Watching Gary Busey on Celebrity Apprentice on NBC is sometimes saddening; sometimes exhilarating, almost always mesmerizing. He’s probably coming across to the public as some kind of crazy man, the product of too many drugs over the years.
His fellow contestants – and Donald Trump and his kids – seem equally puzzled by his behavior and his ramblings, and by his “Buseyisms,” his converting of words into acronyms, like “TEAM”: “Together Everyone Achieves More,” or FAITH: “Fantastic Adventures In Trusting Him.” His listeners nod, bemused. Gary Busey shares his drums, 1978.
On a recent show, his own teammates—and on Celebrity Apprentice, "TEAM" means “Together Everyone Argues More” – derided him as a terrible project manager, even though the team won.
They were right, though. He is not a conventional leader or a conventional anything. He’s just a nice guy hoping to earn some prize money for a good cause. Even that good cause—the Center for Head Injury Services in Maryland Heights, near St. Louis—was shocked to learn it’d been picked to receive any money Busey might win. (He just presented the center with $40,000.)
But that brings us to why Gary is the way he is. In 1988, he had a bad motorcycle accident. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, suffered a traumatic head injury and brain damage. Add to that a 1997 diagnosis of cancer and a long battle with cocaine addiction, and he reduces Apprentice teammate Richard Hatch’s status as a “Survivor” to nothing.
Said Gary: “I want to be a role model for brain injuries survivors and show them, with hard work, you can get your life back.”
Good for him. And I’m rooting for him even more because, back in 1978, when he was a rising star, playing the lead role in The Buddy Holly Story, I profiled him for Rolling Stone and had a blast of a night at a bar in Redondo Beach. Surfers and stoners packed the place, and when Busey, armed with a Fender Stratocaster, burned through “Rave On,” “Not Fade Away,” and some Chuck Berry, the crowd screamed “Masochist!” repeatedly. That was his character nickname in the surfer film, Big Wednesday. (That title resurfaced on Apprentice, this time attached to something Busey exposed after accidentally opening his bathrobe.)
Gary, on this night on the beach, wore a black T-shirt reading TEDDY JACK EDDY. That was his stage name when he toured as a drummer behind Leon Russell for awhile. At one point, he leapt atop a table, spilling customers’ beers. No matter what he did, it wasn’t enough, and he got an encore call (“Masochist!”) lasting four minutes.
In the dressing room, he turned to me and said, “I keep whipping into reality. Like, ‘What’s goin’ ON?’”
Some things never change.