Glenn Close describes shock at sister's confession she was suicidal

Glenn Close reveals she was rocked by her sister’s suicidal confession and ashamed she hadn’t seen the signs sooner – as she tells Harry and Oprah that mental health was a taboo topic in her family

  • Glenn Close, 74, said she felt ‘shame’ when her sister revealed she was suicidal 
  • Oscar nominee gave interview to Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry on Thursday 
  • Close to spoke Winfrey and Harry for Apple TV+ series The Me You Can’t See 
  • Fatal Attraction star said her sister, Jessie, was diagnosed as bipolar at age 50 
  • Close revealed Jessie confided to her that she was having suicidal thoughts 
  • Jessie’s son, Calen, has also been diagnosed with schizophrenia, it was learned 
  • Close told Winfrey and Harry that she moved to Montana to be with Jessie 
  • Last week, Close described trauma of childhood in which she grew up in a ‘cult’ 
  • For free and confidential support for people in distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255

Glenn Close says that she carried ‘shame’ and ‘felt horrible’ when she learned that her sister was having suicidal thoughts after decades in which her career kept her apart from her family.

The Oscar-nominated actress, 74, spoke candidly to Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry in the most recent episode of their Apple TV+ docuseries special on mental health, The Me You Can’t See, that aired on Thursday.

On last week’s episode, Close revealed that she still bears psychological scars from a childhood in which she grew up in what she now describes as a ‘cult.’

The Fatal Attraction star also said that her sister, Jessie, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 50 after a lifetime of struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Close said that there was a disconnect between her and her family. As she pursued a highly successful acting career in New York, her sister was struggling with turmoil in Montana.

Glenn Close, 74, describes the ‘shame’ she felt when she learned that her sister, Jessie, was having suicidal thoughts

The Oscar-nominated actress (center) on Thursday spoke about her family’s struggles with mental health during an interview with Prince Harry (left) and Oprah Winfrey (right), who are co-producing an Apple TV+ docuseries The Me You Can’t See

Glenn Close said she had no idea that her sister, Jessie Close (seen right with Glenn in New York City in 2015), was struggling with suicidal thoughts

Prince Harry asked Close to recall the moment that she learned of her sister’s condition.

‘It was a shocking moment, ‘cause my career had really separated me from my family, and we didn’t have access to iPhones the way we do now,’ Close recalled on Thursday.

‘It was telephone or letters, right? And we did not pick up the phone a lot, so we were visiting my parents, and Jessie came up to me and said “I need help because I can’t stop thinking about killing myself.”

‘And I had no clue that she was dealing with that.

‘She said, “There’s a voice in my head saying ‘Kill yourself, kill yourself’.”

Family unit: Glenn (center) grew up alongside elder sisters Tina (left) and younger sibling Jessie (right). Glenn says there were signs of Jessie’s struggles at a young age but that she simply did not have the tools to stage an intervention

Glenn said that Jessie’s diagnosis filled her with regret for not being able to see the signs earlier in life.

‘Of course I felt shame that I…didn’t know what the indicators were,’ she told Winfrey and Prince Harry.

In retrospect, Glenn recalled her sister frequently harming herself, though at the time there were no tools to stage an intervention.

‘I do remember when she was a very little girl that she would stand there and do this [scratching motion] with her hand until it was all bloody,’ the actress said.

‘She would make herself bleed. Today we know that that’s a major red flag, and she could have had early intervention.’

After a lifetime of struggling with mental illness and not receiving any treatment for it, Glenn took a suicidal Jessie to hospital in 2004 where the then 50-year-old was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Jessie, whose 40-year-old son Calen was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2000, was married five times and frequently abused drugs and alcohol.

‘I started drinking when I was 14. Between the ages of 17 to 29, I tried probably every drug in the book. I loved LSD, cocaine, any pills I could get my hands on. Speed kind of smoothed out the mania,’ she recalled in 2014.

During an episode of the docuseries last week, Glenn spoke about the mental health problems that have plagued her family, including her sister’s battle with bipolar

‘Then I would take something to come down. I tried to kill myself twice before I was 2. I took a bunch of muscle relaxers when I was 16. When I was 19, I tried to kill myself with a whole bag of speed. My husband got a neighbour who was a nurse to pump my stomach.

‘I couldn’t really go to my family. We were doing our own things. I thought my sisters and brother were pretty lame. They weren’t drinkers or druggers. We had absolutely nothing in common.’

Jessie was wrought with guilt after her son’s diagnosis, believing that she was to blame.

‘It absolutely terrified me,’ she confessed. ‘This beautiful child had this horrendous mental illness. And I instinctively knew I had passed it on to him. But I wasn’t thinking, “What about me?” When you have a child that sick, you don’t look at yourself.’

Four years later, Jessie told Glenn that she was considering suicide, and the star took her to McLean Hospital where she was told she has bipolar disorder.

‘There was a voice saying, “Kill yourself, kill yourself,”’ Jessie said.

‘I knew if I told her, I might not do it. And I had to not do it because I had three children. Those three kept me alive. Knowing what kind of horror I’d leave behind for my children stopped me.’ 

Close told Winfrey and Prince Harry that she has spent the last 15 months with Jessie in Montana. She said being near her sister during the pandemic has been therapeutic.

‘As far as I’m concerned…I was very, very blessed to be here for the last year and three months with COVID, dealing with COVID – to be here with my family and to be in a family bubble instead of by myself in an apartment in New York,’ she said.

‘I think it has directly affected my mental health. It helped that I had a dog.’

She added: ‘We have gone through an amazing, unprecedented time now. For me, I think it’s as big a shift in the world as 9/11 was.

Candid: Glenn revealed the ‘devastating’ impact of growing up in a cult in an emotional appearance on Prince Harry and Oprah’s new Apple TV+ mental health docuseries

Emotional: Glenn, who has been married three times, stated, ‘I have not been successful in my relationships and finding a permanent partner and I’m sorry about that’

‘We now are in a transforming world. It will take us a while to be able to articulate to ourselves what the result of that has been on us as individuals, and I think it’s really important – I feel it personally – to take the time in solitude, in quiet, to figure out how you have changed and how has it affected how you look out on the world and what your mental health is because I’ve felt it dramatically.’ 

Last week, the 74-year-old actress spoke candidly about her childhood trauma. 

When she was still a child, Glenn’s late father, Dr William Taliaferro Close, became enamored with a conservative new religious group Moral Re-Armament.

Eventually he moved the family to the organization’s headquarters in Switzerland, effectively cutting Glenn off from the life she once knew. 

Speaking about her traumatic experience on the show, Glenn said: ‘I was in this group called MRA and it was basically a cult, everyone spouted the same things and there’s a lot of rules, a lot of control. 

‘Because of how we were raised, anything you thought you’d do for yourself was considered selfish.  We never went on any vacations or had any collective memories of stuff other than what we went through, which was really awful.’

Detailing the impact this had on her mental health, Glenn explained: ‘We were so broken up. It’s astounding that something you go through at such a young stage in your life still has such a potential to be destructive.

‘I think that’s childhood trauma, because of the devastation, emotional and psychological, of the cult.’

Glenn, who has been married three times, added: ‘I have not been successful in my relationships and finding a permanent partner and I’m sorry about that. 

Childhood: When Glenn was seven, her parents entered the controversial international spiritual movement Moral Re-Armament (pictured centre with sister Tina and her parents) 

Second marriage: Glenn was married to businessman James Marlas from 1984 to 1987 (pictured in 1984) after leaving the cult 

Third marriage: In 2015, Glenn divorced her third husband David Shaw in 2015 after nine years of marriage

Former flame: Glenn has also been in relationships with actor Len Cariou and producer John Starke (pictured) with whom she has a daughter Annie, 27

‘I think it’s our natural state to be connected like that. I don’t think you ever change your trigger points but at least you can be aware of them and at least you can maybe avoid situations that might make you vulnerable, especially in relationships’.

Laughing, she added: ‘It’s probably why we all have our dogs!’

When Glenn was seven, her parents entered the controversial international spiritual movement Moral Re-Armament – revolving around the idea that changing the world begins with change in the individual – founded in 1938 by the Rev Frank Buchman, an evangelical fundamentalist from Pennsylvania. 

Glenn and her siblings were sent to live at the group’s headquarters in Switzerland for two years while their father was in Africa, and the family would remain part of MRA for 15 years. 


Glenn’s family joined the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) when she was seven.

In 2001, the movement was renamed Initiatives of Change,

The group is an international moral and spiritual movement developed from American minister Frank Buchman’s Oxford Group –  a Christian organisation.

 Initiatives of Change has spiritual roots but no religious affiliation, and invites ‘those with a faith…both to explore the roots of their own tradition, and to discover and respect the beliefs of others.’

Initiatives of Change has programs in over 60 countries including the US, India, UK and Switzerland.

They describe themselves as ‘a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.’

Glenn was left having nightmares about her time with MRA and has spoken openly of the time she’s spent in therapy.

It was while she was in the movement that Glenn sang with the ultra-clean-cut group Up With People, and it was there too that she met her first two husbands.

The first marriage, which she has called ‘a kind of arranged marriage’, ended before she even left MRA. She wed Cabot Wade, a guitarist and songwriter in 1969, with the couple divorcing three years later.    

She finally broke with MRA – she’s never spoken of how – to enter the prestigious College of William and Mary in Virginia to study drama at the age of 22. 

During this time she was married to businessman James Marlas from 1984 to 1987.

In 2015, Glenn divorced her third husband David Shaw in 2015 after nine years of marriage. 

Glenn has also been in relationships with actor Len Cariou and producer John Starke, with whom she has a daughter Annie, 27.

She was also engaged for four years to carpenter Steve Beer whom she met while starring in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway in the mid-1990s.

The actress was also romantically linked to actor Robert Pastorelli who found fame as Candice Bergen’s house painter in the TV series Murphy Brown.     

The pair met in 1999 and Pastorelli went on to star opposite Close in a TV version of the musical South Pacific in 2001 and on stage opposite her in a 2002 production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Pastorelli was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home in 2004 at the age of 49.

A spokesperson for Initiatives Of Change told MailOnline: ‘Initiatives of Change (formerly Moral Re-Armament) acknowledges the difficulties experienced by some who were children in the 1950s and 60s, one or both of whose parents were working with Moral Re-Armament (MRA) for reconciliation and peace on another continent. Glenn Close was one of these children.

‘Most of the parents had lived through two world wars, and there was a real fear of a third. They believed their work could help to avert this. This sometimes meant responding to requests from elsewhere in the world and, in an era when air travel was expensive, this could mean long absences.

‘For some children, the absence of their parents and frequent changes in caregivers cast a shadow over their childhoods and their adult lives. Others have happier memories.

‘MRA has supported those who have sought help, as has its successor. 

‘Today, Initiatives of Change is a multi-belief, multi-cultural network of people and programmes promoting values-based leadership, social responsibility and sustainable living. 

Proud mother: Glenn’s daughter Annie Starke, 33, is also an actress and the pair have a strong bond with one another 

‘It runs public conferences, dialogues and training, and supports community initiatives, all based on the Gandhian principle that we need to be the change we want to see in the world.’

Reflecting on her decision to stay separate from Hollywood and return to Montana to be along her family, she said: ‘Here I am at this point in my life after 45 years that I’ve been an actress, getting comfort and companionship on a regular basis from my family. I’ve come home to them’. 

Glenn grew up alongside elder sisters Tina and younger sibling Jessie, who battled with her own mental health demons throughout her life. 

Glenn said being around her sisters has kept her ‘psychologically grounded’, but grew emotional as she spoke about Jessie’s struggles. 

Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar at the age of 50 after a lifetime of struggling with suicidal thoughts. 

Glenn recalled: ‘Jessie was always considered the wild one, the rebel, but when she came up to me one summer at my parents house in Wyoming, her kids were already in the car, and she came up to me and said “I need help, I can’t stop thinking about killing myself”, and for me it was a shock. 

‘She ended up in hospital I took her there. She was finally at age 50 properly diagnosed with bipolar one with psychotic tendencies.’

Welling up, Glenn continued: ‘Jessie told me that she was afraid if parents found out that she had bipolar, they wouldn’t let their children play with her daughter.’

Jessie then addressed the camera to add: ‘I still have a little hesitation and embarrassment when I say I’m depressive bipolar one. 

‘I’m quite steady now, I no longer have psychotic thoughts. I had a swirl going round my brain telling me to kill myself until I was on the proper medication. It’s not fun having a voice in your head telling you to commit suicide all the time, and if it wasn’t for my children I probably would have.’ 

Jessie then spoke about more mental illness in their family, revealing that her eldest son Calen had been hospitalized for two years with schizophrenia and her battle to ensure he was cared for.  

For free and confidential support for people in distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 

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