MasterChef Runner-Up Loses ‘Battle of His Life,’ Commits Suicide

Posted at 5:52 PM, Oct 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-14 17:55:12-04

(CNN) — “MasterChef” runner-up Joshua Marks was in “the battle of his life fighting mental illness” when he killed himself Friday, his family said Sunday.

His family blames the lack of mental health treatment facilities and the easy access to guns as factors in his tragic death.

“It is overwhelming to think that with proper, intensive treatment, Joshua may still be with us,” his lawyer, Lisa Butler, said Sunday. “He was a jewel with so much talent to offer this world. But, in his state of mind, he turned to the streets for a gun and easily got it.”

Marks, 26, died from a gunshot wound to his head. His death has been ruled a suicide, a spokesman for the Cook County, Illinois, medical examiner said Sunday.

He was charged with aggravated battery in July after scuffling with police officers who were called to the scene after he suffered serious facial wounds from a self-inflicted gunshot, according to his lawyer.

His mother believed that incident was a call for help, not a suicide attempt, Butler said. But getting Marks help was not easy because of the lack of full-time mental health facilities in Illinois that would accept his insurance, she said.

Marks’ mother, Paulette Mitchell, found him dead in an alley on Chicago’s south side Friday evening after a neighbor called to say he was walking around with a gun, Butler said.

His family is now hoping to help others suffering from mental illness by talking about what happened to Marks in the three months since his arrest, she said.

‘The battle of his life

Marks — who, at 7 feet 2 inches tall, was known by friends as a “gentle giant” — was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a year ago, the same month he lost to to winner Christine Ha in the final round of the Fox reality cooking competition’s third season. A doctor diagnosed Marks with schizophrenia just last week, Butler said.

“Joshua was so kind, so gentle,” his mother told CNN Sunday. “He loved life. He loved people. He would never hurt anyone; never. He was just a gentle, sweet soul; but he hurt himself. That breaks my heart, that he hurt himself.”

“But, behind that huge smile, Josh was in the battle of his life fighting mental illness,” a family statement said. “It was extremely tough, but Josh was always positive, focused on his faith in God and determined to win; pushing forward through his illness to follow his passion for cooking and dream of being a renowned chef.”

That battle apparently began just as Marks was achieving celebrity status on television. “I hadn’t noticed any signs of anything wrong or any mental illness until after Josh completed filming ‘MasterChef,'” his mother said. “The time he was away filming was extremely stressful on him.”

Marks’ stepfather Gabriel Mitchell, in a statement to CNN, described “the toll that being on a reality show puts on people.”

“Josh had a following of fans and was put on a ‘celebrity’ type pedestal, with the expectation from others that there was money and fame; but, his personal reality was that he was struggling mentally and financially,” he said. “I think people expect that you come away from a reality show and have it made. That’s not necessarily the case.”

Marks spoke about his mental illness in a public service video he recorded in February for the Make a Sound Project, a nonprofit suicide awareness project.

The project promotes “how to use music as an alternative to the crazy thoughts you may have going in your mind,” Marks said in the video. “Me, personally, I have bipolar disorder, so, you know, I’ll get a little anxious sometimes. And how I cool out is, I listen to music and just listen to the words and just relax and, you know, find my melody. I wish we had some music going on in here right now.”

Read the full story on CNN.