It's a Thursday and I'm about to start a two-week stint headlining at Bally's casino. I don't think I can get through it. Even if I do, the money I make will just go to pay government back taxes. I've pissed away so much money-by purchasing crap, hiring too many employees, and gambling-that I'm now $500,000 in debt. If that's not enough, I'm being blackmailed by someone who's threatening to undermine my career. The world seems like a cruel place.
I own a .38-caliber nickel-plated Smith and Wesson that on this particular day is loaded. I used to do a routine in my act about how I came to buy the gun in Wyoming when I was shooting a movie. I bought it just because it was easy to buy a gun in Wyoming. I'd never even thought about getting one, but was intrigued by the idea of owning a gun just like James Bond's. When the gun turned out to be the same price as what the filmmakers were paying me as a daily allowance, I bought it. Complete with matching bullets.
But this is no routine. I'm holding the gun in my hand. No one is home and I turn the TV to a music station and crank it up loud so the gun's sound will be muffled. I sit next to the blaring speakers and pray for a reason to continue with my screwed-up life. I search for something positive, anything
. The "poor me" part of myself has a firm hold and isn't willing to let go.
I cock the gun, pull back the trigger, and rather than see my life flashing before me, I remember something I once saw on a TV special. It was a law enforcement person saying that, contrary to movie depictions of someone putting a gun to his head and efficiently ending his life, many times the person will survive but end up paralyzed or brain damaged. The expert helpfully pointed out where one should place a gun to achieve certain death. With the weapon all set, I say my prayers and ask for forgiveness for what I'm about to do.
Except I must first wait for a good, loud heavy-metal song. You don't want to die on a bad song. Back when I drove a lot to gigs, I used to think how terrible it would be to die in a car accident with some annoying song on the radio. Phil Collins's "Sussudio" or the Starlight Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight" or Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It." You don't want any of those
to be the last thing you hear in life.
I sit against the wall and have a strange thought about the mess this is going to make. (My mother raised me well.) So I get up and fetch a towel to drape over my head. Finally, I'm all set and I cock the gun again, place it in the right spot, put my heavy thumb on the trigger and almost on cue, the right song comes on. Just as I put pressure on the trigger, the song volume lowers for a chorus and I have time to think about who'll find me dead. A couple people come to mind. This will really hurt them
, I think. But I'm too full of sadness and self-pity. I never wanted to hurt anyone, but I have to do this. Am I a coward or what?
At that moment, there's a knock at my door. Damn
. . . my assistant and manager have been out playing golf. I yell out "Who is it?" throw the towel off, and uncock the gun, slipping it under my pillow. Unlocking the door, I discover my longtime friend and manager Jim.
"Hey, Lou, it's almost time for the show. You ready?"
"Yeah, I lost track of time. I'll be right out."
I guess even when you're about to off yourself, the show must go on. Looking back on it, there's nothing more surreal than the feeling of doing comedy minutes after you're sure you're going to be dead.
Before I walk out on stage, I say a little prayer: God, please give me a sign that you want me to stay on this earth. Do it during this show, otherwise I see no reason why afterward I shouldn't finish what I started.
The crowd for this performance is great and all is going well comedy-wise when suddenly I'm no longer in my body, but am looking at myself performing. I can't hear anything, but I can see myself doing my act. And when I look out at the audience they're laughing and having a good time. As soon as I notice this, their movements slow to a crawl, as if I'm watching the scene in slow motion. They rock back and forth, laughing hard. Then, all at once, I'm back, not sure what just happened. I smile to myself and thank God. I've had my sign.
You see, when I saw those people laughing in slow motion, I knew that, for those few minutes, they were free of anything and everything that was bothering them. And I knew that not only my purpose but my gift
was to continue doing comedy as long as I could.
In some ways, the audience has become my family-the perfect family we can all live with. They come for an hour, laugh at everything I say, give me money and love, applaud and go home. Of course, that's a fantasy family. And though the love of an audience is real, I know that at the end of the day I still have to deal with my real family.
You didn't really think I was going to kill myself, did you? Of course not-I wrote this book. We all
have dark times. How well we cope with them is a measure of who we are and how well we've come to accept things. Sometimes I wonder if suicide is a failure of family. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that a victim's family has necessarily done something wrong. But to take your own life, you have to feel very little connection to the world. You wonder why people in their bleakest moments don't reach out to their families. Maybe because they've learned that their loved ones can't handle the truth about what went on in their lives. Or maybe they're so mad at their relatives they're not going to share themselves and get hurt again. Perhaps somewhere down the line, they were taught hopelessness. I've heard stories about families where the parents killed themselves and, years later, one of the kids did too. Maybe that was their way of connecting to their parents.
Whatever suicide's underlying factors are, I didn't go through with it. Maybe in some subtle way that I didn't recognize at the time I was taught that we Andersons are survivors.
I realize that most people don't have such a desperate reaction to their families. But many people-even from good, stable homes-sometimes have dark thoughts that surprise even them. A few years have passed since the Las Vegas incident and I'm in a much different place now. It's taken me a long time to accept myself and my family. I've learned there are no simple solutions.
Not that I'm lovey-dovey with them all the time. But the Vegas close call put me on a new path. It made me want to come to terms with who I am and where I come from, and to be okay with that. And that journey inevitably leads back to family. Somewhere deep down I knew that if I were to save myself, I needed to make peace with the people I grew up with, and the events we all experienced.