Twice Gone: When I Lost a Close Friend to Depression, and Then to Suicide

Joel Eisenberg

Depression can be well-hidden. I did not understand the extent of my friend’s suffering until it was too late.

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There is no “right” time to post an article such as this. This is, in part, the true story of my friend, Marlon Parry, as I knew him. It is about putting a face to suicide.

It is also a cautionary piece about getting involved in the arts without a strong constitution, a plan if your vocation or avocation does not progress as anticipated, and balance.

This piece is personal, and I have no idea if Marlon would have approved of it (I suspect he would have); my decision is based on a judgement call, as I believe putting a face to the words here will help the story resonate and nudge others who have found themselves in similar positions to seek help if necessary.

My Friend

Marlon Parry was born on September 12, 1959 in Detroit, Michigan, and died by hanging on May 6, 2011. In hindsight maybe his Twitter account, which he opened just nine months prior in August of 2010, provided a clue.

“Official twitter for famed movie Producer Marlon Parry,” it said.

Looking back, that was the crux. The fact that Marlon was an independent filmmaker who worked hard yet didn’t have the breakout he had yet anticipated, did not in reality frame him as a “famed movie Producer.”

However, Marlon had a screenplay he had written that he and I were shopping. Though the project was in the horror genre, perhaps the script’s title was an earlier giveaway: “Hope Lost.”

Networking Group and Studio Days

Marlon and I both kept offices at Hollywood’s Sunset-Gower Studios. At the time of my occupancy, in addition to the usual writing and attempts at producing, I was running a filmmaker’s networking group to level the playing field between filmmakers and financiers.

We became friends, and he began attending my group. Shortly thereafter, he asked me to read his script.

“You told me you’re a fan of horror movies,” he said. “I have a vampire project you may be interested in.”

That’s how it started. From there, we had set up a number of meetings with production companies and prospective financiers. The meetings themselves seemed to go well, but in the end nothing landed.
Marlon to me represented the plight of those, including myself, who strived to create for a living. For any writer or other artist who creates soulfully, sometimes expending month upon month of effort on their work, hearing a simple “no” can be crushing.

Most artists know, logically, that rejection is part of the process. For some, that realization does not make things any easier.

Marlon told me he was getting “anxious” about moving this project forward.

“What choice do we have?” I said. “We need to keep going.”

Again, in hindsight … maybe not the greatest comeback.

As the weeks went on, Marlon, who had become a regular at my networking events, stopped coming. We continued to work together trying to find money for “Hope Lost,” but it was clear from his manner that he was discouraged. I was as well, but we needed to plow forward.

When it also became clear nothing was going to imminently happen regarding financing for his film, I saw him at the studio less and less. And, whereas he would previously immediately return phone calls, now he would take his time.

Late one day, Marlon unexpectedly stopped by my office. “I got a project,” he said. “Mysteria, with Danny Glover and Martin Landau. Fully financed. I’m one of the producers.”

I was thrilled for him and told him so. “After the shoot I want to join your group again,” he told me. “I just didn’t have the money before and was embarrassed to tell you.”

“I didn’t charge you the first time,” I said.

“I felt like I was taking advantage,” he said. “Anyway … congratulate me, dude!”

He de-aged a decade when expressing his enthusiasm. We were back on regular speaking terms, though from there forward mostly on the telephone as his new job beckoned.

“Hope Lost”

Marlon would call me from the set of “Mysteria” and tell me everything was going well. He would ask me about “our” project. I just couldn’t get the interest.

There is a point in the film business where you sometimes exhaust your immediate prospects. It is anathema to any degree of success to ever give up on a project, but there is also a point to where if no income is derived from it and yet you continue to spend, you need to move on and return to it later.
That’s where I was with “Hope Lost.” I received little to no real interest, and I felt the writing was on the wall for the time being.

For Marlon’s part, during a call where I reiterated the lack of forward momentum, he told me he understood.

I didn’t hear from him after. No call, no office visits … nothing. It was as though he never existed.

May 6, 2011

I was driving home at approximately 6:30 PM when my phone rang. It was a security guard at the studio’s front desk.

“Joel, are you still at the office?” she asked.

“I’m almost home.” She knew I lived in Northridge, about an hour away with the usual traffic at that hour.

She paused. “You didn’t hear?” she asked.

“Hear what?”

I heard her sigh before she delivered the news. “They found Marlon hanging in his office … Joel, he’s dead.” As I was processing the news, I heard the words “ambulance,” “cops,” and “I’m so sorry.

Everything else was a blur.

“Again …” was all I could manage, having gone through a similar circumstance with another friend years earlier.

“Did you know he was that depressed?” she asked me.

I told her I had to get off the phone and call her back. I called my wife with the news. They were both from Michigan and she and Marlon had hit it off.

She blamed “the business.”

Afterword

Months following Marlon’s death, I began hearing rumors at the studio that he had found an investor for “Hope Lost,” and that investor dropped. That was the first I had heard of it. Subsequently, following the loss of said “investor,” Marlon became involved in some questionable financial dealings to make up for that loss. He hid from people he allegedly hurt financially, which ultimately led to his suicide.

To be clear, I have no clue if any of this is true. I knew Marlon as a good guy. He was somewhat introverted, and his suicide was a shock as I did not know the extent of his desperation. For those who chose to whisper ill of him after he died, I ask, “What was the point?”

When I talk to filmmakers and writers during speaking engagements, I always bring up the necessity of managing expectations. The moon and the sun of disappointment and success are topics for which everyone in the arts should prepare.

Artists are largely sensitive. On repeat, taking rejection personally is not unusual as we pour so much of ourselves into our art. We need strong constitutions to make it all work. Creation with no sale or no audience is at best sporadically meaningful. The art lives … but who will see it other than you or those closest to you?

For those of you reading this who are not artists, understand that those of us who docreate for a living or a passion are different. For many if not most of us — and this is not a scientific, measured opinion, but based on four decades of close observance and study — artists need to create as we all need to breathe.

It is a necessity, a need as opposed to a want. Among the most emotionally injurious things one can say to an artist?

“Give it up, already. Get a real job.”

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented the following findings. I cannot speak of the mindset of those in the first two professions on the list. I can, however, speak about those involved with the third. This chart of the professions with the highest and lowest sucide rates in the U.S. is used with permission from www.registerednursing.org:

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In April of 2019, “Psychology Today” published the following article. I include that link here as well for informational purposes: The Suicidal Artist.

Again, my usage of Marlon Parry’s name in this article was my decision and mine alone. If his passing can save one life, that decision is validated.

I hope this piece helps those who need it.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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