“Is it as dire as we see on television?” asks Dennis Quaid.
The veteran all-American actor, who’s starred in everything from The Right Stuff and The Parent Trap to Any Given Sunday, is phoning me from the Hollywood Hills, where he’s holed up with his fiancée Laura Savoie. He’s curious about the situation in New York City, where I am, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with at least 74,601 cases and 3,544 deaths as of Tuesday morning.
Back in 2007, following the near-death of his 10-day-old twins, who were accidentally administered 1,000 times the regular dosage of the blood-thinner heparin at a hospital, the actor became an outspoken patient-safety advocate, testifying on Capitol Hill and producing a number of documentaries about the health-care system, so he finds the current crisis very troubling, though maintains that Donald Trump’s been doing a “good job” handling it—a point that we very much disagree on.
The reason for our chat is that Quaid is launching a new podcast. Dubbed The Dennissance, it will feature the actor chopping it up with his noteworthy pals—upcoming guests include Billy Ray Cyrus, Billy Bush, Lance Armstrong, and Logan Paul—and, hopefully, showing listeners a side of them that they don’t normally see. The pod is part of Audio Up, a new podcast platform founded by Jared Gutstadt, and launches on April 8.
During the course of our conversation we touched on a number of subjects, including his thoughts on how the Trump administration is handling the novel coronavirus outbreak, his hell-raising days, the age gap in his relationship (he is 65 and his fiancée is 26), and much more.
These are pretty surreal times. How are you weathering things?
We’re doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons here, making sure that everybody has very limited contact with the outside world, and stay home for five days in a row. When it first started, I got a nasty cut I got while cleaning out the garage, and had to go to the emergency room twice in two days. My doctor thought I had a kidney stone because I was in such agony. I got a view of what is going on down there, and those people that are working on the front lines in the ERs and hospitals, they’re just incredible.
You’ve raised quite a bit of money for hospitals and are a big patient-safety advocate, so I’m curious how you feel the president and federal government are handling the current pandemic? It does look like hospitals are criminally undersupplied right now.
Well, to tell you the truth, I think the president is handling it in a good way. We see him on television every day, he’s involved, and the travel ban early on was a great idea—which he did in spite of protest about that. But I don’t want to get into the protest. I’m an independent—I’ve voted both ways throughout my life, swinging like a pendulum toward what the country needed at the time—and I think this might be an opportunity for the country to come together again. World War II did that for that generation, and this might be our defining moment of a generation. It’s going to be a different world, for sure, when all this is over, and hopefully we can all be a bit more unified.
But partisanship aside, when we talk about the lack of medical supplies and hospitals not having the gear and ventilators they need, in February, the Trump administration shipped 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China—knowing full well that this pandemic was about to hit our shores. They’d been briefed on it. So that’s a big reason why we’re so depleted right now.
We were trying to defeat the virus at its source at that time, and as I heard yesterday, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a few other people are taking planes over there and shipping a lot of it back. The states are also responsible for having stockpiles of their own, according to their own needs. You know, New York, I really feel for those people and I think they’re doing their best to get them everything they need. We’ll figure that all out when it’s over, as far as whether anybody died because they couldn’t get a ventilator in a hospital. I haven’t heard reports about that, have you?
Yeah. There have been reports about people dying because there aren’t enough ventilators in New York, and they’ve been practicing “ventilator-sharing,” where they’re putting two people on a single ventilator because they’re short on them. And certain states, like Florida, are getting what they ask for as far as supplies go, while New York, which is the epicenter, isn’t receiving anywhere near what they’ve asked for, which is puzzling on a number of levels.
Well, New York had a chance to buy thousands of ventilators at a very good price like two years ago, but I don’t want to get into the finger-pointing, because Cuomo is doing a great job out there working for the people of his state. And I think Trump, no matter what anybody thinks of him, is doing a good job at trying to get these states—and all of the American people—what they need, and also trying to hold our economy together and be prepared for when this is all over. I don’t want to get into petty arguments about it. There’s a lot of talk about how South Korea handled the crisis, and the thing about South Korea is they’re still in a state of war with North Korea and are always on the alert for all kinds of threats—nuclear threats, biological threats—so I would imagine that had something to do with how quickly they were able to respond to it.
That may be a part of it, but the government also took swift action. We, on the other hand—
—Oh, I think that we did too though. As soon as we found out what the threat was… China wasn’t really revealing to the rest of the world what was going on. Five million people I heard had fled the Wuhan province before they had quarantined it, and were all over the world and allowed to come to this country. There was no warning whatsoever. The virus probably started back in November, and we didn’t learn about it until January.
Right. China has definitely not been above board here. But Congress was briefed that this pandemic was coming to our shores on Jan. 24, so the Trump administration knew before then, and the Army warned the Trump administration in early February that the virus could kill upward of 150,000 people, yet we didn’t really get any stay-at-home orders or cautioning until mid-March, which is a long time to not really act on it.
But Trump did do the travel ban to China, and then to Europe very quickly afterward, and he was castigated by a lot of members of Congress, who were just getting out of the impeachment, that it was racist what he was doing. It’s a good thing we had that travel ban at the time. You know, the world has never experienced this, and I don’t think it’s a time to be political. I think it’s just time to get behind our government and have everybody do what they can. If you want to point blame after, that’s another story, but right now I think we all just really need to come together on this. To get back to your original question, I do appreciate that Trump is giving the briefings and on television every day giving out the information, and I think they have great people handling it. Just one more thing out side of that: Despite presidents, Congress, and political parties, this is the United States of America, and we’re a very adaptable people in situations like this, and I think we’re all going to get through it. My heart goes out to everyone.
So what inspired you to launch a podcast—The Dennissance—now, and how did you arrive at that name?
[Laughs] Well, somebody else picked the name “Dennissance,” because I guess my career and my life has been going through a renaissance lately. Besides movies, I’ve been an executive producer on a number of things, have my music career going on. I’ve had a very lucky life. Because of acting, I’ve played a lot of real people. On The Right Stuff, I got my pilot’s license on the film and fly planes now. Went around with the cops while I was doing The Big Easy. I’ve learned a little bit about everything and met some incredible people on the way, so that’s what the show is about: people that I’ve known in my life, some of them famous and maybe some of them not—actors, newsmakers, politicians, doctors—and what makes them tick. I like to have people on that don’t necessarily have something to sell, and everything is open for discussion. What are their other interests? What is their spiritual journey? What is something about them that we don’t know?
I’ve led such a lucky life, really. I spent a weekend with Bill Clinton at the White House in 1999. It was a slow news weekend, Hillary was out of town, and I just got to roam the halls, play golf with the president. You just need to pinch yourself with some of this stuff. On The Right Stuff, Chuck Yeager was on set one day and I went flying with him, and really got to know him. I’m trying to stick to people I’ve known in my life so the relationship is already there when I go to do the podcast.
Speaking of experiences in film, who’s the wildest co-star you’ve ever had?
[Laughs] It depends on what you mean by wild!
A hell-raiser? I guess that would have to be me! I used to be kind of a hell-raiser in my day. We were all kind of hell-raisers back in the ’80s, you know? It was kind of a contest.
We spoke years ago about how wild the film sets were in the ’80s. And you said that sets were very different. There were plenty of drugs around.
Oh yeah. Back in the ’70s and the ’80s. And cocaine back then, you know, there was a whole edition of People magazine about how cocaine was not addictive and really kind of harmless. After John Belushi, everyone found out it was a very different case. But cocaine was really in the movie budget back then. It was recreational. We all paid the price eventually for all that. But it was a lot more freewheeling. Once it became more corporate, and I think that would be with Star Wars, which was the first movie where corporations realized how much money they could make making movies, then the corporate thinking took over film.
Which movie you were on had the biggest cocaine budget?
[Laughs] Um… I think just about every one of them back in the early ’80s. You always used to know who was the guy to go see.
Did you have a come-to-Jesus moment when it came to that?
Yeah, I did. I had a band at the time that was called The Eclectics, and I used to do cocaine and promise myself I wouldn’t stay up late because I had work the next day, and invariably it would be 4 in the morning and I’d be awake in bed and I had to be up at 6 to go to work. I’d wind up screaming at God every night to please take this away from me. Then I’d get up the next day, the afternoon would come around, and the whole cycle would start again.
The night that we got our record deal with The Eclectics, we broke up in the dressing room right after the show, and we broke up because I was getting kind of messed up. I went home and had one of those white-light experiences. I was 36, and I saw myself in five years either being dead, in jail, or losing everything I had worked for all my life. I don’t know why it was that particular night—there had been so many nights like that—but the next day I got up and been humbled by it finally, and checked myself into rehab. That was the year 1990. June 24th. It took me four years after that to get over the obsession of the mind of that drug. I do have a drink every now and again but cocaine, that obsession, has left my life.
I’m 35 and grew up watching not just your films but your brother Randy’s. Do you guys still talk, and how is he doing? Because from an outsider’s perspective, I find some of the social-media stuff to be pretty puzzling.
Yeah. I did too. To tell you the truth, Randy doesn’t really want me to talk about his life or speak for him. I miss my brother. I have to love him from afar, but that’s the relationship that I have with him. I find a lot of the social-media stuff very puzzling myself. I’ve even had to remove myself from that and just love him from afar. I’m still praying for him. He’s one of my favorite actors ever, and I think he could still have a comeback. I really do. A great third act.
I read that your wedding’s postponed because of coronavirus?
We were supposed to be married tomorrow [April 4] in Hawaii. We’ve postponed it. We haven’t decided till when, because nobody knows when we’ll be getting back to the new normal, so… we try to make lemonade around here. I know something good is going to come of it.
The tabloids have been tracking you two a lot and there’s been criticism of the age gap in the relationship.
I don’t really feel it myself. As far as the photographers go, they’re there in their usual places. There hasn’t been too much heat about that. As far as the age difference, I didn’t set out to have a relationship with a much younger person. But we met, we clicked, and we don’t notice it. Her family is great about it and mine is too, so it’s fine with us.
You were set to star in a Ronald Reagan biopic, as Reagan. Is that still happening?
Yeah, that’s still happening. Hopefully we get to do it this year. We were going to be set to go in May, to shoot in Oklahoma. So we’re on standby. I’m still doing a lot of research for it. I’m in the middle of reading Bob Spitz’s book Reagan: An American Journey, which is really good. He was my favorite president growing up. I voted for him in 1980, and I had a roommate and when I came home and told him I voted for Reagan he said, “You are kicked out of the hippies.” [Laughs] I think he was, in my mind, definitely my favorite president in my lifetime. He was on a par with FDR and Lincoln too, I think. He really transformed our country.
Speaking of viruses though, I don’t think he handled the AIDS pandemic well at all.
You’re right about that. I think when it first came out, the whole country in general really considered that to be a “gay disease” and handled it badly from the start. You know in some way, I think we all get the president we deserve at the time. The presidency reflects society.
So what did we do to deserve Trump?
[Laughs] Well, I don’t think we can answer that until after the fact—until we have a little hindsight!
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