I was once friends with an acquitted murderer-slash-B-list actor.
He was a sad man, but I guess that shouldn't be surprising. The sort of man who spent Thanksgiving alone, eating a grocery store rotisserie chicken in the woods of Ojai, California.
The sort of man who owned nothing but a couch, a bed, a guitar and the photos of his long forgotten career taped to his wall.
The sort of man who has no friends.
The sort of man who lived like the characters he portrayed.
The sort of man where you couldn't tell if he was acting in real life or not.
I met the acquitted murderer-slash-B-list-actor many years ago, when he walked into my office wearing a purple pearl snap shirt and ten gallon cowboy hat. He was there to give my boss a copy of a screenplay that his father had written. The actor was clearing out his storage and getting rid of everything he owned: Emmy statues, props from his Oscar-nominated film — it all went to complete strangers.
He tracked down my boss and showed up at the studio gates one day, unannounced. A call informed me that the actor was standing outside — Did I want to let him in? Did I? Images of the actor's mugshot, his furrowed brow and angry scowl filled my mind. Stories of his case and the details made me uneasy. If I let him in, will he shoot everyone? Does an acquitted murderer carry a gun at all in order to kill innocent bystanders at a moment's notice?
I waited with baited breath at my desk and heard the methodical thump thump thump as he climbed the stairs to my office. What the hell was I going to say to this guy?
A call informed me that the actor was standing outside — did I want to let him in? Did I? Images of the actor's mugshot, his furrowed brow and angry scowl filled my mind. Stories of his case and the details made me uneasy.
This wasn't my first experience with the actor. He lived next door to my good friends in a small apartment complex in the Valley. They said he was very kind to their daughter, but mostly kept to himself in a non-descript one bedroom apartment, far away from where the paparazzi could hound him. I was still scared to meet him and wondered if I made the wrong choice letting him in.
When he rounded the corner, I held my breath. "Are you the secretary?" he asked in a slow, Hollywood-perfected drawl. Secretary? Didn't he know it wasn't 1955 anymore? "Yes, I'm the assistant," I blurted back. "Here," he said. He handed me the battered script.
Before he turned away, I said, "You live next door to my friends, the one with the little girl." A smile formed across his lips. He liked that little girl. She reminded him of his own, he told me.
The acquitted murderer-slash-B-list-actor went on his way, and I doubted I would ever see him again.
Until three months later, when I get a phone call at my desk. I recognized the same slow drawl as before. It was the actor, and he wanted to know if I'd like to meet for breakfast Saturday morning. He wanted back in the biz and needed help; needed to know who the players are and who he should talk to. I told him that I worked exclusively for my boss at the time, but was happy to meet with him and brainstorm. Happy to meet with him? What the hell was I thinking?
I discussed the impending breakfast meeting with friends and family, whose opinions ranged from "Badass!" to "How the hell can you eat with a guy who was charged with murdering someone?" To the naysayers and to myself, I reminded that he was acquitted of murder and that this meeting was more for an interesting life experience and future anecdote.
In preparation for the meeting, I did my research. I read every story, every detail of the his case and of his character. I wanted to know who I was meeting with; I was split down the middle on whether or not he had committed the crime. A part of me thought he did it — but an equal part thought he didn't.
When Saturday rolled around, I spotted the actor in the same ten gallon hat in the restaurant parking lot. As he lead me through the doors every eye was focused on us. People knew who he was. Those who didn't recognize him from his patronage knew him from the news reports. We sat down and, with a whisk of his hand, the actor ordered "the regular."
Suddenly, the actor couldn't stop telling me everything. Four hours went by and we were still in the booth discussing everything from the murder to what I dreamt about the night before. When the afternoon arrived we realized it was time to part and the actor asked if we could meet again the following Saturday morning. I found myself shaking my head yes.
Our conversation started with incomplete sentences, staring off to space and playing with butter. He seemed extremely uncomfortable around me, which didn't help my already established discomfort with being around a dude who people think killed someone. As time wore on, we eased into normal dialogue (if normal is discussing how your parents locked you in a closet as a child).
Suddenly, the actor couldn't stop telling me everything. Four hours went by and we were still in the booth discussing everything from the murder to what I dreamt about the night before. When the afternoon arrived we realized it was time to part and the actor asked if we could meet again the following Saturday morning. I found myself shaking my head yes. I enjoyed his company. I had enjoyed listening to his stories of growing up in Hollywood.
So, we met the next morning. And the following morning after that. We drove around LA and he pointed at famous landmarks that acted as pivotal dots on the timeline of his career. We went to the grocery store, garage sales and coffee shops. We drove by a park where he longingly stared at a young family as his eyes welled up. He asked if I wanted to see his apartment, something he didn't really extend to people. I thought about it for a moment and, feeling that he wasn't going to murder me, I accepted. (Anyways, my friends were right next door if anything got cray-cray.)
The actor had very little. He owned a couch, a bed, a TV and some exercise equipment he had fastened together from scrap metal. His walls were lined with photos from his career and giant sheets of paper with child-like scrawls on them, words like "don't give up" written over and over. I was fixated.
“Want a pair of my cowboy pants?” The words broke me from my daze. He guided me into his barren spare room that had only a tool bench and a closet full of jeans. “I think we’re the same size. You can borrow them anytime,” he said to me.
We sat down in the living room and began playing guitar while I sat on the floor ands continued staring at all these photos of a young man. A happy man. A man who had the world at his fingertips and now? Now he has nothing. No career, no money, no family. He was starting to get to me. I looked at this old man and felt sorrow, the want to take him in.
As I walked out of the apartment he sheepishly asked if maybe we could grab dinner sometime. Wait, what? This guy was 50 years older than me! I thought he wanted me to help him get back into Hollywood? Later that week, I sent an invite to a holiday party I was throwing. On it, I wrote that I really appreciated him letting me into his home and that I hope he could come to my party. I jokingly added in the PS: "Oh, and don't ever hit on me. Haha."
Needless to say, he didn’t come to the party. I never heard from the actor again. I called him a few times to see if he needed anything. My messages left unreturned. Nothing.
Sometimes I think of him. I wonder how he is doing and get the urge to call him. I pick up the phone and force myself to remember that all of it was a sham. That somewhere, long ago, existed a man who was living out his dreams, but who now lives a nightmare he himself created.