Buzz Aldrin Returned From Space Lacking The Will To Live
Left: The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle with Aldrin and Armstrong inside. Right: Aldrin in April 1969, four months before the Apollo 11 mission. Sources: NASA.gov; SSPL/Getty Images
Once, American military pilots dreamed of having the good fortune of Buzz Aldrin -- the NASA Apollo 11 moon mission was the biggest gig in aviation. With Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, Aldrin went to the moon and returned to a hero's welcome. For Aldrin, though, life after space was challenging. He felt like a prop: useful to NASA for occasional publicity, but otherwise abandoned. Following his 1969 moment of glory, Aldrin descended into depression and addiction.
From The High Of Space Exploration To The Low Of Civilian Life
One can only imagine that walking on the moon whether you’re the first person or the 50th would be quite the experience. You might even consider it the peak of your life. Unfortunately, that was the case for Buzz Aldrin but it had less to do with the heights of walking on the moon than the depths of his difficulties upon his return.
The first and most heart-breaking tragedy that Aldrin endured was the death of his mother shortly before the lunar mission. Born Marion Moon, Aldrin’s mother committed suicide because she didn’t think she could handle the fame that would inevitably come from her son’s achievement.
An Empty Feeling
Upon returning from one of man’s greatest triumphs, the problems began to stack quickly. Naturally, Aldrin was shuttled from event to event glad-handing with thousands of people at the behest of NASA and the United States government. Undoubtedly, it was part of the deal but within a few months, Aldrin felt like a well-used pawn.
He wrote in his most recent book Magnificent Desolation of how he felt upon returning: "I wanted to resume my duties, but there were no duties to resume. There was no goal, no sense of calling, no project worth pouring myself into."
The Hits Keep On Coming
The depression led him to look for solace in a bottle and in the arms of a woman who wasn’t his wife. He took a job as a commander of a test pilot school in California. The former fighter pilot found no purpose in the school and after a test plane crashed, he agreed to leave after nine months.
He found a measure of help after confiding in a doctor who referred him to the Brooks Medical Center in San Antonio. Unfortunately, he wasn’t ready to delve into the depths of depression and packed a bottle of scotch for his stay. Eventually, he went public with his hardship, which earned him a book deal and also an outpouring of support from people struggling with their own depression. Sadly, his wife of 21 years couldn’t handle the public rehashing of their difficulties and left him shortly after his father passed.
From The Moon To Selling Cadillacs
Desperate for help he hastily remarried, to a woman who in his words, “(Took) Advantage in a way that really irritates you as a stalker and an obsessive.” Eight years after the ticker-tape parades and the glory of space exploration, Aldrin was unsuccessfully selling Cadillacs at a Beverly Hills dealership.
Aldrin’s family history of mental illness, including his grandfather who also committed suicide, came home to the roost in the worst way.
Taken Advantage Of
Aldrin’s biggest gripes appear to be with being used time and time again. Omega, the watchmaker, used Aldrin’s image repeatedly without compensation, eliciting Aldrin’s frustrated response, "How could they do that?" Thankfully, it appears Omega has righted that wrong.
Another gripe of Aldrin’s came with the naming of “Buzz” Lightyear. Aldrin knows he could sue but according to Aldrin, "You don't want to tangle with Disney, the friend of children. You don't want to challenge their lawyers – for sure, you're going to lose." That wrong doesn’t appear to have been righted.
Better But Not Great
Thankfully, Aldrin has gotten his life back together to some degree. He quit drinking in 1978 and has stuck with it. His third marriage lasted 24 years until 2012. Then in 2018, as if he hadn’t suffered enough, he sued his children for taking advantage of his finances and stealing from him. Like many lawsuits involving family, it is a murky one without a clear resolution.
In 2018, Aldrin said on Good Morning America, “I really felt that it really didn’t need to come to this. It’s the saddest thing that ever happened in my family. But as I’ve seen, family is forever and I will forever be trying to patch it up.”
Tags: Buzz Aldrin | NASA | The Space Race
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