Last weekend, it was reported that actor Verne Troyer had died at age 49. Best known for his role as Mini-Me in the Austin Powers films, Troyer was born with a condition called cartilage hair hypolasia, a rare form of dwarfism.
While the cause of death was not immediately revealed, Troyer reportedly struggled with alcoholism and depression for years, and a statement from his family indicated that he had been grappling with these demons around the time of his passing.
“Depression and suicide are very serious issues," the statement, which was posted on Troyer's social media channels, said. "You never know what kind of battle someone is going through inside. Be kind to one another. And always know, it’s never too late to reach out to someone for help.”
Although Troyer had an impressive career as an actor, the roles he played relied on outdated and ableist stereotypes about his size and his abilities. We often see people living with dwarfism in the media as mythical creatures like dwarves, gnomes, trolls, munchkins, and midgets, and many of the roles Troyer played fell in these categories. In the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men, for instance, Troyer was cast as a “Circus Midget," according to his IMDB page. We tend to see people living with dwarfism as nothing more than a punchline. As Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage once said, people living with dwarfism are “the last bastion of acceptable prejudice”.
These stereotypes take their toll on people living with dwarfism. Rebekah Bailey, a disabled advocate who lives with dwarfism herself, told MensHealth.com that "depression and suicide among the community is a pretty common thing.” While there are limited statistics available on the number of little people who struggle with these issues, an alarming number of celebrities with dwarfism, such as Fantasy Island star Herve Villechaize, have taken their own lives, according to a 2016 story in The Hollywood Reporter.
Bailey told MensHealth.com that substance abuse, for which Troyer repeatedly sought treatment, is also rampant in the community.
"It's something that is prevalent but very rarely discussed," she says. "Growing up, when I'd attend conferences, I'd see a lot of young adults heavily drinking. It wasn't until I was grown myself that I realised that it was one thing to be enjoying a few drinks with people that were like you and felt the same struggles that you did that no one else could even being to understand. [It's another to use alcohol as a way to] cope with being so different and disrespected from society. It took too long for that conversation to be had in our community, and it took too many lives before it did.”
While tragic, the passing of Verne Troyer is also an opportunity for us to re-examine our public perceptions of disabled people. Perhaps his death will force us to look at how our culture treats those who have disabilities. Maybe instead of laughing little people off, we'll finally start to sit up and take notice.
If depression is affecting your life or you need someone to talk to, please do not suffer in silence. Support is available here.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyondblue: 1300 224 636
This article originally appeared on Men's Health