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Thursday 23 January 2020

Obituary: Elizabeth Wurtzel

Author of bestselling 'Prozac Nation' who was hailed as a 'heroine for the disaffected X-generation'

Heroine: Elizabeth Wurtzel
Heroine: Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel, who died of cancer aged 52 last Tuesday, was a pioneer of the warts-and-all, lay-it-bare confessional; she shot to fame in 1994 with her bestselling memoir Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed, becoming the first among many to make a career out of her own misery.

In the book she recounted her self-destructive adventures with cocaine, unsuitable men and therapy during her teens and twenties which had led to a dependence on Prozac. The cover featured a fetching photograph of the 26-year-old author baring her midriff, while in Britain she publicised the book by doing topless shots for GQ magazine.

"The book is so naked, that me going naked makes it all go together more," she said in an interview with The Independent. "I think people should look at those pictures with the attitude: you get the book and the big tits, too."

Despite the overheated prose - which, one critic suggested, would have made the book unpublishable were it written by a man or someone less good-looking - Prozac Nation soon rose up the bestseller lists.

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The film rights were sold and the author was hailed as a "heroine for the disaffected X-generation". The marketing worked so well that on the cover of her next book, a post-feminist polemic entitled Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1998), she appeared topless. Bitch and her memoir, More, Now, Again (2001), a series of essays featuring her new-found addictions to Ritalin and pornography (and passages about tweezering leg hairs, watching television, shoplifting, smuggling cocaine in her diaphragm, shrinks, rehab clinics, relationships with useless men, an abortion), received generally negative reviews.

Reviewing More, Now, Again in The Guardian, Toby Young observed how "in spite of repeatedly claiming to be riddled with self-loathing, Wurtzel's overweening self-regard oozes from every sentence".

When Celia Walden interviewed her for The Daily Telegraph in 2015, Elizabeth Wurtzel seemed to have done just that and found peace with a husband, the writer James Freed. She was even said to be planning to start a family.

Her remaining vice, she claimed, was too much butter on toast.

But by this time she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the result of the BRCA genetic mutation, for which she underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, which she described as "nothing" compared to everything else she had been through.

She became an advocate for BRCA testing and wrote about her experience. But the cancer subsequently metastasised to her cerebrospinal fluid, a condition known as leptomeningeal disease.

An only child, Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel was born on July 31, 1967 in Manhattan to Donald Wurtzel, an IBM middle manager, and Lynne, nee Winters. Her parents had a messy divorce when Elizabeth was two and only at 50 did she learn that Wurtzel was not her real father and that she was the product of an affair between her mother and the photographer Bob Adelman.

She often wrote about her difficult relationship with Wurtzel, recalling in Prozac Nation how she would try to prise his eyes open as he slept through her brief visits to see him, though she later conceded that she had expended "thousands of words on the wrong problem".

Her teenage years alternated between trips to the psychiatrist and summer camps as her parents searched for a cure to her depression.

© Telegraph


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