This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Hope can come from unexpected places. For Bill Murray, a moment in front of a painting helped him choose life when he was contemplating suicide as a struggling young comedian.
The actor, who is 70, reportedly recalled the incident in 2014, but his comments are now getting attention after a video of the talk was posted this week on Twitter by Todd Spence, a filmmaker in Los Angeles.
In the clip, Murray said that when he started performing in Chicago, he “wasn’t very good.”
“I remember my first experience on the stage — I was so bad, I just walked out on the street and started walking. I walked for a couple of hours and I realized I had walked the wrong direction — not just the wrong direction in terms of where I lived, but the wrong direction in terms of a desire to stay alive,” he recalled.
Murray decided to head towards Lake Michigan thinking that “if I’m going to die… maybe I’ll float for a while,” he said. On the way, he ended up in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and decided to just head inside. He didn’t feel like he had any place being there, but walked through “because I was ready to die,” the actor recalled.
That’s when he saw “The Song of the Lark,” an 1884 painting by French artist Jules Adolphe Breton depicting a peasant woman standing in a field with a glorious orange sunrise behind her. She pauses to listen to a bird's morning melody.
“I’ve always loved this painting,” Murray said. “I saw it that day and I just thought, ‘Well, there’s a girl who doesn’t have a lot of prospects, but the sun is coming up anyway, and she’s got another chance at it.’ So I think that gave me some sort of feeling that I, too, am a person and get another chance every day the sun comes up.”
The painting was Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite work of art and declared the most popular painting in America in a 1934 poll, the museum said in a Facebook post.
Murray has talked about experiencing mental health struggles, including depression, at other points in his life.
“No person could make me smile, no person could make me glad in any way. I was a really, really unfortunate character for a pretty long time,” he told The Washington Post last year about the aftermath of a breakup and finding comfort in another form of art — this time through music and a John Prine record.