This past week marked a birthday of fifty-something for Andy Behrman. It wasn’t an age he thought he would reach when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his twenties. In his life a continent and two decades removed from when his life matched the pace of New York, he now spends his single father days with his young daughters, Emma and Kate.
“The penne is too…penne,” Kate says, over a plate of pasta at Cheesecake Factory. A family outing in the suburbs of southern California presents a wild contrast from Andy’s birthday twenty years ago, spent in a work-release facility after he was convicted of art forgery and fraud in a New York federal court. The book, Electroboy, is approaching its thirteenth birthday and covered mostly events in the 1990s that led to upper class nice Jewish young man Andy’s criminal involvement. With the growing pains of the book’s adolescence, Andy is working with a new team on bringing the book to the big screen.
The root of his issues as a young man was bipolar disorder — a mental illness characterized by extremes of wild mania: impulsive spending, sleeplessness, hypersexuality, high energy, poor judgment, sometimes rages and uncontrollable wild behavior, and followed by a crash into depression. Before his diagnosis, Andy used the manic energy to his advantage, brokering huge public relations deals and landing a job with a major art dealership. The impulsivity built up, and he traveled along with a coworker on a scheme to forge paintings and sell them for profit. It was a great gig until it fell apart and it landed him in jail.
A few years later, the book was published by Random House to a lot of noise.
“Perhaps because i had been a promoter for years, the book became successful and there was a lot of media attention surrounding it (and oddly, glamour – – parties thrown by Tina Brown, blah, blah, blah). But finally, mental illness was being openly discussed (in a raw and gritty way – – and with a funny guy doing the talking) all the way back in 2002. And then came my anti-pharma campaign, after working as the spokesman who launched Abilify for Bristol Myers Squibb and ended in me coming clean and telling the media what i really knew (i.e. cover of the Wall Street Journal). everything since 2002 – – since Electroboy was published – – has been, in my mind, blown up in the media.”
Something as shocking — if you will — as electroshock therapy became glamorous and for a while Electroboy, with it’s bright yellow and contrast black cover, became the book everyone read on the subway and in the therapist’s office.
Andy’s need for a more relaxed lifestyle and his then-wife’s career in film development precipitated their move to laid back southern California. Soon thereafter, Kate was born, debuted in an interview at the Behrman’s home in a video produced by Stephen Fry. A year later, Emma was born. Family life had a stabilizing effect on Behrman and he had no more arrests or hospitalizations. In his divorce, he was considered the stable parent and now has full custody of Kate and Emma. Behrman continues to be a mental health advocate.