TV Dawn to Dusk. December, 1977
By Randy Mason
Richard Dean Anderson's Personal Experiences Will Give You Goosebumps and, Prayerfully,
Save Susceptible Teens from a Life Worse than Death!
By the way he looks today, you'd never know that clean-cut Richard Dean Anderson was once a smelly hippy with long hair.
Richard Dean Anderson does not live in luxury. He admits that his role on the soap is the first full-time, well-salaried job he's had in his life, but visiting with the actor in his secluded hideaway in Pasadena, California, it's obvious he's not into material things. There's a piano and a stereo and his guitar in the duplex he shares with another actor, but indicative of his long-standing free spirit there is no car in the garage. There's only his three motorcycles, anyone of the three he uses to drive to work. He said that his lifestyle today is a reflection on his past.
"I guess it's a trait," he says in his soft-spoken mannerism. "Being impoverished most of your life you make do with what gets you by."
The poverty Rick, as his friends call him, grew up in was not at his family home in Minneapolis where he lived with his working parents and three younger brothers. It was what he could afford when he left home at 14, lived in what he calls a "dingy" apartment and hitchhiked to California a couple of times. By the time he was 17 he'd traveled by bike across Canada to Southern Alaska, explaining to his father that while one could read about geography no one could appreciate it without seeing it first hand.
"My father told me he understood," Rick explains, "and gave me his blessings and told me if I ever got into trouble to simply call him. But he also said, 'If you get into trouble there is usually a way that you can get out of it.' I have had a very good knack for survival that way."
In exploring Rick's experiences, there's the realization that he was fortunate to have such an ability.
"There are a lot of things in that particular era of my life that I'm not real proud of," he says with a somber expression to his voice. "I don't really regret too much. There was one aspect that was a little sleazy and kind of shady, almost underground I guess, but I learned from it and I got out of it just in time.
"I never got into serious trouble of any kind. I mean, I never took on a group of Hell's Angels or things like that. I was thrown in jail once, but I was able to talk my way out of it. I was hitchhiking through some small town where it was illegal to hitchhike. I had hair down below my waist and kind of smelled funny I suppose, kind of a vagabond, I guess, but I talked my way out of it. But I never got into a lot of fights and stuff. I could pretty well take care of myself."
What confrontations he did have generally were caused by his hippy appearance, though within himself he never visioned himself as a hippy.
"I always thought that I was kind of on a peripheral level because when I was 18 it was at a time when the drug thing was real big. It was hot and heavy. Everybody I knew was into it in some aspect, and I was living in Minneapolis at the time. But everybody was either feeling or doing or was strung out dead because of drugs. I didn't know anybody who was straight.
"So," he says with a sigh, "I was naturally drawn into it. I got my own involvement into it but it was still peripheral because I had the wisdom and insight to know that certain things aren't going to get you too far. But I was still involved, and while I never got busted I had the look of a hippy, and some of the habits."
He grins knowingly but says he prefers not to talk in detail of his lifestyle then, but he does admit, "There is a section of my life there that's a little cloudy. Maybe by choice, I'm not sure, but I ended up back in Minnesota and it was there that something just snapped inside of me. It was one of those revelations where you realize that you are taking too many drugs and you're drinking too much and smoking too much and my body just wasn't functioning and like that," he says, "I snapped out of it. I was used to having control, and I didn't have that. I just realized I was doing the wrong thing."
Fortunately, not only did he come to this discovery but he had someone to turn to for help, a professor he had met during a short stint at St. Cloud University in Minnesota who was working as a graduate assistant at Ohio University.
"I called him like at three in the morning," Rick says with an amused grin, "and he said, 'Why don't you come down here and take a look at the school?' So at five that morning I was on a plane. I did go to New York and Chicago after that, but I returned to Ohio University where I was accepted for the Professional Actor Training Program. In less than a year I went through quite a war from being kind of wiped out to somebody who was intent on getting something done, again."
Rick spent three-and-a-half years at the university, devoting all his time to the training studio before eventually traveling to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. He looks back and says honestly that that one morning of self-discovery and finding help from his college professor turned his life around.
"I was witness to a lot of incredible things during that one period of my life," he says, "but more importantly, I was a witness of myself to what I was doing. The whole drug scene was very ugly to me and I had the intelligence enough and the sensitivity, I guess, a kind of perceptiveness, to get out of it. It was like an intelligent move. It was borderline, though. If I had waited around any longer I would probably be dead by now. I was that close."
In the aftermath of such a life, Rick obviously has salvaged a fulfilling lifestyle with his work on "Hospital" and the monetary security to own what he wants. But his purchase of three motorcycles is indicative of his self-admitted lust for travel and exploration that still exists within him, and while it's better guided today, his realization of his nature and the maturity his past experiences have brought him make him wise when discussing any kind of marital arrangement.
"This is as domestic as I have been in my life," he says with an amused grin as he gestures to his sparsely furnished residence. "I have been in L.A. six years and I haven't ever been in one place for that long so that's the basis for domesticity.
"As far as getting married," he adds, "I am pretty young and I still have too many qualities that I am conscious of that wouldn't really be conducive to getting married and settling down because I still like to move. Any time off I get I split. I go up north or whatever, so it wouldn't be fair to any mate to try and live in that kind of environment, so I have a lot of friends who happen to be women and I have a very good relationship with all of them, physical, psychological, all of it.
"I'm also honest with them because I have to be," he continues. "There was another time of my life when I wasn't. I was a little rabbit jumping around and going off in different directions and I was pretty dishonest in my relationships, just as I was with myself. So when I woke up to the fact that I was doing myself no good, I also woke up to the fact that I have to be wise with my actions and how they might affect someone else. As I said, I learned a lot from my other life, and as cloudy as it might have been, I have no regrets. I'm just very grateful that I survived it."
Rick knows he was one of the lucky ones, and he's fully aware that many young people he met along the way didn't survive, and if anything, that gives him even stronger motivation to make his current life work.
Mason, Randy. "How I Escaped a Life Worse Than Death." TV Dawn to Dusk. December, 1977: p. 36-37 +64.