• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Alan Arkin met his guru on a Hollywood film set in 1969. Arkin was the star and John was his stand-in, a lowly factotum, the id to his ego. At the time, Arkin was successful but unsatisfied, looking for meaning, craving some guidance. His encounter with John set him on a path towards enlightenment that continues to this day. As for the guru, he took a different, darker route.
He’s happier now, thanks to his meeting with John and the changes it brought. In his book he writes (always charmingly; sometimes convincingly) about past lives and faith healers and the tenets of eastern philosophy. He tells us about John, who he worked with for over 20 years and who became a central figure in his life. John led the way, Arkin gratefully followed. He writes: “My devotion to his teachings became virtually ironclad.”
I ask Arkin if I have this right – if his John was that John – and he sighs. “Oh my God, that was a dark night of the soul if ever there was one. I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant, not just for me but for my family. I could hardly leave my room for about six months. I found myself saying, ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.’ But I couldn’t work out what was the baby and what was the bathwater.”
I can’t help feeling that Out of My Mind would have been a richer, darker book if it had focused more on the shifting relationship between the actor and his stand-in, the star and his shadow. But Arkin is determined to accentuate the positive. It’s part of his philosophy, the path that he’s chosen. The world is full of such storm-clouds, it’s best to limit your exposure. He explains that he and his wife lead a quiet life in California now. They rarely leave the house and avoid discussing politics, or the state of the environment. “I don’t want to live in a state of terror,” he says.