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From Courtney Love to Kim Kardashian: The History of Blaming Women for Men’s Mental Health

We’re only drawing more attention away from men’s mental health.

Kurt Cobain smoking.
Credit: Brett Morgen / HBO

Throughout the years of conservative media representation, there has been a prominent inclination for critics and fans alike to reallocate the weight of a male celebrity’s mental health to their female partners or ex-partners.

From the conspiracy theories that bubbled up in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, accusing his wife Courtney Love of operating his murder, to detached claims that Kim Kardashian didn’t do enough to manage Kanye West’s bipolar disorder during their marriage.

We are so eager to blame the women in the lives of mentally ill male celebrities, especially in music, that we unintentionally draw attention away from the real issues of men’s mental health. Meanwhile, when Kimberly Jones (a.k.a. Lil’ Kim) discusses her abusive relationship with Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.), the story is set aside in the media so as to maintain B.I.G.’s legendary status in the New York scene.

It is what it is. [B.I.G.] was everything. You know how it is when you’re in the industry: the guys can do whatever they want, but you can’t do shit. You can’t do nothing.

Lil’ Kim on Ebro in the Morning, HOT 97

The distance from which we spectate celebrity life fabricates a spectacle of grandeur, even around seriously harmful behaviors. Each musician’s disgrace became an inseparable part of his public image. Cobain’s heroin addiction played a role in his music; B.I.G.’s abuse of Lil’ Kim served her right; Ye’s bipolar enhanced his creativity.

By re-examining the mainstream portrayal of women dating mentally ill, depressed or abusive men, we also strive to challenge general preconceptions of men’s mental health.

Mac Miller sitting in a giant water lily.
Mac Miller unintentionally overdosed on fentanyl. Credit: Mac Miller / YouTube

The Shape of Suicide

Immediately following Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5th, 1994, Courtney Love found herself as the object of a conspiracy that would persist throughout her career. Richard Lee aired ‘Kurt Cobain Was Murdered’ a week after the Nirvana frontman was found dead in his Seattle home. In it, he insisted that the police reports around the fatal shotgun wound were inconsistent. Lee wasn’t an expert, and pathologists refuted his claims.

In order to locate Cobain – his whereabouts were unknown days before his suicide – Love hired private investigator Tom Grant. After Cobain’s suicide, however, Grant asserted that the rock musician’s death was a probable homicide. His assumption that Love fabricated a section of Cobain’s suicide note has become almost commonplace, despite the lack of evidence.

Grant’s argument for the dubious authorship of the suicide note has two main premises, both of which are flawed. First, he affirms that the note conveys a need to retire, not commit suicide. However, when Cobain discusses (in the note) his infant daughter, Frances, he implies that she would benefit from his absence.

I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.

From Kurt Cobain’s suicide note

Second, he points out that the final lines visually contrast with the rest of the note. Yet the supposed contrast failed to convince handwriting analysts of potential forgery. More likely, the difference was due to strong emotions or drugs.

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love with their infant daughter.
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love with their infant daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. Credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Live Through This

The unfounded accusations against Courtney Love were undeniably exploitative of Cobain’s suicide, selling books, films and series. Additionally, the conspirators disregarded Love’s genuine effort to support her husband during their marriage. She resuscitated him herself after two separate, near-fatal overdoses.

A month before his death, Cobain attempted an overdose using champagne and Rohypnol in Rome. But once again, Love saved his life and ensured that her husband reached the hospital. Furthermore, Love organized an intervention to persuade Cobain to undergo a detox program in Los Angeles.

The infamous homicide conspiracy suggests that Courtney Love participated in and exploited Kurt Cobain’s death. From the examples above, however, it is clear that Love strived for anything but. Yet her sincere effort wasn’t enough. Merely attempting to guide her husband out of his psychological pit wasn’t enough in the public eye. It could never be enough.

And I’m laying in our bed, and I’m really sorry. And I feel the same way you do. I’m really sorry you guys. I don’t know what I could have done. I wish I’d been here.

Courtney Love’s voice message played at Cobain’s public vigil, 1994
Courtney Love posing
The conspiracy surrounding Kurt Cobain’s supposed homicide followed Courtney Love throughout her career. Credit: Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Swimming in Circles

Unfortunately, the pattern of abuse didn’t end with Courtney Love.

Some Kanye West fans manage to justify his anti-Black and antisemitic statements as by-products of his bipolar I disorder. Ironically, in an effort to stress the rapper’s mental health, they draw attention to easy targets who had some influence over him. Kim Kardashian, who recently divorced Ye, received accusations that she didn’t do enough to support her ex-husband during his bipolar episodes. Such claims, as with Love, bear no evidential weight.

Soon after Mac Miller’s accidental fentanyl overdose in 2018, widespread online mourning turned to abuse directed towards Ariana Grande. Grande dated the rapper for nearly two years but broke up with him in part due to his substance abuse issues.

Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and their children lying down.
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian were in a marital relationship for almost 7 years. Credit: Kanye West / YouTube

Ultimately, the responsibility for caring for a mentally ill partner is a shared one, and it should be based on mutual understanding, respect, and communication. You can do all you can, but if your support leads to nowhere, then you have the right to leave. Pointing the finger and blaming partners for not indulging in their toxic relationship only encourages addiction, poor mental health and dangerous behaviors.

Rather than search for a scapegoat, let’s realign our priorities and restore the spotlight to the issue of men’s mental health, which should have been the focus in the respective cases of Kurt Cobain, Kanye West and Mac Miller.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Shane Kidd-Walker

    October 27, 2023 at 4:20 pm

    Yo this was a deep read man. Nice Work! Let’s collab sometime.

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