Chamberlain book talks spirituality, coming out
At 69, actor Richard Chamberlain has finally found serenity and self-confidence. It's a state of grace he desperately sought for decades even though he had long ago made it as a respected TV and film actor, if not a bona fide matinee idol.
"Yes, as my body falls apart, my spirit is wising up," the still-handsome Chamberlain says with a chuckle during a telephone interview from New York. And TV's former Dr. Kildare credits this recent inner achievement to his new memoir Shattered Love (HarperCollins) that was a struggle to write and which he is currently promoting.
"The ravages of age are not welcome," he says. "But on the other hand the actual quality of life has improved enormously."
These days, it's difficult to get Chamberlain away from his beloved Hawaii, where he lives in a beach house replete with mai tais, gorgeous sunsets and walks along a palm-lined shore and where he paints and dabbles in occasional theatre gigs.
The title may be misleading. Shattered Love is no Hollywood tell-all, although much has been made about his decision to use it to "come out" after a lifetime of living in fear that he was "a very bad person" and that his homosexuality would be exposed and destroy his career.
Chamberlain, however, marginalizes the whole gay issue and really spends most of the book on his views about self-enlightenment, spiritual truth and divine awareness.
The shattered love of the title has to do with a quite abstract theory of his that we are all splinters or refracting shards of a one true divine love.
"The perfection of original divinity was so intelligent and so curious that it couldn't bear this perfection anymore and it literally exploded like the Big Bang Theory," he explains.
"And that's where we come in, in the sense that I think we are divinity refracted, exploring itself in all its potentials."
While denying it's a California thing, Chamberlain says he tried out a variety of beliefs and has assembled one of his own comprising all that he has learned and some heart-opening truths he came up with himself.
"For instance, that forgiveness is not just pardoning a wrong but is realizing on a very deep level that there's nothing to forgive. I hadn't heard that spoken before."
If his fans prove to be disappointed with this substitute for showbiz gossip, he believes that's their problem. Sexual orientation is no longer the big issue with him. And in the book itself he frets that it will overshadow what he really has to say.
"It has no consequence at all in the world. It's first of all nobody's business, and secondly it doesn't matter."
But it wasn't always so.
Chamberlain, despite his natural good looks, thought for years there was something seriously wrong with him. He had a terrible relationship with an alcoholic and psychologically abusive father and spent his youth crippled by phobias and feelings of self-loathing.
And yet he is careful not to imply any direct link between being gay and growing up with such low confidence.
"No, I think I came in with it," he says thoughtfully, adding that despite his debilitating, often near-paralysing insecurities and doubts, somewhere deep down, he still felt certain he could make it as an actor.
While Dr. Kildare, which ran on NBC from 1961 to 1966, wasn't much of an acting challenge, it proved to be a superb training ground, so that when Richard Lester cast him as Julie Christie's dangerously jealous husband in Petulia in '67 he proved at last he had profound acting chops.
From there he became TV's mini-series king, starring in a trilogy of sprawling epics, Centennial, The Thorn Birds and Shogun.
He has only wonderful things to say about his Kildare co-star, the classically trained Canadian actor Raymond Massey who, it turned out, became a surrogate father, the loving and supportive patriarch he never had at home.
"He was a great big puppy dog," Chamberlain says. "He was funny and sweet and very bright and very helpful and a wonderful actor. And we loved each other."
As he looks back on a difficult but ultimately rewarding journey, he almost envies many younger actors he sees achieving a sense of well-being without a lifetime of struggle.
"An absolutely natural self confidence, a general sense of 'I'm OK and I can handle this.' I think a lot of young people have it. I didn't."
© 2003 Canadian Press