Art and Entertainment

Adam Taylor/NBCU Photo Bank via AP Images
Kal Penn as Dr. Lawrence Kutner

Dr. Kutner’s TV Suicide Is Fake, But the Problem Is Real

April 09, 2009 01:58 PM
by Shannon Firth
TV actor Kal Penn leaves “House” for a real-world role on Obama’s staff; his TV suicide underscores the concern over suicide among doctors.

Fans Shocked by Penn’s Departure

The April 6 episode of “House,” a FOX hospital drama, caused sadness and frustration for many fans as one of the show’s lead characters, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, ended his life. And in a curious twist, he left no suicide note.

Executive Producer David Shore told Entertainment Weekly, “The notion that the reasons are too complicated for even House to figure out is what was drawing us to it.”

The drama’s surprise ending brings to light a disturbing phenomenon: between 300 and 400 doctors kill themselves each year. Often the core problem is undiagnosed and untreated depression. Open access to a vast range of medications may play a contributing role.

Newsweek explained that “despite the steady increase in the number of women in the field, medicine is still very much a macho profession; physicians are supposed to be the strong ones who care for the sick, not the sick ones who need to be cared for.”

Male doctors have a suicide rate that is 1.4 times higher than the general male population. For female doctors, the depression rate is double that of the general female population, and the suicide rate is 2.3 times higher, reported Newsweek.

Despite some misguided gossip, actor Kal Penn is not dead. In fact, Penn is quite well, and excited about starting a new career. Having met President Obama and his staff while assisting with his campaign, Penn has accepted an offer from the White House to become associate director in the White House office of public liaison. Even though he has trained since high school to be an actor, he told Entertainment Weekly he’d always taken an interest in political science.

Penn credits his grandparents’ ideals, saying, “They marched with Gandhi in the Indian independence movement, and that was always in the back of my head.” In 2006 he began an international studies degree online through Stanford, which helped his career transition.

According to People magazine, even senior staffers at the White House are paid at most $172,000, far less than what the average TV actor makes per episode. However, Penn seems unconcerned about the drop in salary. He told People, “The opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor.”

Key Players: Kal Penn

Kal Penn is known for recurring roles on “24,” as well as lead roles in the films “The Namesake” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”

According to IMDB, Kal Penn’s real name is Kalpen Suresh Modi, but he shortened it because he worried about “scaring off employers.”  And on his Twitter profile he describes himself as a “New Jerseyan, actor, student, writer, and organic composter.”

In a 2007 interview, Penn told New York Magazine he was concerned about his role on “24.” “I have a huge political problem with the role. It was essentially accepting a form of racial profiling. I think it’s repulsive. But it was the first time I had a chance to blow stuff up.”

Related Topic: Actress’s death puts South Korean spotlight on cyberbullying

In October, 40-year-old South Korean actress Choi Jin-sil killed herself after Internet gossip falsely linked her to another actor’s early September suicide. The event spurred the South Korea National Police to launch a crackdown on Internet activity.

Reference: Suicide Resources


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