Catching Up With Richard Chamberlain
In "Shattered Love," the 2003 confessional book in which he came out, actor Richard Chamberlain shares his thoughts on homosexuality, aging and stardom. His career got a major boost when he played the dashing Dr. Kildare on TV in the early '60s. Today the 72-year-old actor lives in Hawaii with his partner of more than 25 years.
He returns to television in the Hallmark Channel miniseries movie "Blackbeard," which premieres at 8 p.m. EDT June 17.
Here, he talks about aging, vanity and being a closeted gay actor projecting a romantic-lead image.
Q: What do you think it was about your personality that propelled you into acting?
A: It's a fairly usual showbiz story. I was a shy kid, kind of withdrawn and not with a ton of self-esteem. I didn't very much like real life. I hated going to school when I was a kid, and so a life of fantasy seemed very attractive. (Laughs)
Q: Did it live up to your expectations?
A: Yes and more so. With the sudden success of "Dr. Kildare," it was so astonishing. And I loved every second of it. Young people can have a lot of trouble with success, but I was working so hard it didn't really ruin my character. But, oh, God! I loved being famous. I needed it so badly because, as I said, I had a self-confidence problem of major proportions. It really helps on a superficial level. Now the time comes when you realize that no amount of fame or even money, though both are wonderful, will solve the essential problem.
Q: When did you realize that?
A: It came over a long period of time. I did a lot of therapy. I did a lot of spiritual workshops. So gradually over time I became less of a control freak and less worried that if people really knew me they wouldn't like me.
Q: It seems you were acting most of your adult life - and it wasn't all on the stage.
A: Yes, I was acting in real life as well as on the stage. I wrote a book about all that ("Shattered Love"). It wasn't really until I was 68 years old that some of the fears that I had disappeared.
Q: Do you have any regrets about writing "Shattered Love"?
A: Oh, no, not at all. It was a marvelous experience. It's a wonderful way to focus your being on whatever it is you want to focus. In writing the book, I discovered so many things that seemed true to me.
Q: Knowing what you know now, would it have been OK to come out earlier?
A: No, because my career demanded that I keep all that as secret as possible. I was playing a romantic leading man most of my life. So you don't go around saying you live with a guy when you are playing a romantic lead. A lot of people don't get over it. Even today. We who live in more liberal areas feel that times have changed a lot, but the fact is society moves glacially. Very, very slow. Prejudice lives on.
Q: You have a very interesting philosophy on homosexuality. You see the masculine and feminine being balanced.
A: Oh, I think it's very true, maybe not in every case. I think it's often true with homosexuals that there is a kind of androgynous quality. You know the word "androgynous" is not a happy word in America. I think it's wonderful to have a balance of male and female in the same person. It doesn't necessarily lead to homosexuality. A person can still be straight. I think all my friends have this balance, gay and straight. ... I think it's a very creative combination also.
Q: At some point we all have to deal with aging. Being a teen idol and a romantic leading man, how have you faced the years?
A: Well, to begin with, I stayed young miraculously until 60. I mean well into my 50s, I still looked young, I felt young; I thought I was young. I do take care of myself, and you know there's no surgery or anything involved. My parents were like that, too, and my brothers were all like that. Getting old - what a shock! You know I'm 72 now, and, no, I don't look and don't act it, but one's energy begins to diminish and it's a pain in the ...
Q: Is vanity something you let go of as you age or use to improve your health?
A: Vanity rules my life, and I think it's an excellent component of health. I mean I've always been an exercise freak and do it every day in one form or another. If I don't exercise, I can't sleep. I need it and I enjoy it. I like moving and I like doing stuff. It's largely a component of vanity. (Laughs)
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