Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers
“A thief and a liar and a near-failing student.” That’s how Gary Sinise describes himself at age 14 in his
new memoir “Grateful American.” Nowadays, however, he is better known as an actor, humanitarian,
and man of faith who works tirelessly to improve the lives of injured veterans and first responders. So how
did Gary make this journey from self to service? He joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to
share parts of his story.
Sinise grew up in Chicago and, during his teenage years, made some bad choices having to do with getting high, partying, and even stealing cars (or at least “borrowing” them without permission). He credits his high school theater program with pointing him “toward redemption” and giving him the background and inspiration to found the acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company with several of his friends.
Sinise went on to find work in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. One of his earliest gigs was dancing in the background of a Luke and Laura scene on “General Hospital.” By 1992, he had directed, produced, and starred in a film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” with his old buddy John Malkovich.
But it was 1994, that really changed his life because that’s when he portrayed Lt. Dan Taylor in the Tom Hanks hit “Forrest Gump.” In the movie, Lt. Dan inadvertently leads his platoon in Vietnam into an ambush in which some of them are killed. And Lt. Dan loses his own legs in the process.
After the war, observed Sinise, Lt. Dan tries “to drown himself in alcohol because he’s dealing with terrible guilt and post-traumatic stress. He says at one point to Forrest Gump, ‘You should have left me out there to die.’ He’s carrying terrible anguish and despair. But ultimately at the end of that story, he’s standing up again on prosthetic legs. He’s successful in business and moving on with his life. He’s able to make peace. That’s a story I found that so many troubled, injured, or wounded veterans that I met in hospitals – that’s the story they want. They want that story of being able to move forward, put their war experiences behind them, be okay, and be successful…It was a hopeful story, and I found that our veterans related to it and wanted to talk about it.”
That role led Gary to get more involved in veteran’s causes. At the same time, he was facing his own battles on the homefront. His wife, Moira, was struggling with alcoholism and was unwilling to admit her problem. Faced with the loss of her family, she finally pursued the help she needed and moved toward recovery.
While attending an AA meeting at St. Michael’s Church on the North Side of Chicago, a woman walked up to Moira one day and told her, “My dear, you need to become a Catholic. You need to convert.” Moira’s mother had been Catholic, but they didn’t practice the religion when she was growing up. As Moira explored the Catholic faith, she decided this was a step she wanted to take.
Moira converted, and she and Gary began sending their kids to Catholic school and attending Mass together as a family. Gary himself had not yet joined the Church, but he had become more open to God and the spiritual part of life due to various experiences in recent years. Then came 9/11. I’ll share that part of Gary’s story in my next column.
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