When I first moved to Los Angeles for grad school, I got a paid internship working at a small agency. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was an agent's assistant - answering phones, mailing contracts, etc.
The agency mostly represented writers and directors, but for some reason they also represented Henry Hill.
Henry Hill is the real life mobster played by Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas". So they represented him and his family and selling rights to their life story. Some people are lucky enough that just their very existence is considered a "property" in Hollywood. Thus began my decade long mission to get paid just by being Irwin Handleman.
But the real job they were doing for Henry Hill was babysitting Henry Hill.
He was a mess. An alcoholic who found trouble wherever he went. There would be conference calls where Henry would call in and get in screaming matches with his ex wife, Karen. If you've seen "Goodfellas", you know exactly how that sounded.
"KAREN!!!" It was weird to hear the real guy yelling that.
But the reality was far sadder than the movie. It was actually quite depressing. Yet there was something endearing about the guy, and everyone at the agency felt a responsibility to protect him from himself.
Anyway, one day Henry calls in and I pick up. You always knew it was him because it was a collect call. And this one was from rehab.
He needed to talk to his agent and it was urgent. There was a situation in rehab. I had never heard him so full of life. All of us assistants listened in.
Henry wasn't calling to help himself, he was calling for a new friend he had met in rehab. Robert Downey Jr.
Iron Man was having a tough time in rehab and none of his family and friends would take his calls or do anything for him. He convinced Henry to call his agent to help bust him out of there.
I kind of forget what ended up happening, but I'm pretty sure the agent just laughed him off. It was pretty clear that Henry didn't care, he was just reveling in the fact that he was "helping" this celebrity.
He loved the lime light, and just like in the movie, loved being a guy who could do things for people. To have power. And now that that was long gone, pretending to be a big shot who could bust people out of rehab was as good as it could get for him.
Well, Henry died today. The amazing part is that he lived as long as he did - between drinking and drugs and criminal activities and the entire mafia wanting him dead, no small achievement.
And just as amazing is how far Robert Downey Jr. has come since then. In my time in Hollywood, he has gone from being stuck in rehab having to ask an old drunk for help, to starring in what is one of the biggest movies of all time.
I love LA!