Donny Osmond Article Illustration Interview with Donny Osmond by Chet Cooper and Dr. Gillian Friedman

There is a blot on the lot of Sony Pictures. It's not as much an eyesore as fodder for an interesting conversation—like a man dressed as Santa in the middle of summer or Anna Nicole as the star of her own reality show. While not exactly phenomenons, they are extraordinary enough to make you wonder how they came about. Here amongst the array of grandiose vehicles belonging to producers, executives and actors, there is one sad, lonely spray painted car that obviously doesn't demand the equivalent in care and love from its owner. It's the kind of clunker, dented and rusted and without any glory, that a seventh grader would be embarrassed to be chauffeured around in. Why would Sony have this car on their lot? Because it has become a symbol of the comic relief and rivalry that has lasted more than 25 years among one of Hollywood's most famous families, the Osmonds.

Donny Osmond tells the story of a car whose history dates back to a game of Yahtzee, between him and brother Jimmy, that began about 1973 in Elvis' suite at a Hilton Hotel. To think of Donny Osmond, it hardly seems he’s old enough to have rubbed elbows with the likes of Elvis Presley. Yet, as a child star Donny used to receive flowers from the King himself before his opening nights. As Donny and Jimmy played Yahtzee, the deal was made: whoever loses this tournament has to buy the winner a car. The game continued for 25 years until they reached the final destination of 300,000 points, and it was Donny who won by a landslide—twenty points.

Jimmy bought Donny a car—and did he ever. 'He dropped it off in front of my house and I was so embarrassed. I had my kids spray paint it,' Donny shared. 'I said, 'Guys, just mess it up.'' During a later taping of the Donny and Marie Show of which Jimmy was a guest, Donny built up throughout the show a birthday gift he had for his beloved brother. In the end, it was the same car, with the aesthetic improvements rendered by Donny's children. And there it sits on the studio lot since 1999. 'Eventually, I'm going to have to fix it up and give it to him again. It'll be like a fruitcake from Christmas that passes from family to family,' Donny says with a smile.

After enduring childhood fame as a member of the Osmond Brothers, Donny has lived the highs and lows of an entertainer's life. He profited from hit records as a teen solo artist, co-hosted a variety television show, bombed on Broadway and eventually returned to receive rave reviews from the critics as the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Donny and Marie Show marked his return to television and Donny is now at the pinnacle of his career as the host of Dick Clark's legendary game show, Pyramid.

During what was originally slated to be a sit-down interview, Donny Osmond spoke with ABILITY's Chet Cooper and Dr. Gillian Friedman as they spent the afternoon being shuttled from Sony's lot to STAR 98.7, where Donny made a guest appearance as a judge on their 'Be a Star' contest. Whether it was in the back of a limo, during the station's commercial breaks or as they toured the Sony lot, Donny's often humorous and directly honest approach to life was evident.

In his recent autobiography, Life is Just What You Make It, Donny came forward and shared his experiences of living with a mental illness known as social anxiety disorder. It is difficult enough to deal with a mental illness in private. It is quite another ordeal to be a television star, Broadway actor and recording artist, and have the courage to deal with a hidden disability in front of millions of people. But Donny has done it with style and grace. In the following interview, Donny talks about growing up a child star, family, Fear Factor and the difficulties of living with a mental illness that made him feel trapped and exhausted, one that almost destroyed his career.

Chet Cooper: You first retired in 1990, what have you been doing since?

Donny Osmond: Trying to get my career going again. (laughs) You interviewed my sister, how was it?

CC: Oh, she was a... (laughs)

DO: Tell me something I don't know! (laughs)

CC: No, Marie really worked out well. I liked her sense of humor.

DO: Seriously though, I was 20 when my career went sour. But I was committed to being an entertainer because I love it. I love the challenge of it.

Dr. Gillian Friedman: Was entertaining something you always wanted to do?

DO: Well, I think it was ingrained at first. I was the next one in line of four Osmond brothers. I remember writing a letter home to my mother when I was seven years-old, from Sweden. I had spent six weeks over there touring and I just wanted to be home in my sandbox playing with trucks. I wanted to get out, but I couldn't. At around 12 or 13 years-old, when I had my first hit record, I thought 'Okay this is good. I like this business. This is what I want to be when I grow up.'

CC: A lot has happened since you were 12 or 13—both professionally and personally. Is there a particular high point that comes to mind?

DO: The best thing that ever happened to me was that I came out and really got honest about my life in my book called Life is Just What You Make It. I disclosed a lot of things I had kept hidden: financial loss, how I felt about the lows in my career, how I felt about my family and how they felt about me. It was very therapeutic.

CC: It is still for sale?

DO: The three copies that were printed

CC: …are still available? (laughs)

DO: (laughs) Yes, but it's only available on my website. I depend on my computer and the web. As a matter of fact, my last album I sang into my laptop, a PowerBook. All the files were coordinated with my producers in England. I took it to Utah, my office and the studio; this was the coordinating factor for my whole record.

CC: Technology is really changing the course of business.

DO: It's amazing. I would just sing into my laptop, do all the editing that I needed to do and then send a compressed MP3 file. My producers would tweak it, tell me what they wanted different and then send it back to me. That's how we did the album. I only went to the studio one time and that was just for a quick meeting with the record exec's. The rest was done over email and the internet.

CC: I've interviewed Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet. His wife, Sigrid, was deaf since the age of three and recently had cochlear implants. One of the reasons he created the internet and email was to improve communication with her.

DO: Oh, that's great. My two oldest brothers are deaf and my nephew is hard of hearing as well.

CC: Do you know sign language?

DO: What?

CC: Do you sign?

DO: What?

(everyone laughs)

I know the alphabet. My oldest brother was born 85 percent deaf and the next was born worse with almost total deafness. My parents were told by everyone, doctors included, to stop having kids. Thank God, they at least went as far as seven!

Anyhow, they decided they were not going to treat my brothers differently [or lower their expectations.] My brothers talk and communicate verbally. They also sign and do have that down quite well. As a matter of fact, we used sign language when we were performing together as a group. There's this one number we did on the Donny and Marie Show, it was amazing—even when we were taping it. It was a huge production number and my brothers learned the routine. Obviously they couldn't really hear the music, but they could feel the beat and they'd watch us out of the corner of their eyes to make sure they were still in tempo.

GF: Was the general public aware of their deafness?

DO: The public knew they were deaf because we mentioned it at the beginning of the show and you could hear it in their speech. I remember we opened one show with Phyllis Diller and they came out and played saxophone with us.

CC: How did they do that?

DO: They blew on the reed and sound came out.




More stories from The Donny Osmond issue:

Dr. Liberman and Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Special Olympics

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