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Norman Farberow dies; pioneer in suicide prevention was 97

Norman Farberow, left, L.A. County Coroner Theodore J.

Norman Farberow, left, L.A. County Coroner Theodore J. Curphey and Dr. Robert Litman at the 1962 news conference announcing that Marilyn Monroe's death was "a probable suicide." Farberow, who co-founded the country's first suicide prevention center, has died at 97. Photo Credit: TNS / Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES (TNS) - Psychologist Norman Farberow never sought the limelight, but he didn't shy away from it either.

When asked by the Los Angeles city coroner in 1962 to help determine whether the death of Marilyn Monroe from acute barbiturate poisoning was an accident, he agreed. Weeks later, he met with the media to announce that Monroe's death was "a probable suicide."

Farberow was well-versed in the subtleties of the human mind in distress. He co-founded the country's first suicide prevention center and opened up a field of psychology that had gone largely unnoticed.

Farberow died Sept. 10 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to his daughter, Hilary Farberow-Stuart, who noted that it was World Suicide Prevention Day. Farberow had fallen a week earlier in his West Los Angeles home. He was 97.

In the 1940s, suicide was, according to Farberow, "a long-neglected, taboo-encrusted social and personal phenomenon." Most doctors and psychologists shunned its study, but he saw in its underlying causes -- loneliness, isolation, depression -- a moral imperative to help. The first step was to ease the cultural and social shame attached to its victims and their survivors.

"Farberow was a pioneer in helping to erase the stigma of suicide," said psychologist Kita Curry, director of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Culver City, California, which took on the suicide prevention center after it was nearly closed in 1997. "He understood that when people were considering suicide they were in terrible pain."

Born in Pittsburgh on Feb. 12, 1918, he arrived in Los Angeles after World War II. Farberow served in the war as an Air Force captain.

The Veterans Administration Hospital treated patients who were having difficulty with their re-entry into civilian life, and as Farberow earned his doctorate from UCLA, he also spent time in a ward at the hospital reserved for suicidal patients. In their stories, he found his life work.

"My reason for exploring it was because 'Aha, here is a scenario that very few people have been active in,' " he said. "There is a lot of room to look around in and maybe do something that other people would be involved with, interested in and come to look on you as a pioneer in."

Besides his daughter, Farberow is survived by a son, David Farberow; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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