In 2001, at the behest of producer David Chase, Pantoliano joined the cast of the landmark HBO series The Sopranos, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary along with The Matrix. While portraying psychopathic mobster “Ralphie Cifaretto” on the hit show, the actor published Who's Sorry Now: The True Story of a Stand-Up Guy, a bittersweet memoir about his New Jersey childhood and his mother’s mental illness that was a New York Times bestseller.
Pantoliano produced and starred in Canvas, a feature film that portrays a family’s struggle with mental illness, which won Best Feature Film and landed Pantoliano the Outstanding Actor Award in 2006. He also serves as co-president of the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social and political advocacy organization of the entertainment industry.
Inspired by his role in Canvas, Pantoliano created No Kidding, Me Too!, a nonprofit dedicated to removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Continuing to spread his message, Pantoliano made his directorial debut with an informative and moving documentary titled No Kidding, Me Too!, seeking to promote mental health and awareness. It became an integral piece of the Stomp the Stigma tour which includes a 12-day stay in Iraq, visiting troops and addressing mental illness.
His second book, Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother's Son, was published in May 2012. A humorous and candid account of his own journey through clinical depression, Asylum chronicles Pantoliano’s quest for fame and the downhill spiral into depression and addiction that followed his success. By charting his own diagnosis and recovery, he hopes to educate others and remove the stigma from mental illness.
Joe Pantoliano has been a visiting professor at Penn State in theatre, arts, and film studies and has taught a seminar called “Show Business 101” at Penn State, Yale, Wesleyan, and Harvard.
A Tough Guy Battles Back
Joe Pantoliano has been grappling with clinical depression for over a decade. Before diagnosed, the actor, widely known as “Joey Pants,” would put on his “Joey” façade to be part of the solution, not the problem, for the 15 weeks on a movie set. But coming home, he’d crawl under the sheets feeling like his “heart was paralyzed.”
Post-diagnosis, Pantoliano felt shrouded in the stigma that surrounds depression when he couldn’t get health coverage on movie sets for fear he might have a nervous breakdown. It was then he realized he couldn’t have the luxury of being anonymous with mental illness.
Today he advocates for the recognition that “the brain does not have the same equal rights as the liver or the kidney or the gall bladder.” But it should. In an uplifting, funny, and clever presentation, Pantoliano shares his own personal story of living with depression, inspiring others with his commentary, “I’ve got it. I’m functioning. My life is better for it.”
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