Mariel Hemingway was born into one of the most famous families of recent times – and one of the most troubled. Although greatly talented, highly intelligent, and extremely attractive, members of the family struggled with depression, trauma, eating disorders, addiction – and ultimately suicide.
But Mariel Hemingway is determined to change all that. Her efforts to normalize discussion about these and other mental health issues have helped patients across the world find the help they need. By facing her own problems head-on, Mariel has opened the discussion on mental health.
Even before she took center stage as an actress and an advocate, Mariel Hemingway was destined to be famous. Her grandfather who she never met was American author Ernest Hemingway. He was known by family and friends as “Papa” and was one of the most acclaimed writers of 20th-century fiction and the winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was however plagued with mental health issues, including depression, and he ultimately killed himself on July 2, 1961 – three months before Mariel’s birth on November 22 of that same year.
Mariel was the third daughter born to Hemingway’s son Jack (also a writer) and his wife, Byra Louise Whittlesey Hemingway. Her older sisters included Joan – called Muffet – who was born in 1950, and Margot – later known as Margaux – who was seven years Mariel’s senior.
Mariel was born in Mill Valley, California, and named for a Cuban fishing port Papa used to frequent. She and her sisters grew up in Ketcham, Idaho, in the shadow of the Hemingway legacy – and its “curse,” according to some.
It was Margaux, not Mariel, who left Idaho with dreams of stardom. The glamorous beauty became popular as a supermodel, famously receiving the first million-dollar contract ever given to a spokesmodel.
Not surprisingly, Margaux was cast as the model Chrissy McCormick in the movie Lipstick, a psychological thriller about rape and revenge. When she learned her character would have a little sister, Margaux requested the role be played by her own little sister, Mariel. In later years, Mariel has said this was surprising to her. She and Margaux were seven years apart and not particularly close. Still, Mariel embraced the opportunity to make the film – and get closer to her sister.
Only 13 when filming began, Mariel Hemingway brought such a fresh, unaffected air to her role of Kathy McCormick that she began receiving notice for her acting abilities. In 1976, Mariel was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for “Best Newcomer.” She was thrilled – but also troubled that her sister was being overlooked, or, even worse, being criticized as an actress. Many compared the two performances, heaping praise on Mariel while noting Margaux was wooden and unnatural. Although she later took several supporting roles, Margaux’s career never really came back after her disappointing debut in Lipstick.
But for Mariel, her star was only beginning to rise.
If Lipstick was the world’s introduction to Mariel, it would be the Woody Allen movie Manhattan that would establish her as a rising supernova in show business circles. The movie features a fresh-faced 17-year-old named Tracy (played by Mariel, who was 19 when filming began) who is the muse and lover of 42-year-old Isaac (Allen). The black-and-white, bittersweet love story was critically acclaimed at the time (and still has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94%). Mariel received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress (losing to costar Meryl Streep for her role in Kramer vs. Kramer).
Manhattan didn’t just bring critical acclaim for Mariel. It also brought many offers of high-profile roles, including Personal Best (1982), in which she played a bisexual track athlete, and Star 80 (1983), which starred Mariel as tragic Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten. Through the years, Mariel has been featured in a plethora of movies. She has also appeared on many TV shows, probably the most infamous being the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” episode of Roseanne (1994), during which Hemingway, in the role of Sharon, shared a passionate kiss with the titular Roseanne Conner.
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Despite her success, Mariel’s life was marred with dysfunction, mental illness, and sadness. As a young actress, Mariel had her own struggles with depression. She also lived in the shadow of what some have called the “Hemingway curse” – a familial predisposition to depression, addiction, self-destruction, and, ultimately, suicide. In 1984, Mariel’s sister Margaux was in a skiing accident. Margaux gained significant weight during her recovery, which only deepened her depression. Many attempts to revive her career fell short. Determined to overcome her alcoholism, Margaux checked into the Betty Ford Clinic. But she never escaped the depression that started in childhood. In 1996, Margaux killed herself by taking an intentional overdose of barbiturates. She was the fifth member of her family to commit suicide in four generations.
Shaken, Mariel began to recognize her own demons. She also came to terms with the dysfunction in her childhood. This included realizing her father had sexually assaulted her older sisters. Mariel became determined to break the cycle of secrecy that cursed her family. The first step? A 2013 documentary called “Running from Crazy,” in which Mariel reflects on the Hemingway family history of depression and suicide. After the documentary aired, Mariel realized how many people are suffering from similar mental health issues. She became determined to become part of the solution.
Following the documentary, Mariel Hemingway became even more passionate about assisting those with mental health issues. She used her platform as a public figure to openly discuss the many issues she and her family have faced. Mariel Hemingway noted the first step towards erasing the shame and stigma of mental illness is talking about our experiences. In 2021, Mariel founded the Mariel Hemingway Foundation with the mission to compassionately connect patients to the best resources, including qualified practitioners, technologies, and treatments.
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With a last name like Hemingway, Mariel had to do very little to be noticed. At 6 foot tall with those cheekbones and that skin, she may seem to be a woman who has it all. But Mariel wanted to be more than just a pretty face and a family name. She decided the only way to stop the stigma surrounding mental illness was to put a face to it. She has become an advocate and warrior for those who are struggling and suffering. By doing so, she has helped others find the help they need.
As Mariel said in an August 2022 tweet, “If you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to take time for your illness. Move into taking responsibility for your mental, physical and emotional health. It matters, and they work together.”