INTERVIEW: Catching up with Christopher Lawford

Posted Sunday, September 13, 2009 10:47:27 PM

Christopher Lawford, who played All My Children's Charlie Brent, chats with Soap Central about what he's been up to since his AMC exit.

Editor's Note: The following interview was conducted prior to the death of Edward Kennedy on August 25, 2009.

It is the fifth time in 20 minutes that Christopher Kennedy Lawford (ex-Charlie Brent, All My Children) has called. He is doing an interview on his way to the airport. His cell phone keeps cutting out. He is always on the way to an airport. Often it is to speak about addiction and the road back. This time he is on a book tour for his recent tome, Moments of Clarity. The book tells the stories of well-known and everyday citizens who have dealt with their addictions and reached what Lawford did--"a moment of clarity. When I knew I had to quit."

Lawford did not want to write this book. "I felt I said it all in my first book." The book, which made the New York Times Best Seller List was A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption, a memoir of living a life of privilege, slipping into drugs, and showing that addiction can be beaten. "My editor suggested I do this follow-up. I said 'no' several times. I mentioned the project to someone else who was a recovering addict. They kept pushing for it. I finally agreed." The odd thing is that the person who pressed for the book decided not to be part of it. "It is like that moment of clarity. You have to be ready. If you are not ready, than it will not work."

You can learn a lot about a person you are interviewing by the way they treat the people around them. Throughout his ride to LAX, he is unfailing polite. "Thank you," "Please." That seems like a little thing, but in the world of celebrity, it is huge. When the manners are complimented, "I try," he responds. "I don't always get it right. When I don't I think of what my family would think." What a family it is. Lawford is show business and Kennedy is politics.

As a young man Lawford lived a life of privilege. Of course that privilege brings some problems. What would it be like to learn the most amazing things about your family while watching television or listening to the radio. Assassinations, stories of young death, and political misdeeds dot the family history. To be blindsided by a "breaking news" item that changes a life forever must be horrific. "That never happened. I never learned things about the family from the media. Uncle Teddy always made certain we knew things before we learned it anywhere else." He said that a month after his uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. There was a hushed silence. The sadness wa s palpable.

Words of "I am so sorry about his health," are met with "We all are. He really is the light of our family." After his death, Lawford remembered Uncle Ted as the fun uncle. "There were always laughs. There was always love. Even when we were not that lovable, there was always help."

Lawford is a great believer in help. "I will help anyone who asks. If the behavior does not change, if the addiction continues, then my help is of no use. That person needs to look elsewhere. That way, they will get the help they need."

Lawford's drug of choice was heroin. "It ruined my life. It nearly killed me more than once. It led to a chronic liver condition. It caused my family lots of heartache. I will not lie--it was also fun. Admitting that is important. I tried everything to quit. Rehab, cold turkey. After each try I would say, 'This is it.' Even when friends and family died from drug abuse, I went back. Then one day, I knew it had to stop."

Like any addict, Lawford knows it is easy to go back. "I really have to stay away from everything."

I was at my mom's one day right after I was sober." Mom is the late Patricia Kennedy Lawford. "She said how everyone is so proud that I was no longer using drugs. Then she asked me to mix her a drink. I explained I really could not do that. She did not understand. She wasn't being mean. It was like does this mean you can't have drinks with us?"

At this point Lawford can be around alcohol. He just cannot take that first drink.

When Lawford agreed to write the book he needed it to be done in a certain way. "I wanted to sit down with each person in the book. I wrote letters talking about the book and asked for participation. I was stunned how many people I had never met wanted to be part of the project. Some of them had never talked about their addiction before."

Lawford admits some close friends refused to be part of the project. "I understand. It is a personal choice. I had some who wrote back and explained why. Others did not respond."

Those that agreed found themselves doing hours of one-on-one interviews with Lawford. "It was very important to me that I spend lots of one-on-one time with them. Each interview I did provided me with more insight."

He is hopeful that the election of Barack Obama will bring about two things that are very important to him. "I believe that one of the major causes of addiction is mental health issues. We have to have coverage in this country that provides mental health care for everyone." He other burning desire is the ending of the Cuban embargo. "I have been trying to make a film about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis from Cuba's perspective."

Lawford sat next to Fidel Castro in Havana during a 2001 screening of Thirteen Days, a film about the missile crisis. "It was incredible. I went there and sat next to the guy my uncles were trying to kill. Castro believes if President Kennedy had lived, the embargo would have been lifted and they would have normalized relations." At the end of the screening Castro said, "You've made a great film, but you've ignored Cuba, now you have to make a film of what was happening here in Cuba during those thirteen days." Lawford has returned to Cuba six times in an effort to do just that, "but as you know, we have an embargo against Cuba, which is one of the greatest foreign policy tragedies in the history of the United States."

Lawford is currently working on a novel. "It is almost done. We will talk about it when it is finished." As for acting, he would love to do some more. "There are not a lot of jobs out there for 50-year-old actors." He loved his time on All My Children.

"One of the best things about doing that show was working with Michael Knight (Tad Martin)."

"It was great. We are still in touch." Lawford knew his days as Charlie were numbered. "I had a storyline at first. Then I had a lot of scenes just re-hashing everyone else's life. At one point, Charlie was just this good-looking guy who was sleeping with every woman in town. I knew that did not spell long-term acting job."

With AMC moving to Los Angeles, would Lawford rejoin the show? "Absolutely. I do not think that call is going to come. If it does the answer would be 'yes.'"

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