I can visualize the scene: a book-tour venue; a synagogue in Washington. (I can visualize it thanks to the subtly bravura piece by the Washington Post reporter Ellen McCarthy, linked below.) Every seat is taken, because today this is a celebrity book-tour venue. The celebrity author, an iconic movie star, walks onstage. The audience leaps up in a standing ovation. They are mostly middle-aged women who had paid forty dollars each to come and see the movie star in person. In person!
The folks squirm back into their seats and the iconic movie star–Diane Keaton–begins to speak. Diane Keaton has just published her third memoir. It is a departure from the usual books from Hollywood stars. Its subject is her younger brother. Her mentally ill younger brother, whose name is Randy. Its title is Brother & Sister.
Diane Keaton speaks ruefully about the book’s rueful theme, which is her regret over abandoning Randy during the decades when she was driving herself to Hollywood stardom and the adulation of the millions. As children, the two had been close. But Ms. Keaton’s growing fame had come at the expense of this bond. Randy sank into the morass of “alcoholism, joblessness, divorce, isolation, fantasies about violence against women and a suicide attempt,” in reporter McCarthy’s retelling.
(Brother and sister reconciled some ten years ago, and Keaton now visits Randy in his assisted-living quarters.)
“’There are so many people who live through the pain of having a family member who doesn’t quite fit in,’” she remarked, as McCarthy reports. “She said she wanted to open up a dialogue about mental health and to offer herself up as a cautionary tale that could inspire people to ‘be better’ to their loved ones sooner than she had.”
And then Diane Keaton consented to answering some questions written in advance by audience members.
McCarthy: “The questions . . . had nothing to do with Randy’s [life]. They had to do with [the Keaton movies] Something’s Gotta Give, The First Wives Club and Father of the Bride. With whether Keaton has a favorite co-star.”
And there you more or less have it: No one in the room cared about crazy people. Or if they did care, they kept it to themselves. Diane Keaton’s cautionary tale was smothered–banished, rendered nonexistent–beneath an avalanche of forty-dollar-a-seat celebrity worship.
And my guess is, that’s the way it will go as long as Diane Keaton continues her tour for Brother & Sister. Lots of jam-packed venues with expensive seating. Lots of standing ovations. Lots of iterations by Diane Keaton about the travails of her mentally ill brother Randy, her lamented separation from him, and the late-life restoration of their loving bond.
Followed by lots of “Do you have a favorite co-star?” “How did you like working on The First Wives’ Club“?
Ms. Keaton, I have an invitation for you. It is for when you grow weary of fielding fangirl and fanboy questions during your tour for the book about reclaiming the union between your brother and you. Or even if you don’t grow weary.
Come and make common cause with us. Give your support to the growing nationwide movement to reform mental healthcare. You will have caught us at the floodtide: our activists have presented proposals to all of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election. And they have listened, and shown that they care.
This would not require much in the way of your personal time and commitment. Your imprimatur . . . your endorsement of our goals . . . perhaps a shout-out to one of our several organizations or causes, or brief remarks at one of our national gatherings . . . any or all of these things could supercharge our efforts. The moral dimensions of your journey with (and without, and with again) Randy; your insights as a denizen of the pressurized and volatile Hollywood community, where psychic balance often lives at the border of madness; your message to a nation still largely clueless about mental illness . . . and, yes, the weight of your hard-fought and well deserved celebrity hood.
A partial list of leaders in the movement follows. There are many others. Please join us and support us.
The National Alliance on Serious Mental Illness
Advocates for People With Mental Illness
The Mental Illness Policy Organization
The National Shattering Silence Coalition
The National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
The World Federation for Mental Health
Sooner Than Tomorrow (a blog)
No One Cares About Crazy People (a blog)
Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America