Obituary

Author of Prozac Nation dies of cancer

Elizabeth Wurtzel (above) in a photo taken in 2007. Her 1994 memoir Prozac Nation detailing her struggles with depression won her both praise and criticism.
Elizabeth Wurtzel (above) in a photo taken in 2007. Her 1994 memoir Prozac Nation detailing her struggles with depression won her both praise and criticism. PHOTOS: NYTIMES, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Elizabeth Wurtzel in a photo taken in 2007. Her 1994 memoir Prozac Nation (above) detailing her struggles with depression won her both praise and criticism.
Elizabeth Wurtzel in a photo taken in 2007. Her 1994 memoir Prozac Nation (above) detailing her struggles with depression won her both praise and criticism. PHOTOS: NYTIMES, ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK • Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose blunt and painful confessions of her struggles with addiction and depression in best-selling book Prozac Nation made her a voice and target for an anxious generation, died this week after a long battle with cancer. She was 52.

Her husband Jim Freed said she died in a Manhattan hospital.

Prozac Nation was published in 1994 when Wurtzel was in her mid-20s and it set off a debate that lasted for much of her life.

Critics praised her for her candour and also accused her of self-pity and self-indulgence, vices she fully acknowledged.

Wurtzel wrote of growing up in a home torn by divorce, cutting herself when she was in her early teens and spending her adolescence in a storm of tears, drugs, bad love affairs and family fights.

"I don't mean to sound like a spoiled brat," she wrote.

"I know that into every sunny life a little rain must fall and all that, but in my case the crisis-level hysteria is an all-too-recurring theme."

Wurtzel became a celebrity, a symbol and, for some, a punchline.

Newsweek called her "the famously depressed Elizabeth Wurtzel". She was ridiculed after a 2002 interview with The Toronto Globe And Mail in which she spoke dismissively of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks from the year before.

"I just felt, like, everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me," she noted, remarks that she later said were misrepresented.

But many readers embraced her story and would credit her with helping them face their own troubles.

News of her death was met with expressions of grief and gratitude.

Writer Anne Theriault tweeted: "It's hard for me to even articulate how important Prozac Nation was to me at a certain point in my life."

Author Sady Doyle lamented that Wurtzel was regarded as a "Sad Example Of Something - female memoir writers, women who got famous for being themselves, young women generally".

"And to see her gone so young is a harsh reminder of how cruel that was," she tweeted.

Wurtzel's other books included Bitch: In Praise Of Difficult Women and More, Now, Again: A Memoir Of Addiction.

Her essays were published in The New York Times, New York magazine and other publications.

In a 2015 piece for the Times, she described her initial success in fighting her cancer diagnosis.

"I live in an age of miracles and wonders, when they cure cancer with viruses. If I ever meet cancer again, I will figure it out.

"You see, I am very Jewish, which is to say... I am undefeated by the worst," she wrote.

"But I would have preferred to skip this. That would have been much better."

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Author of Prozac Nation dies of cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe