Through conversation and rainy walks around West Chop, Art Buchwald, William Styron and Mike Wallace — dubbed The Blues Brothers — battled depression together.
And then the three men, each luminaries in their field — Mr. Buchwald, a humorist, Mr. Styron, a novelist, and Mr. Wallace, a journalist — took their struggle with mental illness public, using their talents and fame to lessen the stigma of depression and other illnesses.
On Wednesday, family members of the Blues Brothers and other supporters gathered to honor their lives, their friendship and their cause at a fundraiser for a newly-established Blues Brothers fund at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
The event was held on the lawn of Sheldon and Lucy Hackney’s Vineyard Haven home, not far from the West Chop Cemetery where the three men are buried. It was Mrs. Hackney’s idea to have the fundraiser.
“It is such a great day to celebrate Art Buchwald, Mike Wallace and Bill Styron, ” Mrs. Hackney told the crowd. She recalled the evening at Bill and Rose Stryon’s house when “the Blues Brothers finally began to feel much better about their depressions. They were alive again, and they began to console each other.
“I and others said to them that their illness had been treated much too long as a forbidden topic. ‘Everyone knows what amazing people you are. You can help so many others who struggle with depression.’ And we said that to them. And they did. All three of them went on to speak publicly about their mental illness.”
“People with mental illness and depression need help,” Mrs. Hackney continued. “They need not be alone . . . the Blues Brothers [fund], with your generosity, will provide summer and winter people with care and help.”
The Hackneys’ patio was hung with family photos: pictures of tennis games and one large group picture labeled “The Way We Were MV 1996.” Books by the three men, including Mr. Styron’s memoir about depression, Darkness Visible, were displayed on a table near a pot of pansies.
With the sounds of tennis in the background and children playing in a hammock, family members offered personal remembrances. “Simply put, depression is the most burdensome disease in the world today,” said Mr. Styron’s son, Thomas. “It robs more adults of more years of productive life than any other disease including AIDS, heart disease or cancer.”
Mr. Styron said one in eight men suffer from depression in their lifetime, and one in four women. A significant portion do not get adequate treatment, he said.
“The Blues Brothers, my Dad, Art and Mike, individually and collectively may have done more than anyone else in recent history to combat the devastating affects of stigma and lack of public awareness about depression. In so doing, they changed and saved countless lives.”
“Like my father and grandfather, I have been stopped dead in my tracks by depression. Nobody who has experienced the horror would wish it on their worst enemy. But I know that if the Blues Brothers were here today, they would agree that depression, if you survive it, has its redemptive qualities. Without it, there would be no Blues Brothers, It brought Art and Mike and my dad a level of friendship and brotherhood that nothing, perhaps short of going off to war in the same platoon, would have come close to accomplishing . . . they changed and saved lives, and they continue to save lives from their communal resting spot up on West Chop.”
“He dealt with his depression with humor,” said Mr. Buchwald’s son, Joel. “He always said laughter was the best medicine.”
“Those guys had a bond because they each suffered from depression. They loved each other, they supported each other, and they confided in each other,” he said. “Then they went public with their depression, and they essentially took their depression on the road. They did public appearances.”
He recalled that Mr. Buchwald counseled people on the Vineyard, on the family’s front porch. “He used to counsel people here on the Vineyard as well, on our back porch. “Dad loved the Vineyard and, frankly, he was never really depressed when he was here.”
He also shared stories, including the time that Mr. Buchwald, never much of a driver, plowed over some corn Mr. Styron had been growing by the house. “They spent the summer arguing about whether those stalks of corn that weren’t there were going to be good or not,” Mr. Buchwald said. He recounted that Mr. Wallace took to appearing in the backyard “wearing nothing but a great tan and a skimpy bathing suit claiming that he was just walking to town and back.”
“They brought laughter, they brought smiles to each other and to all of us, and for that I’m really grateful,” he said.
Mr. Wallace’s grandsons, Angus and Jack Yates, recalled that their grandfather helped fix aspects of a place he loved, raising money for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the Possible Dreams auction.
“Like the best musicians, these three innovators broke barriers and brought down walls,” Jack said. “They made depression cool . . .They weren’t the Blues Brothers, they were the Beatles.”
“They fought like hell, to help themselves and to help others,” Angus said.
The ceremony ended with a slide show of pictures prepared by Mr. Styron’s daughter Alexandra. But first there were words from Mr. Styron’s widow, Rose, whom Mrs. Hackney called “the most wonderful woman in this university here on the Island, all through this world, really.”
“My great friend, Lucy, how can I thank you for all of this?” Mrs. Styron said. “We’re all one big family, and we’re all your family. You’ve got all of us forever. We love this Island, where we can be such friends and so important to each other.”
At the event, the grandchildren of the Blues Brothers wore white T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of the three gentlemen wearing rain slickers — Mr. Wallace in yellow, Mr. Buchwald in green and Mr. Styron in red. They stand smiling in the rain.
Mrs. Styron told the story behind the photo: “It happened one day, after the three guys felt they had recovered sufficiently to come back to the Vineyard, and it was after Art ran over Bill’s corn crop.”
It was pouring rain, but “Art had called up Mike and Bill and said we have to go on a walk anyway, because they took a daily walk . . . and neither Mike nor Bill wanted to go on a walk.”
“So Artie went to Brickman’s and he bought these three insane coats with the hoods, red, yellow and green, and he came to our door and delivered them, and he said, you have to come.”
So the three of them walked, getting as far as the West Chop cemetery where they decided to be buried together with their families and other friends.
“My feeling is that today, there’s probably a red, a yellow and a green flapping angel up there who’ll be merged, and are blessing us all and thanking all of you for being such wonderful friends and supporters of all of us and of Community Services.”