Thomas Kinkade’s death shocked his legions of fans—not only had the Painter of Light died at 54, but the cause was alcohol and Valium. How did the Evangelical Darling fall so far?The Painter of Light was pissed off.
It was November 20, 2010, less than two years before he died, and Thomas Kinkade was at the Denver Broncos’ stadium to unveil Mile High Thunder, his painting for the Tim Tebow Foundation. At 52, he was America’s most popular—and the art establishment’s most hated—living artist. Esteemed art critic Jerry Saltz once wrote that “Kinkade’s paintings are worthless schmaltz, and the lamestream media that love him are wrong.” But to his fans, Kinkade was everything.
Evangelical Christians snapped up his bucolic garden scenes and cozy cottages with windows that glowed so much they seemed, as Joan Didion once wrote, “as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.” Kinkade painted “John 3:16,” along with the sign of the fish, the traditional Christian symbol for Jesus, in the signature of each of his sentimental works that now hang in around twenty million homes globally. He also published books and calendars that paired his paintings with verses from the Bible or inspirational aphorisms attributed to the artist himself: “The best things in life are yours for the choosing”; “Creativity has everything to do with the way you live”; “Your life has meaning and beauty, and you are not alone.”
Fans in Denver had been promised “a 30 minute inspirational presentation.” But what they got was an un-groomed, underdressed speaker who was none too pleased with the media’s coverage of his recent arrest for drunk driving.
“I sneeze in public, and I make a headline,” he sneered.
Then he complained about the media’s lack of attention to his charitable works: “America’s most-known, most-beloved artist shows up at Orange County Hospital. We threw an all-day kids event, we hosted art contests, we gave art packages to all the kids…I talked to them about journaling their life, about creating something every day that makes a statement…and we sent word out to every newspaper: ‘Come down! See this day of joy! This day of celebration!’ No one showed. But make one wrong step in public and they put it on the front-page.”
When he was finished, Kinkade asked the organizers to make sure that his hotel room was alcohol-free, and then he kept the owner of Colorado’s Kinkade gallery up late into the night reminiscing about his pre-estrangement life with Nanette, his wife of thirty years. In happier times, they’d written The Many Loves of Marriage together, and Kinkade was still hiding “N’s” in his paintings as a tribute to her, even though they’d been separated for close to a year. “I was in my Carmel house, just medicated with alcohol,” he’d told a longtime friend of the weeks following the split.
A month after the event, Kinkade was sentenced to ten days in jail on the DUI charge. Sixteen months later, he was found unconscious and spent days in a coma. Doctors told him that if he didn’t get help, he would die. And two months after that, he did— on April 6, 2012, at the age of fifty-four.
The family released a statement attributing his death to natural causes, and fans gathered at the fifty or so independently-owned Thomas Kinkade galleries nationwide to celebrate his career. Sales skyrocketed. Marty Brown, who owns a gallery in Lake Forest, California, said he sold a million dollars’ worth of Kinkade product in the two months following the artist’s death—about five times as much as he’d sold in the entire previous year.
Then the autopsy came.
Kinkade had died of “acute ethanol and diazepam intoxication”—alcohol and Valium. Drinking had also led to a slew of chronic ailments: hypertension, an enlarged heart and fatty liver, along with numerous blunt force injuries probably caused by frequent drunken falls. His toenails had been painted a glittery gold color, and there was also green paint under his fingernails.
Source: The Daily Beast | Zac Bissonnette