You're currently putting together a self-help book based on the tough times you went through. What was that period like for you?
Everything is just totally out of whack. It's just more than fatness and obesity, it's more than just not caring how I looked. It's in every line of my face. It's even in the texture of my hair. The main reason I was doing this book was that I hoped that I could reach somebody out there, even if it was just one human being. Weight loss, weight gain all have something to do with yourself. It's deep loneliness, depression, lack of self esteem that is the cause for overeating, drinking, taking pills, whatever — the necessary crutch. One makes up excuses. I used to think that drinking would help my shyness, but all it did was exaggerate all the negative qualities. The drinking and the pills just sort of dulled my natural enthusiasm. All you have to do is look a picture of me from that time to know. Unfortunately, I don't have a good photographic record of myself from that period. I don't have anybody around me with cameras, because to me it's like war.
I imagine the paparazzi all around the world could put together a few volumes on you.
They're not photographers! They're not people! [laughing]
What species are they?
These are cockroaches...But actually they do take some very revealing photographs.
I gather you don't feel the same way about supposedly "revealing" unauthorized biographies of you — in particular, Kitty Kelley's book.
I don't read them, and, I've never read Kitty Kelley's because I know there is nothing I can do about it. Why aggravate myself? I've been told that it's full of a bunch of lies. Fabrications. And real, dirty, malicious stuff. But why go through the irritation when I know that legally in the sweet buggerall there is nothing I can do about it? I heard she has said something like, "Well, Elizabeth Taylor hasn't sued me so you know I was telling the truth." I went through the ceiling of my house, I touched the roof of the sky. I called my lawyer. And he told me I had to read the book and sue her for every single untruth. That would mean not only spending money, it would mean bringing it up. It would mean the aggravation of reading it. So I have to let that bitch say, "Well Elizabeth Taylor read that and didn't sue me. So it must be true."
What do you think allowed you to pull yourself away from the brink?
You can always avert throwing yourself in front of an oncoming train. There is something that just pulls you away — and it has pulled me away, because I'm not dead yet — just at the brink of impact. Sometimes I have been really grazed by that train.
The world and the press and people have always enjoyed doing that. That's the nature of things. You create an idea, a star. They're yours. You have created this monster. So what do you do? It becomes boring unless you tear it down. I've been on that yo-yo trip all my life. Except like the times when I almost lose myself.
But I didn't lose myself, did I? Something always made me save myself. Either the Betty Ford Center or going onstage to perform in the theater when many people didn't think I could do it. Or doing this, doing that, whatever.
I mean I was pronounced dead, for God's sake, about 20 years ago. I was in the hospital on a respirator, and they were pulling this sort of rubbery, bloody substance out of my lungs. I stopped breathing for five minuets. And I had a kind of near-death experience that you didn't talk about then because people would have thought you were crazy. It's amazing that I didn't have any permanent brain damage (Don't you dare make any cracks!) I even had a chance to read my obits, and they were the best reviews I ever had! [laughing]
Why couldn't Marilyn Monroe save herself?
I don't think Marilyn committed suicide. I don't think Marilyn was murdered. I think it was an accident. But she was playing with fire. I don't think she was as acutely aware of it as some of my other self-destructive friends.
I was thinking about some of the leading men you've played opposite in your films, such as James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Richard Burton, Orson Welles, Henry Fonda, and Paul Newman. That's quite a group.
They don't make leading men like that anymore. And, you see, they were my teachers. Then, add the women in there and the directors and the cameramen and you have some hell of a school. Thank God, I hope I picked up something!
The movie Giant, made in 1956, continually shows on television, and finds a new and appreciative audience year after year. And in that film your two leading men are James Dean and Rock Hudson — the first representing the wild, outlaw type; the latter, the patriarchal, conformist type. And your character hovers and mediates between them. What were those two actors like to work with on that film?
It's funny: I was very connected to both Rock and Jimmy, but they had no personal connection at all. I was very connected to them — but it was like on the left side and the right side. One on each side, I was in the middle, and it just would be like a matter of shifting my weight. I'd bounce from one to the other with total ease. And I'm glad it shows in the film, I hadn't even thought of it that way. It's been a long time since I've seen Giant. I don't look at old movies of myself. I don't even look at new ones of myself. But I loved Jimmy and I loved Rock. And I was the last person Jimmy was with before he drove to his death…But that was a private, personal moment.
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