Carol King: Heartbreak from Drugs and Schizophrenia

Carol King - Heartbreak from Mental Health encounters

There’ll be good times again for me and you
But we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it too
Still, I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you

But it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died, and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, Oh no, no no no, no

– Carol King, “It’s Too Late” from Tapestry

For Carol King, one of the most successful singers and songwriters in modern music history, stability and happiness in her life always seemed to arrive “too late.” While she herself never suffered from drug addiction or a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, her husbands struggled with substance use disorder, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. In her struggle to understand and care for them, King was married and divorced four times.

Reflecting on her failed marriages in her memoir A Natural Woman, King wrote:

When I look back at my relationships with men, I see a pattern. As a child, my strong will juxtaposed with wanting to please my father. Because my father had been so effective in making things happen, I grew to believe it was easier to take strong, steady action toward a goal with a man to help me get there.

King’s acclaimed 40-year career consists of 25 solo albums, four Grammy Awards, and the distinction of being the first woman to be inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Her album Tapestry held the record for staying at #1 on the charts longer than any other album for 20 years. She is also the first woman to win the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. However, underneath these successes and the accolades that came with them, Carol King encountered heartbreak and setbacks trying to find her soul mate, her sense of self-worth, and the emotional consistency she had been searching for since she was a little girl.

A Dysfunctional Childhood and Adulthood

King endured years of coping with her parents fighting, separating, divorcing, and remarrying. She explains how this constant turmoil made her feel in her memoir:

When my parents fought, my mantra became, “I just want everyone to be happy.” I put so much hope and time into trying to keep my parents together. But, I was just a child and I couldn’t do it. My inability to stop my parents from fighting left me with a profound need to find my own family and home with people who really supported and loved each other. I believe my four marriages were an attempt to identify what I had craved as a child and teenager.

Carol King met her first husband when she was 16 years old. She married Gerry Goffin when she was 17 and had her first child at 18. After the birth of her and Goffin’s second child, King noticed Goffin beginning to act strangely. She wrote in “A Natural Woman” that he:

…would lose touch with reality for weeks, with periodic episodes of creativity and lucidness. His increasingly erratic and paranoid behavior, fueled by LSD use, was diagnosed initially as schizophrenia, then later as manic. When doctors wanted to give Goffin electroshock treatments, I felt I had no choice but to give consent and have him committed.

At the time Goffin exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia, the options for treating mental illnesses were limited. Medications prescribed for schizophrenia and manic-depression (bipolar disorder) in the 1960s and 1970s consisted of electroshock therapy (EST) or potent sedatives like Thorazine and Haldol.

While these “typical antipsychotics” reduced symptoms, they caused severe side effects and did nothing to stabilize brain chemicals responsible for the hallucinations and delusions. The horrors of electroshock therapy graphically presented in the 1975 film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” prompted protests and backlash from society when the film debuted in theaters. King noted in her memoir that watching the scene where Jack Nicholson receives EST devastated her emotionally. The guilt she felt over knowing she permitted her second husband to undergo EST haunted her for years.

Her second marriage to bass player Charles Larkey resulted in the birth of two more children and a few years of happiness. However, they divorced after six years of marriage due to what King describes as “disparate schedules.”

Rick Evers, King’s third husband, was physically and financially abusive. She writes in her autobiography about Evers:

I had always been judgmental about women who remained in abusive relationships. I’d always thought if I found myself with someone like that, I’d be out of there in a NY minute the first time he struck me. I would never stay with an abuser–until I did.

Evers died of a drug overdose at age 31. After marrying and divorcing her fourth husband during the 1980s, King moved to Idaho, avoided the music scene, and became passionately involved in environmental causes. She later teamed with James Taylor to record several songs and has continued making environmental and political activism appearances.

Strategies for Coping with Mental Health Conditions

For help coping with a mental health condition, consider contacting a mental health facility like Restore. They should be able to recommend some self-care and healthcare resources. Here are some more strategies that can help you cope with a loved one’s mental and emotional problems:

  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s mental illnesses–symptoms, available treatments, and long-term prognosis. Knowing more about the condition will also help you recognize and address the stigma associated with mental illness.
  • Listen empathetically to your loved one. Validate your loved one’s experiences and acknowledge their pain. Remember, hearing voices or hallucinating is a genuine, often terrifying experience for someone with schizophrenia.
  • Be patient, non-judgmental, and compassionate. Try to strike a balance between being realistic and being hopeful. Understand that “recovering” from a mental illness is nothing like recovering from the flu. A person diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder must deal with that illness for the rest of their lives.
  • As a family, discuss achievable expectations about your loved one’s treatment. Talk about the options regarding counseling, support groups, and, if applicable, caregiving duties.
  • Show genuine concern for your loved one’s struggles. Share your fears and doubts with them. Let them know that you support them and care for them.
  • Seek support for yourself. Talk to a friend, a family member, or a therapist who can help you manage the stress and reduce burnout.
  • Fight stigma and misperception about mental illness through increased public education and advocacy. You can help educate others about the realities of living with mental illness and empathizing with those who suffer from these illnesses.
  • Finally, if you or someone you know is being impacted by a loved one struggling with mental health or addiction issues, be proactive and don’t hesitate to reach out for support and advice from doctors and therapists specializing in mental illness and substance abuse disorders.