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LONDON — Depression, anxiety, and work pressure all contributed to the suicide in February of Lee Alexander McQueen, according to the London coroner investigating the case.
But it was also clear McQueen died of a broken heart at the final blow of his mother’s death.
This story first appeared in the April 29, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
On Wednesday, Paul Knapman, M.D., presented his findings to about 30 people — including members of McQueen’s family, his friend Annabelle Neilson and the press — at Westminster Coroner’s Court here and officially closed the inquest.
After hearing evidence from McQueen’s psychiatrist, his housekeeper and police who investigated the case, Knapman concluded the designer “killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed.”
The court heard McQueen’s body was found by his housekeeper, Cesar Garcia, hanging from a belt in a wardrobe at his apartment in Green Street, Mayfair, the morning of Feb. 11.
A postmortem found he died from asphyxia due to hanging, while toxicology reports found “significant levels” of cocaine in his blood, along with Zopiclone, a prescription sleeping pill, and Midazolam, a tranquilizer. There were also lacerations to his wrists, and a knife and dagger were discovered in the designer’s bedroom and bathroom. A laptop in McQueen’s bedroom had an Internet page open displaying a page that asked the question, “When someone slits their wrists, how long does it take for them to die?”
Knapman paraphrased a note written by McQueen that was found at the scene. “It could be described as saying his goodbyes,” he said, adding the last lines read: “Please look after my dogs. Sorry, I love you. Lee.” The designer had three dogs.
“It was obvious what he intended,” Knapman added. The note was written on the back of a book called “The Descent of Man,” a series of pencil drawings by the artist Wolfe von Lenkiewicz that depict Darwin-inspired images such as Marilyn Monroe with a horse’s body and a Jesus-like figure with a butterfly in place of a head. McQueen’s final ready-to-wear show for spring 2010 counted Darwin among its inspirations.
The crowd was told it was not the first time McQueen had attempted suicide. Stephen Pereira, McQueen’s consultant psychiatrist, told the court that on two occasions, in May and July of last year, the designer had tried to overdose on sleeping pills and painkillers. Pereira described these attempts as “cries for help.” Pereira added that when McQueen was referred to him in July, he found he had a mixed anxiety and depressive disorder.
“He was certainly very pressurized by work,” said Pereira. “It was like a double-edged sword. It was the only area of his life he felt he had achieved something, but after a show he felt a huge comedown. It gave him a high, but also a severe low.” Pereira also said that McQueen felt “let down by friends who had taken advantage of who he was.”
Pereira prescribed McQueen antidepressants and referred him to a clinical psychologist, but he soon stopped taking the drugs and failed to appear at many of the appointments made with the psychologist. Pereira also stressed the impact on McQueen of the death of his mother, Joyce, on Feb. 2. “He was very close to his mother,” said Pereira. “[When she died] he felt that link had gone from his life, which made his life very difficult.”
Summing up the evidence, Knapman noted that “it is such a pity for a man from a modest start, who rose to the pinnacle of his profession in only a decade, to die in such tragedy,” he said. “It seems that he had a past history of self-harm, and no doubt fueled by cocaine, he resorted to desperate measures.”
Robert Polet, president, chief executive officer and chairman of Gucci Group, which owns a majority stake in McQueen’s label, and Jonathan Akeroyd, ceo of Alexander McQueen, issued a joint statement Wednesday following the inquest: “Today is a difficult day for all of us who knew and worked with Lee. Whatever the circumstances of his passing, Lee will be remembered by all of us who had the privilege of calling him a colleague and a friend as a rare talent, a true genius and a brilliant creative force, who has left us with a legacy that we will honor and cherish.”
McQueen’s family issued a statement through their lawyers: “Today’s inquest has obviously been very difficult for the family, as we are still coming to terms with the loss of Lee in such tragic circumstances. Those who were privileged to have known Lee will cherish the memory of him for all their lives. Lee was also a much-loved brother and son and we miss him terribly. We will make every effort to keep his memory alive.”