In his new memoir, To the Temple of Tranquility … and Step On It! actor Ed Begley Jr., 74, shares his celebrity-fueled life adventures, including stories about the Beatles, Richard Pryor, Cesar Chavez, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carrie Fisher, among others. The longtime environmentalist, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2016, tells AARP how exercise is helping him manage the disease, and shares stories of his carpentry days, his love of stargazing and his passion for puzzles.
How did you decide to write a memoir?
It started innocently enough. I wasn’t at all writing a book when I started. It was my daughter, Hayden [age 23], getting her iPhone and saying, “Tell me some of those stories about your father and your mother and, you know, that stuff just for my kids and grandkids.” I started telling these stories, and pretty soon ... I told the story of smoking a joint with Charles Manson and Robert Blake and all this other stuff … and she was fascinated. I started taking notes just in case I was going to do something else with it, and a publisher heard about it, contacted me and here we are.
With all of that recent life reflection, do you have any regrets?
I have some things that would have gone a lot better for me had I done them differently, but they’re all essential to me being in this chair right now talking to you. It’s that butterfly effect of sorts with your life — little butterflies that make you go in this door instead of that door, and then you don’t get St. Elsewhere. More accurately, I did get St. Elsewhere, but I didn’t get the part I wanted. I wanted the part of a regular, and some other guy got that, and they threw me a bone — gave me a character with a couple of lines, but look how that turned out? I’m paddling hard to the port side on the canoe of life, down the river of life, and it’s pulling me to the starboard side and I go, “OK, I’m gonna quit fighting this current. Where’s this taking me?” And it takes me to a beautiful land, as it turns out.
If you could do it all again, is there anything you’d do differently?
I’d be a lot nicer to my first wife. And more specifically, I’d be honest about everything. I became a very honest person when I got sober in 1979, with one minor addendum: I was allowed to be dishonest to, oh, about half the population of the planet — women — about things that were very important or secret or special to me. Literally, my ignorance — I thought if I get married, I’ll become faithful. If I put the ring on the finger, that act will make me monogamous. And it takes more than that as it turns out, which I learned in my second marriage very well. I’m a much better husband now. I’ve been very good in that department, and many others, because pain is a great teacher.