PAUL Keane has been to hell and back.
As one of the original cast members of Neighbours, Keane was once one of the most famous faces in Australia but behind the scenes the actor was battling demons which would ultimately cost him his home, his relationship and his career.
While co-stars like Kylie Minogue, Alan Dale and Guy Pearce went on to find international success, Keane became a veritable recluse after leaving the series in 1990. Until now.
Returning to the show that made him a household name in 1985, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, has allowed Keane to finally close the door on a significant chapter of his troubled life and open up about the addictions and mental illness which have plagued him for so many years.
“I have no filter anymore,” he said.
“The last bastion of taboo is mental health and I think it’s important to be honest about it.
“I have been to hell.
“I have seen things you wouldn’t believe, been in hospitals that are like horror stories. But I have survived.”
As the lovable Des Clarke, Keane won legions of fans around the globe. His face was on the cover of magazines. And he was part of TV’s most iconic scenes — when his screen wife Daphne (Elaine Smith) died in his arms after being hit by a car while crossing the road.
But instead of enjoying his moment in the spotlight, the talented actor was crippled with what he now understands to be serious depression and anxiety.
It was a time when mental illness still carried a heavy stigma and people — particularly men — didn’t admit they were having trouble coping.
So rather than seeking treatment for his problems, Keane began self-medicating with alcohol, pain killers and amphetamines, which set him on a downward spiral that left him unable to work and constantly in and out of hospital.
He admits to attempting suicide. To drinking heavily and taking amphetamines until his money ran out and he switched to painkillers.
He cashed in his superannuation to support his habits when he became too sick to work. And, for many years, he couldn’t stand to see or hear anything to do with Neighbours because of the painful memories associated with his time there.
All that changed in 2006 when a psychiatrist finally recognised that Keane was in fact mentally ill. He is still too fragile to consider a full-time return to acting, but Keane is now free from drugs and is slowly piecing his life back to together.
“It hasn’t been all beers and skittles for me since leaving the show,” he said with deliberate understatement.
“I have had a lot of problems. It’s only years and years later that I have realised that I was struggling with mental health issues _— with anxiety disorders and depression. I was hospitalised numerous times for substance abuse. The doctors were so focused on treating the addictions that they didn’t diagnose the underlying conditions that were causing it.”
Looking back now, Keane can see his health problems probably began long before he arrived in Ramsay St fresh out of NIDA.
He said he had always been a sensitive child and that he went into acting not for fame and fortune but because he didn’t know what else he could do to make a living.
“These days a lot of young people become performers because they want to be famous not because they want to dance, or act,” he said.
“I never wanted any of that. Now you have people like Kim Kardashian. People putting videos of themselves up on YouTube. Fame has become the goal. Well I have experienced that and it was horrific. I can’t imagine what it’s like for successful actors now.”
Keane said the strain of being away from his loved ones in Sydney for the first time and finding himself thrust into the spotlight took a huge toll on his health.
“The best acting I did was behind the scenes,” he said of his time on Neighbours.
“I would be thinking, ‘Am I going to start sweating? Will the microphone be able to pick up the fact that my heart is beating so fast?’ I couldn’t enjoy it.
“It was really the first time I had been away from home. It was winter and I was doing these early calls and working such long days. I would go home at night and just cry.”
When Neighbours was axed by Channel 7, Keane felt relief that he could walk away from the series. Instead it was picked up by Channel 10 where its popularity skyrocketed.
“I had come from NIDA where I was doing Shakespeare and Chekhov,” he said.
“Neighbours was my first job. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. I was exhausted. When it ended at Channel Seven I thought, ‘Thank God, I can go home.’
“But then Ten picked it up. I was devastated.”
After keeping up the facade for five years on the show, eventually his character ran its course and he was written out of the series.
In some ways it was a relief to be free from the daily pressure of pretending everything was fine, but for Keane it also proved to be his breaking point.
“I lost my job, I lost my house and I lost my woman — I came home to Sydney and went to bed for two years,” he said.
Keane said his health battles were made all the worse by the fact that he would be constantly recognised by fans who would want to take photos with him or talk to him about the show.
And so he withdrew even further from public life.
Over the years, rumours began circulating in fan forums that Keane had dropped out of acting to become a barman and even more bizarrely that he had become a recluse living on top of a mountain somewhere.
He lost touch with his old cast mates even though he was well-liked and many reached out to try and support him.
“Craig (McLachlan) came round to see me one day but I think I scared him,” he recalled.
“I remember Guy (Pearce) calling me too. But he didn’t really know what to say.
“I was just too sick. No-one could help me.”
Keane has since reconnected with Pearce, who he described as “one of the most beautiful human beings” he has ever known.
“My brother died from lung cancer and in some ways Guy has become another brother to me,” he explained.
“He has such tremendous generosity of spirit. I couldn’t be more proud of him and what he has achieved.
“But the acting life is so transient. I hear Guy describe going from New York to Texas, LA to London and then on to Japan for work. Some people would find that exciting and glamorous. But not me. I would find it hideous. I need to be at home with my dog. I don’t like change.”
Now that he is recovering, Keane was able to find the courage to return to Neighbours. He said he was initially fearful about what sorts of ghosts it would resurrect for him to go back to the Nunawading studios.
But instead, the Erinsborough homecoming brought him some peace at long last.
“I had so much fun this time,” he said, through tears.
“It was so easy — not that I want to make light of what these actors do. But for me, when I was doing it, it was like I was carrying two bags of wet cement on my back on to the set. And then I had to try and act while carrying all that baggage.
“This time I felt light as a feather. That’s how it should have always been.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 14 11 14
Originally published as ‘I’ve been to hell and back’
Source Article from http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/paul-keane-who-played-des-clarke-on-neighbours-reveals-the-hell-hes-been-through-since-leaving-the-show/story-fnprmvzr-1227262808365?from=public_rss