died from prostate cancer that spread to their bones. And, as an eye-witness to my dad’s passing, I’d recommend against it.”
Perhaps Healy’s best Cuddy novel is "The Staked Goat," which won the Shamus Award given out by the Private Eye Writers of America. Healy ended up serving as president of this group for two years.
He was also elected president of International Association of Crime Writers, and his books have been translated into French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and German.
As The Guardian newspaper noted: “In some ways, Cuddy resembled his creator, not least in his Irish background.”
Though the Cuddy and O’Clare books were set in Boston, Healy was actually born in New Jersey.
He was a graduate of Rutgers College but fell in love with Beantown when he attended Harvard Law School. He later worked as a professor at the New England School of Law for nearly two decades.
Healy’s loved ones hope this tragedy sheds light on the seriousness of chronic depression.
His fiancée, Sandra, wrote: “I posted…about Robin Williams’ loss, saying, ‘Severe depression is about as far from ‘the blues’ as Ebola is from a cold,’ based on seeing Jerry battle through a bad bout in May and June. You can’t just ‘cheer up,’ or ‘see somebody’ or ‘take something’ and instantly make it better.
“Even the right drug, when you finally find it, takes days or weeks to work. Plain and simple…depression kills. Little did I know that three days later it would claim my love.”
Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com.