Article 74

Chamberlain throws open the closet door

He was one of TV's most lusted-after leading men. "Dr. Kildare." "Shogun." "The Thorn Birds."

Now, at age 69, gentle and handsome Richard Chamberlain is revealing a side of himself that he has tried to keep secret for most of his life: He's gay.

For the past two years, he has been writing the story of his journey toward self-understanding, including his experiences with Transcendental Meditation, Gestalt therapy and even LSD. The result: His new book, Shattered Love (ReganBooks, $25.95), hits bookstores this week.

Chamberlain lives a quiet life in Hawaii, where he paints, swims in the sea each day and is building a dream house with Martin, his partner of more than 26 years. (Even though he "outs" himself, Chamberlain does not give his partner's last name. Other sources name him as Martin Rabbett, an actor, director and producer.)

This week, Chamberlain begins a two-week book tour. He hopes interviews dwell not on his being gay, but on the parts of the book that encourage a life of openheartedness, love and forgiveness.

"I never thought I'd write a book," he says. The impetus was, "I've been thinking a lot about life lately." But when he started to write a "philosophical tome," his editor said, "No, no, no. You've got to make it more personal."

So he did.

"Being an actor, I like feelings, I like emotion. I'm very interested in how we live our lives and how we might live them more fully."

And how he might live his more fully.

"I haven't discussed being gay, ever," he says.

Why not? "I was terrified and as self-disliking as anyone could be." And there was an audience to consider: "Actors are purveyors of illusion. One's public image is part of the show, and I didn't want to disturb those fantasies."

He began to realize through the years, however, that "it's one tiny facet of who you are. The word "gay" is almost totally neutral, as is the word "straight," in terms of any kind of value system."

And yet, for about a year in the late-'80s, when tabloids were outing him, his phone stopped ringing, offers dried up. Even today, it's risky to be out in Hollywood, he says. "I think if I were a young actor, I wouldn't talk about it. I personally would still be leery if I were playing a romantic leading man."

In the book, he addresses another rumor that has dogged him: Has he had plastic surgery? "I thought about it once," he says. "There was something about my upper eyelids I thought I should deal with. I chickened out."

He does read scripts, he says. "I love working, but I'm not desperate to work anymore. My life is now about living rather than working." He adds, with a charming honesty, "I haven't been in intense demand of late."

But he will appear in "The Stillborn Lover", a play opening June 24 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. "Things tend to cool down when you get older."