by Kaitlin Lyle
The first time I ever saw Kristin Johnston onscreen, she was busy shrieking her love for a fictional 80’s pop sensation in “Music and Lyrics.” Little did I know that the exuberant lady of laughter was caught in the midst of her own private hell by the time I became acquainted with her on the small screen.
On the outside, her vibrant personality and talent for bringing laughter set her career alight as she made her way up Hollywood’s social ladder. On the inside, years of self-esteem issues and fame-ridden anxieties were drawing her into the downward spiral of addiction.
In her memoir, “Guts,” the actress takes her audience aback with a heartbreakingly humble, often comedic, story of her trials and tribulations following a near-death experience halfway through her career.
Starting with the opening chapter, Johnston drolly acknowledges the fact that “an actress addicted to booze and pills” is a frequent cliché made public throughout the years, and one who writes a book about it is especially “rare” (i.e. “disturbingly commonplace”). Yet, somehow, her readers perceive her story as being exceptional from the rest of the crowd through its raw sincerity in detailing the experience at its best and worst moments.
Starting with a brief synopsis of an awkward childhood, our good-humored narrator secretly proclaims herself as a freak upon realizing that she was anything but ordinary with her hideous corrective shoes and epileptic seizures. It was there that dreams of fame were associated in her mind’s eye with leaving the “freak” personality behind, “If I was FAMOUS, it would mean that I was NOT ME, which would, in turn, make me HAPPY.”
From the moment she realized she had the gift to make people laugh, (later using it as retaliation against a school bully), Johnston recognized her comedic strength and love of the arts as her ticket away from awkwardness. This later came into use for opening the door to her acting career, where she landed an Emmy-winning role for the show “3rd Rock From the Sun,” as well as various theater roles around New York.
However, even as her talent for laughter opened doors to a newfound career, Johnston was still plagued by uncertainties that were heightened by the Hollywood scene. For the next six years, she found herself locked in a battle of alcoholism and substance abuse.
During one night in December 2006, where Johnston was in London for a theater production, a gastric ulcer (previously unknown to her) burst, leading to her hospitalization where she was diagnosed with acute peritonitis. Realizing that her rendezvous with death was the result of her destructive addictions, the next two months brought forth an honest desire to begin again, resulting in “the endless follies and tiny triumphs of a giant disaster” that composed her heart-wrenching memoir.
Though Johnston is correct in her epiphany being as “unique as a manila envelope,” (having been told by celebrities time and time again), her refusal to depict the story with even a fragment of self-pity or blame opens her readers’ eyes to the courage it took to write down every gory detail of her follies. Johnston’s courage radiates from the pages of the book, and helps readers to relate with the theme of finding the “guts” to levitate from the secrets that destroy us from the inside.
From her time in the hospital to the decision to create this memoir, the stories that Johnston details are equally balanced with wry humor, naked sincerity, discovered joys and hidden pains alike.