NAMI Honors Hollywood Actors for Confronting Mental Illness in Drama & Real Life | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Posted on June 14, 2001

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the nation's largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with mental illness, is honoring actors Maurice Benard, Sally Field, Carrie Fisher, and Samuel Jackson for facing the challenge of mental illness. Two have played characters with mental illness. The other two have lived it.

"Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders," said NAMI Executive Director Richard Birkel, Ph.D. "Treatment works, but only if a person gets it. Too often, the stigma associated with mental illness discourages people from getting help when they need it most. That's one reason why the U.S. Surgeon General has called on the entertainment industry to help eliminate stigma."

"In real life or on the screen, the recipients of NAMI's awards represent profiles in courage," Birkel said. "They have helped to demonstrate that people who live with mental illness are often heroes, who not only survive, but often prevail."

  • Maurice Benard, star of ABC's General Hospital will receive NAMI's Lionel Aldridge Award for courage, leadership and service to others with mental illness. He is one of the first Hollywood and Hispanic celebrities to talk publicly about his experience with bipolar disorder (manic-depression), encouraging both consumers and family membes never to give up hope for recovery. The award honors the memory of Lionel Aldridge, former defensive end of the Green Bay Packers, who played on the championship 1967 Super Bowl team, but struggled for years with schizophrenia and homelessness.
  • Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in Star Wars, will receive NAMI's Rona and Ken Purdy Award, named in honor of the founders of the NAMI Anti-Stigma Foundation, for making a significant, national contribution to end discrimination. In an interview on ABC's "Prime Time Thursday" in December 2000, Fisher disclosed her long battle with bipolar disorder and helped to educate millions of Americans. "I am mentally ill," she declared. "I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it."

NAMI also presents Outstanding Media Awards to actors, directors or producers who portray mental illness accurately and compassionately in dramatic productions, challenging stereotypes and stigma, and helping to build greater public awareness of the individual dignity of people with mental illness.

  • For television, NAMI is honoring NBC's ER for six episodes in which Sally Field starred as Maggie Wycenski, portraying her long, difficult, uncertain struggle with bipolar disorder. Field will share the award with Executive Producer John Wells.
  • For motion pictures, NAMI is honoring Universal Focus' The Caveman's Valentine, starring Samuel L. Jackson as Romulus Ledbetter, a Juilliard-trained, homeless man with schizophrenia who lives in a cave, but maintains personal relationships and ultimately solves a murder mystery. Jackson will share the award with director Kasi Lemmons and her sister, Dr. Cheryl Lemmons, the film's consulting psychiatrist.

"Television and movies shape public perceptions of mental illness," Birkel said, "They have tremendous power to do good or do harm to those who struggle to overcome mental illness in real life."

"ER and The Caveman set new standards for realistic portrayal of people living with mental illnesses," Birkel said. "In both cases, Field and Jackson played sympathetic characters, which the audience came to know and like as individuals. They were protagonists. Indeed, Jackson played the hero. People saw the nature of their illnesses. Their struggle was part of the drama, but they weren't made the butt of jokes or cast as violent stereotypes."


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