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Guest Commentary: A Shining Star Lost in a Cultural Wasteland

Dec 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

What can you say about someone who was brilliant and talented, brave and intense and funny as hell? That he was a great friend, a great artist and actor and a person who will never get to fulfill the enormous potential and live the life laid before him because he died at 27-by his own hand. Jonathan Gregory Brandis, a friend I’ll never forget and will always miss, is now added to the rapidly rising list of great talent in this country we have lost to suicide.
There is nothing glamorous or beautiful about dying young or mindlessly self-destructing in this cultural wasteland that our country, and especially Los Angeles, is slowly becoming. Los Angeles has somehow constructed an idealized view of the self-destructing artist (from Marilyn Monroe to Kurt Cobain) whose death popularizes them, and this image spreads through our country. Their deaths and drug problems don’t give us a view into the pain and isolation that brought them to such tragic ends (so we can realize that appearance, money and fame do not equal happiness). Instead, we glorify these people as icons. They become role models for our children, alongside other self-destructing artists, uneducated, prostituted teenagers-turned-superstars overnight and the latest idiot who will break all his bones for a laugh.
Brandis, raised in Connecticut, the only child of loving and supportive parents Mary and Greg, moved to Los Angeles as a child and soon became famous for his starring roles in films such as “Ladybugs” and “The NeverEnding Story II: the Next Chapter” and his role as a series regular on “SeaQuest DSV.” In recent years Brandis appeared in “Hart’s War” and “The Year That Trembled” and starred in the still-to-be-released “Puerto Vallarta Squeeze” opposite Harvey Keitel. But in a town where appearance and money are everything, even people who arrive in Los Angeles with true values and a sincere love of the art often find themselves caught up in the belief that you are nobody if you are not beautiful and famous, young and rich.
So many people get caught up in the lifestyle and the mind set of L.A. they begin to think happiness is something you can buy, and they constantly struggle to fill a void either through drugs, work, relationships, food, or when none of those work, death. Many rarely recognize the sad truth that it’s an empty pot at the end of the rainbow. Having achieved early success in his life, Brandis knew the ugliness of Hollywood and often tried to escape it through his writing, his friends and his work.
We often would sit over lunch and laugh because we could see so many people giving in to the temptations of L.A., losing sight of who they really were because they starred in a film or some series or they were dating some hot actress or actor, and they didn’t realize that all of those things are superficial and what matters most is something much deeper. Brandis was jaded by L.A. but still always hopeful and hysterically funny, kind and charming and full of life.
But somehow, along the way he got lost, and on the night of Nov. 11 he chose not to go on. The next generation of artists and creators must be responsible for its art and inspire people to live, rather than join the massive destruction that has been laid out for us like a grave. We have to deconstruct the idealized view of the depressed, self-hating artists who have faded through drugs or death, and open people’s eyes to how each life affects another.
We must become conscious of how each word we speak, each film, each song we put out affects someone and be more careful with the art we make. And how do we do this, you might ask? By each one of us taking personal responsibility for our own selves, for our own work and for our own happiness. Realize that your music or films have more power over the next generation than George W. Bush has in a thousand of his speeches.
There are children out there singing your lyrics in their sleep and watching your movies until they have them memorized. Make meaningful art. Fight through your own suffering so we can transform this wasteland into a creative and fertile frontier where it’s still possible to make something beautiful and say something that matters without money being the driving force.
Money is not what life is about. Do what makes you happy, fight the fear of loving yourself and stand up to the people who think $10 million is worth selling your soul. It’s not. And it only takes one voice to start a revolution of change.
We are the only hope we have-for ourselves, for our children. So as I say goodbye to you, Jonathan, I hope that your death will not be in vain, but that it will encourage others to fight to survive, fight for a world that you would have wanted to live for.
Hayley Taylor Block is an actress, musician and artist and the daughter of TelevisionWeek editor Alex Ben Block.