You may know him best from his Oscar-nominated role in The Buddy Holly Story, his villainous turn in Lethal Weapon or his wacky battles with Meat Loaf on Celebrity Apprentice. But Gary Busey’s on-screen adventures are nothing compared to those he’s endured in real life. He’s survived bankruptcies, two divorces, addiction, cancer below his left eye, and a traumatic brain injury from a 1988 motorcycle accident.
“I’m still here walking around with a new view on how special and forever life is. The word ‘life’ stands for ‘living in forever eternity,’” Gary, 74, exclusively told Closer Weekly — in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now! — using one of the unique acronyms he describes in his memoir, Buseyisms: Gary Busey’s Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
Another reason he’s so happy? Aside from his adult kids, actor Jake Busey, 47, and photographer Alectra Hutchinson-Busey, 24, he found love again with his partner of 10 years, Steffanie Sampson, 44, and their son, Luke, 8. Creating his book with Steffanie showed him “how much strength, courage, and resilience I have and the champion I am, because I do not accept defeat,” he said. “I stay in the light, not in the darkness.” Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Gary!
Gary, you’ve survived a lot!
The book shows how I did it. My soulmate, Steffanie, the mother of our son, wrote the book. She took excerpts of me on a tape recorder and put the book together in her own way. The writing is beautiful. I decided to reveal my personal stories, my defeats, my victories — from the synovial cell sarcoma in my face to getting off a Harley Davidson without a helmet headfirst!
The book talks about beatings you endured from your father, and how he didn’t show you much love or affection. Yet you chose to forgive him?
Forgiveness is the best thing you can do for somebody, especially yourself. They weren’t abusive beatings, per se. It was more like discipline he learned in the military. He was in World War II, and he brought the war home with him. I look back to my dad from a place of understanding and loving.
There have been as many highs as lows. What was it like to hear that you got a Best Actor Oscar nomination?
I didn’t think anything of it at all. I knew it would come, so I was very relaxed. It was 5 a.m. I was coming home from Rick Danko’s house, the bass player of my band, and then I found out. It was pretty cool.
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To my Jersey fans: I’ll be there in a few hours…would love to meet you. I’ll be speaking and signing copies of my new book, #BuseyismsBook at the BookEnds in New Jersey. TONIGHT 9/4 at 6 pm #buseyisms #garybusey #humor #selfhelp #memoir #pubdate #pubday #inspirational #booktour garybusey.com
What was it like working with Barbra Streisand in 1976’s A Star Is Born?
She said, “Busey, I know what to say to you to get you to do it my way: Tell you to do the opposite!” I said, “Close, but no cigar.” Then I realized perhaps she’d been telling me the opposite all along. She’s brilliant [at] co-creating the truth. Barbra is family. It’s funny what art does when you assemble a group of people to be in it — you become family, and tribal. Barbra and I will forever have that connection.
How about your co-star in 1991’s Point Break, Patrick Swayze?
Patrick was a soulmate. We’ve been in different lifetimes together. At the [wrap] party, he said, “Busey, you’re gonna go to Parris Island [in S.C.] with me and go skydiving. It’s the most beautiful freaking thing you’ll ever do.” I did eight skydives, and each gave me a different view of myself.
And Tommy Lee Jones, from your 1992 action hit Under Siege?
He was incredible. He called me one day and said, “I was just laughing [thinking of you] as a woman [in drag in the film].” I said, “OK, would you like to date?” He said, “How could I refuse?” and hung up laughing. He is a brother.
You said that being in 1987’s Lethal Weapon blew your career wide open. How so?
Because I [almost] didn’t have the part! I was promised a meeting with the producer, director, and Mel Gibson but it never happened — they already cast it. My attorney called, I went in to read, and Mel grabbed me and said, “We’ll see you later,” so I knew I got it.
Your motorcycle accident came a year later. How did that affect you?
I don’t remember being in a coma. I knocked a hole in my skull the size of a 50-cent piece. Here’s the miracle: A police officer who was only there scouting the route of a marathon took me right to the operating room. I had to learn to walk, talk, eat, and dress myself all over again. It took two and a half months.
Amazing. You also wrote that cocaine became your “main squeeze” in 1979. When did you realize it was a problem?
When I OD’d [in 1995], I had a tube in my throat. Then liquid came out of my mouth, nose, and eyes. They were pumping my stomach. That’s a good wake-up call.
I’ll say. What happened next?
They found cocaine in my pocket, so the judge sent me to [rehab] and I detoxed. Opening your eyes and paying attention comes really strong when you’re near death. You see life as it is on earth leaving you.
How has being a father changed you?
I was 27 years old when my older son, Jake, was born. It was a natural birth in our living room, helping [my ex-wife] Judy through contractions. Oh, boy, marriage and a baby. I wasn’t quite ready for that mentally, but I made it work the best way I could. My favorite thing to do now [with Steffanie and my son Luke] is to give with love.
That’s great. What’s up next for you?
I recorded two songs with my godson, [Leon Russell’s son] Teddy Jack — one is Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” And one day I’m going to direct and write a film starring my family. How’s that for a home run, baby!
For more on Gary Busey, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!