Lou Reed’s Sister Opens Up About Reed’s Mental Health + Electroshock Therapy Treatments
Lou Reed will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this Saturday (April 18) as a solo artist. Ahead of that honor, the late Velvet Underground frontman's sister, Merrill Reed Weiner, has written a piece for Medium disputing the allegations that Reed was treated with electroshock therapy due to “homosexual urges” and the claims that their father, Sidney Reed, abused his son.
Weiner writes that she witnessed Reed exhibit behavior changes when he was in junior high, at which time he became “challenging, unfriendly [and] provocative” to his peers. In high school, she says her brother began to withdraw from people entirely, which also opened the door for his interest in music.
At that time, Reed began playing in bands as a teen, traveling to Manhattan to play shows, while also experimenting with drugs. As a result, he began arguing more with his parents, but Weiner believes her parents didn’t know exactly how to respond and weren’t equipped to do so.
As a freshman at NYU, the siblings' parents brought Reed home from school after he had what her mother called a “nervous breakdown,” believing him to have schizophrenia. It was then that her parents sought psychiatric care for their son. Weiner also writes that doctors placed blame on her parents for Reed’s mental health, which both crushed her mother and left both parents with a great deal of guilt.
Reed then began receiving electroshock therapy, which Weiner says tore apart their family and damaged her brother’s short-term memory. However, she denies claims that Reed received the treatments because her parents believed he exhibited “homosexual urges”:
It has been suggested by some authors that ECT was approved by my parents because Lou had confessed to homosexual urges. How simplistic. He was depressed, weird, anxious, and avoidant. My parents were many things, but homophobic they were not. In fact, they were blazing liberals. They were caught in a bewildering web of guilt, fear, and poor psychiatric care. Did they make a mistake in not challenging the doctor’s recommendation for ECT? Absolutely. I have no doubt they regretted it until the day they died. But the family secret continued. We absolutely never spoke about the treatments, then or ever.
When Reed returned home after treatment, Weiner says he harbored “incredible rage” toward their father, however, she also denied rumors that their father ever physically abused Reed:
Lou’s accusations towards our father, of violence and a lack of love, seemed rooted in that time. The stories he related — of being hit, of being treated like an inanimate object — seemed total fantasy to me. I must say that I never saw my father raise a hand to anyone, certainly not to us and never to my mother. Nor did I see a lack of love for his son during our childhood. Like his son, my father could be a verbal bully but he was loving and inordinately proud of Lou and bragged about him in later life to anyone who would listen.
Read Weiner’s complete article here.