Maurice Benard Entertainment Tonight Interview 6/00

“All I wanted to do was get out . . .” Maurice Benard sat down with Entertainment Tonight to share his frightening story of manic depression. Read on to find out how he battled back from this deadly disease.

Entertainment Tonight: I have read articles in the past in which you have talked very openly about the depression. I am curious how families can tell what the first signs of this disease are. How did you know something was wrong and what happened?

Maurice Benard: I was 21 and just getting interested in acting. Something just triggered. I got sick with a 102 fever, and I was obsessed with acting. I kept memorizing monologues. I would not sleep. Something just triggered.

Entertainment Tonight: Were you a troublemaker?

Maurice: I used to drink a lot and get in fights. Maybe that is where I manifested the disease without really knowing it. It was when I was 21, though and got into acting that I would not sleep at night. I was obsessed with this, and then I would be obsessed with that. The story goes that I went to an acting coach and he asked me if I had ever done any acting. I told him that I had never picked up a script or anything, but I wanted to learn. He told me to read a play. It was "American Buffalo." So I picked it up and I started to read it with the dialect. I was getting in to it. Afterwards, he asked me again if I had ever done any acting. I told him no again.

I went back to my agent. He told me that the acting coach told him that I was going to be the next Al Pacino. At that time in my life, I was not ready to be hearing that. In a way, I started believing that I was Al Pacino and I became obsessed with that as well. I started losing it. My strange behavior came out of left field. One night my mom and dad called the police on me because I had gotten a little violent.

Entertainment Tonight: Were you violent with your parents?

Maurice: Yes. A little bit. When the police came, it turned out that one of the officers was a friend of mine from high school. When they came in, I acted as if everything was fine. I told them that we were just having a little argument. Then, they left. The next morning my mom and dad took me to a hospital. I stayed there for three weeks.

Entertainment Tonight: What was the hospital like? What did they tell you when you got there?

Maurice: When I got there, I was acting up. They had to give me a shot to sedate me. When I woke up, they had put me in a bed. It was pretty bad. It was a regular hospital, but they had to strap me down because I would pull out the IV. They told my mom and dad that I would die in six weeks because I had a virus in my brain. They did not know what was going on, so that is what they assumed.

Entertainment Tonight: So the doctors told your mom and dad, "I am sorry, but your son is going to die in six months?"

Maurice: Yes, that is what they said. Then, they gave me tests and determined that it was not a virus in my brain. They gave me CAT scans and I hated them. They tried to put me in the machine and I would not go in, so they had to force me. They figured out that I was just going through a nervous breakdown.

Entertainment Tonight: How long were you in that hospital?

Maurice: I was in that hospital for about four days. All I wanted to do was get out. Any time my parents would come visit me all I would say to them is, "Get me out of here." I would be strapped down, and I would say, "Get me out!" My friends would come, and we would come up with schemes. I would tell them to come back after dark to get me out. I would tell them that I was dying in there. It was really hard. My friends and family would come visit me with tears in their eyes from seeing me in that state. Finally, they decided to put me in an institution where I could walk around and hang out. They put me in the new place and it was terrible. I felt I was all right. I would look in the mirror and I looked like I was normal. I was hurting inside, though, and there was depression. However, the other patients had serious problems and I had to sleep hearing noises at night. I was there for two and one-half weeks.

One of the worst parts about it was when you were a bad boy, they would put you in a seclusion room. One time, I didn't take my pills and I jumped on the counter. They started screaming, "Get him out of here. He is trying to escape!" So they threw me into a room. This room had four walls with one bed in the middle. The worst part about it was there was this little window. In the daylight all I could see was outside and all I felt like doing was running out there. I couldn't, though, because they had me strapped down by my wrist, waist, and ankles.

Entertainment Tonight: Were you strapped to the bed?

Maurice: Yes, to the bed. One nice story is that one time I wanted to end it. There was a latch coming out of the wall. I wanted to get to it. It took me about an hour and half to get to it. I finally got to it, though, and I ripped it off the wall. I had thoughts of cutting myself with it. Instead, I said a little prayer and I busted it in half. I made it into a cross and put it above my bed. Those are the kinds of things that happen when you are in that condition. It is like God and the Devil are fighting with each other and you are in the middle.

Entertainment Tonight: At that point, are you in a state that you know you are contemplating suicide?

Maurice: Yes. The pain is so great that you don't want to keep going. I knew, though, and I decided not to do it.

Entertainment Tonight: How did you finally get out?

Maurice: The first time they let me out I decided I was going to steal some tennis shoes from another patient, because I had hard shoes and I knew that I could not run in them. I stole them and they were too big for me (laughing). I put the shoes on, anyway, and they let me go for a walk. I walked outside and the guy who was watching me was talking to someone. So, I ran like a deer. I ran and they called the cops on me. I did not have any money. I went into a realtor's office and I told them I needed to make an emergency phone call. I called my friend to pick me up. When my friend came to get me, he passed me. So, I ran after him. He did not see me, though, and he kept going. I had to call him again, so I went into a Denny's. I borrowed a quarter. Then, I saw two cops, so I had to hide. Later, my friends picked me up and we went and ate pizza.

Entertainment Tonight: Then what? You escaped from the hospital and never went back?

Maurice: No. They told my parents that if I really wanted out that bad, then I should not come back. The hard part is that after the drugs wear off, reality hits. It was even worse.

Entertainment Tonight: Did you get the proper diagnosis?

Maurice: Three months later I did. I met with this doctor who was incredible. He was a psychiatrist and he diagnosed me as a manic depressive. He told me I needed Lithium. He saved me.

Entertainment Tonight: When people ask you about your condition, do you feel that there is a negative reaction?

Maurice: When I tell people in person, I don't. The first time I felt the negativeness was at an awards show. I was giving a speech and I said, "To anyone that is manic depressive, don't give up!" A lot of people laughed. But hey, that is all right. I am trying to educate people and let them know that it is not a condition to be taken lightly. I understand that they do not understand.