Wednesday, March 4, 2009
March 04, 2009
Everyone knows the story of Howard Hughes, but more about his downfall into madness. He notoriously would spend months at a time completely quarantined in a room, watching reels of movies over and over, obsessing over every frame. In July 1946, Hughes crashed his XF-11 into three houses in a Beverly Hills neighborhood. Hushes sustained significant injuries, including a crushed collar bone, 14 broken ribs, and numerous third degree burns. As you see the many bottles of pills on his end table, many attribute his long-term addiction to opiates to his use of morphine as a painkiller during his indisposition. It is believed that this addiction compounded the symptoms of Hughes' obsessive-compulsive disorder.
He was surrounded by dozens of Kleenex boxes, which he continuously stacked and re-arranged. He wrote detailed memos to his aides on yellow legal pads giving them explicit instructions not to look at him, speak to him, and only to respond when spoken to. Throughout the duration, Hughes sat fixated in his chair, often naked, continuously watching movies, reel after reel, day after day. When he finally emerged in the Spring of 1948, his hygiene was terrible, as he had not bathed or cut his hair and nails for weeks. Many believe that during these months he was suffering a massive nervous breakdown and did not want anyone to know about it. Still though, even after leaving, he would soon return to various bouts of secluded madness, forever banishing himself from the public eye.
For me, the most interesting aspect of Hughes' neuroses was his heightened germaphobia. "Not only did he refuse to touch doorknobs, he imagined he could create a germ free zone for himself by means of what he called 'insulation,', layers of Kleenex and paper towels covering anything he touched. To prevent what he called a 'backflow' of germs, he mandated procedures for handling everything he came in contact with." from, Encyclopedia Neurotica, by Jon Winokur.
Due to his all over power among people there are no pictures of him in these times of madness. SO, I pretty much winged it with how he looked during these early times of intense seclusion. Hughes is such an interesting character in American history. We attribute so much on his modern and brilliant approaches to business, both in the motion picture industry, and more importantly in commercial air travel. He lived and suffered like this for the last thirty years of his life, to which many professionals credit Hughes for surviving so long while sustaining so many illnesses. He carried his empire close to the end, and only Hughes, in his utter brilliance, was able to find a way to keep it all afloat.
By the way, that's 5 Kleenex's each on the arms on his chair. Apparently, that's how he liked it.