It’s been years since I first talked to comic Richard Jeni, but no one who had ever met him could forget how much he made you laugh.
Few comics are happy-go-lucky people, it just doesn’t go with the territory. Richard was no exception. He had his demons and his doubts. It takes a different kind of person to step up on stage all alone night after night pouring out your guts – and getting heckled in the process.
This past weekend, Richard’s demons overtook him and he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His family released this statement:
“Often times, when we are faced with a sudden and tragic loss, there is a natural curiosity – a need to know what exactly happened.
The family of Richard Jeni would like to put to rest any assumptions as to the cause of Richard’s death. Despite the fact that the coroner’s office has publicly stated that a suicide ruling will take two weeks, pending the results of an autopsy, Richard Jeni did take his own life.
Rumors have been circulating as to the cause of his death and have included speculation of Richard being depressed over the state of his career or a physical ailment. His career was not even addressed by his specialists when they were trying to diagnose Richard’s illness. In fact, he had just enjoyed one of his most financially rewarding years to date. He was consistently creating new material for his busy touring schedule, and during the last week of his life, he had meetings scheduled with Chris Albrecht, the president of HBO, to discuss future projects following his last HBO special. In actuality, the past few years had been more prolific than ever. As his agents can attest, prior to his illness, Richard only missed one engagement in over twenty years, and that was due to weather.
The truth is: earlier this year Richard Jeni was diagnosed with severe clinical depression coupled with bouts of psychotic paranoia. One only needs to have a family member or friend with a mental illness to understand that there is nothing rational, predictable, or fair about these diseases. Mental illness is as serious as any physical affliction and can be just as devastating.
He was not down or blue, he was ill. If you knew Richard, you could understand, this was as much a shock to those close to him, as it is to his fans and colleagues. Perhaps Richard’s passing will encourage people to have sympathy, compassion and understanding for those who are afflicted with mental illness. As we are all trying to make sense of this, take time to remember the joy and laughter Richard brought to the countless people he touched during his much too short life.”