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May302011

Lights Go Out as Songwriter Commits Suicide at time when Father and Son both Face Serious Assault Charges

     73-year old Oscar-wining songwriter James Brooks and his musician son Nicolas, 25, both faced assault charges – until the father trumped the law by ending his life.  On HLN’s Issues show, Jane Velez Mitchell asked me, “Is it coincidence or bad blood?”

    My answer:

     There is a genetic predisposition to violence, aggression and even suicide. The father was luring Hollywood hopefuls to his apartment and forcing them to have sex, and the son was charged with murdering his designer girlfriend in a fancy New York hotel.

     Psychologically, behaviors are usually a mix of “nature-nurture.” Some determinants are in the genes and a proportion is learned by experience or example.

    Brooks, the “You Light Up my Life” songwriter, won an Academy Award in 1977 for his cheery tune but his life hardly matched his lyrics. His horrific demise is worse than the story lines of the cancelled ABC-TV soaps. The skeletal elderly man  (looking like death warmed over, likely from years of drug abuse) died from a crude home-made “suicide kit” (also called an “exit bag”) that causes asphyxiation by wrapping a plastic dry-cleaning bag around his head, with a tube attached to a helium gas tank.

     My suspicion:

     Though it was officially called a suicide, could someone else have been involved? Brooks was feeble from two strokes and reportedly couldn’t even open a juice bottle he purchased that morning, so how could he wrap a towel tightly around his neck, which was part of the “helium hood” contraption to insure he got gassed?  Besides, the gruesome technique is described in online euthanasia how-to’s – and euthanasia usually means “assisted suicide.” On top of that, a woman had supposedly been helping him lure the women into his sordid lair.

     Committing suicide in that manner is rare; people do asphyxiate themselves in cars but it is far more common, and less elaborate, to overdose. Psychologically the method of suicide always has some significance; for example, it matters how violent the action was (a self-inflicted gunshot obviously reflects more anger than quietly going to sleep after taking pills). Also, the asphyxiation method has a sexual component -- considering that helium gets people high, which was consistent with Brooks’ sexual perversion.  

     Clearly this sad rapist had nothing to live for.  There are plenty of examples of people who are facing legal charges they clearly will not beat, who take their own life rather than face conviction and consequences.   

     My good friend Jane Velez Mitchell likes to call such stories “cautionary tales” and  indeed this is one. Women need to stop falling prey to bad men (even Brooks’ daughter called him a bully, scary and intimidating) Hollywood hopefuls need to stop falling falling into the casting couch.

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