High-Profile Suicides Throw A Bucket Of Ice-Cold Reality On The NBA's Party Week In Dallas

Hate to bring the room down, especially considering it's probably packed with folks drinking and dancing at parties thrown by Ludacris and Diddy and Dirk as the worlds of hip-hop and hoop hit town for the NBA All-Star Weekend. But last week in the metroplex, we lost two more lives to deep, dark, hopeless depression. To suicide.

So hide the snark for a minute and stifle the smartass. Boom meet gloom.

LeAnne Novacek and Gina Campisi are just two of the most high-profile cases in what will be approximately 450 suicides in our area this year, with more than half of those in Dallas proper. Novacek, the 45-year-old wife of former Dallas Cowboys star Jay Novacek, and Campisi, the 26-year-old daughter of legendary Dallas restaurateurs Joe and Corky Campisi, both ended their lives early last week via self-inflicted gunshot wounds.


LeAnne Novacek

While it's unusual to have high-profile suicides back-to-back like this, says Margie Wright, executive director for the Dallas-based Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas, "it's just another indication that people are hurting. In a lot of cases it's more than just the post-holiday blues."

On an average day, the center (214-828-1000) receives 60 distressed calls. Across the country this year, there will be 19,000 homicides. Compared to 32,000 suicides.

"You see all this money spent on campaigns to stop the violence," Wright says, "but where's the awareness for problems regarding mental health?"

For today at least, it's right here.

Last week was drab. Dreary. Skies were gray. Temperatures hovered miserably in the 40s. The holidays are over, yet the holiday bills are coming due. The Dallas Cowboys' season is over while the Dallas Mavericks' playoffs and Texas Rangers' opener are months away. Spring Break, sunshine, bikinis and even a comfortable round of golf seem nothing more than flickering, teasing mirages in the desert of wearying winter.

To put it bluntly, it's suicide season.

It's not exactly a new phenomenon in Dallas. Former Maverick Bill Robinzine pulled his car into the garage, closed the door and killed himself via carbon monoxide in 1982. Former Dallas Cowboys lineman Larry Bethea shot himself in 1987. Plano West High School pitcher Taylor Hooton hanged himself in 2003 and, of course, three of the wrestling Von Erichs—Chris, Kerry and Mike—committed suicide. And the Dallas VA Medical Center shuttered its psychiatric wing in 2008 after four suicides in four months.

Suicide cuts across time and culture. Rome's Mark Antony. Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler. Psychologist Sigmund Freud. Artist Vincent van Gogh. Writers Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. Even Fantasy Island's Herve Villechaize. All suicide deaths. Just last month, comedian Artie Lange stabbed himself nine times in an apparent attempt to end it all.

Campisi, younger sister of Playboy centerfold Amber Campisi and owner of the mob-themed restaurant Fedora at One Arts Plaza in Dallas, was found inside her home on Mockingbird Lane. Novacek was pronounced dead in the bedroom of her mother's home on Farm Road 1902 in Burleson.

According to Wright, neither Campisi, Novacek nor anyone from their families called the center for help.

Jay Novacek was always a unique guy. Even—OK I'll say it—eccentric.

During my time covering the Dallas Cowboys for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he was always friendly, yet sorta edgy. For example, one year on the eve of training camp at St. Edward's University in Austin, Novacek and good buddy Troy Aikman got buzzed, almost military haircuts. Upon seeing Novacek in Austin I commented, "Nice haircut, private."

Novacek: "What? Haircut? I didn't get a haircut."

And back and forth it went. Not for the length of the conversation. Or a day. Or a week. Or training camp. But for a year. A full football season.

Novacek, who was Jason Witten before Jason Witten, was always gracious. Usually accessible. (Aikman repeatedly said that if he had a son, he wanted him to grow up to be just like Jay Novacek.) And you know what? Novacek never admitted to or even acknowledged getting that haircut. To this day.

In the past years Jay has relaxed, become a more trusting person. He loved riding horses with LeAnne and even broadened his horizons playing some professional beach volleyball. Just a couple months ago I watched him—dressed in jeans and boots and signature cowboy hat—running routes and catching passes from Roger Staubach at Cowboys Stadium.

I met LeAnne a couple times. At charity events, she and Jay seemed happy.

The terrible tales of Novacek and Campisi touched me—no, smacked me—because I've dealt with suicide twice in the last two years. A close friend—secretly drowning in financial debt and marital problems—shot and killed himself about a year ago. And a family member recently attempted—but thankfully failed—to kill himself in Johnson County, not far from where LeAnne's life ended. Like most of us, I can't even imagine that level of depression and despondency.

No one saw either tragedy coming. While Campisi left a note, LeAnne left a 12-year-old daughter. Both left others asking questions. Mainly, "What could I have done?"

The answer is easy: Ask the hard question.

"You just come out and say it, 'Are you thinking about killing yourself?''' Wright says. "It may be a little uncomfortable, but the worst thing you can do is not ask. If they're not suicidal, it's not like you're going to put the thought in their head. They won't be like, 'Hey, yeah, I think I'll go try that.' But if they are indeed at least considering it, you might just save their life."

The clues should be clear enough. Staying in bed all day. Wild weight fluctuations. Isolation. Loss of interest in things that used to be important.

"It's the blues, but they go on and on and on," Wright says. "It's just constricted thinking that their friends, family and the world would be a better place without them. And sometimes we can be fooled by a sudden burst of energy and productiveness. It might just mean that the suicidal person has finally made up their mind to do it. But in the end, it's an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness."

Nothing positive comes from suicide. In the game of life, it's a head coach promptly quitting, the fans and players and staff left to pick up the pieces. Some of you will criticize me for this column; tell me it's not sporty enough on one of the highest-profile sports weekends in Dallas history. You may be right.

But if it helps just one person in mental distress, or motivates a couple buddies to check up on a hurting friend, I'll gladly take the heat.

"A big part of our program is prevention," says Wright, whose center also offers counseling and support groups for victims' families. "It's important to remember that people who have lost a loved one to suicide often become suicidal too."

A phone call. A text. A visit. A hug.


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