Gary Busey’s journey from Oscar nominee to 80s and 90s action star and now to his current incarnation as a contestant on Channel 5’s ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ has been something of a rocky and often tragic one. There’s been drug addiction, rehab, arrests for domestic violence, bizarre interviews, converting to Christianity, health scares and a catastrophic motorbike accident which nearly killed him.
It was 10 years into the 70-year-old actor’s career on screen, after he’d appeared in films like ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ and ‘A Star Is Born’, that he was first recognised for his acting chops. He played doomed pop icon Buddy Holly in ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ in 1978, earning himself an Oscar nomination, alongside Robert De Niro, Laurence Olivier, Warren Beatty and Jon Voight at the 51st Academy Awards in 1979 (Voight won for ‘Coming Home’).
But he would rarely find himself in quite such salubrious acting circles again. After surf classic ‘Big Wednesday’, he fashioned himself as an action star, appearing as the main antagonist in ‘Lethal Weapon’.
But in 1988, disaster struck, when he crashed his motorbike after hitting a patch of sand. Because he wasn’t wearing a helmet, the accident was near-fatal, flipping him over the handlebars and cracking open his skull on a curb. He was in a coma for four weeks.
“At one time they had me under 12 layers of drugs and strapped down to a metal table, naked, in the mental health alert ward - cause they were going to ‘Cuckoo Nest’ me,” Busey said.
“And I felt a white cloak cover around me, and I called that cloak faith. And that’s what got me out of the hospital two and a half months early.”
He told Joan Rivers last year: “My brain has been altered… to a high dimension in the spiritual realm. And that’s where I operate consciously and unconsciously.”
He had to learn to walk and talk again, and years later, in an episode of US show ‘Celebrity Rehab’, psychiatrist Dr. Charles Sophy suspected that the injury had weakened Busey’s mental ‘filters’, leading him to behave impulsively.
Still, he hit his richest seam of work following the accident, starring in action classics like ‘Point Break’, ‘Under Siege’, ‘Predator 2’ and ‘Drop Zone’. But sadly he’d also discovered cocaine. “I’d never done it before and I tried it, and bam, whoa. I was taken by the addiction,” he told Oprah Winfrey.
In 1995, he overdosed. “Cocaine was my devil that I danced with in my life,” he added. “The devil has been sent away and now I dance with nothing but angels.” Indeed, he’s not touched the stuff for more than 18 years.
Bad luck and bad decisions still followed him around though. After suffering recurring nosebleeds, he underwent surgery to remove a golfball-sized cancerous tumour from his sinus cavity, and was treated with radiotherapy.
From there, his acting career took a turn for the worse, his later CV littered with predominantly straight-to-video movies. He was arrested for spousal battery of his second wife Tiana in 1999, and was accused of striking a flight attendant in 1997. There are also numerous reports of him physically fighting with co-stars.
But these days he appears much more serene, with clips of his eccentric outbursts and motivational speaking all over YouTube, making him something of a cult online icon.
Reality TV has come knocking more and more in these latter days of his career, with appearances on the aforementioned ‘Celebrity Rehab’ and on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’, where he had a memorable run-in with a seriously agitated Meatloaf (once more, YouTube is your friend here).
Now on Channel 5 cooped up with stars of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ and ‘Geordie Shore’ on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, it appears that Busey is set to deliver more of his strange wit and wisdom to the British viewing public. It’s also emerged that he dated fellow housemate Angelique ‘Frenchy’ Morgan until 2010.
So hold on to your hats… this may get bumpy.
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Photo credits: Rex Features