Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hollywood: Bipolar Meets Creative Meets Personality

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Just a few quick observations on reports of Catherine Zeta-Jones being treated for bipolar II. I tend to avoid Hollywood stories, but it pays to jump in every once in awhile to clear up some confusion. As everyone knows, the film industry is over-populated with two types of individuals: 1) Those who are creative, and 2) Those who are A-holes (and I do not include Ms Zeta-Jones in this category). Bipolar may drive both phenomena, but not always. That’s where the confusion begins.


    Ronald Fieve is the author of “Bipolar II,” which includes in the subtitle “enhance your highs.” Many of the patients he sees in his Manhattan practice have high-profile careers in the media and business. These are your go-go types, highly energetic and creative who occasionally crash. But a brief time-out and they’re back in the game.

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    Dr Fieve believes these individuals fall into a special subtype of bipolar II that should be called “beneficial.” Indeed, he uses the term “hypomanic advantage.”

    A few weeks ago I heard Hagop Akiskal, the leading proponent of the mood spectrum, address DBSA San Diego. Dr Akiskal cautioned that those with creative accomplishments tend to be those with bipolar II or family members (who have more dilute bipolar traits). Those with bipolar I, he said, tend to have too much to contend with.

    Hollywood is crawling with individuals in the bipolar spectrum. This includes the entire industry, from set designers to the FX people to those who grace the cover of People magazine. Since they are thriving, it is unfair to refer to them as bipolar. They just happened to be a bit luckier in the gene pool lottery than us.

    Those with our kind of bipolar in the film industry tend to be fairly quiet about it. Talent is one thing, but the thing that Hollywood values most is showing up. 


    Very few qualities in life are either all-good or all-bad. In Hollywood, it really helps to have narcissistic traits. Histrionic also works, as does certain behavior you wouldn’t tolerate in a two-year old. Then there’s Charlie Sheen. Next thing, the term “bipolar” is being loosely bandied about. Alas, this is the ironic effect of greater public awareness of bipolar. Now, when people encounter someone who is behaving atrociously the assumption is he has to be bipolar.

    No, I find myself protesting again and again. The person you are talking about is an A-hole.

    Bipolar may drive A-hole behavior, but it doesn’t just turn nice guys into A-holes. Neither does it turn stuck-in-the-muds into Oscar winners. Some base elements need to be there first.

    So, does Charlie Sheen have bipolar? Maybe, maybe not. Is he an A-hole? I rest my case.

    Enter Marilyn

    It seems my favorite actress of all time had all the elements working for (and against) her - creative, A-hole, bipolar. Her larger-than-life personality molded her into Marilyn. But she was also notoriously difficult to get along with and often a no-show on the set. In the end, she paid in full measure.

  • If there is anything to learn from Marilyn it is that there is no simple way to break down behavior. Life is way too complicated for that. Bipolar is but one piece to the puzzle.

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    As For Catherine

    She was obviously leading a successful life. But then, it seems, life got too much to handle. She needed a break. This seems normal to me. She may have bipolar, but if it does come up in a “normal” context, well, how refreshing.

    Wishing you well, Catherine. From a big fan of yours ...

Published On: April 14, 2011