Mental Health at the Mic: Christian A’Xavier Lovehall
By Fergus Ewbank and Marianne Haynes – for bphope.com
I’m with Dreyfuss on this. To me, it will always be, manic depression. Side note; Doesn’t he look awesome! Sexier now, than ever before…
Some people who live with bipolar find it difficult to talk about. Not so Richard Dreyfuss. The celebrated actor speaks readily about his illness—stressing that it should be referred to as such—and finds the notion that it should be tiptoed around literally laughable.
For one thing, he says, Richard wouldn’t be Richard without bipolar—just as anyone without their complexities and peculiarities simply wouldn’t be the same person. For another, he chooses to focus on the ways that manic depression (he’s adamant about using the older terminology) has enriched his life.
“Step away for a second,” he recommends. “Understand the advantages that manic depression can give you.”
Dreyfuss is well-versed in the down side of bipolar: feelings of anxious dread that started in boyhood, bouts of depression as he matured. He’s been in psychotherapy since age 19 when he sought help to cope with profound feelings of loss after breaking up with a girlfriend.
He’s strict about sticking with his medications because he’s seen that without them, he wouldn’t be as good a father, husband, actor, and civic activist.
Get him talking about his bipolar, though, and this is what he says: “I’ve enjoyed my illness.” He mentions qualities like creativity and grandiose thinking—a symptom that often goes in the negative column.
As Dreyfuss sees it, surges of wild confidence allowed him to power past setbacks. He often talks about how he was able to turn any bad thing into something good.
Though bipolar could have been the antagonist in his life, Dreyfuss treats it as an ally that helped propel his chosen career. At 68, his long resume of stage, movie and TV roles includes top billing in such beloved classics as Mr. Holland’s Opus, Close Encounters of the Third Kind,American Graffiti, and, of course, Jaws.
In 1977, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for The Goodbye Girl—the youngest actor to receive that honor at the time—and he has an impressive collection of other awards and prestigious nominations under his belt.
Dreyfuss has slowed his acting work in recent years, taking on mostly cameo roles and concentrating his energies on other endeavors. (One notable exception: His star turn as crooked financier Bernie Madoff in the ABC mini-series Madoff, which aired in February.)
He actually attempted to retire about 10 years ago, and he’s made no secret of his disenchantment with Hollywood. In his view, there’s too much emphasis these days on special effects and not enough storytelling, character development and dialogue.
“There is very little substance in what has been produced in the film industry and very little opportunity for great roles as an actor in any film, and that’s because it’s all been taken over by our only common denominator—greed,” he says now.
Of course, this is a man who co-starred with one of the scariest special effects of its day: a menacing mechanical shark.
In fact, the original Jaws is an excellent example of how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“They only made Jaws because it started out as a $4 million budget … and they said it could be made in eight weeks,” Dreyfuss recounts. There were just two problems: “They didn’t have a shark and they didn’t have a cast.”
In the end, director Stephen Spielberg went way over budget. Yet the movie recouped its production costs in two weeks, earned $123 million in its first theatrical run in 1975, ushered in the “summer blockbuster” phenomenon—and made Dreyfuss an even bigger star.
His winning streak at the cineplex fell apart in the early 1980s due to a hard-partying lifestyle. At the same time, however, he was establishing a family with then-wife Jeramie Rain. Their first child, Emily, was born in 1983.
Two sons followed—Benjamin in 1986 and Harry in 1990—as Dreyfuss pulled himself together and restarted his career with crowd pleasers like Down and Out in Beverly Hills and What About Bob?
He also did artsier projects that fed his creative soul, including a scenery-chewing performance as The Player in Tom Stoppard’s film version of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and a stint on Broadway in Death and the Maiden.
Although Dreyfuss got clean and sober, it wasn’t until later that he saw the connection between his avid substance use and trying to escape the pandemonium inside his head.
“It took me until I was in my late 40s and early 50s before I really understood what the phrase ‘medicating yourself’ meant,” he said in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune interview. “Until then, I had accepted all the phrases that came at me in the culture: you’re a drug addict, you’re drug-dependent, you’re drug-this, you’re drug-that.”
I promise you this is the funniest thing you’ll watch today. Happy tears of joy!