John Forbes Nash Jr., Nobel prize-winning mathematician, and his wife, Alicia, died in a car crash on Saturday May 23. NAMI Mercer in Mercer County, N.J. has good reason to remember them both with affection and regret.
John and Alicia attended NAMI Mercer’s first fund-raising event on January 6, 2002, a cold, rainy evening in Princeton. Co-chairs Karen Schotland and Sharon Kaplan organized two parallel showings of A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe, in the Garden Theater. Tickets cost $25, with free sodas and popcorn donated by Princeton University, and brief presentations on NAMI Mercer’s work for the families of people with mental illness. A $150 formal dinner followed in Prospect House, the university’s faculty club.
The movie, inspired by John Nash’s life, premiered on Christmas Day 2001, and was filmed, in part, at a number of New Jersey sites, including the Princeton University campus. The two showings on January 6 attracted 410 people, many of whom had served as extras during the filming. The dinner was sold out, with a total of 160 participants. According to co-chair Karen Schotland, the event raised $76,000.
He and Sylvia Nasar, author of the book A Beautiful Mind, both spoke from the podium. John was presented with NAMI Mercer’s first Distinguished Contribution Award: “Presented to John Forbes Nash, Jr., for helping to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness through the sharing of your life story.” The award was signed by Bill Wilmot, president and Chomy Garces, executive director.
A Times of Trenton story by Robert Stern (January 7, 2002) is excerpted below:
Nash was quick to note that while he and his wife, Alicia, gave script approval to the film, the movie — out of necessity — offers a fictionalized view of schizophrenic episodes of his life. One major difference between the real Nash and the man portrayed by Russell Crowe is that, unlike Crowe’s character, Nash never had visions of people or scenes — he only imagined hearing voices.
“If you’re familiar with the patterns of mental illness and schizophrenia, people do not typically see (imagined) things,’ said Nash. “You don’t see them, but you maybe hear voices. But voices without images don’t make for a poignant tale on the big screen,” he said.
“The screenwriter did something that is very significant . . . creating madness, insanity in a structure that can be seen in a movie,” Nash commented.
John Nash with NAMI Mercer Executive Director Chomy Garces and President Bill Wilmot. Courtesy of NAMI Mercer.
Nash’s 42-year-old son, John Charles Martin Nash, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and holds a doctorate in mathematics from Rutgers University, also attended. Unlike his father, the younger Nash still is struggling with his illness on a daily basis, receiving medical treatment and counseling from a psychiatrist and psychologist. He says his father is an inspiration.
“He's a great hope for all of us; anyone with mental illness can look at Dad and say it’s possible,” the younger Nash said. “It’s possible to recover.”