Sixteen years ago, at 19, James Brandon drove cross-country from St. Louis to study at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena. A year earlier, his alcoholic father, whom he had nursed nearly daily, had died of cancer. Handsome, talented and affable, Brandon was determined to achieve his dream of becoming an actor. Then he got caught up in the gay partying scene.
"It was fun at first," recalls Brandon, who came out when he was 21, "but not fulfilling at all."
With his new friends, for three years Brandon hit the gay bars and night clubs in L.A. and West Hollywood, partying hard with drugs and alcohol. After one drug-fueled Saturday night at age 24, he drove alone on Pacific Coast Highway in his black Saturn toward Malibu as the sun rose. With only a guardrail between him and the rocky outcroppings of the Pacific Ocean below, he considered what would have been unthinkable when he first arrived in L.A.
"I thought, ‘Nothing is stopping me from driving off the cliff,’ " Brandon recalls. "It was an intense moment. I was confused. I was lost. I was also thinking it would be so poetic: I’d die with the sunrise."
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