Homelessness, Addiction and Recovery: Inside Margot Kidder’s Battle with Mental Health

While Margot Kidder is best known for her recurring role as Lois Lane in the original Superman films, she will also be remembered for her long and courageous battle with bipolar disorder, once known as manic depression.

The actress died at the age of 69 on Sunday at her home in Livingston, Montana, PEOPLE confirmed on Monday. Her cause of death is unknown.

“The reality of my life has been grand and wonderful, punctuated by these odd blips and burps of madness,” Kidder told PEOPLE for a cover story in 1996, not long after her last reported manic episode, which left her homeless for a time.

In the same interview, Kidder called the incident “the most public freak-out in history,” adding, “I was like one of those ladies you see talking to the space aliens on the street corner in New York.”

While the four-day disappearance was her most highly-publicized episode, it was not the first time she had made headlines since rising to prominence as Lois Lane in 1978’s Superman.

There were addictions and recoveries, husbands and divorces, a number of boyfriends (including Superman III costar Richard Pryor and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), episodes of bizarre behavior and an auto accident that left her bankrupt and partially paralyzed in 1990.

Kidder told PEOPLE that the root of most of her problems — which she said included “mood swings that could knock over a building” — was bipolar disorder. The disease affects over 9 million Americans and causes those who have it to vacillate between euphoric highs and desperate lows, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

She was first diagnosed with the condition by a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist in 1988. But, suspicious of medical opinion, Kidder refused to accept the finding — or to take lithium, the recommended treatment.

“It’s very hard to convince a manic person that there is anything wrong with them,” Kidder told PEOPLE. “You have no desire to sleep. You are full of ideas.”

But in 1996, when a computer virus accidentally deleted a memoir she had been working on for years, Kidder said she “went from really distressed to absolute delusion.” She flew to L.A. to see a computer specialist who told her that the files could not be recovered.

While waiting for her return flight at the airport, she became convinced that her first husband, novelist Thomas McGuane, and the CIA were “trying to kill” her because her memoir was powerful enough to change the world. She saw agents and assassins everywhere. “I know you’re looking at me!” she told PEOPLE she shouted at a passersby at the airport.

Still in the airport at 3 a.m., she spoke with a TV crew from WBIR in Knoxville, Tenn. “My ex-husband has hired people to kill me,” she said she told them. Anchorman Ted Hall later told PEOPLE: “I could see there was no plot. It was so sad. She was dirty, tired.”

By then, she had thrown away her purse because she thought there was a bomb in it. Later, she tried to take a taxi but didn’t have enough money for the trip. She tried to use her ATM card outside the airport but thought the cash machine was about to explode. “I took off running,” Kidder told PEOPLE.

“I slept in yards and on porches in a state of fear,” she added. By the following afternoon, Kidder had made her way downtown, a distance of some 20 miles, and was taken in by a homeless man named Charlie who gave her shelter in his cardboard shack.

He “took such incredible care of me,” Kidder told PEOPLE. “I was cold. I was hungry. I was terrified beyond belief. He stayed with me and held me.” She had lost some caps on her front teeth, which she cemented back in place with Krazy Glue. “When you’re having a manic episode,” she said, “you don’t always remember to pack the Krazy Glue.”

The next day another homeless man tried to rape her, she recalled, kicking her in the stomach, hitting her in the face and dislodging the last of the caps on her front teeth. Kidder said she hit back and remembers reasoning…