The suicide of handbag queen Kate Spade in New York at the age of 55 on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, shook the world. The tragic event sparked a lot of saddened global discussion about depression in middle age and invisible mental health issues. However, the people affected most by the fashion designer’s death were – of course – her close family members. And, less than a week after her passing, Kate’s brother-in-law, comedian and actor David Spade, 53, opened up about how it had impacted upon him and shared an important message.
David is the younger brother of 55-year-old Andy Spade, Kate’s husband. In fact, all three Spades have been recognized as successful and talented individuals. David is an actor, writer and comedian who began his career on Saturday Night Live before moving on to hit films such as Grown Ups. Meanwhile, Andy and Kate became stars of the fashion world together; the couple formed the brand Kate Spade in 1993.
Nonetheless, the pair had established a personal partnership before the brand got up and running. In fact, their histories were entwined from the beginning, both having been born on the same day – December 24, 1962. Katherine Noel Brosnahan was welcomed to the world in Kansas City, while Andy was born in Birmingham, Michigan. But their paths would not cross until both attended Arizona State University in the 1980s. They met after Andy’s car broke down, and he asked Kate for help getting home. “We really started off as really great friends,” she remembered on an episode of the NPR entrepreneurial podcast How I Built This in January 2018.
And things just built for the couple from there – both personally and professionally. In 1994, a year after they had joined forces in commerce, Kate and Andy sealed the deal by tying the knot. The married pair then watched the Kate Spade business go from strength to strength during the rest of the 1990s. Young people especially appreciated that the couple’s handbags were affordable but sophisticated, and often bought more than one. The business gradually expanded its focus to cover other fashionable items and, before long, Kate Spade apparel, perfume, homeware and jewelry were available on the shelves.
More than a decade after they had first started their venture, Kate and Andy announced another successful collaboration with the arrival of their daughter, Frances Beatrix, in 2005. The couple embraced family life and sold their stake in Kate Spade two years later in order to spend as much time as possible with Baby Bea. Indeed, Kate explained her thinking to People magazine in 2016. “I needed a break and I really wanted to raise my daughter,” she recalled. “People asked me, ‘Don’t you miss it?’ I really didn’t. I mean, I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might.”
So, on the surface, Kate appeared to enjoy a wonderful existence – mixing fame and glamour with a successful family life. Indeed, the designer’s friends thought she always seemed happy and optimistic. But sadly, underneath her outward appearance, Kate struggled with mental health problems. Anxiety and depression loomed large in her life, and tragically they would prove to be big factors in her untimely death.
The day after Kate’s suicide, her grieving husband released a statement to The New York Times. Andy maintained that, while he and his wife had been having problems and were living apart, “We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce.” Kate, he said, was “the kindest person I’ve ever known and my best friend for 35 years.”
Nevertheless, Andy revealed that for a lot of this time a black cloud had been hanging over the relationship. He said, “Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives.” Andy, it seems, was all too aware of his wife’s problems, but he did not realize how serious the situation had become. He mentioned how he had seen Kate the night before her death and she had “sounded happy.” Andy added, “There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
Unfortunately, depression is very much a hidden killer, which makes the mental state all the more dangerous. Many sufferers who endure this despair try to keep it a secret and appear, as Andy said, to sound “happy.” In fact, a period of sudden happiness in a victim is now considered a red flag by professional psychologists. Families of depressed people are warned to be on the lookout for a mood change of this kind, as it could mean that the sufferer has made the decision to end their life.
Unhappily, it is all too common for people to lose a mental-health battle even if they seem to be winning. Andy’s press release to The New York Times continued, “[Kate] was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last five years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety.” The widower went on to stress, “There was no substance or alcohol abuse. There were no business problems.”
However, Andy’s statement also mentioned the problem of press intrusion. Some media outlets had talked about a suicide note that Kate had allegedly left. “I have yet to see any note left behind and am appalled that a private message to my daughter has been so heartlessly shared with the media,” Andy wrote. “My main concern is Bea and protecting her privacy as she deals with the unimaginable grief of losing her mother.”
And grief was widespread in the immediate aftermath of Kate’s death, coupled with a tremendous outpouring of support for mental illness sufferers. And David Spade, in addition to paying tribute to his sister-in-law, reached out to anyone feeling mentally unstable. On the same day she died, the comedian posted a picture of Kate and himself on Twitter with the caption, “I love this pic of her. So pretty. I don’t think everyone knew how f***ing funny she was… It’s a rough world out there, people. Try to hang on.”
Later that day, David posted another personal photograph on his Instagram account. “Fuzzy picture but I love it,” he said in the accompanying text. “Kate and I during Christmas family photos. We had so much fun that day. She was so sharp and quick on her feet. She could make me laugh so hard. I still can’t believe it.” Then he added the same sign-off he had posted on Twitter. “It’s a rough world out there, people. Try to hang on.”
Subsequently, many well-wishers posted their condolences beneath David’s social media posts. “This was awful news today,” one Twitter user wrote. “My thoughts are with you and your family. Even those who appear to have it all and are happy on the outside could be struggling.” Another added, “So saddened by this news. So sorry for your loss. Mental illness does not discriminate.”
And some high-profile social media users whose lives had been touched by Kate also posted online tributes. “I am heartbroken about the loss of Kate Spade,” said actress Mindy Kaling, who starred in TV sitcom The Office. “I have worn her clothes many, many times… You couldn’t walk into her boutiques and not smile.” Chelsea Clinton posted a similar message, saying, “My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.”
And Black Mirror star Bryce Dallas Howard – who had been the first celebrity face of the Kate Spade brand – posted a long message on Instagram. “I hope that both her and her company’s work to bring fashion and women’s economic success to everyone continues as her legacy unfolds,” she wrote. “My love is with her family and friends at this very sad time.” The actress added, “If you or someone you know is feeling distressed, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800-273-TALK (8255).”
But the show must go on and David Spade went back to work three days after Kate’s death with a gig at the Brea Improv Comedy Club in California. “It was a rough week, but I didn’t want to cancel and I appreciate you all coming out here,” he told the audience. “And if my jokes don’t work then I get sort of a free pass.”
In early June, it was reported by entertainment website Hollywood Life that Kate’s funeral would take place in her hometown of Kansas City later that month. It also revealed that her family was planning a memorial for the designer in New York City. Understandably, however, the finer details are being kept private and it is not yet known if David Spade or any other extended family members will attend.
Unfortunately, a few days after Kate’s untimely departure, another high-profile suicide was announced – celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The media struggled to make sense of why this double tragedy should have occurred in quick succession. Contributing businesswoman Henna Inam added her voice in Forbes magazine. “This week, many of us experienced a stunned sadness,” she wrote. “The suicides of two celebrities, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, left us wondering what happened. What did we miss?”
Ultimately, there may never be a full answer to that tortured question. Suicide is such an incredibly painful and complex subject, both for those suffering the mental distress and for those left behind. But Kate Spade’s family can hopefully take solace in one thing – after her suicide and that of Bourdain three days later, it was reported that calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline had risen by 25 percent. Let us hope that the callers received a positive response, and – in David Spade’s words – “Try to hang on.”