By J.T. Dockery
"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me."
Hunter S. Thompson
Alternate title: Some Great Drunk Actors On TV: A Survey
So if you believe your data screens circa the first couple of weeks of November twenty fourteen, it's a "scandal" that actor and native Kentuckian Johnny Depp apparently appeared drunk in pulbic. I mean plubic. I mean, aw hell, you know what I mean.
I guess it's a "scandal."
But, see, for one thing, I don't watch cable "news." Unless you make me.
I was eating lunch with my uncle the other day, and they had one of them twenty four blah blah blah tv channels on three or four public screens on so I couldn't avoid it (as to why a sleepy diner needs three or four trough screens thats, like, a whole other essay), and the talking heads seemed to be discussing something about how Bono of the teenage music band U2 had a door of his private plane come off in the air. That's all that happened. I thought to myself, "Well if the plane crashed and everybody on it died, that might be news. That might be a topic worthy of some slight modicum of conversation."
I turned to the aforementioned kin and said, "I'm glad I don't routinely watch all these painted up idiots endlessly yacking about nothing. And don't get me started about the relative merits of Fox vs. CNN vs. Who Knows What All. To me it's like arguing over the relative merits of Coke vs. Pepsi. It's all sugar water." For the record, my uncle agreed with me. He doesn't like sugar water, either.
Anyway, I digressed then, and I digress now.
The amount of time I spend paying any mind to "celebrity news" you can ecapsulate with room to spare safely within the confines of one standard "snugger fit" condom. I hardly give a hoot about gossip that pertains to folks I know personally, in what they call "real life," when it's said by mutual acquaintances, in "real life," right in front of me across from me at a table or bar, much less some actor whom I assume is busy minding his own business, as am I.
But speaking of acquaintances, I wouldn't even know about this latest bit of "scandal" except that a fellow I know from the old days here in my remote outpost in the old country of Kentucky, just a little southeast of Rome, informed me he found himself recently "defending" Depp to a bunch of locals, who adamantly carry the torch of keeping the bible in the bible belt still alive in this year's fashion season, who still find themselves operating with dry county prohibition Buck Rogers goes Old Regular Baptist in the 21st Century brains. "How dare he!" "Ain't Johnny got no morals?!" "What about the children???!!!!"
It got me thinking. I'm always thinking, see...
I, just a few weeks ago as it happens, watched a British documentary about drunk actors. It wasn't all that good, the documentary itself, but it had some fine archival tv footage within it: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Peter O' Toole. All great actors. All great drunks. All known not only for being drunks, but encouraged to be drunks on their television chat show appearances, at least in the UK.
It's ol' Oliver drunk again. Is he not making sense? Is he acting a fool? Is he being insensitive? Well, yeah. And he's entertaining. Even at his worst. And even at his worst, you can feel the intelligent man underneath the veil of the demon grape.
There's a wide valley between an off the rack standard abusive modern monkey man drunk in public compared to someone like Reed, who was beyond any argument I can see, a man of talent, of erudition. In an anecdote about Reed partying with Keith Moon on the set of the film version of The Who's "rock opera," Tommy, it was reported that no matter how bombed they got the night before, Reed was always on set, on time, and ready for his close up. Moonie, not so much, but, hell, his job, unlike Reed, wasn't truly to be an actor in a film, but to play drums in a rock n roll band. And even if he did pass out on stage, from time to time, and for all I know he only ever snoozed on the kit in a middle of a show once, we'll forgive a legendary drummer that. Hell, it wasn't even from drinking, it was from taking horse tranquilizers that were handed to him. Horse tranquilizers.
Lest the Baptist lizard bebrained among you think that drinking in public live on televison is just some "godless" British thing, let's swim back stateside, and see how things are back on the ranch...
Robert Mitchum? One of the greatest film actors of all time? Check. One of the coolest cats, in general, of all time? Check. Drinking unapologetically live on the Dick Cavett show? And...check. Note how he himself brings attention to the fact that he's switching from Perrier water to scotch whiskey, which he cops to in the first few seconds here:
Speaking of Cavett, what about that time John Cassavettes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara all three showed up joyously drunk to promote Husbands? Are you going to judge that? Is it of any interest to say anything other than, "Look at those guys having a good time"? Unless you made a move like Husbands, or any other film as good as/considered as crucial to cinema as did Cassavettes as director/creator, or for that matter brought a character to life like Columbuo, as did Falk, which becomes an iconic pop cultural detective , or you just were, generally speaking, packing a career like Gazzara's, or carrying any other equivalent achievement of your own around in your lunch, box, who are, if you're judging, you to judge?
I'll tell ya who ya are, slappy: nobody. Some folks dig the peanut gallery, some folks think the tittle tattle of gnats is music buzzing in their ears.
But who am I to judge? I'm not saying I'm somebody, you can toss that conjecture into the slush pile marked "posterity." I'm not even judging the judges here as one of the few spiritual beliefs I regards as true on a basic molecular level is as follows: Your business or anybody's business is not my business unless you make it so.
Lemme put this soapox away. I got things to do. Comics to draw. Drinks to drink. Where's Dick Cavett when you need him? I got a lot of things to say. I mean, like, not right here, right now, in this form. But if Dick was here, and the cameras were on, I'd be glad to pontificate in public. With a drink in my hand, and not just in my hand, but drinking it, preferably.
Have a Christmas with Nat and Dean on us, if you're so inclined. Drink up. Be somebody. Be anybody.
If there's a camera around, wave to it, and perhaps quote your favorite poem to it or tell it your favorite dirty joke, and consider doing so a human right. Trust me: no one truly knows what the script is on any given camera in life. So never you mind, honey child, the pea/nut gallery; they'll talk about you no matter what you do, as they don't themselves have anything else to do, so relax.
My humble suggestion: have a good time filling up time doing what thou wilt. It's all a dream.