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June 19, 2014 6:23 PM   Subscribe

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of Gary Busey (previously), a quick recap: His first appearance on film was in 1968. He would receive his breakout role ten years later playing the title role in The Buddy Holly Story. Ten years after that, Busey was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in which he did not wear a helmet, resulting in a fractured skull and suspected brain damage. In the years since, he has continued to work in Hollywood and also projected an increasingly erratic personality. How much of it is an act? Only Busey knows for sure. But given his recent commercials for Amazon Fire TV (and outtakes), we have to ask ourselves: Is this in poor taste?
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (55 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Forbes article seems really weak to me. As far as I can tell, the argument is essentially that we should deny Gary Busey work on the basis that, maybe, some of his intentional zaniness is not within his ability to reign in.

I though he was funny in both the commercial and the out-takes. And every time I laughed I felt that he was laughing with me. And all the way to the bank, at that.
posted by 256 at 6:36 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Busey has been on enough shows where you can tell he knows what's going on and what he's doing (even a stupid show like "The Apprentice" talks to him enough to discern that he at least appears to understand that he's acting in a way that's outside what many people would consider "the norm") and I don't think people are laughing at his illness so much as his personality. Maybe I'm being too generous with his audiences, but if it were just a matter of, "Ha, this guy doesn't know that he's being zany," the "joke" would have worn off long ago.

I think Busey stands more as a figure of someone who is celebrated for his lack of inhibitions, and also the fact that someone with brain damage is able to continue to be in the public eye says something.

I mean, should we disallow Michael J. Fox from taking on roles that make use of his Parkinson's symptoms? Isn't that taking advantage of a disease?

I can see why this is considered offensive, for sure, but I think there's more of a story to it.
posted by xingcat at 6:37 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


I talk to things all the time in hopes that they will listen to me.
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:37 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Busey has been on enough shows where you can tell he knows what's going on and what he's doing (even a stupid show like "The Apprentice"

One of the best seasons of reality tv ever. No, Meatloaf, Gary did NOT steal your art supplies!
posted by sallybrown at 6:40 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


I liked DC Cab. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 6:47 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


If his behavior in the "outtakes" was supposed to be indicative of someone with a mental disorder, then every single actor I've ever worked with has had a similar disorder.

Actors say and do weird shit, especially when it's between takes and they're warming up. About an hour before every show you see, a lot of actors are doing their vocal and physical warmups, either onstage or in their dressing rooms; bizarre noises, tongue twisters, vocalizations meant to work volume and breath control, yoga, recitations of Shakespeare, calisthenics, singing, stretching exercises, a combination of all of the above.

And it looks weird as fuck. My Irish friend once was a stagehand for a show I worked on during a visit she made to New York, and the first time she was bustling around backstage and saw the cast go into their warmups she stopped dead in her tracks, eyes wide, and blurted out - "SWEET God they've gone mad!" It took some explaining for her to get that no, this was supposed to happen and they were fine.

The "outtakes" look like a combination of lines they tried and ultimately didn't use, and some random actor warmups. Tame ones, actually.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 PM on June 19 [15 favorites]


I am no expert but I have never used brain damaged & mental illness interchangeably as the author does.
posted by djseafood at 6:52 PM on June 19 [22 favorites]


One of the best seasons of reality tv ever.

The fact that I remember that scene so vividly is humbling.

Also:
"Imagine, a boy, standing outside his house, playing with his father, and the kite that flies, and then the kid flying, soaring high over the house. OMAHA STEAKS!"
posted by cacofonie at 6:57 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


I am no expert but I have never used brain damaged & mental illness interchangeably as the author does.

Yea, that rubbed me the wrong way.

The entire premise of the thing does actually. It's a one two punch of being kinda offensive, and being the most tiresome kind of web 2.5 outrage bait.

Welcome to the bottom of the barrel i guess, forbes.
posted by emptythought at 7:00 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I talk to things, I talk to animals, I talk to my sub-personality (no, of course you're not really a sub; I didn't mean it like that-- don't hurt us), I talk to the children my partner and I never had.

Busey's acting is acting, but it feels real to me in ways other acting does not. Powerful stuff.
posted by jamjam at 7:03 PM on June 19


Hiring Gary the actor to do what other actors do is not akin to Bum Fights. I say stupid shit all the time, and it's only stupid because I'm not Gary Busey. Perhaps he suffers in a way that I can't comprehend, but I envy his ability to say whatever he feels like and not feel self conscious about it. Everyone likes Hobbits.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:03 PM on June 19


Sheesh, it's a reverse-engineered SNL skit.

One time, I fell asleep in a satellite dish, woke up with this hellacious sunburn and the ability to smell colors!
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:06 PM on June 19


I first took notice of him in 1976's Gumball Rally. (Which is an absolute gem.)
posted by Catblack at 7:09 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


The one ad I didn't link to (and can't seem to find a video of) has him speak to the TV and, when it successful recognizes him, he pats his own leg and murmurs excitedly "Look what you can do! Look what you can do!", which seems to lean more heavily on the limited mental capacity schtick than the whole "talking to things" bit.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:14 PM on June 19


a form of mental illness spawned by brain trauma

That's the exact phrase used, and I think it's entirely appropriate. It's a physical injury that seems to be causing psychological disturbance. Some mental illness does have discernible physiological origins, though not all. Brain tumors can cause depression; that depression is still a mental illness even though you also have a brain tumor.

I am not totally against the portrayal of mental illness in the "lovably quirky" way as long as it's not the only way mental illness ever gets portrayed--I think there's something to be said for reinforcing the idea that "normal" is not the only acceptable way to be. But I found the tone of the commercial seriously uncomfortable, and I'm not normally the sort who has to shut something off just because I find the content objectionable.
posted by Sequence at 7:16 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I had no idea he had any kind of brain trauma. This is a journalist looking to drum up a controversy where there is none.
posted by harrietthespy at 7:21 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


The Forbes article seems really weak to me.

Indeed, both the argument and its foundational premise:
When Busey appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008, he was referred to a psychiatrist who evaluated Busey and concluded that his brain injury took a massive toll on his executive control capability – the filtering process a normal brain engages to regulate what we say and do. Busey’s brain trauma damaged this capability, resulting in a loss of control over impulsive thought and behavior.

The truth is that Busey’s behavior is a form of mental illness spawned by brain trauma, and yet we find it hilarious.
If this is the totality of the author's familiarity with Gary Busey's medical history, that's pretty fucking thin; and if your knowledge about a person's medical history is thin, then maybe you shouldn't be writing about it.
posted by cribcage at 7:23 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


LOL Omaha Steaks!


.... Those were the good old days, when Donald Trump was just a blowhard asshole rich guy, as opposed to a blowhard asshole Tea Party Fox News shill.
posted by Asparagus at 7:24 PM on June 19


As a person who posts opinions on the internet my diagnosis is: FUN! FUN! FUN!
posted by basicchannel at 7:29 PM on June 19


I do think it is possible Busey was brain damaged in the accident. Or by the fact that he consumed so many drugs in his youth that friends called him Gary Drug Abusey.

I don't know if that affected his abilities as an actor. Yes, he was a terrific actor when he was younger. Yes, he's a grinning, bizarre ham now. (Which I confess to enjoying.) a lot of actors who have never been in motorcycle accidents have had this happen. Al Pacino. John Voight. Marlon Brando.

Maybe his behavior is the result of brain damage. Maybe it's in poor taste to make him a figure of fun as a result. I don't know, and don't feel comfortable speculating. It doesn't seem like his power to make his own decisions about the projects he works on has been compromised. His family hasn't objected. He's not playing a character we all recognize as "brain damaged guy," so when we watch this, we're not conscious of mocking brain damage.

No, if this is brain damage, Busey has managed to turn it into a character we see as Busey, not as a character we see as disabled. He fits into an already established character of hilarious weirdo, and he's been playing weirdos since before the accident, and has turned in some terrific performances since. (Point Break in 1991; The Firm in 1993; Fear and Loathing in 1998.)

He is apparently hard to work with, but, good Lord, I worked with a cast member from Night Court who has no history of brain damage, and he was a waking nightmare. I think Hollywood itself is far more damaging than a motorcycle accident, honestly.
posted by maxsparber at 7:36 PM on June 19 [14 favorites]


There is a popular and media distinction between genetic causes for cognitive impairment or mental illness and trauma that causes cognitive impairmet or mental illness. And there are some that are hard to identify. Muhammed Ali might have suffered Parkinsons [syndrome] if he had become an insurance salesman. Other boxers got hit a lot more and suffered less.

"I am no expert but I have never used brain damaged & mental illness interchangeably as the author does."

I, um, somewhat agree. Phineas Gage

The distinction that we make has more to do with the shame we assign to mental illness as opposed to people who suffered traumatic injuries [not their fault] or what we interpert as being genetically caused [pull the blinds and let no-one see]. It's an interesting and horrible subject.

Mostly horrible.
posted by vapidave at 7:42 PM on June 19


How much of it is an act? Only Busey knows for sure. But given his recent commercials for Amazon Fire TV (and outtakes), we have to ask ourselves: Is this in poor taste?

I don't see why "we" have to do any such thing
posted by clockzero at 7:46 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


relevant? specifically comedian Maria Bamford
posted by djseafood at 7:50 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I only had one encounter with Gary Busey, but he seemed pretty normal then. He's from my hometown and one year traveling home for Christmas he happened to be on the same flight. Since first class boards first (and why would Busey fly coach?) all the rest of us walked by on the way back to our seats. One or two people noticed and said "Hey Gary!" and he'd look up from his newspaper and smile and nod and that was it. He didn't ham it up or act strangely or anything. He was just a guy waiting for the plane to take off.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:56 PM on June 19


Restraining order PSA from the Simpsons
posted by 445supermag at 7:57 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I've recently been listening to the Gary Busey Life's Good by Keith Masters - PIMO remix
posted by rebent at 8:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I didn't even know about Gary Busey's accident, I thought this was just his schtick..
posted by cj_ at 8:23 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, "have you had any head/brain injuries" is among the first questions asked by any competant mental health provider.

The link between the two issues is complicated but not completely divergent. Traumatic head injuries are being increasingly linked to chronic mental health issues and cognitve impairment.

Any squeemishness about associating brain trauma with mental illness on the part of the reader or viewer may be the result of their own stigmas, biases or preconceived notions.
posted by loquacious at 11:19 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Poor taste? From everything I've been able to find, there's no evidence that Gary Busey lacks control over his life, over the jobs he takes or over the image he projects. Brain damage or no, he exhibits agency and if he does something to make his audience laugh, he's in on the joke. And really, as someone who talks to everything, his Fire TV commercials make me giggle in recognition of a kindred spirit. Straw poll of friends finds the same - it's easy to empathize with an unapologetic eccentric because so many of us are closet weirdos too. I submit that my straw poll is at least as scientifically valid as whatever Dr. Drew is trotting out on his show these days.

(Does anyone else remember Dr. Drew on LoveLine on KROQ in the mid-90's as a decent person to talk to? Wow have times changed).
posted by SakuraK at 2:18 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


hello pants
posted by littlesq at 2:42 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


I find the picture illustrating the Forbes article kind of interesting. It depicts a very nicely dressed man (far more stylish than me, for example) wearing a somewhat bemused expression but with absolutely unruly hair. I've read enough Oliver Sacks to know that the brain can malfunction in all sorts of interesting ways, but it seems unlikely that some (perhaps with the help of one or more personal assistants) would be able to dress well yet have no idea what a hairbrush is. Or as is more likely style his hair to deliberately create that impression. So my money is on the theory that he at least plays up his behavior for maximum effect. Of course, diagnosing from a single photograph is even less reliable than relying on Dr. Drew, so don't take my thoughts too seriously.

I also noticed the author has written a couple of self-help books on harnessing your brain's untapped energy. That does not help his credibility.
posted by TedW at 2:54 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


I also noticed the author has written a couple of self-help books on harnessing your brain's untapped energy. That does not help his credibility.

#rekt
posted by young_son at 3:39 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


I, too, had no idea about the motorcycle accident and figured he was just Hollywood weird.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:02 AM on June 20


Welcome to the bottom of the barrel i guess, forbes.

Right there with Business Insider for clickbaitiness, although BI never really had a reputation for being a decent business information source, name notwithstanding.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:59 AM on June 20


Mr. Corn. Mo!
posted by cromagnon at 5:51 AM on June 20


I was mildly curious at the time how I'm with Busey was going to turn out, figuring it was going to be a sort of cringe comedy I didn't want to truck with. It actually sounds like a kind of interesting improv project now...has anyone watched it?
posted by psoas at 6:32 AM on June 20


As far as I an tell, Busey is exploiting his own disability. I don't enjoy it. He may have plenty of awareness of his lack of self control, and he may be making a conscious choice, but I still find it non-funny.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 AM on June 20


can one truly exploit ones self? I feel like that concept is the ultimate "political correctness gone mad."
posted by rebent at 7:26 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Well, in a recent (and excellent!) interview, Terry O'Quinn had this to say about working with a pre-accident Busey:

That was in Wilmington, North Carolina. With Gary Busey. Oh, my goodness. [Laughs.] He said, “Let’s go out and play football out on the beach!” And I said, “Okay.” He said, “Okay, I’ll meet you down there in five minutes!” I went down there and waited an hour, and he never showed up. And I said, “What happened to you yesterday?” He said, “What?” I said, “We were gonna play football!” He said, “We were?” I said, “Yeah!” That was before the accident. So he was always that guy!

Also, The Buddy Holly Story is quite good. You should check it out if you haven't seen it yet.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:29 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


can one truly exploit ones self? I feel like that concept is the ultimate "political correctness gone mad."

This seems trivially obvious when you consider the career of, say, Lincoln Perry, the man behind minstrel-show caricature "Stepin Fetchit" and the popularizer of the type in early 20th century film. It might be more accurate to say that it's quite possible to further the exploitation and marginalization of a disadvantaged group to which you yourself belong. However, that will affect you by virtue of your perceived membership in the group. So, yes, you can exploit yourself.

Gary Busey turned up on one of those execrable Comedy Central roasts a few years back, where he gave -- I suppose the better word is "read off the teleprompter" -- a monologue riffing on his perceived condition amid the usual awful, race- and class-baiting dreck the writers provide. I know this because it comes up int he related videos for the outtakes linked to above, and I gave it a watch.

It seems fairly clear that in that instance, Busey was very much in control of the material, the persona, the delivery, and all of it; if anything, it was a bit wooden and stagey, as Busey's not much of a stand-up comedian…or whatever the roasters should be called.

That said, there's something more broadly tasteless and creepy in the idea that brain injuries or mental illness are wacky and fun. Rather than discussing whether Busey is exploited or self-exploited or whatnot, it's surely enough to point out that the concept here is inherently exploitative in any case.
posted by kewb at 7:44 AM on June 20


Did anyone see the episode of Celebrity Wife Swap featuring a swap between Gary Busey's wife and...I shit you not, Ted Haggard's. It was good tv.
posted by ian1977 at 8:03 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


I find Busey's shtick disturbing. Not so much for the brain injury part, although that's creepy, but because he seems so violent and dangerous. Like if daddy has just one more drink then he and mommy are going to fight and it's time for bed and hide your head under the pillow so you can't hear the blows. It's not a place comedy comes from for me.

But what really bugged me in the Amazon ad is their explicitly mocking Roku. Seemed like a low blow, especially considering that Roku has been an excellent partner for Amazon Video for years. It's the device that lets people actually watch Amazon videos on their TV.
posted by Nelson at 8:06 AM on June 20


Did anyone see the episode of Celebrity Wife Swap featuring a swap between Gary Busey's wife and...I shit you not, Ted Haggard's. It was good tv.

I find Busey's shtick disturbing. Not so much for the brain injury part, although that's creepy, but because he seems so violent and dangerous.


To comment on both of these points: Busey is a born-again Christian, which that combined with his celebrity might have actually made him acquainted with Ted Haggard before Celebrity Wife Swap. He has made some Christian-friendly films because of this but also continues to do the really violent stuff. The defunct movie review site Cold Fusion Video did a review of Busey's "Gingerdead Man" where the author briefly mentions this odd conflict and highlights it with one of the funniest screencap+captions I have ever seen (first one down).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:31 AM on June 20


I remember when Gary Busey was just a regular guy, one that was VEHEMENTLY opposed to anyone telling him he HAD to wear a helmet. He was kind of a blow hard about it, but that was his persona. Then he had the accident.

I'm always a bit uncomfortable when I see him on TV. I know that he's had a brain injury, and I KNOW that some of the crap he says is out of left field. That whole, lack of filter thing is downright creepy.

But, that's who he is now. He's that blow hard, guy, with no filter who can sometimes be creepy.

In my opinion, if someone like Pamela Anderson can disfigure herself to be famous, then Gary Busey can use his new "brain-injury persona" to be famous.

Besides, who's he hurting?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:10 AM on June 20


Busey has been on enough shows where you can tell he knows what's going on and what he's doing (even a stupid show like "The Apprentice"

— One of the best seasons of reality tv ever.


It always amazes me that otherwise right-thinking people will openly admit to watching and enjoying a TV show that strokes the ego and puts money in the pocket of noted racist, slumlord, and all-around horrible human being Donald Trump.

Would you people still watch Jeopardy if it were hosted by David Duke?

(OK. I probably would, too.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:34 AM on June 20


I thought he was terrific in Big Wednesday. Here's a clip.
posted by cell divide at 11:15 AM on June 20


I mean, should we disallow Michael J. Fox from taking on roles that make use of his Parkinson's symptoms? Isn't that taking advantage of a disease?

Rush Limbaugh tried to stop him from doing campaign ads, actually.

posted by inigo2 at 12:23 PM on June 20


Maybe Busey's behavior is caused by the brain trauma from the accident, and maybe it's all or partly an act. Or maybe it's a result of the massive amounts of drugs and alcohol he used to ingest, or maybe it's a combination of trauma/drugs/booze/his schtick.
posted by easily confused at 12:39 PM on June 20


I worked with a cast member from Night Court who has no history of brain damage, and he was a waking nightmare.


Oooh, dish!
posted by stenseng at 3:27 PM on June 20


I can't. He's litigious. He's also a portrait of poor life decisions, so I bet he will pass from this vale of tears soon enough and I can speak freely.
posted by maxsparber at 4:39 PM on June 20


Busey interviewed in 2013 with wife Steffanie Sampson on In Bed With Joan (Rivers)
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on June 20


How am I doin' today, Gary Busey?
posted by Robin Kestrel at 5:07 AM on June 21


good Lord, I worked with a cast member from Night Court who has no history of brain damage, and he was a waking nightmare.

Sounds like Harry Anderson. John Larroquette has since worked on Broadway and also still works steadily in TV. Richard Moll has gone the full Grizzly Adams and lives in a rural area with no computer or Internet, but otherwise still makes decent money doing voiceovers and character parts. Charles Robinson has continued to do stage work and is a member of the Actor's Studio in good standing. In other words, none of these three seem to have a reputation of being "difficult to work with." Harry Anderson, on the other hand, has a gap of six years in his list of acting credits on IMDB, and his most recent acting credit is to appear in a creationist movie that's appearing in September 2014. I've also looked at some more recent pictures of him on the Internet, and he does not look good.
posted by jonp72 at 9:44 AM on June 21


Holy shit, this show really happened. All this thread i kept thinking "wasn't there a tv show that basically just centered around him acting completely fucking weird" and dismissing it as something that couldn't have been real.

But it is, and that scene i'm remembering where he's way up in the hollywood hills at his house seemingly inebriated as fuck balance-beaming on the railing of his deck above a sheer drop, while yelling at i think an intern about how this is the only kind of moment you can truly feel alive in was not imagined.
posted by emptythought at 11:56 AM on June 21


Man, disappointing to think of Harry Anderson as an asshole...
posted by stenseng at 11:32 AM on June 23


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