Richard Chamberlain: Gay Leading Men Should Remain Closeted

The one-time leading man tells the Advocate:

Rc You were a wildly successful closeted actor during a period of time when coming out was unheard of, but the climate of acceptance has significantly changed in recent years. How do you feel about gay actors who still remain closeted as we near 2011?

"It’s complicated. There’s still a tremendous amount of homophobia in our culture. It’s regrettable, it’s stupid, it’s heartless, and it’s immoral, but there it is. For an actor to be working is a kind of miracle, because most actors aren’t, so it’s just silly for a working actor to say, “Oh, I don’t care if anybody knows I’m gay” — especially if you’re a leading man. Personally, I wouldn’t advise a gay leading man–type actor to come out."

When can a leading man come out — when he’s 69 and promoting a memoir?

"I have no idea. Despite all the wonderful advances that have been made, it’s still dangerous for an actor to talk about that in our extremely misguided culture. Look at what happened in California with Proposition 8. Please, don’t pretend that we’re suddenly all wonderfully, blissfully accepted."

Chamberlain was outed by French magazine Nous Deux in 1989 but only publicly came out in his 2003 autobiography, Shattered Love, at the age of 69.

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  1. Even today, he's dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia. A year or so ago, he was offered a rather good part in a play called "Exit Strategy." Apparently, the reason he gave was that he doesn't play gay roles.

    Posted by: Mike in the Tundra | Dec 26, 2010 9:02:01 AM

  2. The obvious rejoinder is that the homophobia which prevents people from coming out cannot be confronted or dispelled if people don't come out.

    Posted by: Arjun | Dec 26, 2010 9:17:56 AM

  3. To Mike In The Tundra: He's playing a gay man with HIV on Brothers and Sisters...

    Posted by: frank | Dec 26, 2010 9:29:41 AM

  4. Chamberlain is absolutely correct.

    Posted by: mepaul | Dec 26, 2010 9:31:06 AM

  5. Excellent post Arjun. The stigma will never be removed unless brave people are willing to do their part in chipping away at it.

    Richard Chamberlain is from another time. He needs to come into the 21st Century.

    Posted by: Bobby | Dec 26, 2010 9:31:06 AM

  6. The quotation is correct...

    Please, don’t pretend that we’re suddenly all wonderfully, blissfully accepted.

    Now, if more people don't step forward then more change will never happen but it many careers, being gay is not accepted and not cool.
    Why do you think we have so many suicides, etc. There is a lot of HATE. I think Richard was just being realistic

    Posted by: Ian | Dec 26, 2010 9:46:30 AM

  7. That's a good point Frank, but that is the reason he gave in the summer of 2009. Considering he didn't have to give a reason, there was some kind of burr under his saddle. Although, my info was secondhand, it did come from the author of the play.

    Posted by: Mike in the Tundra | Dec 26, 2010 9:47:19 AM

  8. This is the exact same argument that has been advanced to dissuade people in EVERY industry from coming out. If a great many people had not ignored this kind of advice and decided to be themselves and live honestly, nothing would have changed. Chamberlain is arguing for dishonesty and hypocrisy. Our community has seen more than enough of both.

    Posted by: jomicur | Dec 26, 2010 10:40:36 AM

  9. He wasn't being realistic at all.

    Look. He did what he was told, stayed in the closet and had a fairly decent run. But there was a "sell by" date on his talent and after he reached a certain age it was over. So what did he do? "Re-invent himself" by coming out. And wy did he come out? Because of the hard work a gay rights movement he'd despised made possible for him and every other non-heterosexual in and out of show business.

    As for those "Leading man roles" they're gone. "The Toursit" -- a seemingly "sure thing" with Johnny Depp and Anglina Jolie TANKED.

    Smart young actors like Ryan Gosling and James Franco are carving out careers for themselevs by doing the very sort of parts agents of the past would have told them to steer clear of.

    Out actors like Chris Colfer, Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and of course NPH are totall rewriting the script that Chamberlain's generation stood by.

    Of course that won't stop the Internalized Homophobes who troll this site from proclaiming the "correctness" of his words.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 10:50:18 AM

  10. The opportunities for gay actors is greater today than it was when Chamberlain was in his heyday. We do have gays in shows, tut they also tend to be stereotyped, limiting their choices of roles. As a career, I think the actor may be more constrained by his career than, say, a lawyer or a doctor or carpenter who wants to come out. I think Chamberlain may be giving good advice to actors. It is a shame it is bad advice for the gay community. Still, the walls are very slowly coming down, and there are some brave souls who don't heed these words of caution who make it better for us all.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Dec 26, 2010 10:56:30 AM

  11. It's bad advice for actors and the gay community.


    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 11:14:48 AM

  12. Ahh, blame being gay for your failures... As others have said, I really think it is a generational thing - this line of thought.

    However, I can understand, it must have hurt to know you are talented but you'd have to muzzle everything about you... sounds a lot like DADT.

    I don't see Chamberlain like I see Rupert Everett, however, being bitter.

    Everett's movie "Another Country" was one of the first gay films I had ever seen. Even though later in his career he says coming out destroyed it.

    I am not sure I agree with him, he has been working steadily since 1982 writing, performing in movies and theatre and even making pop music...

    How the hell did this become about Rupert Everett? Oh yeah, it was about a year ago that he said the same thing as Chamberlain.

    It seems like such a paradox that an industry, which is basically run by gays, has such a problem with them. But then, I don't understand gay Republicans either. Man, the closet sure messes people up.

    Stop being afraid gentlemen, be yourselves, change perceptions, move with the times, we all understand why you were closeted BACK THEN. But this is a new age and if we hide ourselves we slow the momentum others have fought for on our behalf.

    This whole idea that gay actors cannot play a believable straight leading role and that straight actors are "brave" for playing gay is so stupid. It goes against everything being an actor is about... pretending to be something you're not... HEY maybe that's the problem!!!

    Posted by: WayneMPLS | Dec 26, 2010 11:26:58 AM

  13. Some people find it easy to judge others for being in the closet. I am not in the closet, and had to go through the years of personal and professional turmoil that coming out engenders. I think it is ultimately enlightening and good for the community. Still, I don't find it necessary to condemn those who either have not come out or caution others that the coming out process is fraught with problems. I am sorry, David, but yours is really a somewhat arrogant attitutude.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Dec 26, 2010 11:38:13 AM


    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 11:39:45 AM

  15. If you're not in the closet "Candideinnc," what's your name?

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 11:52:49 AM

  16. I don't put my name out on any comment thread online. I prefer to see it as being prudent, not in the closet. It has nothing to do with being gay.

    As for being an out, gay actor, perhaps if those in power (and with the money) felt that a leading actor would still be a box office winner if he/she were out, there would probably be more out actors. It seems a bit of a Catch 22, though. Unless one is out and is given the chance, where is the proof? And who wants to take the chance?

    Posted by: TJ | Dec 26, 2010 12:15:24 PM

  17. People with guts, that's who.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 12:18:32 PM

  18. Grow up, have some self respect, live an authentic life. If you can't be who you are in your chosen profession, choose something else. Sorry closet people, it IS that simple.

    Posted by: Brian | Dec 26, 2010 12:26:19 PM

  19. The title here is incorrect. Chamberlain doesn't say leading men actors "should" remain in the closet. Using "should" indicates he believes the fact to be a general rule and the listed quote doesn't support this.

    Please, let's be less sensational with the titles.

    Posted by: James in BCN | Dec 26, 2010 12:28:43 PM

  20. "For an actor to be working is a kind of miracle, because most actors aren’t ..."

    Is Chamberlain working or is he not? Rupert Everett was mentioned upthread. Is he working or not?

    Not - that's the most common answer for an actor, as Chamberlain says. There have always been people who have truncated one part of their lives to serve another - lots of destroyed marriages and bitter children among the personal lives of straight "stars."

    An out actor bothers the marketing people, which means it bothers the money people, which means it impinges on the casting director's choices. No actor wants an obstacle to their being cast in a role, especially one that could pay the bills for years - and include FAME!

    Most stars complain about fame once they have it. You're not going to have a healthy life in the closet, marquee star name or no. You're not going to be a better actor for maintaining a false front off camera.

    Posted by: Glenn I | Dec 26, 2010 12:30:16 PM

  21. Money is a powerful force and many gay actors want to "do" their job without all of the distraction of being "the gay actor".

    1. Wentworth Miller (gay)

    2. Anderson Cooper (gay and not an actor)

    3. Matt Dillion (bisexual)

    4. Matt Bomer (gay)

    5. Will Smith (bisexual)

    Posted by: True Words | Dec 26, 2010 12:30:46 PM

  22. And wouldn't it be nice if everyone had what you, David, might deem adequate guts. Unfortunately, most people are human.

    Posted by: TJ | Dec 26, 2010 12:34:58 PM

  23. And I owe my guts to the Tyrell Corporation?

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Dec 26, 2010 12:38:28 PM

  24. Furthermore on the set of movies, TV shows, etc...people know who are gay and they are living well adjusted lives with partners visiting, attending award shows, etc...the general public with an average IQ of 90 does not need to know anything about someone's personal life.

    I mean come on, if you guys are so convinced this is the way each person should live "great" that is your opinion but to say that these people are living lies I have to call bullshit.

    Reporters and others in the media can easily be directed to ask questions that are not personal because well; I do not really care that Cameron Diaz can deep throat A-Rod's 9.5 inches of uncut dick.

    If you are so convinced of this course of action; take your savings and place a full page ad in your local paper stating that "YOU ARE GAY" and well you will quickly see that you wasted your money (that you will not get back) and the love will not be magically bestowed upon you.

    I care more about our civic leaders, fire fighters, police officer and teachers receiving their fair share of worthy of attention for keeping us as a society safe and hopefully educated...not the personal lives of a distant star.

    Posted by: True Words | Dec 26, 2010 12:43:07 PM

  25. The interviewer was provocative by nudging Chamberlain to give people advice, but Chamberlain made a mistake by giving advice based on his own past decisions and telling people they should do what he did. If you don't know the answer to a question, you need to have enough common sense to say, "I don't know." Instead, Chamberlain took the bait and made a fool of himself.

    Posted by: Phil | Dec 26, 2010 12:57:45 PM

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