The resemblance was striking. The long, stringy, platinum blond hair. The gleaming forehead and gravity-defying cheeks. The skin as taut as a drum.
Fredric Brandt apparently recognized himself in Dr. Grant, a fictional character on the popular Netflix TV comedy show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” And the parody helped drive him to despair.
On Sunday morning, Brandt hanged himself in his Miami mansion. The pioneering dermatologist, who kept celebrities like Madonna looking forever young, was 65.
In the two days since his death, debate has swirled over how much of a role the TV caricature played in Brandt’s suicide. One of Brandt’s publicists said he had been “devastated” by the show.
“He did not commit suicide because of the show,” another publicist, Jacquie Tractenberg, told the Miami Herald. “The show didn’t help. It was mean. He felt bullied. It was mean-spirited picking at the way he looked for no reason at all. But he suffered from depression before that.”
Brandt was one of the nation’s best-known dermatologists, recognized as much for his odd look — described as “unnervingly ageless” by the New York Times and androgynous on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — as for his decades of innovation with fillers and creams.
He grew up in Newark, the son of candy store owners. He was “a different child” who took apart appliances to see how they worked, he told the Times last year. His parents died when he was young, and Brandt attended medical school in Philadelphia before opening a dermatology practice in Miami. He also flew frequently to New York to see patients. When Madonna began praising his needle work, Brandt’s business boomed. “If I have nice skin,” Madonna told the Times, “I owe a lot to him.”
Brandt developed his own line of skin-care products but also boasted of being his own client. “I’ve been kind of a pioneer in pushing the limits to see how things work and what the look would be,” he said. “Would I change anything I’ve done? I might not have used as much Botox, because you don’t want to look quite as frozen.”
— rbdc (@rbrowndc) April 6, 2015
The dermatologist wasn’t attention-shy, often appearing on magazine covers and at parties in Miami and New York. But people close to him said he had been depressed lately and that being parodied on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” only made things worse. On the show, Dr. Grant (pronounced “Franff”) is played by actor Martin Short. After a few seconds inspecting Kimmy Schmidt, the Botox-loving dermatologist offers to “zap” her already youthful looking face. Susan Biegacz, one of Brandt’s publicists, said the dermatologist had been “devastated” by the portrayal. “He was depressed,” another source close to Brandt told People magazine. “Did the show upset him? Yes. It was a mean characterization. He was a human being, no one would like that. It was making fun of him for the way he looked and it was mean and it was bullying. It was an illness, he suffered from depression. He always seemed like the life of the party, he would sing and rap his way through the day.” “It wasn’t the only thing troubling him, it was just one factor,” the source told People. “It definitely hurt him. He was absolutely upset, who would want that? But that was not why he committed suicide. But it didn’t help.” Another Brandt client told the New York Daily News that the parody had driven the dermatologist to tears. “His nature was so sweet and delicate, he couldn’t take it. Who cares if he had too much filler?” the client said. “I’m not surprised that a Martin Short spoof would upset him.” “He was depressed and had been for a while, but the ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ parody pushed him over the edge,” one of Brandt’s friends told the Daily News. “He thought, well, that was on Netflix, it’s not somebody making fun of you behind your back, it’s international.” Whatever the cause of his despair, Brandt succumbed either late Saturday night or Sunday morning. A friend found Brandt’s body hanging from a yellow cord in the garage of his $1.5 million Miami mansion. According to a Miami police report, the friend was staying with Brandt “due to suicidal concerns for the deceased.” The police report also stated that a psychiatrist had been treating Brandt for 10 days for depression. Many of Brandt’s celebrity clients took to Twitter to express sadness over the death of “the Baron of Botox.” https://twitter.com/KellyRipa/status/585184339576627204 https://twitter.com/Cat_Marnell/status/584933983747715072
Some seemed to be struggling to reconcile memories of the happy, singing doctor with his sad demise. It was a paradox underlined by Brandt’s own mantra.
“I want people to feel they haven’t given up on life and are still in the game,” he once told the Times. “The realistic thing is to look refreshed and happy, not sad, not fatigued.”