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Book Review: American On Purpose by Craig Ferguson
Craig Ferguson has been an absolute favorite of mine since his days on The Drew Carey Show where he played Drew’s boss, Mr. Wick. After The Drew Carey Show ended its run, I was pleased to hear that Craig had been chosen to host The Late Late Show on CBS. Despite a lot of quality competition in the late night television field, I believe The Late Late Show was the best show out there while Craig was hosting. I also think it is great that in a business where hostility often rears its ugly head, Craig developed an amiable relationship with Jimmy Fallon who hosted the competing Late Night show on NBC.
After his tenure as a late night television host, Craig would go on to host the game show Celebrity Name Game (for which he won Daytime Emmys in 2015 and 2016) and the more-difficult-to-classify show Join or Die which featured a panel of celebrity guests discussing a topic and ultimately choosing a "winner" in categories such as "History's Biggest Unsolved Mystery" (Stonehenge was the winner) and "History's Greatest Unexplained Phenomenon" (the Loch Ness Monster won with a few nudges from the Scottish host). He also launched a two-hour talk radio show in 2017
I knew some of Craig’s background from watching The Late Late Show and knew that he had battled alcoholism and drug addiction. I knew he had played drums in a few bands, mostly of the punk rock nature. I knew he had been married twice before and wed a third time in December 2008. He has a son named Milo. (Shortly after this article was originally published in January 2011 his second son was born.) I knew he loved his parents dearly, having eulogized both on The Late Late Show. I knew he had a somewhat colorful past. And I knew he was very excited when he was finally able to become an American citizen.
I found some of the more serious monologues he opened the show with, focusing on what it means to live in this country, to be both entertaining and inspiring. Craig Ferguson has a one particular gift among his many talents -- the ability to make you appreciate what you might so often take for granted. Craig was able to talk about America both as an outsider and as a patriotic American. Craig can make you see that it is more than just democracy, more than just a promise of freedom, and more than just an equal opportunity regardless of race, creed or anything else. In a word, what it means to be American, is hope.
So when I ran across Craig’s memoir entitled American On Purpose, I immediately picked it up. From the very first chapter, despite my extremely high expectations, I was not disappointed. The book is filled with anecdotes and stories from his troubled youth through his successful rehab and climb to stardom. He tells of his early days when alcohol and drugs ruled and nearly destroyed his life with candor and modesty. He tells of his days playing in bands, drinking with his mates, and neglecting those who cared about him.
He discusses his first wife and explains he cannot blame her for leaving and then he tells us why. He then describes how he began making a name for himself in show business, found a new woman who loved him greatly, generally had everything going his way, and yet continued his dark descent fueled by substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. This is the way the book unfolds, revealing first the dismal days before Craig found his footing, put his faith in hope and rose from the ashes to become the man he is today.
He does not gloss over anything, which makes his successful recovery all the more thrilling. Once sober, opportunities became more plentiful. Craig followed his dream and moved to America. Here he eventually found even greater success and made his way onto The Drew Carey Show, though not without first paying his dues. But even as success embraced him, all was not perfect as his second marriage became a bit rocky and he found himself unhappy with his success. Then along came his son, a wee lad named Milo, and Craig found a new happiness greater than he had ever known in the joy of fatherhood.
But even his new son could not save his failing marriage. Eventually he split from his second wife though they remained friendly and supportive, determined to give their son the parents he deserved. Craig's deep devotion to family is evident not only in his relationship with both his child and his parents, but also with his ex-wife, Milo's mother. Craig makes it clear that she will always be family to him as the mother of his child and it is apparent that though he may no longer be in love with her, he still loves her very much.
Along the way Craig finally gained the American citizenship he had longed for so long. As he reaches the end of the book, Craig finds art dealer Megan Wallace-Cunningham and, though they did not wed until after the book was written, Craig ends the book discussing their upcoming nuptials and the certainty that this time it is for good.
The book ends as a book written by an American should end -- not only with hope for a better day but with a commitment to hope forever. It can be challenging these days to be a hopeful American, but ultimately it is the hope for a better future that has always defined America. What is the real American Dream? It is that tomorrow will be better than today and that the day after tomorrow will be even better. We may all have setbacks along the way, but like Craig, true Americans will always persist and ultimately triumph.