Texas Roadhouse founder takes life after COVID struggles: How to help those contemplating suicide

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Texas Roadhouse founder takes life after COVID struggles: How to help those contemplating suicide

March 25, 2021 -

A logo sign outside of a Texas Roadhouse restaurant location in Columbia, Maryland on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

A logo sign outside of a Texas Roadhouse restaurant location in Columbia, Maryland on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

A logo sign outside of a Texas Roadhouse restaurant location in Columbia, Maryland on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Texas Roadhouse’s legendary founder, Kent Taylor, died March 19, 2021, after battling difficult symptoms believed to be caused by COVID. Taylor is being remembered this week, not for his final struggles, but for his life built around steaks, peanuts, and people. 

“After a battle with post-COVID related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life,” a statement issued jointly by his family and the company said. It was not reported when Taylor was diagnosed with the virus, but the statement said his suffering from symptoms greatly intensified and became unbearable in recent days.

The Texas Roadhouse chain he founded has grown to include 611 domestic locations in forty-nine states and twenty-eight international locations in ten foreign countries, according to a company fact sheet.

There’s more to the story

Several years ago my husband’s best friend died by suicide. At the graveside service which my husband led, he noted that it was not fair to measure his friend’s life by his worst mistake. Suicide is arguably the worst decision a person can make. And there’s most often more to the person’s worth and value than that decision. 

Such appears to be true of Taylor.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), praised Taylor’s creativity, grit, and habit of taking bold risks, noting that he “gladly shared the results” whenever they paid off. He noted that Taylor quietly and generously supported numerous causes, including veterans, the Special Olympics and local law enforcement.

When the pandemic hit last March, Taylor chose to forego his yearly salary and bonuses in order to financially support hourly restaurant employees.

It is hard to understand why someone so successful and respected would choose to take his own life. But the family and company statement made it clear: he was struggling.

COVID-19, tinnitus, depression, and suicide

The main “long-haul” COVID-19 symptom mentioned in statements about Taylor’s suicide was tinnitus, which is an often debilitating “ringing” in the ear that others cannot hear. The noise can be more than just ringing—it can be freight trains, buzzing, chirping, drumming, or a myriad of sounds. It can be intermittent, or, as in Taylor’s case, severe and constant. 

I know firsthand just how annoying and debilitating this disorder can be: I have lived with it for most of my life due to a hearing loss caused by nerve damage. I describe it as a symphony of noises going on in my head. And I notice when a new sound joins in, such as the roaring of an airplane taking off or a swarm of crickets. 

Although the sounds are always there, I have conditioned myself to tune them out. And there have been times I even name the sounds or try to associate Bible verses to them. For someone not used to living with constant noise, I well understand how it can be disruptive and depressing. 

The connection between tinnitus and COVID is being studied, and researchers estimate that nearly 15 percent of people infected with the virus experienced tinnitus. But, as one doctor noted, it is also possible that patients may have had some underlying hearing loss and COVID may have exacerbated that. The same study points out a link between tinnitus and depression and anxiety.

In his battle against severe tinnitus, Taylor recognized the need for more research and worked toward that goal in his final days. He committed to funding a clinical study on tinnitus to help members of the military who suffer from the condition. 

I wish Taylor had found that help for himself. So does his family: “We are saddened by the decision Kent felt he needed to make and want to emphasize more than ever the importance of reaching out for help if you or someone you love is suffering. As Kent would so often say, ‘Keep it legendary.’”

Frankie Jonas now knows “it’s okay not to be okay”

Another notable person made news this week with his contemplation of suicide: Frankie Jonas, the younger brother of Nick, Joe, and Kevin Jonas, a.k.a, the Jonas Brothers. On Monday, Frankie posted a video on social media about his struggles with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness.

“From a very young age I struggled with drinking and drugging as an escape because I hated life, and I didn’t want to be here,” he told his followers. “I eventually, after many years of trying to kill myself accidentally, came to a point where I was going to do it for real,” he described. 

Someone asked him, point blank, if he was actually okay, then after they told him to stop lying, he admitted he was not okay. “It saved my life,” he said. He is a year and a half into being sober after treatment. 

Frankie said he hopes that opening up about his struggles will help other people know that it’s “okay not to be okay.” 

One question to ask someone struggling with suicidal thoughts

According to a John Hopkins report, COVID has exacerbated multiple factors which may increase suicide risks, such as economic stress, isolation, barriers to mental health treatment, and constant news coverage about the pandemic, causing anxiety and fear.

The report also noted that participation in religious communities has been associated with lower suicide rates, and since churches and community centers have been forced to limit meetings, that could be a contributing factor.

I am not trained to help with suicide prevention, but I believe that if more of us are aware of the people around us who are struggling and ask with compassion, “Are you okay?”, we can make a difference. As in the case with Frankie Jonas, it may take a little push to get them to admit that they aren’t. It shows we care enough to let them know that “it’s okay not to be okay.” We must be the “religious community” outside the walls to make a difference. 

Jesus, who overcame every struggle we face, including death, is always praying for all of us fellow strugglers: 

  • “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
  • “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

It has been said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Our ministry has materials on our website which may help point a fellow struggler contemplating suicide to the help they need. Our prayer is that you or a person you know will look beyond the despair and hold onto the hand of God reaching out to you.

Like Frankie Jonas, may you find that life is worth living.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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