In late August, Brett Butler, the star of Grace Under Fire, sent a sincere message to her supporters. “Thank you. Flat out,” she wrote to the strangers who had donated slightly more than $38,000 to help her keep her L.A. apartment. “There are way more people reaching out than I’d expected and with more kindness than I believe I deserve.”
In 1993, Brett, a comedian who built her stand-up act around her hard luck life, became the star of her own television series, Grace Under Fire. But her success was undercut by her addiction to painkillers, bad choices and crippling depression. She wound up blowing through the roughly $25 million she’d earned on the show. “I really just felt so guilty for having [money],” Brett, 63, explains in Closer‘s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I almost couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.”
Her current financial straits — which culminated in a plea for help through GoFundMe so she wouldn’t lose her apartment — are bad, but don’t count Brett out. She’s known tough times before. Born into a family prone to depression and alcoholism, Brett turned to stand-up comedy after escaping a physically abusive marriage. Her down-to-earth demeanor and ability to mine laughs out of tragic, but all too relatable troubles connected with people in comedy clubs and later on Grace Under Fire.
Sadly, her success became unsustainable after Brett became addicted to the Vicodin she’d been prescribed for sciatic nerve pain. “I was out of my mind,” she admits. “Drugs will do that to you. The show should have been pulled sooner than it was.”
Grace was canceled in its fifth season, and Brett got sober that summer. “I should not have lived through 1998, honestly,” says the star, who retreated to a farm she purchased in Rome, Georgia. “At 40, I became one of those crazy ladies that starts to rescue everything — dogs, cats and especially horses.” She also squandered her fortune with prodigious spending and loans to friends. “I was a little bit too trusting with some people that worked for me, and I had a lot of things stolen,” she adds.
After the bank foreclosed on her farm, Brett returned to L.A., where she’s been working steadily — not just in comedy but also in dramatic roles on shows like How to Get Away With Murder and The Leftovers. “People in this town remember the brilliant work she did,” an industry insider tells Closer. “Not everyone holds a grudge and, besides, she’s a really good actress.”
The past year has been difficult, though. Brett wasn’t able to work due to the COVID-19 shutdown. She fell six months behind on her rent and suffered a bout of severe depression. “This stuff runs in my family,” she confides.
But there is good news too. The clouds have begun to lift enough so Brett has started writing a new stand-up act. She’s also been overwhelmed by the people who sent money or supportive notes though the GoFundMe campaign. “Some of you brought so much of that human being thing to the table that you helped change the way I see things — as in right now and for the better,” Brett says. “That can change everything.”