After years of episodes of bizarre behavior that culminated in her starting a fire in a stranger’s driveway, Amanda Bynes is in psychiatric care. It has been one of the sadder spectacles in the entertainment industry to see the “Hairspray” and “Amanda Show” star – who came off so charming, smart and seemingly well-grounded before she started to unravel – landing on tabloid front pages, in court, or on surveillance videos in multi-color wigs and odd attire. Here’s hoping she gets the help she needs and is able to balance out.
Certainly, other famous performers have managed to pull themselves out of the abyss of mental problems — with help, of course — despite the added difficulty of being in the public eye.
Looking healthy and beautiful, and acting positively normal, Amanda’s fellow former child star Britney Spears is the first example that comes to mind of such a comeback. However, despite the successes of recent years, the way she has acquitted herself onstage, on “The X-Factor” and in her personal life, she is still under the legal conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears. This is the residual effect of the star’s years-long meltdown that included the notorious 2007 incident in which Britney shaved her own head in a San Fernando Valley salon.
In 2000, you may recall, Anne Heche was found wandering in a rural area near Fresno, Calforni, knocking on doors, wearing very little clothing. The gifted actress fully came back from that breakdown, professionally speaking, even though she retains a reputation for eccentricity. In her “Call Me Crazy” memoir, she let readers know that on her home planet “I was called Celestia, the reincarnation of God.”
Nick Nolte’s eccentric behavior has become an expected part of Hollywood life – his strolls through Beverly Hills with Santa-size beard, his public appearances in pajamas, his statements about shooting human growth hormone into his stomach – not to mention telling Bryant Gumbel on the air that he’d had a testicle tuck. He also told the world that he has had tanks of ozone bolted to walls in rooms all over his property because he believes “bad things can’t live in it…Gets more oxygen into your plasma. It’s all about getting oxygen into your brain.” Of course, he also says he’s lied to the press throughout his career. Whatever, the actor continues to turn out tremendous performances in films such as the newly-unveiled “Hateship Loveship” with Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce. Toronto Film Festival pundits are already talking Oscar nominations.
Carrie Fisher has written extensively — and hilariously — about her struggles with bipolar illness, particularly in her 2008 memoir “Wishful Drinking,” which also became a hit one-woman show. The author, screenwriter and “Star Wars” actress has also been a force in the fundraising/public service arena, raising awareness of mental illness issues and getting across the vital point that these illnesses, just like any others, must not be cause for shame.
“I went completely off the rails,” she told People magazine, referring to an episode five years ago when she was supposed to be entertaining on a cruise ship, and wound up having a bipolar incident in public. “I don’t really remember what I did. I haven’t watched the videos that people took. I know it got bad. I was in a very severe manic state, which bordered on psychosis. Certainly delusional.”
Patty Duke can relate to the trauma Bynes has been going through.
In the 1960’s Duke was the beloved, Oscar-winning (“The Miracle Worker”) child actress who became the jaunty teen star of her own hugely popular TV show — who then grew up and melted down before the public’s eyes. After her image-altering role in the 1967 cult fave “Valley of the Dolls,” her bizarre behavior, wild partying and high-profile romances sold forests’ worth of tabloids. When she won an Emmy for her work in “My Sweet Charlie” in 1970, her behavior onstage convinced many she was on drugs and/or alcohol, and mockery ensued. “We have taken Patty Duke’s acceptance speech down to the code room to be deciphered,” one major paper told the world. “We will report what she said as soon as we figure it out.”
Eventually, Duke gained control of the bipolar illness at the root of her troubles, and with therapy found some healing for the agonized childhood she wrote about in her best-selling “Call Me Anna” memoir. She was also able to resume her distinguished career, including serving as Screen Actors Guild president.
A few years ago, commenting on the press hounding of Demi Lovato, as the former Disney Channel sweetheart coped with a breakdown, Duke urged media restraint. “”Be quiet and let the girl figure it out,” she said. “These are people, these young girls. Some of them can build a shield against the negative media, but most of them can’t — and it hurts.”
Lovato eventually went public with her own struggle, dealing with bipolar illness as well as eating disorders.
While mental illness affects people in every walk of life and every social strata, the show business realm is filled with circumstances that make things worse – particularly the obvious aspect of being in trouble while being watched by thousands, even millions. Top level performers’ demanding, high-pressure lifestyles often include very little in the way of the stability and structure that afford the rest of us some semblance of order in our day-to-day existence. Hangers-on who party and bring the drugs are a poisonous accompaniment to success for all too many of the famed. On top of that, the sensitivities of creatively gifted people can open them up to mental and emotional danger on the job.
“To be a good actor you have to be something like a criminal, to be willing to break the rules to strive for something new,” Nicolas Cage once remarked. The Oscar winner, whose passion for method acting led him to such antics as eating a live cockroach on camera in “Vampire’s Kiss” and smashing a street vendor’s remote control car while playing a brutal gangster in “The Cotton Club,” went on, “There’s a fine line between the method actor and the schizophrenic.”