Drake... the world is less funny
While on vacation, I used the resort gym every day that I could. I’d mount the cardio machine looking like a city boy going camping. I had my walkman, towel, bottle of water, and an armload of Entertainment Weeklys that had gathered since Christmas.
While scanning a recent issue, I saw the name Drake Sather and immediately flashed back ten years. I was working as a writer’s assistant on a show called Empty Nest when Drake got his very first job as a writer. My bosses were psyched to add him to the staff. “He’s very hot,” they said. “We were lucky to get him.”
While delivering a new script draft to the show’s writers, a knock at Drake’s office produced no response. I moved on down the hall to the next door, only to hear Drake’s door creak open behind me, seconds later. This was our first meeting.
He was a lanky dude, like 6.5 or something, with tossed black curls, a droll expression and the humor to match. He squinted at me peculiarly. I had woken him up. A little odd for an entry-level writer to be napping at 11am – most are so eager and nervous, they’re walking around the office, looking for ass to kiss. “Got a script for you,” I said, handing it to him. I introduced myself.
I ended up being one of the only people to approach Drake with any real sincerity, and it was an acceptance that I think he appreciated. The show’s writers seemed to greet him with some skepticism. He was quiet. He didn’t play politics. There wasn’t really room for him at the writers’ table and they all seemed to resent having to squeeze in to make space for him. His joke pitches were hysterical, and I knew (as did perhaps everyone) that he was smart, edgy, and possibly more talented than many of the rest of them. When Empty Nest would be canceled, some of these writers would never work again. But for Drake, this gig was to be just a blip on his resume.
I used to kid him that his name had to be a made up. He’d come into the office and I’d bellow his name like some 40’s radio announcer:
“It’s Drake Sather, Private Eye!”
At the Nest Christmas party, Drake and his wife (girlfriend?) hung out a bit with myself and my then fiancée. His woman was gorgeous! I remember a magician circulated the crowd and a card trick got Drake to grin, uncharacteristically. He wanted the trick repeated.
Years later, I was on a show called “Mr. Rhodes,” and Drake had moved on to “News Radio,” a perfect match for his kind of outside-the-box genius. I ran into him a couple times around LA and he was always very encouraging as my own career started to develop. And when “News Radio” was done, I read many a sitcom pilot that had Drake’s name on it. He wrote the movie Zoolander and for the TV series Ed. Drake’s the real deal.
Now, on my Tahoe cardio machine, my feet stumbled out of the foot pedals as I read Drake’s name in the Entertainment Weekly. Drake was dead.
I gathered my balance, blinked and read it again. “Drake Sather, 44, of a suicide…”
This was unthinkable. Drake had money. Drake had success. He had all the opportunity any writer or comedian could ask for. He was a father with several kids that he loved. What went wrong? What could possibly have been so bad that a guy that talented would take his own life??
I’ve always been somewhat prone to depression, even when I didn’t know what it was. Still, I used to think people were plain idiots for killing themselves. How could anything possibly be that bad?? Life is such a gift, how stupid do you have to be to end it on your own?? Then, in 2002, my own world fell apart. My marriage ended. My career was over. I spiraled into debt and everything I worked for my whole life was gone… and I got it.
No, I mean I really got it.
This is what it’s like to die, I said to myself and wrote in journals. Everything I came into this life to do was completed, and had run its course. My life was done. Though I never seriously thought about suicide, I finally understood why people do it. You come to this place internally where you just know it’s over. Any voice telling you otherwise can’t be heard.
I credit the tenacious support of my friends for getting me through that time. That, and a deep rage at the world, ironically. It’s like I dared God to finish me off on his own so I could curse and laugh at the whole thing with some kind of haunting satisfaction. I wouldn’t do myself in, I just waited to be snuffed out by the relentless calamity that was already in motion.
Surviving that kind of Darkness immunizes you against it, I think. It’s also transformed how I view people who commit suicide. They aren’t stupid. They are lost souls, tragically overwhelmed by the world around them.
I once heard someone say that Steve Martin was “the saddest man in Hollywood.” What is it about comedians and depression? What is that gene that can make someone tragic and brilliant at the same time? Did Drake know how much a poor schulb like me looked up to him? Did he not realize what an incredible gift he had?
As I restarted the huffing and puffing on my cardio machine, I realized the true irony of this story: However bad it was for Drake, I can’t help but think I would have traded places with him in a heartbeat. All I know for sure is that the world, today, is not nearly as funny with him gone.