Article 84

Author of 'Shattered Love' opens his heart

Richard Chamberlain

Richard Chamberlain was floating in the pool of his home on Round Top one day, thinking about Life and Love, when it came to him: "We're shattered love!"

Now he's sitting in another home, a gracious rental on Makiki Heights, where he and his partner are living temporarily, having decided their Ma'ili home was just too far from town. Buster, "the best dog in the world," is at his knee. A portrait of the late Nana Veary, one of his spiritual teachers, sits nearby, draped in kukui nut lei.

He is trying to explain shattered love.

This powerful image became the title of his memoir, released earlier this summer. In a sort of spiritual big bang theory, Chamberlain's metaphor for creation is that a loving force he sometimes calls God, sometimes Love, or Life, willingly exploded itself in order to learn and grow, and all living creatures are jagged little pieces of that force. We are, in effect, all God-bits, working our way back toward that core with our hard-earned fragments of self-knowledge.

"Shattered Love" has confused some who know the title only from media reports: Isn't the book about how the famous but very closeted actor found the love of a good man, and the self-acceptance to acknowledge that he is gay?

For press and fans, perhaps.

But for Chamberlain, a year shy of 70, being gay is not the point. "It was my dark, dark, dark, dark secret," acknowledges the actor, who wears a gold band on his left hand and whose partner of 26 years, Martin, is a Hawai'i-born actor-turned-producer who prefers his last name not be used.

After years of psychological and spiritual exploration, and especially after writing this book, Chamberlain realized that being gay was a secret without power to harm him, and that his unwillingness to acknowledge his sexual orientation publically was a box he had put himself in.

It is just one fact of his life, he says, and hardly the definitive one. "Knowing that someone is gay doesn't tell you anything about them except the broad group they might like to go to bed with," he says. And then, smiling broadly, he adds, spacing his words out for emphasis: "It's. Not. Even. Interesting."

But Chamberlain (who looks fabulous, by the way, even with a few more laugh lines around the eyes) is incandescent as he explains what "Shattered Love" is about, opening those fascinating eyes, raising that beautifully modulated voice, gesturing wide, his face suffused with joy, his eyes glazed with tears at times.

He had no interest in writing a memoir, he says, but his friend, publisher Judith Regan, hearing that he'd been doing some thinking and writing, asked him to send her five pages. This he did, with thoughts on life, love and self. Fine, she said, but you're lecturing; in order for people to be interested, you have to show them how this came out of your life.

The result is a book that will satisfy the fan's desire for behind-the-scenes notes from the set of "Shogun," but that has another focus entirely.

"The central question of the book is, is it possible or even do-able to live all the time with an open heart, a heart full of nothing but love, to be that vulnerable? The inherent answer is, it's not possible. But it's the only thing worth doing."

Chamberlain doesn't mean conditional, me-centered romantic love, but rather "divine love, sacred love, unconditional positive regard -the whole staggering power of love, which is the power of the universe."

His ideal is to live life in keeping with the advice of the god Krishna to a reluctant warrior Arjuna before a battle that cannot be avoided: "PLUNGE into battle, but leave your heart at the lotus foot of the Lord." In other words, throw yourself into every pursuit with gusto and joy, but maintain a detachment that allows you to love without dependence, to engage without concern for outcome.

This is heady metaphysics, concepts at times contradictory and always difficult to grasp, rarely the stuff of parlor talk in America, let alone a conversation between a reporter and an actor best known for TV miniseries.

But clearly, it's what interests him. When asked, he talks politely and candidly about his truncated Hawai'i-based TV series, "Island Son." He had the clout to have made it something different, he acknowledges, something that really represented the Hawai'i he and Martin know and love, but gave in on a few key points early on the advice of his agent, allowing the studio to turn it into "Dr. Kildare goes Hawaiian," he says scornfully and sadly. "If I have any regrets, that's the great regret of my life," he says. "I screwed up."

For him, though, the most engaged moment of the interview is when it's suggested that writing can be a form of listening, listening for the voice within that turns the writer into a willing stenographer. "It's a form of interested, focused listening," he erupts. "Oh, yes!"

This, he says, is what he loved about doing this book, which may not be his last: "When I am writing, Life comes close and whispers, whispers in my ear. Life loves to be thought about. Life loves to come to us when we pay attention."

2003 Wanda Adams