In March of 1982, John Belushi’s body was wheeled from its final crash site at the Chateau Marmont. Fifteen years later Chris Farley mirrored this tragic fate at a time when the smoke from Kurt Cobain’s candle-lit vigils still clung to the curtains. Owen Wilson took razor to wrist in 2007 as People Magazine cried “What happened?” Last year we lost beloved icon Robin Williams, and we were once again left to recognize the all too prevalent darkness stirring behind the tears of the clown.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates roughly one in six of us westerners are bitten by the black dog during our lifetime. A humbling figure, considering the quality of life we enjoy. The portion of our populous which suffers silently in depths of depression include the rich and poor alike; they are labourers and lawyers, athletes and actors, personalities both publicly recognized and intimately acquainted.
They are even professional wrestlers.
Enter Theo Francon, better known by his in-ring persona, “Ravenous Randy” Myers. He plays the title role in ‘The Weirdo Hero’, a semi-autobiographical short film which tells the story of a professional wrestler who stands tall before cheering crowds as a fearless and fighting champion, but sits prisoner within a private hell when he gets back behind the curtain. Diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of ten, Francon has intimate knowledge of exactly how bad things can get inside one’s own doubt, anxiety and regret.
The short feature, currently in post-production, is the brainchild of fellow wrestler Derek Hird, who approached Francon after “Ravenous Randy” made his real-life affliction known to his fans and followers. Together, they blended their stories (as Hird also lives with depression), and enlisted the aid of acclaimed author and spoken word artist Shayne Koyczan in writing the script. Ryan Curtis takes the helm as director, a departure from his usual role of Visual Effects Coordinator for television series such as Supernatural. An ultra low-budget production, the film makers have received much support from the community, from volunteers, and from local independent promotion ECCW (Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling).
The hope is that the film will serve to remind audiences that things are not always as they seem when it comes to mental illness.
Like the late Robin Williams, with whom he espied a kinship and understanding, Francon often portrays a character bursting with light-hearted joy and zany antics. In the case of his Ravenous Randy persona, this is by design. “People don’t usually expect it,” Francon says in reference to the character, “but the [wrestler/entertainer] who comes out with the florescent mohawk, lime green tights, hugging little kids and smiling, he’s the one who sometimes goes home and has a rough day. I wanted to get that across.”
Although there has been significant progress in the last ten years when it comes to raising awareness of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety disorder, there is seemingly always more work to be done. Persisting stigmas surrounding mental illness can make it difficult for the afflicted to seek help. Concrete diagnosis can be difficult, due to subtle differences in mental disorders and the fallibility of human perception. Once diagnosed, proper care and support for the afflicted may often be lacking, potentially leaving those plagued with suicidal thoughts to be placed on waiting lists a month long.
Hard science and effective treatment are required. Some, like Francon, believe mental health check-ups should be as regular and compulsory as physicals and dentist appointments in our complex, modern world. But until the day your family doctor can definitively diagnose major depressive disorder with a blood test and send you home with a prescription for Paxil or Zoloft that same day, what is required is an infrastructure of sympathy and understanding. Those who suffer need not feel like failures because they’re simply unable to “pull up their socks and get on with life.”
Merciless and unbiased as cancer and head-colds, depression takes root in our children and our champions, in our weirdos and our heroes. It takes many forms, in ways we do not always expect.
“People can relate to the guy who misses the big kick, loses the SuperBowl, and takes his own life,” reflects Francon. “It’s harder to understand the guy who wins the SuperBowl and then goes home and shoots himself. That’s the story I really wanted to tell.”
Photos copyright ‘The Weirdo Hero’