Beyond our reach

From The Oregonian, October 21, 1992 – not available online

Jane Hoyt’s sense of reality left her in the days before she died.

She told people she was married to Jim Morrison, the late singer for The Doors. That the air smelled bad all over Portland because witches were burning. That somebody was trying to steal all her assets.

So, maybe standing there on the edge of the Hawthorne Bridge on Aug. 18, she believed she could fly. Or maybe, looking at the Willamette River below, she saw something besides choppy blue-gray water. Awash in delusions, maybe the 40-year-old Hoyt couldn’t understand that plunging from the bridge would mean death.

No one will ever know.

Wandering the streets of Portland, her mind racing from one bizarre thought to the next, it didn’t matter that Jane Hoyt, a former TV reporter and promotions manager, had money and friends and a family who desperately wanted to help her.

In the middle of a manic episode — one phase of bipolar disorder, the disease that afflicted her for several years — Hoyt was utterly incapable of helping herself. Yet, when she brushed with police on at least three occasions in the days before her death, they did nothing to help her, either. To intervene, say police, would have violated her civil rights.

Lay people call Jane Hoyt’s illness manic-depression. It affects about 1.5 percent of the population and generally doesn’t show up until early adulthood. Hoyt was diagnosed in her mid-30s, well after she was into a big-time television career. Her disease eventually got in the way of work. Perhaps worst of all, though, the disease embarrassed her, says her family.

Throughout history, a number of creative people are believed to have been afflicted with bipolar disorder. Composer George Frederick Handel wrote the “Messiah” in five weeks during a manic episode. Poets Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound and William Blake supposedly were manic-depressive. More recently, actress Patty Duke said she has lived with the illness since her teens.

For Hoyt, though, her illness always carried a stigma.

“She lost her confidence with this damned disease,” says her sister, Anna Lyon. “She couldn’t accept it. She never looked at it like having diabetes or some other medical problem.”

When the illness was under control, Hoyt would look back on her manic episodes with shame, her sister says. “What if you were running around doing crazy things? It was terribly hard for her to face,” says Lyon.

Hoyt arrived in Portland Aug. 12 on an airplane from Maine, where she had lived for two years. She was to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. From the way she acted in Portland, though, Hoyt clearly was having a manic episode.

At a bridal shower, her behavior was peculiar, says another sister, Margaret Guinasso. And in the middle of a formal dinner, Hoyt ripped off her clothes and went for a swim.

Her friend told Hoyt that although she wanted her to attend the wedding, she didn’t think Hoyt was up to being a bridesmaid.

Enraged, Hoyt sent her luggage to the Hotel Vintage Plaza in downtown Portland and left her friend’s home. No one close to her ever saw her alive again.

While her family searched for her — checking homeless shelters, distributing homemade missing-person fliers — Hoyt’s corpse lay in the morgue for a month. It was the final indignity of many suffered by a talented, creative woman whose disease — when untreated — robbed her of her rational mind.

Manic-depression is a mood disorder characterized by episodes of mania, during which a person feels on top of the world, and deep depression. No one knows exactly what causes the illness, but genetic links are strong.

In the beginning of a manic phase, people with bipolar disorder frequently are very productive. They feel euphoric. They are a whirlwind of activity. They hardly sleep.

Eventually, though, the mania and lack of sleep combine to make them irritable. Then the irritability can give way to psychosis. As the manic phase progresses, people with bipolar disorder lose touch with reality. They think things that aren’t true. They make irrational decisions.

After such an episode — which, untreated, may last as long as three months — a debilitating depression always follows.

Unlike an acute depression, which affects as many as 5 percent of the population at least once in their lives, bipolar disorder is a chronic illness with no cure.

That said, though, the disease frequently can be controlled with lithium, a naturally occurring metal that, as a medicine, works to level out a manic-depressive’s extreme moods. Sometimes, anti-epileptic drugs are prescribed for bipolar disorder, but psychiatrists say lithium is widely accepted as the first course of treatment.

When Hoyt took her medicine, it was impossible to tell she had a mental illness. When she didn’t, or when the level of lithium in her bloodstream fell too low, a manic episode would ensue.

Even though lithium is effective, patients often don’t like it because it makes them emotionally flat.

“It’s hard for some people to feel any feelings when they’re taking it,” says Christine McCartney, a senior clinical psychologist at Oregon State Hospital in Wilsonville.

In addition, the drug’s side effects include tremors and mild memory impairment. Some patients gain 40 to 60 pounds in a year. It also can contribute to diarrhea and a need to urinate frequently.

McCartney says up to 30 percent of all people with manic-depression stop taking lithium against their doctors’ advice.

Bipolar disorder, in a way, is more insidious than other forms of mental illness because the manic episodes can produce such great highs, say medical professionals. It’s a rush that some patients find irresistible.

Mick Schafbuch, Hoyt’s former boss at KOIN, chanced to meet her in the KOIN Tower lobby on Aug. 17, the day before police believe she died.

It’s an encounter he recalls in detail because the unkempt woman he spoke with was so unlike the Jane Hoyt he remembered.

For one thing, Hoyt’s looks had always caused heads to swivel. At 20, she worked as a movie double for Raquel Welch. Just a few years ago, during a marital separation that eventually ended in divorce, word was she was dating a famous TV game-show host. No one was surprised. Not only did she have the looks — slim but shapely, pouty lips and a mane of light brown hair always tousled just so — she was smart, to boot.

Hoyt left KOIN in 1986 bound for Los Angeles and a management job with King World, syndicator of such programs as “Jeopardy!” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

So when Schafbuch spied Hoyt in skintight purple shorts, peekaboo sweatshirt and sandals, it took him a moment to realize that this was the same woman who had cut such a striking, stylish figure during her days with Channel 6.

“I walked up to her and said, `Jane, how are you? What are you doing here?’ “ says Schafbuch.

They chatted for a few minutes. Hoyt told Schafbuch she had come to Portland for a friend’s wedding. But the friend, said Hoyt, took Hoyt’s Jaguar from her. Now, she told him, somebody was trying to steal all her assets.

“I asked her if there was someone I could call for her,” says Schafbuch. “She said no.”

Schafbuch couldn’t have known it, but Hoyt’s sister, Margaret Guinasso, was frantically trying to find her.

On Aug. 16, Guinasso, the only member of Hoyt’s immediate family who now lives in Portland, filed a missing person’s report with the Portland Police.

She asked the management at Hoyt’s hotel to telephone her if her sister showed up. And the hotel did call once, with the message that Hoyt was in the lobby, involved in a fracas.

“I called the police and asked them to hold her until I could get help and get there,” says Guinasso.

They didn’t.

Police say detaining Hoyt or carting her off to an emergency room for a mental evaluation would have violated her rights; no officer who encountered her believed she was a threat to herself or others.

On the final occasion, police escorted Hoyt from the Marriott Hotel lobby, where she had fallen asleep, says Guinasso. The hotel is across the street from the Willamette River, a short walk from the Hawthrone Bridge.

“My feeling is that Jane went straight from the Marriott to the bridge,” says Guinasso.

The family believes that police could have detained Hoyt, even if they failed to connect her as a missing person.

“She was clearly out of it. She was kicking and scratching people,” her sister says.

That Hoyt crossed with police so many times and was never taken to a hospital emergency room disturbs Dr. Joseph Bloom, chairman of the psychiatry department at Oregon Health Sciences University.

“I don’t want to be a police basher, but I think this case really needs to be looked at,” he says.

Police spokesman Derrick Foxworth says there must be evidence of a threat to safety before police can hold someone. Acting goofy isn’t enough.

Several times dating to 1986, Hoyt was hospitalized because of bipolar disorder. She moved from Los Angeles back to Portland about 1988. Then in 1990, she moved to Edgecomb, Maine, renting a cottage by the sea. Her brother, Billy, lives in Edgecomb, and sister, Anna Lyon, lives nearby. The Hoyt family has a summer house in Bristol, Maine, which has been passed down from generation to generation for the better part of two centuries, so her parents were frequently around, too.

Mostly, Hoyt lived quietly and unremarkably in Maine. She was writing a screenplay. She frequently visited her sister and brother.

Then, early this year, Hoyt’s father, Bill Hoyt Jr., a newsman at KGW and KOIN during the 1960s and ’70s, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Hoyt helped care for him at her parents’ home in Dover, Del. He died July 7.

“Jane took it very hard,” says her mother, Muriel Hoyt. “She thought the world of her dad.”

Her family believes that the stress of her father’s death was part of what triggered Jane Hoyt’s final manic episode.

With this illness, says Oregon State Hospital’s Christine McCartney, self-esteem problems also are common. So much so that about 15 percent of all people with this disorder commit suicide .

Muriel Hoyt says after her daughter was diagnosed, she never would get too close to anyone. “I think she was afraid people would not accept it or understand it.”

Hoyt’s world grew smaller and smaller.

Sometime this year, Jane Hoyt wrote a letter — never mailed — to Ted Turner, the broadcasting magnate who acknowledged in a Time magazine article that he requires lithium to stay calm.

This is what she said:

“Maybe someday I’ll come to terms with my illness. The stigma and consequent embarrassment is weighty. But perhaps I’ll reach a point when I can look back without bitterness and resentment.

“If I thought my story would help others,” wrote Hoyt, “I’d share it in an instant.”

A memorial service for Jane Hoyt will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Lake Oswego’s Our Lady of the Lake church.