It's really great to be here, says comic who nearly made sure that he wasn't Life is funny: After attempting suicide, Drew Carey finally beat depression on its own terms and won't look back. Well, maybe this once.

April 24, 1996|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Drew Carey, riding high these days with a successful television sitcom, doesn't like to talk much about the times he was so angry he punched a car dashboard in half and so depressed he tried to kill himself twice.

"I really try to forget that part of my life. I feel like a whole new person now," says Mr. Carey, 37, a stand-up comic and star of ABC's "The Drew Carey Show."

But he dredged up some old memories yesterday for the benefit of the assembled crowd at Turner Auditorium at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Officially, he was there as part of the 10th annual Mood Disorders Research and Education Symposium, sponsored in part by the Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association.

Mr. Carey, a barrel-chested former Marine Corps reservist whose military-style buzz cut and horn-rimmed glasses give him a look straight out of the Buddy Holly era, didn't go through the rituals associated with "depression survivors."

He didn't join the Prozac Nation; didn't seek psychoanalysis or pills. He eventually pulled himself out of the dumps with self-help books, tapes and time.

His first serious depression hit during his college years at Penn State. He was on the verge of being kicked out and carried a .5 GPA -- about what you get for showing up and breathing.

"I partied all the time and stayed drunk," he says. "I would be angry a lot. One time I punched my dashboard and broke it in two. It was an old car. I wasn't that strong."

In those days, anything could set him off. He smashed the dashboard because someone cut him off in traffic. He would put his Pepsis in the refrigerator, then rail at corporate America because the slush wouldn't form properly at the bottom.

"I would pig out a lot when I was depressed," he says. "I'd order pizza. It always had to be some cheesy, mushy thing."

All in the past now. Yet the past is precisely why Dr. Ray DePaulo, director of the Affective Disorders Unit, invited Mr. Carey to Hopkins. Part of the symposium's purpose is to increase public awareness of depression and other mood disorders.

Every now and then when Mr. Carey wandered too far from the subject, Dr. DePaulo brought him back with a comment: "All right, back to depression."

Or, to drive home the point, Dr. DePaulo would say: "So, you were really feeling bad about yourself."

To which Mr. Carey would smile and, with a comic's sense of timing, reply: "Evidently."

At 18, he tried to kill himself with an overdose of sleeping pills. Minutes after taking the pills, he started thinking about heaven and hell, the afterlife, his life. He ran for help.

The cause, he says, was a general sense of life without purpose or meaning. That feeling dogged him through his early 20s when he waited tables at a Denny's restaurant in Las Vegas. A second suicide attempt ended the same way as the first. "How do you feel now that you didn't do it right?" asked Dr. DePaulo.

"Fine," said Mr. Carey, as laughter rolled through the auditorium.

The depression came and went and came back again. A bad stand-up routine would spoil the next day. He broke up with ... woman and hit the road, all of his belongings packed in his car.

"The only thing that kept me going was that I had to get on 'The Tonight Show,' " he says, insisting that it had to be with Johnny Carson, not a guest host.

He finally hit the big time, made it to "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, caught the wave that rolled through the world of stand-up comedy and rode it onto 30 minutes every Wednesday night on ABC. That doesn't mean he considers himself a success. He wants to make up for lost time, write a movie, pick up the accordion, his childhood instrument. He wants to keep a goal in mind.

He is not interested in becoming a spokesman for depression, or exploiting that part of his life. It is over and done. His advice is as simple and forthright as the lesson from a self-help guide.

"Everybody gets depressed. There's not a person in America who doesn't get depressed. It's such a shared, common thing. If everybody else can get through it, why can't you?" he says. "If you need some help, instead of killing yourself, get some."

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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