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Kate Spade suffered with mental illness the last few years, self-medicating with alcohol, and her apparent suicide was not “unexpected,” according to the designer’s older sister, Reta Saffo, who gave an interview on Tuesday night.
In an email interview with the Kansas City Star, Saffo, who is older than Spade by two years, said that her sister’s death at the age of 55 “was not unexpected by me” and that her family had tried a number of times in recent years to get the designer help. “I will say this was not unexpected by me. I’d flown out to Napa and NYC several times in the past 3-4 years to help her to get the treatment she needed (in-patient hospitalization),” Saffo wrote.
Spade was found dead Tuesday in her Park Avenue apartment in an apparent suicide, police confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. Saffo wrote that the pressures of the billion-dollar Kate Spade fashion brand added to her sister’s worries. “She was always a very excitable little girl, and I felt all the stress/pressure of her brand (KS) may have flipped the switch where she eventually became full-on manic depressive,” Saffo wrote.
After the interview was published, however, a source close to the family told THR that Saffo has been estranged from the family for the last decade or so and that they are “disgusted and saddened” by the exchange.
In her interview, Saffo wrote that Spade became fixated by the death of comedian Robin Williams, who committed suicide by hanging. Saffo also wrote that the public image of Kate Spade the brand and the designer as “happy-go-lucky” also played a part in the designer not seeking out help.
“That seemed to make her more comfortable, and we’d get sooo close to packing her bags, but — in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out,” Saffo wrote.
After numerous attempts to help her sister, Saffo said she “finally let go.” Recalling one of their final conversations, Saffo said, “One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Reta, I know you hate funerals and don’t attend them, but for me would you PLEASE come to MINE, at least. Please!’ I know she perhaps had a plan, but she insisted she did not.”
The family source told THR on Wednesday: “Kate was a kind, generous, funny, warm and extremely private person. Her family is disgusted and saddened that at this time of great sorrow Kate’s sister who has been estranged from the entire family for more than 10 years would chose to surface with unsubstantiated comments.”
Adding, “Her statements paint a picture of someone who didn’t know her at all.”
Spade’s family had released a statement about the designer’s death on Tuesday, saying, “We are all devastated by today’s tragedy. We loved Kate dearly and will miss her terribly. We would ask that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this very difficult time.”
June 6, 10:30 a.m. Updated with family statement.
Jackie Strause contributed to this report.
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