When Chuck Barris died last week at the age of 87, the headlines touted his celebrity with terms like wacky and tacky (or worse) and were fixated on The Gong Show (1976-1980). Did you notice that my blog last week, the day after his death, didn’t even mention The Gong Show? I did that out of respect for Chuck Barris. The show lasted in its original incarnation only four years. A man’s life of 87 years is not defined by four years of it. The truth is “wacky and tacky” aren’t accurate at all. More appropriate are words such as “ennui, anxiety, alienation, and self-doubt.” Oh, and success.
Chuck Barris would have appreciated the omission of the The Gong Show mention in my blog last week. (By the way, “Five Reasons Why You Should Be Inspired By Chuck Barris” is the most popular post in the history of my blog — and, as of this writing, if you google “Chuck Barris” and “depression,” my blog is the fifth most popular result.) One day he would say “It was the best four years of my life,” while the next day he would say he hated it. The show tore him in half.
Della, his daughter, who died in 1998 after years of battling alcohol and drug abuse, was on the show when she was around 14. She hated being on the show. He used her to introduce him at the beginning of many episodes. It broke his heart to learn she never wanted to be there.
In The Gong Show Movie (1980), Barris showed how the shows tormented him to the point of a nervous breakdown. The hysteria swirls in his head until he scream “KREPLACH!!!” The scene goes black. When the blackness fades, we see Barris in the desert. From dessert to desert. Get it? No one else did either. Or very few. It’s how his genius was wired, connecting the dots that no one else saw.
Barris battled anxiety and depression his entire life. He never conquered it, He succeeded despite of it. That scene in Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (Clooney, 2002, based on the 1984 non-fiction book) where Barris is a naked recluse in a hotel? That was based on truth. For a time. Nonetheless, he was still fully functional, and “cleaned up well,” he would say. He fought for social justice causes, about which no one spoke at the time. He was kind and generous, even when it wasn’t appreciated. Barris was used to being underappreciated.
“Helplessness is such a rotten feeling. There’s nothing you can do about it. Being helpless is like being paralyzed. It’s sickness. The cure calls for a monumental effort to stand up and start walking somewhere, anywhere. But that takes some doing.” –Chuck Barris
Struggle. But struggle forward.
You can purchase the following Chuck Barris books and or DVDs here:
Della: A Memoir Of My Daughter by Chuck Barris
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind by Chuck Barris
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (DVD Blu-Ray)