When television veteran Chuck Barris finished his latest book, “Della: A Memoir of My Daughter,” he decided to not embark on a book tour. The book, about his only child who died of a drug overdose, was too tough to talk about.
“It was too painful for me to write the book in the beginning,” he said. “I found it so painful to do that, I waited a long time.”
But he decided to share his story Thursday at the Warren County Public Library main branch as part of the “My Life is an Open Book” speaker series.
Barris - whose wife, Mary Rudolph, is a Bowling Green native - is a former television show creator and producer, who was behind hits such as “The Dating Game” and “The Gong Show.” For the past 12 years, he has struggled with the untimely death of his daughter, Della, who died at the age of 36.
Della was a talented woman - she painted and sold her work on the street and she was musically gifted. But she also battled inner demons. Della was a drug addict and an alcoholic. She was HIV-positive, bipolar and a nymphomaniac. They were problems that Barris partly blames himself for.
“I think I contributed a great deal to her unhappiness,” he said. “I made huge mistakes, I mean big mistakes, in raising my daughter.”
Those mistakes began after Barris and his former wife divorced, and his ex-wife moved Della to Switzerland, enrolling her in a private school there. After Barris took sole custody of his daughter, she began experimenting with drugs and alcohol around the age of 14. Barris unsuccessfully tried to convince Della to go to a rehabilitation center, and forced her to see a psychiatrist once.
But, as a single father running a major company, Della’s problems often were not a priority, he said.
“I had a huge public company with tons of stockholders and lots of employees,” Barris said, “and I remember doing this alone made me terribly tired of Della’s problems.”
Della would often come home stoned. Barris remembers getting calls at 3 a.m. after Della passed out on other peoples’ lawns.
“To this day, if I get a call after 11 o’clock, I get panic-stricken,” he said. “It’s from those days.”
Barris vividly remembers Della standing in the doorway of his office, saying she was going to leave home. Barris wishes he had given her a hug and told her to stay at home, but he didn’t, he said.
“In my opinion, a terrible thing to do is tough love with a kid,” he said. “I think that’s abysmal.”
Barris highlights those mistakes in his book. It’s a way for him to share his story and maybe offer advice to other parents.
Darlene Woods, of Bowling Green, attended the event because she’s a fan of Barris. But she was also hoping to learn some lessons.
“I’m interested because I have young kids,” she said, “and he might be able to give insight on things kids might go through.”
For Barris, it was an opportunity to share lessons learned too late, but he initially wrote the book to help him through the grieving process.
“I wrote it because I had to get that off my chest,” he said. “Did it make for closure? No. None of that happened at all. It just didn’t.”
After describing his book and answering questions from the audience, Barris autographed copies of his book.
“I became emotional,” Bowling Green resident Jane Coleman said through tears, “because to have seen Chuck in his heyday on TV and then to see the man be so emotional in having lost a child, it’s just, it’s heartbreaking.”