RIP Elizabeth Wurtzel: Iconic GenX 'Prozac Nation' Author Dead At 52

She was only 52 years old.

How Did Elizabeth Wurtzel Die? New Details About 'Prozac Nation' Author's Tragic Death At 52 Instagram

Elizabeth Wurtzel exploded onto the literary scene in 1994 with her memoir Prozac Nation. The book was a manic ride through her years of drug abuse, sexual antics, and mood disorders throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Her story was so raw and messy that some critics called her "the Courtney Love of letters." 

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In the years that followed Prozac Nation, she published other books to mixed success, struggled with and overcame a drug addiction, went to law school, and got married. In 2015, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, due to a gene mutation that was the legacy of a man she hadn't known was her biological father. 

This week, Wurtzel passed away at the age of 52. How did Elizabeth Wurtzel die?

1. Wurtzel grew up in Manhattan. 

Wurtzel started her life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, raised by parents Lynne Winters and Donald Wurtzel. Winters worked at Random House publishing and Donald Wurtzel worked at IBM, though they split up when she was only two years old. The family was Jewish and Wurtzel attended Ramaz School, a private Orthodox Jewish school on the Upper East Side of New York.


She started writing at an early age, penning books about her pets when she as young as six years old. Her struggles with depression began in her early adolescence and she wrote later about being bedridden with depression and cutting herself when he was 11 years old.

She went to Harvard as an undergrad and worked on the school paper there, even receiving a major college journalism award from Rolling Stone. Her early work wasn't all glorious, however; she was fired from an internship at the Dallas Morning News over charges of plagiarism. 

2. She published Prozac Nation when she was 27 years old.

After college, Wurtzel was working as a rock critic in New York. She also started the task of adapting an essay she had written about her Harvard years into a memoir about depression. She originally called it "I Hate Myself And Want To Die," and publishers weren't sure what to do with the manuscript.

"I was encouraged to either turn it into a novel or make it more of a sociological study of depression in young people or something,” she later said of the book


The critical response was mixed. While some hailed it as a brave look at the real struggles young people were facing at the time, others thought it self-indulgent and narcissistic.

"It got a lot of nasty reviews and I think a lot of people did have this feeling of ‘What’s this privileged person doing complaining?’” Wurtzel recalled. “Although I think I make this point in the book that that’s the thing about depression — it’s ridiculous. It’s about being sad about nothing.”



A post shared by Elizabeth Wurtzel (@elizabethwurtzel) on May 8, 2019 at 6:39am PDT


A photo from the cover shoot for Prozac Nation.

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3. Depression and addiction are a frightening combination.

While Wurtzel's next few years were marked by success as a writer, they were personally difficult: She was suffering from uncontrolled bipolar disorder and she was also addicted to drugs.

In her 2002 memoir More, Now, Again, she confessed she had been abusing Ritalin and cocaine and that she had written most of her second book Bitch: In Praise Of Difficult Women while high. She got clean in 1998, taking only the drugs to control her mood disorders. 

4. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

In 2015, as Wurtzel was preparing to marry James Freed, a writer she had been dating since 2013, she learned that she had breast cancer. After the diagnosis, she was tested for BRCA mutation and discovered that she was positive for the genetic predisposition for the disease.


She had not thought to be tested before then and regretted not doing so, since knowing she had the mutation would have allowed her to choose a prophylactic mastectomy before she got cancer. "I could have had a mastectomy with reconstruction and skipped the part where I got cancer," she wrote. "I feel like the biggest idiot for not doing so."

She encouraged others of Ashkenazi Jewish descent to get the testing done since Ashkenazi Jews have and increased risk of the BRCA mutation. She speculated that it had been handed down through her father's bloodline. She was correct, as it turns out, but not in the way she thought. 

5. Her father was not who she thought he was.

Wurtzel was not close to Donald Wurtzel. Her parents had divorced and she only saw the man she thought was her father once a week after that. By the time she was 14, he had disappeared from her life completely. They tried to reconnect later on, but she wrote that by the time he died in 2014, she hadn't seen him in 13 years.

She did, however, have a good relationship with a man called Bob Adelman, who had been a neighbor and the father of a friend when she was growing up. Adelman was a famous photographer, best known for the striking photo of MLK giving the 'I Have A Dream' speech. After his death, Wurtzel found out that Adelman was her biological father.


Her mother had had an affair with him and gotten pregnant. Elizabeth's mom stayed with Donald Wurtzel for several years after that but ultimately left in part due to the knowledge that her baby was not his daughter. She never told him and he died not knowing he wasn't Wurtzel's biological father. 

6. How did Elizabeth Wurtzel die?

While her initial treatment for cancer was successful and she showed no evidence of disease afterward, she did face recurrence of the disease. Cancer spread to her brain and led to leptomeningeal disease, which occurs when cancer spreads to the cerebrospinal fluid. Complications from that led to her death this week at the age of 52. 



A post shared by Elizabeth Wurtzel (@elizabethwurtzel) on Aug 13, 2019 at 7:01am PDT

Wurtzel's final Instagram post.


Wurtzel is survived by her husband James Freed and her mother Lynne Winters. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.