Dr. Fredric Brandt, who spent decades masking the aging process of celebrities with the promise of eternal youth, cut short his own life inside his Miami home. Friends and family attributed the death to an illness he couldn't kick.
“He suffered from depression,” said Jacquie Tractenberg, Brandt’s publicist of 20 years.
Brandt, the South Florida dermatologist dubbed “Baron of Botox” by W Magazine, a man who made his career ironing out celebrity wrinkles and who pioneered a line of skin care products to protect against the brutal Florida sun, was 65. The doctor’s clients included Madonna, Kelly Ripa and model Stephanie Seymour.
Miami police ruled his death a suicide. Officers responded to a call placed by John Joseph Hupert, a friend who was staying at the Coconut Grove house with Brandt. According to the police report, Hupert was concerned that the doctor, who was under psychiatric care for depression, was suicidal.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
He found Brandt hanging from a yellow cord with a white towel around his neck in the house garage around 9:15 a.m. Sunday. He last saw Brandt alive at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
According to Miami Herald celebrity columnist Lesley Abravanel, Brandt, who had practices in Coral Gables and New York City, was reportedly "devastated" over comparisons to the protagonist played by Martin Short on an episode of Tina Fey’s new Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The show’s Dr. Franff character shared Brandt’s lunar-white and smooth skin, platinum blond ’do and passion for plastic surgery but held the character to ridicule by flaunting an exaggerated speech impediment due to the overdoing of plastic surgery.
“He did not commit suicide because of the show,” Tractenberg said. “The show didn’t help. It was mean. He felt bullied. It was mean-spirited picking at the way he looked for no reason at all. But he suffered from depression before that.”
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.
Coconut Grove businesswoman and dancer Carolyn Weinkle Lamb, a longtime client, said the satirical TV portrayal didn’t reflect the true Dr. Brandt.
“Some were put off by the way he looked. He was right off the runway of any fashion designer,” she said. “But inside he was just a beautiful guy and that had nothing to do with medicine.”
Born Fredric Sheldon Brandt in June 1949 in Newark, New Jersey, to parents who owned a neighborhood candy store, the inquisitive kid, a self-described “science geek” and competitive swimmer, lost his father Irving at 15 and his mother Esther at 22 as he was entering Drexel University Medical School.
“It was a lot to process, but you just have to forge ahead,” he reflected in a 2014 New York Times profile.
He completed residencies at New York University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in numerous medical specialties — oncology, nephrology, hematology and cardiology — but aesthetics, physical beauty, held him in rapture. He completed his dermatology residency at the University of Miami.
“The passing of Fredric Brandt, M.D., is tragic,” said Dr. Robert S. Kirsner, interim chairman of the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “He was part of our voluntary faculty for years and taught a generation of dermatologists, including trainees in Miami and practicing physicians worldwide, about aesthetics. ... He will be missed. However, through his teaching and innovation, his legacy will live on.”
In 1982, Brandt opened his dermatology practice in Coral Gables where he partnered with the manufacturers of leading injectables like Dysport, Restylane and Cosmoderm to run clinical trials at his Dermatology Research Institute on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. There, he worked to clear new technologies with the Food and Drug Administration.
By 1989, Brandt, who authored 10 Minutes 10 Years: Your Definitive Guide to a Beautiful and Youthful Appearance and Age-Less: The Definitive Guide to Botox, Lasers, Peels and Other Solutions for Flawless Skin, opened a New York City practice. Three years later, he created a popular skin care line, Dr. Brandt Skin Care.
In that realm, Brandt became international as his lines were sold at Sephora and 40 countries outside of the United States. He hosted the SiriusXM radio show, Ask Dr. Brandt.
In 2013, Brandt released his most recent anti-aging lines, DNA and XYY. “My DNA (do not age) line of anti-aging products truly represents the next frontier of anti-aging.…” They “prevent future aging by teaching skin to act young at the cellular level,” he said in a 2013 Miami Herald feature.
Said Jean Godfrey June, editor of Lucky, in an obituary released by the doctor’s publicist: “This was a brilliant man at the uncontested top of one of the most difficult and competitive professions, who took the crude science and turned it into something so refined, so subtle and so beautiful that it transformed literally thousands of lives.”
But behind the beauty, apparently there was pain, masked by Brandt’s upbeat public demeanor. He sang show tunes in his office for his patients. He adored comedienne Phyllis Diller. He was an avid art collector who championed the works of Damien Hirst, Richard Prince and Anish Kapoor. He was his own biggest customer, frequently injecting himself with Botox.
“Everybody wants to have radiant skin,” he said in a 2003 Miami Herald story.
Brandt remarked in a 2014 New York Times profile that his goal was to “restore a face to harmony.” His skin care regiment for Madonna’s translucent skin was oft-commented upon, including by the singer. “If I have nice skin, I owe a lot to him,” she once said in an email to the Times.
“Fred was as sweet as he was brilliant,” said Tara Gilani, South Florida entertainment and fashion Trend Tracker reporter with CBS4. “He loved his clients, his friends and his dogs. ... I was happy to bump into him on Jan. 23 at a Humane Society of Miami fundraiser. He was kind and complimentary, as always. I’m glad I got to hug him that night.”
In fact, he was so loved by his patients, a group of eight tapped into Brandt’s love of show tunes and performed a musical Lamb wrote for the doctor’s 60th birthday.
“Dr. Brandt: The Musical,” Lamb said through tears. “We got about seven or eight of his patients and we wore suits and top hats and did a musical in his office. Parodies of Broadway shows. One of the songs was I Could Have Waited All Day to the tune of I Could Have Danced All Night — because when you would go to his office you could expect to wait two hours. We used Hello, Dolly! for the way he greeted people.
“Besides being an innovative and great doctor, he was just the nicest guy,” Lamb added. “My mom and I were clients of his since the late-’80s and he did a lot of innovative and experimental things on my mom. She passed away two years ago with pneumonia but when she was in the hospital she asked that we bring her Dr. Brandt products to her to put on her skin.”
As to the circumstances of his death, “it almost doesn’t matter, the other stuff,” Lamb said. “The fact is, we lost a great guy.”
Brandt is survived by his brother, Paul, and the dogs he cherished — Benji, Surya and Tyler.
Miami Herald staff writer Chuck Rabin contributed to this report.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.