Vic Chesnutt, 45, a singer-songwriter of spare, idiosyncratic folk tunes tinged with melancholy, died Christmas day in Athens, Ga., after an intentional overdose of prescription muscle relaxants, a family spokesman said.
Paralyzed after a 1983 single-car accident when he was driving drunk at age 18, Mr. Chesnutt had limited use of his arms and hands but nonetheless carved out a career in music, which included being a guitarist. He was discovered in the late 1980s by REM frontman Michael Stipe, who championed his early recordings, and he gained the respect of music critics and fellow musicians who were struck by his darkly humorous songs.Chesnutt is reported to have said that car accident focused him as a musician and poet. He had attempted suicide several times before, but his latest album included Flirted With You All My Life which he wrote as a breakup song with death. In it he expresses his wish to live.
Among the risk factors for suicide are physical illness and barriers to accessing mental health treatment. Among the protective factors is support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships. Chesnutt had long-standing troubles with health insurance. Despite attempts to help:
In 1996 his songs were performed by Madonna, the Indigo Girls, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M. and others for “Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation” [ link], an album that benefited the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a nonprofit group that offers medical support for musicians.Just a few weeks ago he was a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. In that interview he discussed his dire health insurance situation:
Mr. CHESNUTT: I have been amazed and confused by the health care debate. We need health care reform. There is no doubt about it, we really need health care reform in this country. Because it’s absurd that somebody like me has to pay so much, it’s just too expensive in this country. It’s just ridiculously expensive. That they can take my house away for kidney stone operation is -that’s absurd.
GROSS: Is that what you’re facing the possibility of now?
Mr. CHESNUTT: Yeah. I mean, it could – I’m not sure exactly. I mean, I don’t have cash money to pay these people. I tried to pay them. I tried to make payments and then they finally ended up saying, no, you have to pay us in full now. And so, you know, I’m not sure what exactly my options are. I just – I really – you know, my feeling is that I think they’ve been paid, they’ve already been paid $100,000 from my insurance company. That seems like plenty. I mean, this would pay for like five or six of these operations in any other country in the world. You know, it affects – I mean, right now I need another surgery and I’ve putting it off for a year because I can’t afford it. And that’s absurd, I think.
I mean, I could actually lose a kidney. And, I mean, I could die only because I cannot afford to go in there again. I don’t want to die, especially just because of I don’t have enough money to go in the hospital. But that’s the reality of it. You know, I have a preexisting condition, my quadriplegia, and I can’t get health insurance.