Elizabeth Wurtzel dies, aged 52

Elizabeth Wurtzel dies, aged 52

Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of bestseller Prozac Nation (Quartet), has died at the age of 52.

The writer passed away in a Manhattan hospital on 7th January following a battle with breast cancer, the Washington Post reported.

She had initially been diagnosed in 2015, undergoing a double mastectomy, but the breast cancer metastasized to her brain, husband Jim Freed told the paper.

Wurtzel was credited with reinvigorating the memoir when her 1994 book Prozac Nation was published.

A surprise bestseller that turned her into a celebrity aged just 26, it described her experiences with depression and a troubled childhood.

She followed it up in 1998 with Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (Quartet) before 2001’s More, Now, Again (Virago) which chronicled her drug addiction.

Virago chair Lennie Goodings told The Bookseller: "It’s a long time since we published her but what I remember clearly is her openness and good humour and curiosity.

"What was most striking was how she gave permission to others to talk about their mental health struggles so long before today’s acceptance of these topics existed. Her author talks were thronged with young people - and often their parents - who were grateful to her. Yes, she was obsessed with herself and her books spring from that obsessive nature but she opened new ground. She was in the vanguard." 

Quartet chair Naim Attallah said he acquired the rights to Wurtzel’s debut after meeting her for dinner in New York after her agent first asked for a large advance. In a blog about the deal, he recalled: "In 1993 we received a manuscript from Elizabeth Wurtzel, a young attractive American author, about her depressive life and her addiction to Prozac.

"Her agents asked for a large advance, which we felt we could not afford and countered their offer with a more modest one. They declined.

"At that time, I used to spend ten days every month in New York and Elizabeth and I agreed to meet for dinner on my next trip. This we did and as a result forged a relationship which led to her becoming a real star in Britain thanks to a tremendous publicity campaign we launched on publication of her book, Prozac Nation.

"By then, Elizabeth had instructed her agent to accept our original offer. Elizabeth was extremely promotable, sexily outrageous, and attired to kill. She more than raised the temperature of the British media who found themselves mesmerised by her sheer presence."

Quartet publicist Tamara von Schenk explained Wurtzel was a "handful" during her tour of the UK. She said: "I went beyond the call of duty as publicity manager when I invited Elizabeth, depressed, paranoid, self-obsessed and highly complicated, into my home, where she stayed far longer than expected. I chaperoned her day and night during her publicity tour – it was an interesting experience to say the least. This title was the first personal account of a life of depression eased by the wonder drug Prozac, and as such marked a turning point in Quartet history and an end to my time there."

In the UK Wurtzel sold 99,643 books for £806,050, with Prozac Nation her bestseller, the 1996 edition shifting 62,474 copies in the Nielsen BookScan era, from 1998 onwards.

She continued writing essays and criticism, penning a piece about her breast cancer diagnosis for the Guardian in 2015 which included the defiant words: "Do you know what I’m scared of? Nothing. Cancer just suits me.

"I am good in a fight. This one goes on for the rest of my life. But I have been fighting with myself in one way or another all along. I am used to it."