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Book Review: Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother’s Son by Joe Pantoliano

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Joe Pantoliano is well-known for his roles in movies like The Matrix, Risky Business, and Memento. He is even more recognizable as Richie in The Sopranos.. He is charming, funny, and successful.

He is also a long-time sufferer from clinical depression and the addictions that helped him deal with that depression in a very destructive way: alcoholism, food issues, shopping and shoplifting, and sex. It took him a lifetime to learn that he had a real problem (he thought all Italians felt the way he did) and to realize that the “dis-ease” as he prefers to refer to it had also affected his mother and other relatives in his family. Asylum tells the story of this disorder and his recovery from despair and addiction, as well as being a fascinating acting memoir.

This is not a dark and depressing story, however. Among the very personal stories Pantoliano shares, many are amusing and many involve tales of his famous friends and acting adventures.

Pantoliano grew up poor in New Jersey, dreaming of the day when he would be an actor, rich and famous and with everything he could ever want. But when he got those things, he found that they did not make him happy. He could not understand why.

In the ’70s, he tried group therapy with Ralph Ricci, father of Christina Ricci. His relationship with Ricci was complicated, but for years the therapy did seem to help. So did running, alcohol, and drugs, both legal and illegal. Only acting, though, really made Pantoliano happy.

But no one can act 24 hours a day. While Pantoliano’s addictions and depression did not harm his career, they ruined two marriages before he met his present wife, Nancy, who managed to stay with him through everything.

Pantoliano was in his middle years before he finally found out that he had a real disorder, clinical depression, in addition to ADHD and the dyslexia he has had since childhood. Once he knew what was wrong, he could begin to recover.

The real purpose of this book is to take away the stigma from mental illness and to help people see that having a brain disorder is not more shameful than having a disease of the body, and is just as treatable. With honesty, bravery, and a lot of humor, Pantoliano succeeds in doing that, and providing an entertaining read at the same time.

This book is entertaining, enlightening, and will please Pantoliano’s present fans while adding even more people to their ranks.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.