Austin Powers and Harry Potter actor Verne Troyer passed away on April 21, 2018, aged just 49. The circumstances of his death, it later transpired, most likely hadn’t been natural ones. Both film fans and the little person community mourned for the performer. And when photographs of his last days were uncovered on Instagram, it spawned even more sadness, as well as a few serious discussions.
Troyer was born with the condition achondroplasia dwarfism, which made him one of the shortest men in the world. Though he stopped growing at 2’8, he had a normal childhood with loving parents. “They never treated me any different than my other average-sized siblings,” Troyer said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread in 2014.
“I didn’t really think about my size until I got older, a few years before high school,” Troyer told The Guardian in 2015. “I never got much trouble off other kids either, although there was one incident in third grade where a kid who was much taller than me called me the M-word [midget], which is very offensive. So without even thinking, I just jumped in the air and punched him in the nose. He never bothered me again.”
When he became an adult, Troyer embarked on a movie career. It all started when the organization Little People of America got in touch to ask if he wanted to be a stunt double in the film Baby’s Day Out. Troyer accepted, and from there he went on to land a variety of small parts in films like Men in Black and Jingle All the Way.
But it was the Austin Powers series that made Troyer famous. In 1999’s The Spy Who Shagged Me he played the character Mini-Me opposite Mike Myers. Troyer’s turn was so popular with test audiences that part of the movie was reshot to give him more screen time. Plans to kill his character off in the movie were also canned, and Troyer returned for the sequel, Goldmember, in 2002.
“I had no idea how famous this character was going to be,” Troyer said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2016. “Once we started rehearsal, Mike kept adding more parts.” The success of Mini-Me ensured that Troyer would forever be associated with that particular character. But he took on other, lesser-known roles afterwards as well.
Troyer appeared in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as the goblin Griphook, although he was replaced in later movies by the actor Warwick Davis, who was also born with a form of dwarfism. Troyer acted opposite Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in 2009, and that same year also competed on the sixth UK series of Celebrity Big Brother.
On the surface, then, Troyer seemed to have a very successful life. But behind the scenes he struggled with addiction and mental health issues. In April 2017 TMZ reported that he had entered hospital to be treated for alcoholism. “Verne has struggled with alcohol abuse issues for years … he almost died in 2002 from alcohol poisoning and has gone to rehab multiple times,” the celebrity news website disclosed.
A year after that, on April 3, 2018, the same thing happened. TMZ again broke bad news. “Police rushed to Verne Troyer’s home Monday night after getting a report the Austin Powers star was suicidal,” the website reported. “We’re told cops and fire department paramedics responded, and Verne was transported to a hospital for possible alcohol poisoning.”
The same day, a message was posted on Troyer’s Instagram account. And it made for somber reading. “Asking you to keep Verne in your thoughts and prayers,” the post read. “He’s getting the best care possible and is resting comfortably. Appreciate the support from family, friends, and fans around the world. We will keep you updated here.”
But when the update came, unfortunately it was the worst news possible. Troyer had died in hospital. “It is with great sadness and incredibly heavy hearts to write that Verne passed away today,” Troyer’s social media team wrote on his Instagram. And with one sentence, they confirmed that his death had been related to his mental health problems. “Depression and suicide are very serious issues,” they wrote.
Troyer’s friends and co-stars were quick to pay tribute to him, with Carmen Electra, Marlee Matlin and Vanilla Ice among those posting memorial messages on social media. Mike Myers, who had helped catapult Troyer to fame in the first place, released a statement. “Verne was the consummate professional and a beacon of positivity for those of us who had the honor of working with him,” he said. “It is a sad day, but I hope he is in a better place. He will be greatly missed.”
The news that Troyer had mentally suffered so much before his death came as a terrible blow. People examined Troyer’s social media looking for some sort of sign as to what had been going on – but there didn’t seem to be any clues there. Indeed, in all the actor’s photographs before his death, he looked perfectly happy and cheerful.
Troyer had spent some time in London before he died, and he had uploaded lots of charming pictures of the city’s landmarks. He photographed himself in front of the Houses of Parliament, which had scaffolding almost covering up its famous clock. “Big Ben getting a facelift behind me,” he captioned it.
“The juxtaposition between his happy, smiley holiday snaps and the news of his death is tugging at heartstrings,” the website Unilad noted. “Part of what makes Verne’s last pictures so tragic is how normal they are, how relatable.” And indeed, after Troyer’s death, all his London snaps were inundated with “RIP” messages.
There was no sign of any turmoil in Troyer’s pictures – but this is, sadly, all too common. Family members can often be blindsided by suicide, because they assumed the person in question was happy. By way of illustration, after Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington killed himself in 2017, his wife posted a video of him laughing with his family just 36 hours before he died. “This is what depression looked like to us,” she wrote.
Inevitably, Troyer’s death had a strong effect on the dwarfism community. Disability advocate Rebekah Bailey, who has the condition, spoke to Men’s Health a few days after Troyer’s death. “Depression and suicide among the community is a pretty common thing,” she said.
Eugene Grant, who also has dwarfism, wrote something similar in The Guardian. “Among those [people with dwarfism] who participated in academic research, more than a third reported experiencing mental health problems,” he said. “Loneliness and isolation are not unusual. Over the years, several actors with dwarfism have killed themselves.”
On April 30, 2018, TMZ got hold of a copy of Troyer’s death certificate. His family had had his body privately cremated, the certificate reportedly stated, and his remains would be sent back to his home in Michigan. Meanwhile, the cause of death on the certificate was apparently listed as “deferred,” meaning testing had not been finished yet.
Clearly, the whole story is very sad, and it highlights how mental health issues can sometimes be almost invisible. But the message left on Troyer’s Instagram after his death was one that sought to establish a legacy of support. “You never know what kind of battle someone is going through inside,” the memorial post read. “Be kind to one another.”