Before I knew about Billy Bob Thornton’s mental health struggles, he was just some actor who was once married to Angelina Jolie. But one afternoon, my mom was reading me an article on the various struggles he had to overcome and it blew me away. How could this man be normal, let alone of the most famous actors out there? But he did it despite having the cards stacked against him! And for that reason alone, he is one of my favourite Anxiety Gone success stories out there. If this guy can overcome his struggles, anyone can.
Billy Bob Thornton’s mental health struggles turned into success
Trauma began at a young age
Life in Arkansas is simple – or so you would think. Standing outside of their household, you’d see a high school coach and town psychic raising their three children but on the inside, it was a different story. Billy Bob Thornton often talks about the struggles he had with his hot-headed Irish father, who died when Billy Bob was eighteen. But it was those eighteen years alive that paint a different story.
He suffered abuse at the hands of his father
Billy Bob Thornton isn’t shy about discussing the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. He once told Hollywood Reporter, “My father was so abusive.” He went on to explain that getting beat up by your father when you misbehaved was standard practice back when he was growing up but it didn’t stop at there.
He also received lickings from his teachers, as he had a choice of that or being suspended. He says, “I would always pick the licking because if I got suspended what I would get from my dad was so much worse than what they gave you at school that I’d rather get it over with, you know.”
At the Berlin Film Festival, he explained it as, “My father was a very violent Irishman and so there was abuse both verbal and physical in our household. He was a Korean war veteran in the navy and he was a very intense guy who I don’t think I ever had a conversation with.”
He suffers from severe dyslexia, OCD, and weird phobias
Moving further into his life, Billy Bob Thornton’s mental health became a concern. As a child, he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia which resulted in him feeling “stupid” and masking his college struggles with liquor and girls. Come into his adult years, and he’s been hospitalized for malnutrition because he couldn’t afford to eat, has really weird phobias to this day, and suffers from OCD.
Despite it being “hard to sit still and read a book” and being scared of antique furniture and silver (amongst many other things, he is one of the most mesmerizing – and successful – individuals out there.
He once told NY Times, “My phobias have been greatly exaggerated. I don’t mind a chair. I can go as far back as you want with Asia or Mexico. It’s that French/English/Scottish old mildew stuff. Old dusty heavy drapes and big tables with lions’ heads carved in it. Stuff that kings were around. That’s the stuff I can’t be around. It was too big to be functional. It creeps me out.”
Billy Bob Thornton turned to writing at a young age
He may not be able to read but the man sure can write. He took to the pen and paper at a very young age, which certainly contributes to his success today. ” I started writing short stories as a child and I found the short story format a real nice one. You know, I love short stories and I love short documentaries or short films of any kind.” His writing eventually lead to him being encouraged by his drama teacher to pursue an acting career.
If you’re unfamiliar with his work, Billy Bob Thornton wrote several movies, including The Gift which stared himself, Cate Blanchett and Katie Holmes. The story was loosely based on his mother.
He took control by standing up to his abusive father
When he was old enough to challenge his father, Billy Bob Thornton did just that. Speaking of his abusive childhood, he says, “Once I got older it became more physical. And one day I couldn’t take it and it was over my mom who I mean to this day I’m sort of a momma’s boy.” He continued, “And one day he got a little out of hand with her and when she wasn’t around I confronted him about it and there was… An argument ensued and I ended up putting him through the closet door. Yeah. So after that he left me alone.”
He experienced the ugliness of the world like no one else
To make his life even more interesting – and devastating, his father was diagnosed with cancer and died in front of Billy Bob Thornton. He says, “It’s a very horrific thing. So when you see that, before your very eyes it does a lot to ya. And not to mention that I ended up working for a highway department where one of my jobs was cleaning up after accidents. I had a lot of friends who were in the drug dealing trade after my dad died. I saw some pretty ugly things.”
Billy Bob Thornton had the cards stacked against him
Billy Bob Thornton has to overcome abuse, death (of both his brother and dad), trauma, learning disabilities, and poverty to become what he is today but the struggles didn’t end once he was successful. His estranged daughter was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2011 for killing a neighbor’s baby. And I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t matter how estranged you are, knowing your own blood committed such an atrocious crime will take a serious toll on your mental health.
He’s been at the bottom of the bottom, sometimes too broke to pay for heat or food. ” I lived in the old house, you know, that I grew up in by myself and there was no heat and I was ashamed to tell people that I knew so I just sort of was grinning and bearing it. And my mom would slip me like a $20 in an envelope every now and then and send it to me and that would have to last me until the next one came.” He continued, “And I would sleep in an easy chair, like a recliner, an old La-Z-Boy thing that was all beat up and I would recline in that and watch television because cable had first come out then. And so I would sleep in a coat in this chair because it’s freezing and watch cable TV so the only luxury I had was cable TV.”
Today, Billy Bob Thornton’s mental health remains a struggle. His phobias, learning disability, childhood trauma, OCD and possible agoraphobia isn’t going anywhere. But he learned how to deal to live a quality life with the cards he was dealt with. In many ways, his struggles lead him to the success he is today. A lot of his characters and films are inspired by the people and things he’s had to overcome in his life. So, he did something with the negativity he’s had to deal with. More importantly, he didn’t let life struggles stop him from becoming one of the most interesting, successful men in Hollywood today.
Take a deeper look into the life of Billy Bob Thornton in his new memoir, The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts.