‘Kimmy Schmidt’ and the Shock Suicide of the ‘Baron of Botox’
The Daily Beast
April 7, 2015
Suicide is a mysterious act, its immediate impetus known only to those who commit it.
There may be notes left behind, or “signs” rationalized in retrospect, or things we know that were upsetting that person, but ultimately the choice to take one’s own life belongs to the person who—in that moment—takes it.
Trying to assign a single cause to a suicide can be as insidious as the act, and its consequences, itself.
Was Dr. Fredric Brandt, the so-called Baron of Botox, so “devastated” over being parodied by Martin Short on the hit Netflix comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that he committed suicide? We can never know.
Miami police confirmed Brandt’s suicide by hanging Monday at his second home in Coconut Grove, Florida; he also had an apartment, which he shared with his much-loved dogs (Benji, Surya, and Tyler, otherwise known as Mr. T) in New York City.
The 65-year-old Brandt, whose clients included Madonna, Kelly Ripa, and a host of very rich (mostly) women who flew to see him from all over the world, was the largest cosmetic user of Botox in the world, and after using a fair bit of it on himself, yes, he looked odd—very odd. But he also seemed a gentle man, rather than the bug-eyed maniac as enacted by Short.
When I interviewed him for the Times of London in December in his last interview, and spent time watching him inject a parade of patients with Botox and fillers, he seemed sensitive, a little eccentric, perhaps, but not the crazy character as imagined and parodied by Kimmy Schmidt.
The physical likeness (the face, the flyaway mop of blond hair) between the two men is not coincidental, and certainly one of Brandt’s spokespeople did not mince words when conveying her upset over the comedic characterization.
“It affected him deeply, as it would any person,” Susan Biegacz told The Daily Beast of Short’s Kimmy Schmidt impersonation. “It was totally mean-spirited. It was bullying. He was the most kind, generous person. No person should be made to feel that way.”
Biegacz confirmed to The Daily Beast that Brandt was suffering from depression but would not answer any further questions about its causes or what was known about what led him to take his own life.
People quoted another source saying of Brandt’s attitude to Short’s character: “It wasn’t the only thing troubling him, it was just one factor… But that was not why he committed suicide. But it didn’t help.”
The Kimmy Schmidt production team seems jolted by Brandt’s death.
For a show that has been surfing such a wave of audience and critical goodwill, Brandt’s upset at its mockery, and now his suicide, is an aberration.
“No one is available for comment on that,” Curt King, a show spokesman, told The Daily Beast, declining to answer any other questions, even to indicate whether producers had heard of Brandt’s death and his distress at the show’s parodic portrayal of him.
An assistant at Martin Short’s manager’s office said they would not be making any comment, either.
Ripa herself tweeted a tribute to Brandt:
My heart is breaking for the loss of Dr. Fredric Brandt. My friend. You will be missed forever and in my heart even longer.
— Kelly Ripa (@KellyRipa) April 6, 2015
As did Joy Behar:
Dr. Brandt was one of the sweetest, nicest, most generous people I have had the good fortune to meet & work with. He will be sorely missed.
— Joy Behar (@JoyVBehar) April 6, 2015
When I interviewed Brandt for The Times, it was just before Christmas. At his New York clinic in the windblown fringes of the East 30s, he operated a ruthlessly efficient system.
He darted from treatment room to treatment room, all of them off a narrow corridor, each containing a patient whom he injected—around eyes, on foreheads, into cheeks, and jawlines—with Botox and/or fillers like Juvederm, Voluma, Belotero, and Restylane.
Brandt would inject whatever he was injecting, a bubble of blood would rise up, the skin would noticeably swell, and he would pass the patient a little cotton swab to dab the jewel of blood away.
Universally, they sang his praises. He was solicitous, fun and gossipy with each patient, and brisk, too: 10 minutes or less of jab-jabbing, then on to the next room.
Brandt’s own face—much less alarming in person than the freakishness of the pictures of him online—was moonlike, smooth, an odd shape, but not as starkly weird as it was photographed.
What work had he done himself? I asked.
“Me? I’ve never done a thing,” Brandt deadpanned, accompanied by a honking laugh. “I’ve not had a facelift. Everyone thinks I have. Look behind my ears.” No scars, I noted. “I haven’t had surgery, but I always want to experiment on myself because if something happens, let it happen to me. I’ve done Botox on myself since the mid-’90s. I’ve injected fillers to restore the cheek area and around the eyes to fill in the hollows, and my jawline to resculpt that.”
I asked if he was dissatisfied with how he looked. “I wanted to see what the treatments do for patients, but of course I wanted to maintain myself,” he said. He did Botox twice a year, and “fillers I haven’t done in months.”
In December, he was launching his latest mass-market product: Needles No More, an anti-wrinkle cream he said targeted crow’s-feet and frown lines.
His second office in Coral Gables, Florida, he told me, also served as a lab where he tested new products, with placebos used on human guinea pigs for comparison’s sake, refining the peptide concentrations that interfere with the contraction impulses of muscles.
Brandt told me he was experimenting with a botulinum toxin molecule to treat crow’s-feet that, he said, will be effective for up to 120 days. Needles No More is the off-the-shelf version containing magnesium as a muscle-contraction inhibitor.
Brandt was the younger of two brothers bought up in a middle-class home in Newark, New Jersey. He told me that his father, Irving, who died when Brandt was 15, owned a sweet shop. His parents wouldn’t allow him sweets because they were bad for him, and they were so committed to the shop that they didn’t spend a lot of time with their children.
The young Brandt was a dreamer, “always wanting to know how things worked.” He took apart radios and put them back together. He liked math and science. “I don’t think you think about your appearance at that age,” he reflected. “I didn’t have the healthiest diet as a child, but I wasn’t heavy, although I was nothing like as lean as I am now.”
He worked out throughout his adult life—running, swimming, biking, cross-training—and did yoga six times a week, first thing in the morning.
Brandt studied at New York University and was due to go into oncology, but as a resident “and very visual person,” he observed the skin manifestations of disease and went into dermatology instead, just in time to watch the massive uptick in cosmetic procedures in the 1980s.
His colleague and practice partner Dr. Robert Anolik—who did not return requests for comment Monday—told me in December that Brandt was known in the industry as the most creative practitioner of Botox and fillers. He knew “just where to inject to get the best visual result” while the patient could still smile and move their features.
“I see so much bad work out there,” Anolik told me, “when it looks not the same person or you look totally frozen and overdone. He makes people so beautifully youthful. A lot of his patients are celebrities—actresses and models—who it is important to look as natural as possible. Word spread about what he was doing for those kinds of people, and it’s part of the reason he has become so famous.”
Brandt’s own chirpy catchphrase was “Fabulous, not frozen.” He was performing more sprite-ishly that morning a little for my benefit, but work—as serious as the money he was earning from it—seemed like a jape for him. A great fan of musicals, he sometimes broke into song while the women sat there, being injected.
One or two spoke of nerves at having the treatments, another blasé-ishly talked about collecting art and travel to glamorous climes. Brandt told me his average treatment cost $800 to $1,000, and patients can come twice a year. “It’s not cheap, but consider what women spend blow-drying or coloring their hair, or buying clothes. It all adds up,” he said.
People wanted to look natural, he told me: Increasing cheek volume, “which I was doing 12 years ago,” was very popular. “People are very concerned about their necks, and fatness in them. When people get older, the fat cells in their cheeks deplete, so we fill those out.” (Men like to have Botox in the neck to improve their jawlines, he added.)
Brandt used an ultrasound technique to tighten skin without cutting or scars. The clinic, he told me, was awaiting approval of a new product that would be injected into the fat pockets of the neck, melting the fat and tightening skin. He imagined stem cells would be used in future treatments.
Brandt, who was gay, was single and had been for a long time, he told me, despite the choice afforded by living in Chelsea, one of New York’s longest-standing gay-friendly neighborhoods. I asked whether he’d like to have a boyfriend. “I would, and perhaps I should make that clear here. Love is important to everybody,” he said.
He seemed so cheerful, I said. “People say I’m always happy, but I say nobody is always happy,” Brandt said simply. But he added, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you’ll cry alone.”
Had he had therapy? I asked. “Yes, and it was helpful, but when you come here, you don’t want me to complain, and I don’t want to complain,” he said. “I used to go to this manicurist who would always tell me her woes, and eventually I didn’t want to go there on a Saturday.”
After watching the women be injected and looking at him, I asked, politely, whether he had never thought just to let nature take its course. “Never,” he replied firmly. A good sunscreen was the most important thing to use, he added.
Was he vain? “I think everyone is to a certain degree. I don’t think I’m overly vain. My motto is, ‘You want to be the best you can be for yourself.’ You can’t compare yourself to a movie star; you try to look as good as you can for who you are. That’s what I tell patients.”
Brandt told me he had thought “a lot” about aging and mortality ever since he was a child. “I accept it as an inevitable part of the life cycle,” he said. “Aging doesn’t scare me: I’ve passed the scare point. We’re all going to die. I just wouldn’t want to be in a nursing home. I want a quick death, to die in my sleep. It would be terrible not to be able to do what you like to do. It’s just not living.”
And that day, in December, he seemed very much to like what he did, to be proud of it, however his own looks alarmed others, or made them mock him.
You might think, as some commenters on my Times article certainly did, that Brandt was the worst advertisement for cosmetic procedures, but he took genuine pleasure and pride in his work.
I left the clinic with Brandt darting into the next room down that long, narrow corridor, his voice trilling to the unseen patient, “How are you? What are we doing today?”