Music Artists Who, Like Roky Erickson, Have Struggled With Mental Illness

Categories: Feature


It seemed something like a miracle back in 2005 when psychedelic-rock pioneer Roky Erickson -- who plays Bell House in Brooklyn tonight -- took the stage at the Austin, Texas eatery Threadgill's, returning from decades of crippling mental illness and a hermit-like existence that had him pegged as America's answer to Syd Barrett.

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You probably know the tale: In the '60s, while playing with the legendary 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson gobbled enough acid to make Timothy Leary seem straight-edge. He was soon diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, and after a marijuana bust in 1969, Erickson pleaded insanity to evade 10 years in the pokey. But his sentence turned out worse: He was confined to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane -- where electroshock therapy and thorazine was forced on him -- for three years, further damaging his mental condition.

After his release, Erickson continued to make music and struggled mightily with his afflictions (at one point, he proclaimed he was a space alien). But with the help of family -- and support from artists like the Butthole Surfers, Henry Rollins, and other admirers who refused to let the man or his work be forgotten -- Erickson finally got proper medical treatment, weaned himself off anti-psychotics, and found his way back to a fairly stable, and still creative, life. That long, strange, heart-rending journey was documented in the riveting 2005 film You're Gonna Miss Me, the release of which coincided with Erickson's long-awaited return to the stage. His countrified 2010 comeback album True Love Cast Out All Evil -- recorded with Okkervil River -- is an atmospheric, uplifting marvel; tonight's career-spanning set should be equally so.

Erickson, of course, is far from the only musician who's dealt with debilitating mental disorders. Numerous studies have attempted to establish a connection between artistic impulses and mental illness. In 2010, extensive medical research conducted by the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden determined that "the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia," bolstering the longstanding belief among doctors and scientists that creativity is linked to a higher risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Here are just a few other prominent musicians who managed to create their art and garner a devoted following all the while struggling with severe mental illness:

Location Info


The Bell House

149 7th St., Brooklyn, NY

Category: Music

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