Richard Lewis on The Other Great Depression

He is an exceptional comedian, a recovering alcoholic, and a man on a spiritual journey. You’ll learn all this and more in the book titled, The Other Great Depression: How I’m Overcoming on a Daily Basis At Least a Million Addictions and Dysfunctions in Finding a Spiritual Life (Sometimes). I am talking about Richard Lewis. And he is a man on a mission having just been on a 20-city tour in four days because there’s a story to be told here and as I’ve said, it’s a story of a comedian, a recovering alcoholic and a spiritual journey.

Q. Thank you for writing this book. Thank you. You’ve been out there using your life as the source of your comedy and now you take a whole different look at it.
A. I sure do. I mean, you know, I’ve been doing comedy, I’ve been in show business for 30 years. And I always was uncomfortable with the word celebrity, but it just happens to happen when it happens, but the sole reason I went on stage back in ¢â‚¬Ëœ71 was to feel less alienated and to get some kind of ¢€œ feel authentic somehow. And the laughter did that. And then if you fast-forward 15- 20 years with some success in the business and then there were like people were coming after me like, write a book. And I found that to be grandiose and foolish, and why? What do I have to say? What I have to say I can say on stage or I express it as an actor, but mid-way through my career I was bit by the disease of alcoholism and finally, I realized that when these offers still kept coming in after about five or six years feeling a little more comfortable in my skin sober, I’ll be sober about 7 years, I know exactly seven years this summer-

Q. That’s amazing.
A. –it is amazing, that, you know, I really had a reason to write a memoir of sorts. It’s really a collection of essays, but I, you know, the other thing, too, and I meant to say is, well we just said “hello,” I didn’t mean to say it, I’m saying it now, is that, you know, I’m very passionate about stand up. When I was in college, I went to Ohio State, and I remember listening to Lenny Bruce albums and Richard Pryor, and I had no inkling that I would be a comedian but I knew, at least for me, for my taste, that these guys were so rigorously honest that once I became a comedian, I mean, that was a bar I held up for myself. But once I became an alcoholic and then once I got into recovery, I had a need, I felt, and this maybe sounds grades, an obligation, not only to tell the real truth about how I was but to tell the people that have been listening to me and supporting me basically, you know, that’s here’s who I really was. And it’s really been a remarkable turn of events.

Q. Let’s back up and kind of click through kind of the story of a comedian. What was the first time you remember making people laugh and thinking this is a way to, this is a way to get rid of some of my pain? You weren’t, you say at Ohio State you didn’t know at that point you were going to be a comedian. But were you funny as a kid?
A. I was absolutely the class clown. I absolutely used humor for every defense mechanism you could think of. But I also, I hung around Columbus, Ohio after I graduated because I was literally frightened to go back to New York and New Jersey and try to get a job. I mean, I had a degree in marketing but I was still scared it was nerve wracking. So I had this little game plan that I maybe would try to write some jokes and try to get them to agents and managers and I did. By hook or by crook I found people to get jokes to and I started writing jokes for these borscht belt comedians they’re called.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. And what finally happened was ultimately, in that phase of my life, my dad died before I became a comedian. And I was writing these jokes, and the ones that were most personal, these comedians were rejecting. And the ones that were most observational they liked and I had very little interest in writing about what other people think, what I think other people see.

Q. Yeah.
A. I don’t mean to psychobabble but I mean, one of the reasons I went on stage was to say here’s how I feel, I don’t tell a group of strangers. So, I wound up going on stage, and I think my father’s death–

Q. Now your father casts a huge shadow over this book. You even use the phrase that you let your father “define you.”
A. Yeah, I don’t know if I let him as much as I had no choice. I sort of think that my father, my father was an amazingly talented caterer. And back in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ50’s, back in that era, in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ60’s, catering weddings and functions and bar mitzvahs and the like, were really an event. I mean, I would see this guy go into an empty banquet room, it’s five in the morning, and by the time that wedding came around it looked like a Cupric film. And he did it all by himself. That was amazing. But he was never home.

Q. He’s a workaholic.
A. A workaholic, like I am, and I think I, I don’t mind being a workaholic, because I love what I do, but he was never around, and he was sort of like such a famous guy in his field that he was almost “Babe Ruthian” in a way. So it was impossible to feel like under his thumb, so to speak, that I never could be as big as him.

Q.You know, the thing, you make the statement repeatedly in the early parts of this
book that you had no idea who you were. You get this feeling of this guy going through stuff and not knowing who he is when he’s going through it and it’s almost like there was nobody to be in reaction to and I’m wondering, is it the absence of the father? You have these phrases about, “Kennedy just got shot. Go rake the leaves.” “Put your coat on. Do you want to kill your father?” I mean, was it a really unusual background that created the level of pain and alienation?
A. Well, you know, I have some closure with my mom who died last year. I had a tough couple of years. But in truth, my father was rarely home. My sister eloped when she was very young, and I was only about 7 or 8, so she split. My older brother, sort of the “Wally” to my “Beav,” so to speak, was down in Greenwich Village and I was there with my mom, you know, who was drifting slowly but surely into her own world, so to speak. And so and I was left to my own devices, and, you know, what I’ve learned and, of course, the flip side of all this is that I can make light of it as a comedian and find the humor in it, thank God. But there was pain behind it all and that’s one of the reasons I had to write the book because I wanted to, hopefully, and I know in some ways, humorously, but also say, you know, what really was going on. I mean, you know, I had millions and millions of jokes and routines about, you know, these feelings of feeling alienated and when people laugh it’s reassuring to them that they’re not alone, and it’s always reassuring to the artist . But at home, in reality, I really did feel alone.

Q. It was not funny.
A. No, it was not funny.

Q. It was painful and it–When you there was a moment in this book where a little insight into kind of artistic intensity. You’re at Ohio State and you hear Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze and you have like a spiritual encounter.
A. Practically.

Q. Talk about that because it was so unusual to kind of be following this guy in this progression. Now he’s at Ohio State having the best years of his life, actually not drinking a lot, all that kind of stuff. But this struck me as important because it was kind of an artistic awakening.
A. It was exactly that.
I’m going to tell you what, I got to take a quick break and I’ll pick up with that. We’ll be back with the artistic awakening right after this.

We’re visiting with Richard Lewis and we’re talking about kind of an artistic awakening of sorts, which being in Seattle is, there’s a big connection with Jimi Hendrix in Seattle. And Richard Lewis connected with Jimi Hendrix in a way that actually gave some sense of kind of personal identity and direction to his own kind of sense of what he might accomplish with his life.

Q. What was that about?
A. Well, I, you know, there are things that happen along the way for any artist and I would imagine anyone, not just people in the arts, if you’re passionate about what you do, that somehow symbolize to you how, how far and how much you want to commit to your work, and indeed, there are a handful of people in my life and Jimi Hendrix is one of them because I, as I wrote in the book, I mean, it was such a meaningful experience, getting a phone call from a buddy of mine who was a rock star on campus and said, “You won’t believe what I just heard.” And you know, in ’67 to ’69 there was a considerable amount of great rock and roll made and it was the first Jimi Hendrix album. And I go, “Okay.” So I come over and he’s in the other room. And, um, it just, I just, it’s amazing to me when I think, you know, the time that it took me to put the stylus down on the record, that I had never heard a note played from this guy. And as soon as that first track came on, Purple Haze, I mean, the album is sort of a short album at 38/40 minutes, but when I heard that album I was so stunned by this guy, I mean, he was literally to me, his art. He was a human guitar, for want of a better phrase. And, you know, from that moment on he was, to me, and obviously to millions of others, through the years he became, you know, “the” guy, and for real reasons. So, it always became a source of inspiration for me, as a comedian, in particular, to put on his music backstage before I go into a venue that they play Hendrix albums because to me he is like, and like others, like Brando when he’s really on the money. I mean, he turned acting inside out, literally.

Q. But you wanted, that became part of your artistic vision as a comedian.
A. Well, I mean, only in that I mean, only it that it seemed to me, I mean

Q. Is it authenticity?
A. ¢€œyeah, I think it’s, it’s you know, it’s ¢€œ God knows I still go to a shrink and she could probably put this better than any of us with all due respect ¢€œ but I think it had to do with the passion that I heard from this guy’s guitar. And then I equated the music coming from a man, and it seemed like the man and his notes were one.

Q. Yeah.
A. And it seems to me that my on-going goal, not just to express myself, but my on-going goal has always been to be as ruthlessly honest as a comedian, as I could be.

Q. Yeah.
A. And there are other people in other, in the other fields that, you know, have made that kind of impact, but in music Hendrix, certainly when I was an 18 year old did that for me.

Q. Now, there’s so much more we could talk about that shaped your career as a comedian. I love the David Brenner story, turns out Santa Claus is Jewish and he’s from Philadelphia. But you asked David Brenner for a thousand bucks
A. Oh, yeah.

Q. ¢€œto be full time as a comedian. Every story of a successful artist has somebody in it like that who, who says, “Let me help you,” you know. Or let me give you the George Schultz said you’ve got it. The Buster Keaton, the Lenny Bruce stories, the, the, the wonderful breakthrough success of Anything But Love with Jamie Lee Curtis. A lot of wonderful things going on. In the middle of it, this is in addition to a story about your career, it’s a story about, about the alcoholism. But when did it start, and how bad did it ultimately get and what was driving it?
A. Well, you know, knowing more about the disease and how progressive it is, I mean, it’s easier now, coming up on 7 years sober, and, and reading about it, helping others, learning from others who have the same disease with many years of sobriety, it’s impossible to really put a finger on exactly why, but it’s clear to me that, I mean, there’s many alcoholics in my family. My mother and father didn’t drink much, but my father’s grandfather was an alcoholic, a lot of the relatives were, and apparently that has something to do with it. I think if you couple that, for me, and this is only my little theory, with, you know, feeling left pretty much on my own and not really feeling that what I had to say was right ever, generally speaking

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œI mean, it wasn’t that they were, I mean, they did the best they could with their own parenting skills, and I don’t think they got much help from their own families, so you know, they’re off the hook for sure. And, but we’re talking about how does one become an alcoholic. It’s that I think after I turned 30, and I realized there’s no looking back on this career. But I also said, “Wow, what if I, what if I don’t make it? How am I going to earn a living? There was nothing else I wanted to do. I’m in a place where I’m judged every single night. On a television show, a Tonight Show, 10 to 15 million people can say thumbs up/thumbs down. And in nightclubs where it’s constant, you know, drinking with people. And people go out to have a good time and get, you know, and, but drink, you know, conscientiously allegedly, you know. Well they do, most people do. I think, ultimately, what happened was that it took control. And I don’t know what the words are medically, but I soon became powerless over alcohol. And what I’ve come to learn through the years, is that my life can be, I’m just an alcoholic type of person and that there are a lot of things that I could, that can lead me astray. Now on stage I can joke about this and say, “You know what I don’t drink anymore, but I have to go out with hens. It’s a problem and, I have a hen on my arm and

Q. Right.
A. –it’s kicking me out of the business. I’m an embarrassment to my family and that’s alcoholic behavior. That would be anything that would perhaps, you know, once again bring you down, you know. But that’s a sort of a silly joke. I mean, but on the other hand, in real life being an alcoholic means– One doctor who I went to actually an important doctor, an alcohol specialist, when I was really at the bottom and I was literally thrown into this guy’s room by my loving friends he ultimately showed, has shown me that this alcoholism is a disease of, I believe he says, of the attitude. It was hardly about alcohol itself. I mean, I could care less about, you know, what vineyard this came from.

Q. Right.
A. I mean after 15 drinks, what does it matter what it tastes like.

Q. Right.
A. I was just trying to obliterate my feelings and I’ve consequently found out not only the bad feelings that most people would think, oh you’re depressed, or you’re anxious or something bad happened and you want to have a couple of drinks or more than that. It wasn’t even that. It turned out that I didn’t even want to feel good. So, and I have an essay in the book or I don’t know if it’s a complete essay, when I did Carnegie Hall back in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ80’s, I mean, this was like a place where I sold it out and, months in advance, I had posters all over the city, this is my neck of the woods, a historic place obviously, and not too many comedians have played it. I was on stage for almost three hours, I got two standing ovations, and afterwards I knew it was the greatest show I’d ever given at that point I was just so uncomfortable in my own skin that I just got so drunk and came down to a party of 3- or 400 people, uh, in the bowels of that building, and I probably made a bloody fool of myself, and I had to actually wind up asking people how the show was the next day because I had very little recollection of it.
We’re going to be back with more Richard Lewis right after this.

We’re visiting with Richard Lewis. He’s got a new book out, The Other Great Depression, How I’m Overcoming on a Daily Basis At Least A Million Addictions and Dysfunctions and Finding a Spiritual Life (Sometimes). It’s in there in parenthesis. It is an amazing story. It’s a wonderful story of a comedian, of relationships, bad relationships, good relationships, friendships. It’s the story of a guy that realizes that he’s going to be one of those people who’s going to face this demon called alcohol. It’s a story of his own kind of spiritual renewal and recovery, and told through his own stories and vignettes, so that it’s uh, it’s like being there. And, and as a matter of fact, it’s, it’s so much like being there that Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld said, imagine my surprise when I realized soon after starting this book that the one person to whom I’d confided my deepest and most intimate thoughts was a raging alcoholic. I now know more about him than I do about me, a most unfortunate development.
A. He would be the first to say he co-created it with Jerry.

Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. Well, if I may, when I was 12 years old I was a really good basketball player, but I was on a really, I went to a really great junior high school team, the guy had a great team, and there was no chance of making the team. But there was this famous sports camp that was run by this legendary sports journalist, Clare Bee (phonetic), he wrote a lot of novels, a wonderful writer. Anyway, long story short, there was a kid at that camp, who was my arch rival. I mean, we hated one another. And you fast-forward 12 years. We’re at the bar waiting to go on. We had been friends for about a year, Larry David and I, young comedians, and we dug each others act, we were friends, but I looked at him and it was like very mystical. I said, “Larry, there’s something about you that I despise, and I don’t know what it is.” He says, “Me, too. I can’t get it out of my system.” It was like Robert Stack, you know, unsolved mysteries. So we sat down and we piece by, year by year, and then we looked at each other and went, “You’re him?” I mean, we didn’t come to blows, but we bonded immediately. So now on his new show, on HBO Curb Your Enthusiasm, I pop in and out from time to time and I play me. He plays him. And as an actor, it is the, it’s all ad-libbed that show. And they are very good stories, but the actors are allowed to ad-lib. There’s no script at all. But for me to look in Larry David’s eyes when those cameras are rolling, I mean, you know the goal of any actor is to be as natural as you possibly can be certainly. But someone who had studied, whatever studying I’ve done in the method school of acting which I sort of like, this is like, you don’t have, you don’t need much technique because I can literally look in the camera and go, “You really, you son of a b., you embarrassed me last night.” Because we’re literally talking about our lives

Q. Drawing on some real emotions.
A. Yeah. We don’t have to do any homework. So it’s really been quite an experience.

Q. We, when we look at your story, there’s a really sad moment, a lot of sad moments, but, but one where a guy calls you after you’ve been to a movie premiere, and you’ve gotten totally blasted. And he calls you the next day and basically tries to tell you where this is all going to lead tries to help. There were a lot of people that tried to help. There were interventions. There were attempts. Why weren’t they working? I mean, what did it finally take for you to say, because the, the tragedy is that, that your story is the story of many people who have got a serious problem and, and people are trying to connect and help them with that problem and they’re it often doesn’t take.
A. Yeah, I know, yeah. I know what you’re saying, but, but this is a success story at least so far.

Q. Yes.
A. But, but, you know, I’m, I cite examples in the book when, when you’re an alcoholic, or you abuse drugs or alcohol, and I’m not talking like I, you know, even remotely know what I’m talking about except just by experiencing this the last seven years in recovery. There are moments, and, and the only thing that’s important is chasing that high. Or wiping out your feelings and just getting high basically. And it gets to a point where, uh, you either die, or you go insane you can kill other people driving you know, and the worst thing, no problems ever are enhanced by, you know, trying to drink them or drug them away. That’s a cliché but it’s true. But I tell people, and the reason I cite that, that one example, that was a I went to this big premiere. Every power broker in town was there. I had a, I got drunk before I went there because I was nervous, or whatever. I wasn’t even, it wasn’t even my movie. I go right in the front row. As soon as the curtain opens, I fall asleep. I mean, I could have been snoring for two hours. Movie ends. I’m awakened by the applause. I then get scared, briefly. I was still in denial that I was an alcoholic. I walk up, I do all the interviews, ET, you, you know, blah, blah, blah. What a movie, just lying because I was trying to cover myself. And I get home that night thinking I pulled, you know, I pulled it off. And this, this guy calls me. And I make a point not to name names, because this is not a book about specific people who helped me, other than close, like really close, close friends. It’s not a show business tell all book, this is about me. This is about the alcoholic Richard Lewis. So it wasn’t that important to name this guy. But I want, I’ll try to cut to the point. He called me and says, “If you think that it’s a secret that you don’t think that people know that you’re an alcoholic, and if you don’t think you’re going to lose everything, you’re wrong.” And he hung up. The reason I mention that and other stories like that is because what happens, at least to me, I don’t know if it’s true for every alcoholic, everyone finds his own day, or his own moment when it’s like he has to choose life over this disease. And I did. And I describe it in the book. However, any time you, if anyone’s hearing this, and anyone has friends, and most of us do who have this problem, I’m not suggesting that it’s your right, or preaching that you have an obligation to help somebody, but I am saying this. Nothing is ever wasted on telling an alcoholic that they’re alcoholic. Because they, you listen to it and when you finally reach that bottom, the more help you’ve gotten in the past, then it really hits home. And it really makes that bottom happen faster.

Q. So when you hit bottom
A. I all but rushed, it’s like the old joke, like when I died and the light passed before my eyes. In this case it’s not a joke. All those phone calls, all those friends, years and years, all those books I was sent about alcoholism, you know, you know. But not tough love, but like, “Hey, Richard, we think you have a little bit of a problem. This new book came out. Why don’t you give it a read. I can remember Pete Hamill came out with a book. I never read. I still haven’t read it. I love the guy’s work, I, you know, I might read it now, but I had like all these wonderful books of drinking, a love story, another great book of wonderful

Q. So what has to happen inside before you finally say enough is enough.
A. Well, I, you know, it’s absolutely unique to every drug addict and alcoholic.

Q. For you what had to happen?
A. Well, what happened to me was I had, I’d had people do that tough love thing, which saying we can’t, we’re not tolerating it anymore. We can’t watch you, sit around and watch you die like this. And they had a game plan, which is helpful. They have a doctor to go to, they have a rehab set up. They have a professional person there during intervention who knows how to handle all of the, you know, how scary it can get. It’s very difficult on the loved ones and it’s really a very gutsy move because you never know because, believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was stop drinking. And I did have, and uh, so loved ones know this. You should know this. So it’s good to have a professional around. It really helped me. At any rate, I was in my house. I slipped, and slipping is part of recovering. I mean, I have this disease till I die so, you know, I’ve strung together almost seven years but, you know, I have this disease. So it doesn’t go away. I just have to keep it away. But one night, you know, I mean there was a confluence of events in my life that were making me unhappy, and I chose to hole up in my house and get cocaine and I wasn’t much of a drug person even, I never liked drugs. Alcohol was my poison, you know, and um, and I just holed up there and just, God, I just felt impotent basically about things. I didn’t feel suicidal I just like, hopeless, I guess would be a good word. And, um, I looked in the mirror of this house that I had bought, that I broke my butt, you know, doing millions of hours of free shows and filled thousands of nightclubs, you know, as from a kid on. And you know what? The first thing that struck me was I felt pathetic. I felt that I was throwing away my life. And then, you know, I felt some sort of spiritual awakening. And I, you know, that phrase is used so often, and you hear it and it’s some people who are atheists, you know, you know, and there are a lot of recovering alcoholics who are atheists and it’s, and whatever works, but for me, uh, I always have been spiritual. I always felt there was something a little more going on in this universe than, you know, we’re floating around here. I, I always, I figured it’s 50/50, and I’d go with something else, there’s something a little more evolved than just us humans. I mean, that’s just my choice. I mean, organized religions we can talk forever on that, you know, pros and cons about all that stuff, but, but about, you know, something more evolved and something spiritual. I’m definitely in that way. But it was dark for many years. The alcohol blotted that out. And I got this, this, I was washed over with this feeling of, of I had to do something because life is precious, and what happened, right to the point, is that I called friends, I said, “Take me to a hospital. I don’t want to die in my own home.” And when I got to the hospital this doctor looked down at me, he was a sweet guy, he was a fan of mine. I had no shame anymore. I was actually proud that I was an alcoholic. I think that’s what turned it around for me. When I said to this doctor, “I’m an alcoholic,” I didn’t say I’m proud I’m an alcoholic, but in my gut I was proud that I could say it, and then I knew that, just like I knew when I became a comedian, there was no looking back. I knew, I mean, I pray to God that there, you know, that there isn’t. But, I mean, from that day on, I never did.
We’ll be back with more Richard Lewis right after this.

We’re talking with Richard Lewis, listening to a most amazing story, and a powerful turning-point experience described as, as, as a spiritual moment, a kind of washing over.

Q. In the book Richard Lewis talks about turning in his agnostic badge. But there’s a lot of words like God, grace of God, prayers, spiritual life, higher power, the phrase I grew with God today, I now believe in miracles and a God. These are very, very important words, very difficult to communicate to other people what you mean by them.
A. Yeah, I mean, listen, you know, there, there’s–

Q. I mean, when you talk about a, about spiritual life, and say you’ve always been spiritual, can you help us get a handle on how that has worked in your life, what that means in your life?
A. Well, I, you know, what I think I mean by that, is that, as a, as a, as a 53 year old man now, recovering alcoholic for almost seven years, I, you know, I was born into the Jewish faith, and I enjoyed learning that story. And I also, of that faith, and likewise, I enjoyed learning about other religions. And I think I did because I actually sort of felt that it was something very beautiful and very life affirming about it. And, um, you know, the more I saw what’s going on in real life and how millions and millions of people are killed under the name of that kind of deity, that became, you know, a source for, you know, I mean discomfort is obviously the wrong word, but, I mean, a source for, for me to become agnostic at the very least because it seemed, it seemed meaningless to me, and it seemed like trying to have a fake belief system. And so for many years I sort of like lost any interest in trying to find that kind of spirituality and that kind of belief again. I somehow was sort of pushed into it again because I really did try everything humanly possible to stop drinking and I couldn’t. And, you know, even atheists will go, “Oh God, help me get out of this traffic jam.” You know, not, they might not be calling on anyone in particular, but I am. And, uh, when I hit my knees, I’m calling on a little private God that I have that I know exists for me. Just for me.

Q. Yeah.
A. Just for me. My own private God, like my own private little Idaho, my little God because, because I couldn’t humanly possible, and there was something that had to come, from another, another, another place

Q. ¢€œoutside of yourself.
A. ¢€œoutside of myself. Thank you.

Q. Now when, when you, one of the really interesting little stories and pivotal moments is when you said you, you know, kind of want to rush through these words, but they’re important, that you like yourself, that you could like yourself.
A. Yeah.

Q. To me, part of my own journey with God has been not only to come to an understanding that, that there is this God that exists, that I know very little about, but to believe that that God has some sort of love, that there is something positive that’s coming towards me for my benefit. How does that fit or not fit what you’ve come to understand?
A. Yeah, well, I, I, I, you know, I choose to believe, I choose to agree with you on that. I, I, but on a, on a more mortal level, you know, on a more psychological level, uh, what I’ve learned also is that sure, I mean, it’s easy for me to say that, you know, God is looking out for me. On the other hand, uh, I also have to look out for myself.

Q. Uh huh.
A. And, um, the hardest thing for most, you know, alcoholics, even in recovery, is to have compassion for themselves. They certainly have, I certainly didn’t have much when I was humiliating myself or killing my career, or not being, just, just being, just an unprincipled, self-centered person. And so now, you know, it wasn’t like it was all the time but, you know, but right now I choose to have compassion for me. And even though that might sound very, you know, self-centered again, it’s the flip-flop of what the alcoholic did, and does, when he’s using. It’s like nothing matters but getting high. And now, nothing matters more than not getting high. So I have to really be compassionate and not beat myself up so much to keep me on this path so I don’t, you know, get

Q. And there, you know, you feel the rage in this book towards obstacles that, that might try to stop you from keeping that. The story about the Ohio State 1999 Media Guide where they described you among other things as a comedian, a writer, and a drunk. And how that absolutely wrenched at you.
A. Well, that was actually a couple like, when was this like 1999?

Q. Yeah.
A. Well, that was look. It was something written in the Media Guide. I’m a proud Buckeye and I’ve worked hard for the school and I was, it was just, it was called an unconscionable act by this person who, who put together this book. And I, to this day I’ll never know what this person’s motives were and I just wish this guy the best. But, you know, he’s no longer working for the University. But the thing that bothered me about it was that, even if it came from a funny place, it’s not funny.

Q. Absolutely.
A. Because I, you know, I

Q. But the thing that’s useful to me is the rage. I mean, the fact that in you it almost creates a stronger sense of determination.
A. Well here, you got to see, here I am, about five months from handing in my book about–

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œan alcoholic. Here I am, like, trying to be as ruthlessly honest as I can about this disease

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œand shed as many secrets as I possibly for myself and also for others.

Q. Yes.
A. And then, in public, on television in full view, in every magazine, every sports show, there’s a picture of me with the name drunk under it.

Q. Yeah.
A. Which not only is libelous, but the thing that really killed me, emotionally, was that it
emanated from a school that I loved so much and had such great feelings for, and still do, and, uh, but it trivialized the struggle that

Q. Absolutely.
A. –that as an alcoholic, and I had to, I had to figure out very fast how to do, you know, damage control for my career. I wasn’t going to drink. It gave me even more resolve not to drink but

Q. Yeah.
A. I had to also figure out, uh, you know, why this meant, why this was so torturous, and I wrote an essay about it.

Q. Yeah, and it’s well done. You took about being, having a sometimes spiritual life and you, and you talk about your mother before she died in a nursing home and this woman with cerebral palsy, Mary. You sense a spiritual connection. Now, to me, when we, when we get in touch with the fact that we have a spiritual nature, we do start sensing that in other people sometimes. What did you sense in her?
A. Yeah, I mean, this woman who was my mother’s roommate in this nursing home, uh, who was, had been confined to a wheel chair since, gosh, maybe one or two. And was all twisted up and couldn’t speak and, but, you know, she was, I don’t know. She was, when I went into my mother’s room and our eyes met, it was, we fell in love. I mean, there was a I saw her what it was to me was that I saw this 50 year old woman who was so full of love and intelligence and giving but just her frame wasn’t able to display it. And, you know, a lot of, a lot of the stuff I write about in the book, too, is, you know, the, the fear of intimacy I’ve had and, have, and bouts with distant relationships with women. And, you know, I don’t mean to make a choppy segue here or analogy but, you know, I write extensively about, you know, needing to have women on my arm that were beautiful, that were trophies, so to speak. And they could be wonderful women, but it had nothing to do with anything, maturation process on my part in trying to get, getting involved in a loving relationship. It had to do with showing off and, and here’s a woman who obviously is, you know, in the worst state physically, but emotionally and seemingly, wondered how she was emotionally but, but in some sort of spiritual way because I had already had five or six years under my belt of trying to get back on a more spiritual path it seemed like the, the roadblocks were, sort of what you said, they were, they were down. I mean, my, my antenna were up to meet this kind of woman. And I would whisper into her ears, you know, how much I loved her and how much she meant to me and how much I cared about her well being and how much it meant to me that she was with my mother. And she would in her own, you know, tragically, you know, horrific way express her appreciation because she knew that I appreciated her.

Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. And it was just, I, you know, I don’t know, I, you know, her picture’s in my house, many of them, and she’s a touchstone for me. She’s an angel for me.

Q. Bruce Springsteen.
A. Yeah, “The Boss.”

Q. Bad moment, but then at the end of the book, a glorious moment.
A. Yeah.

Q. What was that?
A. Well, uh, uh, Bruce Springsteen, um, let’s see, 1990. I’m in a hotel penthouse on top of the world, literally, on top of this hotel looking out over one of the most glorious cities in the world. An alcoholic, not, not a job to do but just to promote a film, a European release, so there was no pressure, I didn’t have to, you know, get sober for a show or anything, and I was drinking and drinking and drinking and listening to a Springsteen album that just came out, Lucky Town, and there was this lyric that just shot out at me. The lyric is, “It’s a sad man my friend who’s living in his own skin but can’t stand the company.” And I knew in my drunken haze that that was me. I mean, that was me. And that’s a lot of alcoholics, and a lot of people. But I was so uncomfortable in my skin. And I kept praying the song over and over and over again. And the more I played it the more I, I was certain that I was, I was an alcoholic, the more I drank. And the more denial I had. And I had a good year and a half of hell before I sobered up. But, three or four months after that when I was back in the states, Springsteen came to do a concert, and he hadn’t performed in years, and I bullied my way using my celebrity down into the bowels of the meadow lands, the stadium there. Now, here it is, this is Bruce Springsteen’s state, home state, I mean, I’m from Jersey, too, but he’s “The Boss.” He hadn’t performed in four years, and I break into his dressing room, I mean, my God, I mean, the sanctuary of this artist, any artist, but it’s Springsteen, as well. I knew a lot of the band members, not that it mattered. I was drunk as a skunk, and what I wanted to tell him, what Richard Lewis wanted to say was Woodie Guthrie, man, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. You’re carrying Dylan’s torch as far as I’m concerned and you’re doing it, you know, you just mean a lot to so many people obviously, and a lot to mean. That’s all I wanted to say. And I wanted to say it pretty much like that and leave. If I was sober, I wouldn’t have said it then. I might have written him a note or something. I wouldn’t have broken down his door. He just stared at me, and that was during his muscle years, so God knows what he could have done to me, but he had intention. He had a show to do. I made it Richard Lewis night, not Bruce Springsteen night. Who would have thought that two years later I sober up, I write him this apology. I get back from his band members he read my letter and he apologized, and he accepted my apology for that night, which I must say in the papers and the tabloids I was, you know, and rightfully so, you know, it was all over the town, it was, you know, you know, I was slammed for this. And it was true though. The tabloids were right about this one. But ten years after, who would have, who would think. I remember the moment. I had like about three hours to hand in my book. I mean, I was nuts. This was after writing for three years nonstop, with all the other things going around in life, but the book was always the décor of every day. And my editor says, “You have three hours, and that’s it. We’re putting it to bed.” And I get this notion, this obsessive notion, God, if I could put that quote in my book, to open my book, how, how meaningful, what a message that would mean, that, you know, what begetting middle of an end. And I fax immediately, I don’t know how I did it, I was on some mission, some mad mission, and I used every perk I could as a show business person, uh, wherever I am at in show business to get the right names, the right faxes. And if faxed a letter, it was pouring out of me, begging Springsteen to use his lyric. And I’m telling you, within 25 minutes I, luckily, got it to the right people, and I got a fax back saying Bruce said it’s absolutely cool, no charge, no nothing, just good luck with the book. And I just broke down and I spent that rest of the day quietly crying because, I mean, that really was, that was something, I mean, I saw my life in those ten years come full circle, and it was a very meaningful night for me.

Q. It is. It is a sad man, my friend, who’s living in his own skin and can’t stand the company. So now, everyday, you get up, and you want to add to your, is it seven years now?
A. Almost.

Q. Almost seven years. Is there some kind of common thought everyday? Is there some, it’s a day at a time.
A. Yeah, well, it’s a day at a time to, to lick this disease because it never, it’ll never go away. I’ll die an alcoholic, but hopefully a sober one. But, I, you know, what I try to do, what I really try to do is try not to, try not to make the things that used to drive me crazy, and basically myself, try to get myself out of the equation because, you know, quite frankly, you know, being an alcoholic so many years, uh, it’s such self-centered existence, that it’s such a relief now, to know. I mean, I mean, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to know this. You know, if you’re a control freak and don’t have a drinking problem and you say you want it to happen this way, this is going to go this way, it’ll never happen. I mean, I, if I tried a million times in my lifetime to, to, to create this scenario, it would never work out.

Q. Yeah.
A. And it was an obsession and a compulsion. So what I try to have now is simply, which I try to keep, live my life more simply. I certainly have more acceptance with people. I’m far more grateful for the remaining years I have left to live, and I really make an earnest attempt to keep people out of my life that are, are toxic.

Q. Yeah. You say the reward of sobriety is living your life without having to be God. And you say, “I’m alive, and that’s plenty.”
A. Yeah. I really feel that way. I mean, my, uh, I was at, I was at a, uh, house once with a couple of guys and, they were all recovering alcoholics and we were just talking and there was a guy who needed a liver transplant. And we all knew that he was really, you know, on death’s door, this guy. And he had about 20 years sober. Maybe there was about five or six guys. We all got together and just, you know, talked. And he talked, he, he, he spoke. He says, I want to say a few words to you. And all he said, with tears in his eyes, a guy who physically was in much worse shape than any of us, he says, “My plate if full.” And that’s all he said. And I’ll never forget that because here’s a guy, uh, who was on death’s door, but he really, truly and I absolutely firmly believe that he was ecstatic about hearing other drunks and alcohol or alcoholics talk about how grateful they were to live. And he didn’t even have anything else to say. He was just, he said, “My plate is full.”

Q. That’s very cool.
A. And you know, to, to, to, to meet people like this, and I have had the, you know, the, the, the good graces of, you know, one of the cool things about having to be in recovery is that you meet other people, and you instantaneously know that, you know, what they’ve, you know the torment. The girl, woman I’m dating now says she has alcoholic envy, and she says it tongue in cheek. Because she says, “God, you could go over to any recovering alcoholic anywhere and you could just all of a sudden go “hey bro” and just, you know, and that person knows more about me than some of my closest friends.

Q. Are the Monday night boys, is that a group of guys that have struggled with this same thing?
A. There’s a, there’s a, there’s a, there’s a couple of gangs I hang out with and I have nicknames for that, uh, you know, that have similar diseases and, yeah, I mean, I, I like to give some kudos to people who’ve been like stair steps in my life.

Q. Yeah, absolutely. What do you think when you look at Robert Downey, Jr.?
A. Well, listen, I know Robert

Q. That’s got to kill you.
A. Well, you know, the, the, the thing I want to say about Downey is, you know, I love Robert, and he’s a, he’s clearly a genius in his, and at what he does, and he’s clearly an, an addict as he well knows. And he also has put in many years sober. And, you know, in this last, uh, you know, last, I guess, I don’t know, early in 2001, when he slipped again, someone in the recovery field in Los Angeles, on the heels of, you know, some, you know, comments, and sometimes you hear comments in the paper, and I got to be frank, you know, when people say, “How many chances do we give Mr. Downey?” I’m not, it’s not always coming maybe from someone who has a problem themselves. But I got to say, I, I, I, I, I, I’m, I, I would bet that some of these kind of comments come from people who might have their own problems and, and, and, and really are afraid of their own demons. And Robert Downey, Jr. has faced these demons, and slipping is part of recovery.

Q. Yeah.
A. You know, I don’t want to, if I slip, I don’t want to go to jail. I want to go to a hospital. You know, I want to get some counseling, you know. I want to, you know, I want some spiritual advice, you know, I, I, I don’t want to be sent to a penitentiary and, and, and you know, he has a disease, and he knows it. But again, it’s up to Robert.

Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. And his own relationship with lovely wife. I pray for him like everyone else, and myself I might add.

Q. Well, folks, we could spend, we could spend hours more, but we’re not going to, we’re going to encourage you to spend some more time with Richard Lewis yourself by picking up your own copy of the book, The Other Great Depression. It’s the best way to take a conversation that I hope has been useful to you and make it even more useful. And I say that particularly to those of you who are fighting your own demons, maybe privately, quietly, in the quiet desperation that Edmund Burke referred to of men living lives of quiet desperation. There is help available and, and this book will help all of us, uh, through one person’s life, Richard Lewis. Things like conditional love and other phrases that you’ll get a new understanding of. Um, thank you so much for, uh, for taking the time to write a book that I believe can be of genuine help to other people, and I think in a certain way is of genuine help to you because it’s kind of a monument to your determination. Looking back on where your life has been and looking ahead of where you want your life to go, and as you’ve, you’ve said recognizing that it’s, it’s a day at a time to get there. But you’re alive and that’s plenty.
A. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Q. Great, thanks a lot.

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