Keith Emerson’s Fear Of Disappointment That Cost His Life

They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but nobody gets to see what takes place in people’s lives looking through the outside. Although musicians usually seem to have it easy, more often than not, they have inner demons to fight every day, especially if it’s a physical illness that doesn’t have a tangible solution.

For instance, Emerson, Lake & Palmer keyboardist Keith Emerson had it tough after nerve damage that had haltered his playing. The musician had focal dystonia, which is a neurological condition that often affects a group of muscles in hand and wrist. Although this condition affected so much of his work and who he was, no one really knew the magnitude of hindrance the keyboardist was facing.

After suffering from nerve pain for many years, the 71-year-old died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Santa Monica in 2016. Santa Monica police confirmed Emerson’s death as suicide. After examinations, the report listed heart disease and depression caused by chronic alcohol use as other possible causes of death.

The musician’s passing was a shock to most people. Yet, people, who were close to him, knew of behind-the-scenes struggles and had an inkling about his mental state. Emerson’s girlfriend Mari Kawaguchi gave insight into what she believed for the reason the keyboardist took his own life in an interview with the U.K. publication Daily Mail in 2016.

Mari Kawaguchi’s words about Keith Emerson’s death:

“His right hand and arm had given him problems for years. He had an operation a few years ago to take out a bad muscle, but the pain and nerve issues in his right hand were getting worse. He had concerts coming up in Japan, and even though they hired a backup keyboard player to support him, Keith was worried. He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul.

Last year, he played concerts, and people posted mean comments such as, ‘I wish he would stop playing.’ He was tormented with worry that he wouldn’t be good enough. He was planning to retire after Japan. He didn’t want to let down his fans. He was a perfectionist, and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous, and anxious.”

The nerve pain was not going away, and all the comments that had been written about him made him doubt himself even more, to the point where he was about to retire after his shows in Japan. Although he was planning to retire, he was so afraid to disappoint fans that he became depressed, nervous, and anxious about the performance. In his girlfriend’s eyes, that pushed him to the edge of no return.

By the end, everything had piled on top of each other where the nerve damage was affecting his playing, and he was paranoid about disappointing his fans, which ultimately resulted in Emerson choosing to end his life. Even though not many musicians talk about the struggle of nerve damage to hands and wrists, it is a common illness that several of the most celebrated keyboardists have had to suffer from, including the late Keith Emerson.