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My daughter Della was thirty-six years old when she died. Her death certificate said she died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.
Starting with what Della could remember, like taking her first steps into my arms in a park in Beverly Glen, California, and throughout her short life, Della saw everything as a collection of snapshots. It’s weird, but that’s how she saw it. After a while, I saw my life the same way.
I took some of those pictures of Della’s life. Judy Ducharme, Della’s companion since her early childhood, took some too. So did Della. But according to my nonreligious daughter, God was the one who took all the ones we missed, and His photos, according to her, were the best. In her mind, God stood by her side from the day she was born, snapping pictures.
Della described it this way: “He uses His big box camera; a humongous, square black thing. God’s camera takes snapshots that don’t fall into your hand like Polaroids do. They pop right into your head and stay there forever.”
The snapshot of my dead daughter on a couch in her apartment was not a good example of great photography. And wasn’t a picture God, or Della, or I took. The snapshot was taken by a police photographer.
If Della were talking about this picture, I imagine she would have said, “I look awful don’t I? I know I’m dead, but still . . .”
She does look awful. Her skin is gray. Her body is bone thin. Her eyes have dark circles around them. Her cheeks are sunken. She looks like a Holocaust victim. Her hair had been dyed orange so many times it is beginning to fall out. Imagine, orange hair! Why did she dye her hair orange?
Della would have said, “Because it was my favorite color. Was I weird or was I weird? No, I was stupid. I mean, lying there dead at my age in a frigging police picture says it all, doesn’t it?”
Della’s three little dogs were probably nearby, sitting around her feet at the far end of the couch. They were alive and well. Just confused and scared to death. The dogs knew Della was dead. Dogs know those things. Della’s dogs always slept at her feet when she went to bed at night. If she took a nap on the couch they slept there too.
Tom-the-dog-walker found Della when he came to walk the dogs at eight in the morning. Tom told me no matter how wild Della was the night before, or how often she fell asleep on the couch, she always managed to open one eye in the morning and mumble a greeting to Tom. That morning, she didn’t mumble anything. Tom looked at Della closely, shook her shoulders, and when she didn’t move, Tom called the police.
In the police picture, the vodka bottle with a small amount of vodka at the bottom is still on the coffee table with all the other detritus. A little cocaine remains in the Ziploc baggie next to the vodka bottle. Della obviously didn’t use all the cocaine. Only enough to kill her.
My mother, Della’s grandmother, thought Della committed suicide.
“Why would she do that and leave her three dogs behind?” I asked my mother. “Della loved her dogs. I’m sure Della would have thought of her dogs before she did anything like take her life, don’t you?”
“No,” answered my mother. “Suicidal people don’t think about things like who will take care of their dogs when they kill themselves. Suicides don’t give a damn about dogs, about themselves, about their parents, about anything. Della was too inconsiderate to think about anything or anyone but herself.”
The Los Angeles coroner thought Della ingested too much vodka and cocaine.
I wish the coroner would talk to my mother.
There were two men in Della’s life at the time of her death. Tom-the-dog-walker and Strickland-the-dope-peddler. Tom-the-dog-walker was a really nice guy, and a peaceful soul. Strickland-the-dope-peddler was a scumbag and had an aura of violence about him.
Neighbors told the police they could hear Strickland and Della shouting at each other two nights before the dog walker found Della dead. Strickland was a good shouter. He was also good at scoring drugs, but not much good at anything else. I would like to have thought Strickland was guilty of something regarding Della’s death, so I could have beaten him within an inch of his life, but I don’t think the idiot had anything to do with it, other than contributing drugs, which in itself was major.
After waking up Thursday morning, the day before her death, and seeing what she saw, Della cried out for help. She called Judy Ducharme. Della was sure Judy would come to her apartment and comfort her. Judy was the only “family” Della had in Los Angeles at the time. Judy Ducharme was like a mother to Della. She was someone Della could talk to, and Della needed to talk to someone. Judy would have been able to console her. Judy was good at that.
But Judy was sick and couldn’t come.
Della was gone the next morning.
Judy never forgave herself for not coming. It wasn’t Judy’s fault. She had had the flu and was unable to come. Also, Della’s immune system was so weak, Judy would have given Della her flu, and that might have killed Della. I’m sure Della’s death, and Judy’s inability to get to Della because she was sick when Della needed her, will torment Judy for the rest of her life.
I’m told by friends that Della was very depressed just before she died. Of course she was depressed. She was sick. She was broke. And she was burdened with a low-life lover who provided her with drugs that aided and abetted her depression. Della drank too much vodka, snorted too much cocaine, and died just like the death certificate said she did, from an excessive amount of everything.
I don’t think Della wanted to die. I think she made a horrible mistake.
© 2010 Chuck Barris
I chose to read Della: A Memoir of My Daughter after seeing Chuck Barris interviewed on the Today Show. My father LOVED the Gong Show, I remember watching it as a kid, and I too have a son who is battling drug/alcohol issues. I found this book interesting and enlightening, it clearly showed the choices Mr. Barris made in parenting his daughter and his remorse for not doing things differently. I hope Mr. Barris found some healing in writing this book...as a parent it is incredibly challenging to watch your child battle this disease. I believe Mr. Barris did what he felt was right at the time and I am certain his daughter loved him and would be proud of the fact that he is trying, through this work, to help other parents in a similar situation. I would recommend it to other parents whose children have addiction issues.
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Posted June 5, 2010
Aside from self-aggrandizement and egomania, this poorly written account of his daughter's demise contains little else. The "author" refers to this as a "memoir" when in fact it is testament to his disdain and vindictiveness for anyone or anything that differs from his twisted world view. Much of this - let's call it what it truly is - novella - is pure fabrication and serves as rationalization for Charles Barris's self-absorbed behavior that might have contributed to his daughter's demise. Slogging through this drivel, one is hard-pressed to find any heart or soul. Perhaps because the "author" has none to draw from. I strongly suggest before wasting precious time, money and energy in purchasing this treatise on how not to be a decent human being, I would recommend donating to an AIDS charity. Further lining the pockets of this has-been wannabe writer would, in my opinion, be a crime. Shame on you, Simon and Shuster, for giving this a public forum.
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Posted June 27, 2010
I read with interest one of the reviews about Mr. Barris just "padding his pockets" with sales of this book. Perception of the wealthy is that they have no problems or worries because they have money. Actually, the ratio of money to worry is proportional and has nothing to do with raising a child.
Many before have stated that children do not come with a owner's manual. Everyone has not been equipped with the ability to deal with emotional issues that arise after life events, such as Mr. Barris' divorce from Della's mom. I can personally relate to losing a child to drugs and general mayhem. My son is also smart, soulful, and trying to find something that I haven't been able to provide. I HAVE provided private school, cars, insurance, room and board, rehab, legal fees, every techno device available, and any style of clothing that he felt he needed to define his 'style'. Because I did not have a great deal of emotional support from parents who were trying to earn a living at a time when acquiring the American dream was actually possible, I have nothing to reference action that would help him find peace.
I chose Mr. Barris's book after I saw him talk about it on a morning television program. While the book did not reveal any shocking information about drug abuse and addiction, I felt a connection to Mr. Barris's frustration, anger, love, and heartache. The book made me feel that while I do have much more to learn, I am not alone. The horror of drug abuse in this country touches everyone. Just ask your contemporaries..you may be surprised at what you find out.
Posted October 16, 2010
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