Joaquin Phoenix, Mental Illness and David Letterman!
Years ago, Letterman poked fun at Andy Kaufman as he slowly declined into mental illness. It was funny to some; the banter between them offered entertainment. Last night David Letterman had his snarky response to Joaquin Phoenix and his bizarre appearance on The Letterman show. While Letterman is funny, what Phoenix may be dealing with is not. Why is it OK to make fun of mental illness? Would we laugh at cancer? People look funny when they are bald, so why not laugh at cancer? Could Letterman heckle Patrick Swayze and his appearance?
Joaquin Phoenix was just 19 when his brother died of an overdose. Here we have trauma and family history of addictive disease perhaps depression. Those two factors play a crucial role in producing addicts. His parents, not conventional people, seem genuinely concerned and loving but they raised their five children on the road and had them perform on streets and at talent contests in order to buy food and provide the basic necessities. They were also members of a religious cult in the 60’s but eventually quit the cult and moved to Los Angeles. Phoenix was treated for his own alcoholism just four years ago. All of these factors and his recent behavior add up to something. He has the look of a schizophrenic and seems largely detached from what is happening around him. None of this is funny….. Its grief, loss, fear, and an inability to handle fame, an emotional construct that cannot handle his talent. He has twice disappeared from the public eye when his fame got too intense. Not hard to imagine he would derail. And yet, we snicker; laugh at the smarty pants comments of David Letterman. Mental illness is just that, illness and left untreated it won’t self correct. It’s also not an oddity to be laughed at. Often times, humor can help tense situations but this was not one of those times. Being a big movie star, one would guess Phoenix has handlers. Where are they now?