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Joe Pantoliano: Mental Illness Hits Home

The award-winning actor talks to WebMD about his personal brushes with mental illness and why he's working to raise awareness.

Did you quit?

I quit in 1990.

How do you feel about aging?

I think it sucks. I'm in limbo. I want to be 65 so I can get my pension. I'll be 56 next month. My doctor once told me, the longer you stay healthy, the better chance you have for a good senior living experience. My uncle Pete lived to be 90; he never smoked. My cousin Billy is 103.

Is the best part of your life in front of you or behind you?

I think it's in front of me; it's behind me. I like reflecting these days -- walking down memory lane.

Your character (Ralph Cifaretto) in The Sopranos famously had his head chopped off by Tony. Does it ever affect your sense of mortality or health to see yourself "die" on screen??

Yeah. I think it's why I chose to be an actor. One of the things I remember as a kid is watching the Million Dollar Movie, in black and white, and realizing that a lot of those people were dead, but they still existed on the screen. As a child I wondered, "How was anybody going to know I was here?" Part of the reason I chose to be an actor is so that there would be some evidence that I existed 100 years from now.

As far as mortality, my parents live on in my heart. Three of my four kids never met my parents, but they know them from the stories I tell them. That eternal life comes from stories.

Originally published in the November/December 2007 issue of WebMD the Magazine.

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Reviewed on October 02, 2007

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