Actor Burgess Meredith's Struggle With Cyclothymia

Cyclothymia did not damage the actor's storied career

Burgess Meredith For 'Rocky'. United Artists / Handout

Burgess Meredith was born on November 16, 1907 in Cleveland. His childhood was pretty bleak. His father was an alcoholic; his mother in a constant state of despair. In his 1994 autobiography "So Far, So Good," Meredith writes: "All my life, to this day, the memory of my childhood remains grim and incoherent. If I close my eyes and think back, I see little except violence and fear."

A Way Out

Luckily Meredith's fine soprano singing voice was his ticket out.

As a kid he got into music and won various competitions, even receiving a full scholarship with the St. John Choir in New York City as a teenager. He never returned to Ohio.

Meredith went on to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts sporadically, though he never graduated. When he wasn't attending school, he tried his hand at a variety of jobs, including working as a novice reporter for a Connecticut newspaper and launching a men's clothing business with his brother.

An Extraordinary Acting Career

It was during this time that Meredith became set on breaking into show business. In 1929 he began working as an apprentice with Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Company in New York City. He made his Broadway debut in 1933 in "Little Ol' Boy." Meredith's series of acclaimed stage appearances gave him his big break into stage and screen. He landed the starring role in the 1936 film "Winterset."

Meredith was a founder of the New Stage Society and also served as vice president of the Actors' Equity in 1938.

The next several decades proved to be fruitful, full of noteworthy performances on stage - "High Tor" (1937) and "Playboy of the Western World" (1946) - and in films - "Of Mice and Men" (1939).

Beginning in the late 1950s, Meredith's film and TV output was extraordinary, including well known roles as Penguin in the 1960s TV series "Batman," as Rocky Balboa's trainer in 1974's "Rocky" and in 1993's "Grumpy Old Men." He also dabbled in directing.

He directed the film "The Man in the Eiffel Tower" (1950) and several stage productions, including the Broadway production of "Ulysses in Nighttown," for which he was nominated for a Tony award.

Personal Life

Between 1935 and 1948, Meredith was married and divorced three times, all while appearing in approximately 20 films and serving in the Air Force during World War II. In 1950 he took his fourth wife, Swedish ballerina Kaja Sundsten, to whom he remained married until his death.

Meredith's struggle with mental illness wasn't made public until 1994, when he confessed that he suffered from mood swings due to cyclothymia, a type of bipolar disorder, in his autobiography. It's unknown when he was diagnosed and how long he suffered.

He passed away on September 9, 1997 due to complications from Alzheimer's and melanoma. He was 89 years old.

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