The 'Suddenly Susan' star is the latest casualty of Hollywood's image-is-everything philosophy

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 25, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
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Lisa Schwarzbaum ponders the suicide of David Strickland

I can’t stop thinking about the sad, sad death of David Strickland, who was found hanging from a ceiling beam in a seedy Las Vegas motel room on Monday morning. The 29-year-old actor costarred on NBC’s ”Suddenly Susan.” He had a small role in the new Sandra Bullock-Ben Affleck romance ”Forces of Nature.” He was handsome, well-employed, and on the way up. He dated Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.

His life, it turns out, was hell. Strickland may have played a happy ensemble part on TV, but the camera lied: He was an accused drug user, a functioning mess, a young man trying to clean up while working in an environment that winks at excess.

You could argue that substance abuse and suicide are available in any line of work, and you’d be right; the factory worker or sales clerk who ODs is no less tragic. But there’s something about this one young man’s death — which may have taken place about the same time revelers were winding down from the last post-Oscar party, in the dark hours before the morning papers arrived with extensive, excited reports about how Life Is Beautiful on the red carpet to the Academy Awards — that gives this story a particular poignancy.

The entertainment industry is all about appearances: Look good and the world showers you with smiles (and wealth). Lose those looks and not only do you lose work, but the tabloids taunt you with cruel photos documenting your own apparent failure as a human being. As a result, human beings in the entertainment industry go to extraordinary lengths to look good. Or to pretend to look good. Or to aid and abet their friends’ attempts to look good even if they’re in terrible pain.

What saddens me most as more details emerge about Strickland’s death is that I can’t imagine friends and coworkers didn’t know of his problems. And yet they decided: He still looks okay. He’ll straighten things out. The show must go on. And so, as the Oscar telecast went on, and on, and on, David Strickland decided that he could not. And we are shocked, but not too surprised, when the papers report another Hollywood death — casualty of the way business is done in Tinseltown.

Suddenly Susan

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