On April 21, 2018, Verne Troyer, the actor who shot to fame for his hilarious portrayal of “Mini-Me” in the Austin Power movies, died after a hard-fought personal war against alcoholism and depression. Although the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office has deferred an official cause of death pending further tests, spokesperson Ed Winter said, “He was admitted with a very high level of alcohol in his system.” Winter also noted that Troyer’s case was reported as a “possible suicide”.
Did Alcohol Directly Cause Verne Troyer’s Death?
Just weeks prior to his death, the actor was hospitalized in Los Angeles after a concerned friend called the police, saying that Troyer was “extremely upset, drunk, and suicidal”.
After paramedics arrived, they made the decision to transport him to the hospital, where he received emergency treatment for possible alcohol poisoning. According to Fox News, the amount of alcohol in Troyer’s system was three times the limit for driving.
He was even placed on a “5150”, a 72 hour-involuntary psychiatric hold for people who may be a danger to themselves or others.
Eventually, the actor’s internal organs began to fail, requiring him to be placed on life support. Unfortunately, he continued to steadily decline, until there was no hope for recovery. The family made the decision to end life support, and Troyer died.
He was only 49 years old.
A Long Personal History of Alcohol Abuse
“I’ve been hearing from some concerned fans, so I’d like to address a very personal situation. As you know, I’ve battled alcohol addiction in the past and while it’s not always been an easy fight, I’m willing to continue my fight day by day.”
~ Verne Troyer on Instagram, April 2017
This was not Verne Troyer’s first brush with alcohol-related health issues. TMZ reports that he almost lost his life to alcohol overdose back in 2002 and that he had checked into rehab “multiple times”. In 2006, he relapsed and checked into a Michigan treatment center.
At the time, his manager, Elena Fondacaro, said, “Alcoholism is an illness that comes and goes … and Verne realized he was slipping. He decided to go back to rehab because he’s determined to maintain his sobriety.”
Most recently, Troyer was hospitalized and subsequently received treatment for alcohol addiction in April 2017.
Rehab, recovery, and relapse was a reality for Verne Troyer, as it is for many people who struggle with alcoholism or other types of Substance Use Disorders. In fact, it is estimated that between 40% and 60% of substance abusers will relapse at some point.
The Twin Demons of Depression and Substance Abuse
“Verne was also a fighter when it came to his own battles. Over the years he’s struggled and won, struggled and won, struggled and fought some more, but unfortunately this time was too much…Depression and Suicide are very serious issues.”
~ Official statement of Vern Troyer’s family, released on Instagram
Although Troyer’s stature – he stood just 2 feet, 8 inches – allowed him to play the roles that made him rich and famous, he was nonetheless reportedly very self-conscious about his size. And like a lot of other people with dwarfism, this led to a struggle with depression.
Ex-girlfriend Ranae Shrider said that Troyer could be a “…person who is angry at the world and drinks himself close to death to forget how depressed he is.”
This falls in line with what advocate for the disabled Rebekah Bailey, who also lives with dwarfism, recently told Men’s Health:
“It’s something that is prevalent but very rarely discussed. Growing up, when I’d attend conferences, I’d see a lot of young adults heavily drinking. It wasn’t until I was grown myself that I realized that it was one thing to be enjoying a few drinks…[It’s another to use alcohol as a way to] cope with being so different and disrespected from society. It took too long for that conversation to be had in our community, and it took too many lives before it did.”
In fact, depression and alcoholism often co-occur:
- Nearly 2 out of 3 people with an addiction to alcohol ALSO suffer from depression.
- Having either disorder DOUBLES the likelihood of having the other.
It is a vicious, self-perpetuating downward spiral – a person with depression will drink to “self-medicate”, but chronic substance abuse triggers brain changes within the cognitive and emotional centers of the brain that leaves that person more vulnerable to depression.
The Link between Alcoholism, Mental Illness, and Suicide
It may never be entirely clear whether or not Verne Troyer actually intended to commit suicide via alcohol overdose. But from the 911 emergency call from a worried friend and the official statement of his family, we do know that Troyer was suicidal. And there is an established connection between substance abuse, depression, and suicide.
- 90% of people who commit suicide struggle with depression or some other mental disorder.
- Mental illness is the #1 cause of suicide.
- Substance abuse is the #2 cause.
- Substance abusers have a risk of suicide that is over six times greater than the general population.
- Up to 60% of people who kill themselves are intoxicated at the time.
- Alcohol abuse is the single greatest predictor of suicide.
- Alcoholics have a risk of suicide that is five times that of non-alcoholics.
- 1 out of every 7 alcohol-dependent/addicted eventually kill themselves.
- 89% of alcohol-dependent suicide victims have a history of mental illness.
- 25%-30% of suicides are committed by people who are addicted to or dependent on alcohol.
- 2 out 3 people who take their own lives drink beforehand.
Functional Alcoholism – Professional Success Doesn’t Matter
For some members of the public, it came as an astonishing surprise to learn about Verne Troyer’s death and the circumstances behind it. In fact, many people are shocked whenever they hear of any CELEBRITY with substance abuse problems or depression.
After all, these people seemingly “have it all” – money, fame, public adulation, big houses, fancy cars, and enviable love lives. What in the world is there to be depressed about?
Also, the perception is that in order to be so successful and have all of these things, the celebrity has to have their life in order. For example, Verne Troyer appeared in dozens of films and was worth millions. Could he REALLY have achieved so much if he had an out-of-control drinking problem?
But the idea that an alcoholic has to be unemployed, homeless, dirty, and a “failure” in life is completely wrong. On the contrary, 75% of people who abuse alcohol or drugs have jobs. Even more telling, almost 20% of alcoholics fall into a subtype known as “functional alcoholism”.
Functional alcoholics have the outward appearance of success and stability, all while privately battling a problematic relationship with alcohol. But, because alcoholism is a progressive disease, their drinking invariably gets worse, often until the consequences reach tragic proportions.
A List of “High-Functioning” Alcoholics
“I knew I had the problem for years. But it plays tricks with your head. Very cunning and baffling is alcohol.”
~ Ringo Starr
In fact, there have been many, many famous and successful people who also struggled with alcohol, acting well out of the public eye:
- Ben Affleck, actor
- Ann-Margaret, actress
- Alec Baldwin, actor
- Drew Barrymore, actress
- Mary J. Blige, singer
- Russell Brand, comedian, actor, and activist
- Lynda Carter, actress
- Eric Clapton, musician
- Bradley Cooper, actor
- Jamie Lee Curtis, actress
- Kristin Davis, actress
- Robert Downey Jr., actor
- Colin Farrell, actor
- Craig Ferguson, actor
- Michael J. Fox, actor
- Mel Gibson, actor and director
- John Goodman, actor
- Darrell Hammond, actor
- Sir Anthony Hopkins, actor
- Samuel L. Jackson, actor
- Sir Elton John, musician
- Kristen Johnston, actress
- Stephen King, author
- John Larroquette, actor
- David Letterman, television host
- Demi Lovato, actress and singer
- Rob Lowe, actor
- Jane Lynch, actress
- Eva Marie, wrestler
- Ali McGraw, actress
- Ewan McGregor, actor
- Toby McGuire, actor
- Gary Oldman, actor
- Matthew Perry, actor
- Brad Pitt, actor
- Daniel Radcliffe, actor
- Martin Sheen, actor
- Jada Pinkett Smith, actress
- Ringo Starr, musician
- Steven Tyler, musician
- Keith Urban, musician
- Dick Van Dyke, actor
Here’s the good news – ALL of these famous people are in recovery and enjoying happier and healthier alcohol-free lives. And they give the credit for their renewed lives to recovery. For example, actor Rob Lowe said, “I have other obligations now – the show, my family, my life… Though I know that without my sobriety, I wouldn’t have any of those things.”
What We Can Learn from Verne Troyer’s Death
“You never know what kind of battle someone is going through inside. Be kind to one another. And always know, it’s never too late to reach out to someone for help.”
~ the Troyer family
There are several takeaways from Verne Troyer’s life that we can use to give his death meaning.
FIRST, alcoholism – and any form of substance abuse – can happen to ANYONE. Even individuals who lead seemingly-perfect lives can suffer terribly from this disease that knows no boundaries.
SECOND, addiction in any form is a LIFELONG, incurable condition. Even people who have completed rehab before must make extensive lifestyle changes and practice daily vigilance to support their continued sobriety. Just as important, an alcoholic in recovery needs ongoing help and support – 12-Step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, professional aftercare services, a personal sponsor, etc.
THIRD – relapses CAN and DO happen, even with vigilance and support. This is why people in recovery are taught to make two plans – one for Relapse Prevention and one for Relapse Recovery. Taking the right steps immediately following a relapse can help a person get back on track sooner.
FOURTH – even though Verne Troyer ultimately lost his battle with his own personal demons, the fact remains that treatment DOES work in recovery IS possible. Although Troyer had an extensive history of alcohol abuse, he also was able to achieve long periods of sobriety.
FIFTH and most important – if you know someone with any substance abuse problem – alcoholism, addiction to illicit drugs, or the misuse of prescription medications – DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to get them the help they need. Reach out and intervene and persuade or even compel them to seek professional treatment.
Every year, approximately 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes. This means that when you convince someone you care about to get help for their drinking, you just may be saving their life.