KINGSTON, Ont. – Recognized with an honorary degree from Queen’s University for her work in mental health, a humble Glenn Close used her time in the spotlight to pay tribute to others affected by mental illness — including members of her own family.
The award-winning actress was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws on Thursday during a convocation for graduates of the faculty of arts and science.
Prior to her speech, Close told reporters that the honorary degree meant “a great deal” because she was receiving it on behalf of her whole family.
It was a sentiment she echoed in her impassioned address to the Class of 2013, when Close spoke lovingly of her sister Jessie Close, who has bipolar disorder, and nephew Calen Pick, who lives with schizoaffective disorder (a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).
“I really wouldn’t be here today without them,” Close told the assembled gathering at Grant Hall. “We have learned that mental illness is a family affair.”
The veteran actress, 66, is co-founder of Bring Change 2 Mind, which is dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.
Close said she also accepted the honour on behalf of “the 32,000-strong” who form her organization’s community online for sharing their stories and pledging their commitment to the mission, calling them “the heart and soul of this movement.”
She commended Jessie and Calen for their willingness to “come out” as part of a national campaign to speak of living with mental illness.
“Deciding to be advocates for mental illness, Jessie and Calen have been transformed,” Close said.
“We have learned firsthand that being able to talk openly about your illness or about illness that is in your family is a huge and crucial step in recovery — not only for yourself, but for those who love and support you. And we have also learned that the earlier you can start the conversation and get help, the better the outcome.”
Close said she met with the mental health working group and mental health commission at Queen’s and was impressed with what the faculty and students were doing to help educate people about mental illness and “help start the conversation.”
It’s a dialogue she encouraged graduates to continue as they branch out beyond Queen’s, stressing the importance of empathy and compassion for others.
“Learn to walk in each other’s shoes,” she said. “In a world that is depending more and more on screens of various sizes, don’t forget to look into each other’s faces. Don’t forget the power of two eyes looking into two other eyes, and don’t forget to listen to each other’s voices.
“We can empower ourselves and those we love who live with mental illness to shout it from the rooftops that help is available, recovery is possible, families can heal and lives will be saved.”
Amid the serious discussion surrounding mental health, Close engaged in several moments of levity prior to and during convocation proceedings.
Ahead of her speech, she joked to reporters that she was receiving an appropriate degree in light of her recent Emmy-winning role as a tough-as-nails litigator on TV’s “Damages.”
“I love that I’m an honorary Doctor of Laws having just played a lawyer for five years. She would be pleased,” Close said, referring to her ruthless TV alter ego, Patty Hewes.
She told the convocation assembly her surgeon father, the late Dr. William Close, “would be thrilled that one of his children is a doctor now — albeit an honorary one.”
“He was really worried when I told him that I wanted to be an actress,” she recalled.
“My dad was a very high achiever, and (being an) actress probably isn’t a career that he had thought for me. So he actually told me that I’d better learn shorthand as a backup,” she added, laughing, noting she took such a course at school and was “really bad at it.”
Close’s numerous screen credits include Fatal Attraction, The Big Chill and Dangerous Liaisons.
So how does Thursday’s honour compare to an Academy Award nomination (something Close has experienced a whopping six times)?
“This is much more important than an Oscar nomination,” she told reporters, smiling and laughing.
“Really, (the) Oscars for me is a huge honour to be recognized for whatever you’ve done, the body of work or movie you’re being recognized for. But I’m not alone in my profession in thinking it’s a bit crazy to say who’s better than the other one because you’re talking about art and artists.
“So I feel, in many ways, this recognition (from Queen’s) means a great deal to me because I receive it on behalf of my whole family.”