Remember Leif Garrett?

Remember Leif Garrett?

Yes, this is on my mind today…Leif Garrett. He was a teen idol when I was a preteen in the 1970s. He had been on a couple of TV shows…Three for the RoadFamily (with Kristy McNichol), and a guest spot on Wonder Woman. He had a singing career with a hit in I Was Made for Dancing. He was in the Walking Tall movies. He was on American Bandstand. And he even had his very own TV special on CBS. All that happened before he was 18.

I don’t even know why I started thinking about Leif Garrett yesterday. Sometimes, I start looking for movies I liked as a child or teenager, and yesterday, I thought of a coming-of-age film from the 80s called Little Darlings, starring Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal. Somehow, that made me think of Leif Garrett.

Oh, he was such a dreamboat at the time! With his flowing blonde locks and surfer-boy looks, lots of teenage girls had his posters all over their bedrooms. Back then, we had Teen Beat and Tiger Beat magazines (remember those?) to keep us up-to-date on our teen idols, and in the late 70s, Leif Garrett was at the top of the list. But as we all know, most teen idols don’t last. Most are a flash in the pan…including Garrett. But there was something different about him. He had charisma that the others didn’t have. Well, David Cassidy had it, but I can’t think of anyone else from my time who had the same X Factor as Cassidy and Garrett. Somehow, David Cassidy managed to reinvent himself as an adult in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Broadway, but the only place we’ve seen Garrett was Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew…sadly.

I’ve seen clips and read articles about him over the last 24 hours, and his story is tragic. He started acting in commercials as a child before moving into TV and movies. At some point, a management team decided to make him a singing star. With his charisma, Garrett was a walking dollar sign. He felt like he had no say in his own career and told Rosie O’Donnell on her show that he didn’t see a lot of the money from his fame.

But the real turning point in his life was a tragic car accident when he was 17. He was driving his Porsche, and a friend was riding with him. They had an accident, and the friend was left paralyzed from the waist down. Alcohol and drugs were involved. All terrible. It’s also something that could happen to lots of teens…a cautionary tale.

It’s tragic. The friend’s paralysis is tragic. The guilt and downward spiral afterward of Garrett are tragic too. Had he not been in show business, would this have happened? It’s an ugly business. Tragic. He became an addict…cocaine, heroin…sad. Was it the guilt of the accident that sent him over the edge? He made some bad choices, but this was a kid who had too much freedom and too much power too early. Who could handle that at 17? Fame and money make a strange life for a teen. Even good people can get caught up in the trappings of fame. Drugs plus guilt…perfect storm.

I am not diagnosing Garrett. I am not a psychologist. I just wonder what could have been. I look at that innocent face of the 1970s, and I want him to have a mother or someone else to keep him grounded. Had he been more closely supervised, and had he not chosen to drive under the influence that night, would his life have spiraled out of control? It’s sad to look at the photos of that sunkissed, young, hopeful teen and know what a terrible turn his life took. I don’t think he was a horrible individual. He was a teenager without boundaries. He’s likely not a horrible individual now, but wow, he has had a tough life. If he had stayed clean, would he be living a “normal” life now? We will never know. Some teen idols go on to have seemingly healthy lives, but the vast majority seem to have more issues than the “average” kid.

So that brings me to Garrett’s book, released at the end of 2019. Of course, I didn’t know about it then, and I didn’t hear about it earlier this year. With COVID in our midst, there hasn’t been a lot of press about the memoirs of former teen idols. But when I learned about it yesterday, I ordered it from Amazon, and I’ve read a couple of chapters, and it’s pretty darn good so far. It’s called Idol Truth: A Memoir. Yes, I will be the first to admit that I tend to be sympathetic. I’m a bleeding heart. I tend to want the best for people, and I’m sure I will still want the best for Garrett when I finish this book. If you’re interested, you can order from Amazon here. It will be available on the Audible app on August 11…I’ve already preordered it.

In the meantime, I’ll give my teenage daughter some extra hugs and be grateful that she’s a normal teenage girl living a normal life in North Carolina…not a teen idol. And I’ll tell her the story of Leif Garrett as a cautionary tale. I’ll tell her how quickly his life spiraled out of control, and hopefully, we will both learn some valuable lessons from Garrett’s experience.

Quarantine: March 1985

March 1985.

Thirty-five years ago.

It was my senior year in high school, and as spring break approached, I was feeling miserable. My mother took me to see Dr. Mracek, our family physician, and he said those words no high school senior wants to hear, “I think you have mono.” You know…mononucleosis…also known as “the kissing disease,” because it’s easily transmitted between teenagers. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, because at the time, for a teenager, it was a death sentence for all activities. Of course, I felt so badly that I couldn’t go anywhere, anyway.

My throat hurt. My head hurt. I had no energy. The mono test came back positive, and the doctor told me to stay in my bedroom and only leave it to go to the bathroom and take a shower/bath. He told my mother to get me a good multivitamin and keep the rest of the family away from me. He told her to get paper plates and plasticware for me…and get me my own salt and pepper shakers. He didn’t want the rest of the family to catch it. And he told me to stay hydrated. He also instructed me to stay out of school till he told me it was OK to return. I think people worried a lot more about mono back then, because I see kids returning to normal activities much more quickly after being diagnosed now. My mother, being a registered nurse, followed the doctor’s orders to the letter. I stayed in my room, but I didn’t really have the energy to do anything else anyway.

At 17, I couldn’t believe it. It was my senior year of high school. I was missing a spring break beach trip. It meant I would be home on Friday nights to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. While that would have sounded awesome a few years earlier, as a senior in high school, it sounded terrible. Interestingly, I remember seeing the debut of Mr. Belvedere, a sitcom starring Bob Uecker and others, but since my family always watched sports, Uecker is the one I remember from the show. Uecker is a former baseball player who is the broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers, but he is also known for some Miller Lite ads he made in the 80s, using the tag line “I must be in the front row!” I still use that line regularly, but no one knows what I’m talking about when I do.

My bout with mononucleosis is my only “quarantine” experience. After missing spring break and a week or two of school, I was slowly allowed to return to half days, then full days of school. Eventually, I resumed all normal activities. By summer, I was feeling normal, and I was able to go off to college in August of that year.

Interestingly, that time of “quarantine” is just a blip on my radar now. I don’t remember much about it. I know I was heartbroken to be separated from friends and missing school activities, but while I remember that, I don’t feel it.  I don’t feel any sadness in looking back on it. I don’t feel sad about what I missed because of it. I missed a few months of normal activities, but now, it doesn’t matter. In fact, I feel pretty sure I had gotten over the sadness by the time I started college that fall.

Now, March 1985 is a distant memory, and one day, March 2020 will be a distant memory too. Because this COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced by the whole country, we will likely remember it more clearly…and hopefully learn from it… but my hope is that, eventually, we, as a country, will recover…just like my bout with mononucleosis. It will be a much bigger blip on the radar of life, but eventually, it will be behind us.

There will be recovery time from this. Lots of people have lost their lives and/or family members. Lots of folks have lost businesses and jobs. Lots of us have lost lots of money. I certainly don’t mean to make light of that, but I think we all need to look out for each other. It’s devastating…but our country will recover.

***I’m saying daily prayers for those who are suffering with COVID-19. I know there are lots of sick and dying people out there, and I pray for them and their families.***