(I post this one first because it was the tougher of the two to write.)
Damn my luck, Joe Straczynski was giving another talk on Saturday. This time, still in the bowels of the Javits Center (though in a larger room). The most striking part of the conversation came when someone asked a question regarding Michael O’Hare, (for simplicity sake) the original Captain of Babylon 5, who, as legend had it, was written off the show because he was too difficult of an actor to work with (the classic story was in Claudia Christian's book, in which he came on to her by describing the size of his balls, or something to that effect).
Being in the back of the room, I didn’t hear the exact question, but it was in reference to a story that JMS told at a Phoenix Convention a few weeks prior. I hadn’t heard anything about what he’d said, and was floored by the story that Straczynski subsequently told (I tried to faithfully quote him, but it was… difficult).
He started by saying “You all know what delusional behavior is, right? Seeing imaginary things… thinking the government is out to get you… well I guess that’s just a reality these days...”
This prompted a laugh from the audience. As for myself, knowing the stories about O’Hare, I thought JMS was joking.
But Straczynski paused, slowly choosing his words. The wise-cracking writer with the no-nonsense attitude was getting serious.
“Michael was having those problems. He was barreling toward a nervous breakdown.”
He said that everyone was in agreement to suspend the show so that Michael could get the treatment he needed, but that he simply wouldn’t let them. As bad off as he was, Straczynski said, he didn’t want all those people to lose their jobs because of his problems.
Ultimately, and with difficulties that none of us can imagine, O’Hare finished the season and JMS wrote his character off the show. O’Hare then got the got treatment he so desperately needed. JMS mentioned how difficult of a process it was, finding first the right drugs and then the right dosage. O’Hare did the Convention circuit that year, and when people saw how sickly he was becoming, it prompted rumors of drug abuse.
“Well yeah, it was because of drugs, but not the way you think,” Straczynski said, referring to O’Hare’s treatment.
As all of this was going on, Straczynski reassured O’Hare that his health issues would never come to light.
“I told him that his secret was safe with me. That I would take it to my grave. And he just looked at me and said, “No. Don’t take it to your grave; take it to mine.”
O’Hare just knew that Joe was going to outlive him, and the reason he said that was because after he was gone, O’Hare wanted “the fans to know that they helped sustain me.” That was why Straczynski recounted the story at the Phoenix Con - so fans would know how much they meant to a sick man.
Michael seemed to pull through, well enough to do a two part episode to close out the character’s story, though that was essentially the end of his career. He had a few good years, got married, had a child.
And then, Joe said, he stopped his meds. And when that happens, often times it’s simply too difficult to get back on them.
Joe Straczynski, the frank and forward man, stopped and thought.
“And then, just about a year ago, we lost him.”
He stopped again, fighting back the memories.
“He was my friend. And it was unfair. And that’s all I want to say about that.”