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EXCLUSIVE: Joe Pantoliano Talks How His Own Experience With Mental Illness Has Made Him Determined to Fight the Stigma Surrounding It

Actor Joe Pantoliano, known for his roles in Risky Business and The Sopranos, opens up to Closer Weekly in its new issue, to discuss how he overcame dyslexia, drug abuse, and clinical depression, but his struggles only made him determined to help others. Joe founded the organization No Kidding? Me Too! (and directed a 2009 doc of the same name) to fight the stigma of mental illness.

Joe shares with Closer how he discovered his own struggle with depression. "I felt numb from external remedies, whether it was women, alcohol, drugs, shopping, or eating,” he tells Closer.

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"At a physical, I said, 'I feel like I’m underwater all the time.' I didn’t mention that I was sucking down 13 Vicodin a day. He thought that I should talk to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with clinical depression.”

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

“I felt like I hit the lottery, because it was a disease,” Joe tells Closer. “I always thought it was my fault. I became an actor because I found a lot of peace in becoming other people.”

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Joe says his nonprofit and directing a film on mental illness has helped him deal with his own struggles. “I bask in the glory of knowing that I’m not alone. There are a lot of great minds who are helping me understand my brain, and found that having bipolar distress is positive if you’re a performer.”

Joe’s wife, Nancy, and their four kids, Marco, 36, Melody, 32, Daniella, 25, and Isabella, almost 19, took on the supportive role for her husband.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

“I was so self-centered that fatherhood and marriage all took a second seat to my career,” Joe explains. “Facing my shortcomings enabled me to apologize to my family and get a second chance, but most of them said that they were lucky, because they had Nancy. My wife gets all the credit. She is awesome and we are loving life.”

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As far as mottos? Joe says, “In the old days, my crazy days, it was, “F--- you, me first!” he jokes. Now, “I think if I had one today, it would be, ‘Live in the moment, and don’t look back.’”

For more from Joe, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for exclusive news!

Click through the gallery below to see the best episodes of The Sopranos!