Beneath The Beard: Terry Irving Speaks Openly to Nick Wale…


His name is Terry Irving….

 He has won four Emmy Awards…

He has worked for some of the great names in TV history…

 He has written several books including the top ten bestseller “Full Circle”…

 His name is Terry Irving, and as he stands, he knows that he has achieved more in one life than a bunch of  average journalists put together. I was asked once how I would describe Irving, Edward by a fellow author interviewer. My answer? “Terry is rather like a cross between Mt Sinai and King Neptune…”

 Let’s roll on with the interview that took place on a balmy early summer evening. I think you might like it!


Q) Hi Terry, are you ready to interview?

A) Always happy to chat with you, Nick.

Q) Reading your new book “Full Circle” you seem to have become at ease with your own “lot” in life. Would you agree with that statement?

A) Funny. I wouldn’t have thought that would be such a tough question.

Q) Can you simplify it?

A) Two answers, really. One, I’ve been very glad to have always–essentially–done what I enjoyed. I loved TV, I liked the frantic rush of deadlines, and the continuous opportunity to step up and try something new. To prove yourself against a new challenge. And then, after TV, I learned how to write, I became a video editor, I did business videos and had clients. I even enjoyed managing people–getting them into the right places and making sure they were trained and moving up.

On the other hand, I can’t say I’m all that thrilled with how it all turned out. I’m not starving, but the people who went to college with me and then joined banks and law firms have made gazillions and I KNOW they weren’t smarter than me. I am pretty damn sure they weren’t doing better things for the economy. So, yeah, I’m a bit disappointed in how things turned out financially–can’t say that I would encourage anyone to follow in my footsteps–but for the most part, I had more fun than any four people should be allowed to have.

Q) You stated in your book that you were told from an early age that you would be a failure like your uncle. Does that still haunt you?

A) Yeah… But breaking it off with my dysfunctional family did a lot to dull that pain.

Q) You still believe that you are a failure even with the accolades you have collected from a prestigious career?

A) Basically, Nick, I suffer from long-term depression. It’s a built-in. I wake up in the morning feeling like I’m a complete bust and probably just committed a crime that I’m about to be arrested for.

Q) How did that affect your work? Did it affect your work?

A) When I worked at Nightline, I was doing some of the best work in television and yet I’d drive home and be thinking, “Oh, God. They’re going to find out I’m not that smart. Oh, I’m going to be fired.” It was all fantasy, but it’s brutally real when it’s going on. Just one quick example of depression. When I was in Beirut, I wasn’t afraid of bombs, rockets, and machine gun bullets…I was afraid that I wouldn’t do my TV package well enough. That’s really not rational, but it was how it was. I hid from my depression in work, motorcycles and more work when I was a young man. That’s how you earn all those Emmys. It’s like heroin. You do something that’s just insane–no one else could pull it off–and that dulls the depression for a couple of minutes. Lets you feel normal. Then you drop like a stone and have to start again.

I burned out in 1991 and ended up putting myself in a psych ward for a couple of weeks (mainly so the morons at ABC couldn’t find me) and had to admit that I had a problem with depression. Therapy alone doesn’t really work, but the new drugs AND therapy work pretty well. The fact is that you don’t have to feel terrible these days.

Q) Did you ever try to kill the pain with drink? Drugs? Did anything help you?

A) No, I don’t drink. I mean, I would drink, but I’m already putting some very expensive drugs into my body for the depression so why add in cheap ethanol? When my parents were growing up, there really was nothing that doctors could do for severe depression so many if not most people took to drink. It was effective, but the side effects (like having everyone in your family hate you) were extreme.

Q) Would you say that many people understand you? Are you misunderstood?

A) Usually, other people understand me far better than I understand myself.

Q) Do you think depression, being burnt out, self destructive tendencies are the likely end results of working in your profession?

A) Depression and overwork is a common trait everywhere. It always leads to being burnt out in the end.

Q) So, you were twenty when your father disowned you. How did you feel at the time?

A) I was pretty pissed off. I thought they were being jerks about the whole thing. I guess, on the other hand, it was exceptionally freeing. I no longer had to ask permission. I was running my own life with my own money (or usually no money at all) and I didn’t owe anything to anyone. Looking back at my father, I think he was a pompous jerk; plus, he was depressed and came from a family of cold, unemotional people.

Q) In your book you have a copy of the letter your father sent you when he disowned you. I have to ask, why did you keep that letter?

A) I keep everything. Always have. There are boxes and boxes of crap that my kids are going to have to go through and throw out after I’m dead. A lot of the stuff came from my mother. She would have been a good subject for the TV show Hoarders. It took us a full year to clean out the house after she died. Oddly, that was the most fun I’ve had in that house since I was, say, eight years old.

Q) Do you think there’s a connection between your depression and your obsession with the past?

A) No. That’s a misunderstanding of depression. Depression–long-term chronic depression–is a function of chemicals in your brain. Generally, it’s genetic, but it can be caused by major trauma (like being in a war) when your brain chemicals adjust to a terrible situation and then can’t re-set to normal. Being depressed is a natural function of life — your dog died or you got fired–you feel bad. it’s when you feel bad for no goddamn reason at all that you’ve got depression. Then it’s medication time. You can’t talk your way out of chronic depression. Anyway, I don’t think I’m obsessed with my past.

Q) So, you don’t think always looking back at the misery in your life adds to your depression at all?

A) I think my past is interesting, but the whole reason I began writing Time Cut was that I realized after my dad died, that my kids had no clue about the various things I’d done, the insane family I (and they) came from and I wanted to get it down on paper so they could read it when the right time came around. Usually, the “right time” is a couple of years after you’ve died. I don’t always look back. I seldom look back. I wrote the first chapters of Time Cut four years ago and haven’t thought about it since. Anyway, I think I beat the insanity in my family– it didn’t beat me.

Q) Let me ask you a question. Why do you find it so hard to concentrate on one thing?

A) Listen, there are two fields of work where ADD is useful if not essential. One is computers and the other is television. I used to work in control rooms where there would be 40 or 50 monitors from all over the world, 16 people screaming in your ear on the intercom and bulletins streaming past on the computer. You need to multi-task to pull that off.

Q) Tell me about your experiences with alcoholism. What is it like living with someone who is afflicted with that disease?

A) Alcoholism destroys everyone and everything. It’s like living inside a wildfire. Nothing will survive. The only real answer is Alcoholics Anonymous or Alanon or Alateen and the alcoholic very seldom takes that route. I generally won’t have anything to do with alcoholics–there’s too much lying and betrayal. It’s just a way of life driven by the need for the drug.That’s why I left home. I was a lot better off on my own than in a household with a drunk.

Q) So, when your father disowned you was that a blessed release?

A) Nah. He was a weak bastard who enabled my mother. He was only cutting me off because she was all over him about it. I’d already LEFT. I didn’t get released. I just had to find more jobs to make enough money to graduate college. It really meant less at the time than perhaps it seems. I got a job selling ice cream out of a truck and being the mechanic for the ice cream company and then was a bouncer at a neighborhood bar and the bar cleaner and ran a shift at a local gas station — that’s how I graduated. If anything, it was annoying that they were holding any money over my head.

Q) You say your father was a “weak bastard”– how else would you describe him?

A) My father was an excellent teacher and an excellent grandfather. He kinda sucked as a father. but then again, so did his father. I’m not the world’s greatest Dad, I can guarantee my kids would agree, but I’ve done a far, far better job than my parents did. That’s the only revenge.

Q) Changing the tempo, let’s talk about your freedom from your parents. What moments stand out to you?

A) I’ve had the unbelievable opportunity to do amazing things. I’ve hitchhiked across the country, had a fight in a bar in the Yukon, worked at the Silver Slipper on the Vegas Strip, covered war in Beirut, watch candidates battle for the presidency, had complete control of a television network and the attention of 20 million people, jumped out of helicopters with a handful of tapes and rode a motorcycle at insane speeds to make deadline. Who else gets to do fun stuff like that?

Q) What happened in the Yukon? You are a big guy. I am sure it was a pretty interesting fight.

A) It was a native bar and they really have a genetic problem with alcohol. There were fights about every thirty seconds. This guy standing next to me turns around and says he didn’t like my hat. It reminded him of the Gurkhas. I was a bit too sloshed to fight–and wasn’t all that good at it anyway–so I did the only other thing you can do in a bar fight. I threw my arms around him in a warm hug of total friendship and told him how much I really liked him, etc. etc. I was holding down his arms, you see. That way, he couldn’t hit me. Then I threw away the hat!

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