Chuck Barris, producer of twenty-seven game shows and host of the “Gong Show” died today from natural causes. (3-22-17)
“Della – A Memoir of My Daughter” – Book Review
For those growing up in the 70’s, they might remember Della Barris from “The Gong Show”. Her other brush with fame was an attempt at stand-up comedy. Beyond that, “Della – A Memoir of My Daughter,” by her father Chuck Barris, is a darkly funny, tragic look at the girl who had everything , lost it and self-destructed.
Her father ruminates about where he went wrong. Big trouble begins with his divorce, after which Della and her mother move to Switzerland. Della lives in a boarding school and encounters drugs. She is a stranger in a strange land with few friends. Later upon returning to the states, her father is granted custody and the drug addictions grow worse. She leads a gang and beats up other girls for money.
For a year, she introduces “My daddy”, the host of the “Gong Show” – a talent show put-on. Della, who is secretly shy, isn’t happy about doing the show and eventually quits.
Perhaps Della’s best chance at a normal life is with her new boyfriend, Billy, a construction worker; however, the first meeting with her father goes badly. Chuck sees him as a young thug with no future who rides a motorcycle. Tough questions follow. Billy, offended, walks out. Soon after, Della runs away, sleeping on the streets. She is mugged and robbed. Returning home, she asks her father for the right to live on her own. He consents.
After a brief marriage (ending with an annulment and an abortion), Della tries a makeover. With a one million dollar trust fund, she spends a fortune on plastic surgery – her new “California look”. White hair, white furniture and a white convertible. Drugs, travel and wild times. While drunk or high, Della tells jokes at a comedy club to an enthusiastic response…but, when she tries to go pro for a 1-week gig, it’s a disaster.
Because of her careless spending, the money runs out. She moves into a one-room apartment. Della hooks up with a man called “Strickland” who assumes she has money. Father Barris refers to him as “a scumbag and a junkyard dog,” a drug dealer who fuels Della’s habit.
In the last year, father and daughter make amends. In the back of his mind, does he know the end is near? The “new” Della has orange hair, a different nose, a different chin and is painfully thin. She announces she has HIV from that weekend in Las Vegas.
Della can’t hold down a job and resorts to begging on the streets (using the money to buy drugs for her and Strickland.)
A last attempt is made at art. Della paints and works on her autobiography titled “Jesus Left the Building”. She makes as much as $50 on her paintings, ghoulish representations of hell and the creatures within. Is there hope?
No, because boyfriend Strickland, in a drug-fueled rage, destroys all her belongings (including her book and her three favorite paintings.) Everything she owns is trashed. The next day, Della is found dead from an overdose.
In the morgue, Chuck Barris sees his daughter for the last time. “One of God’s photographs.” She is a pale shell. His last gift, never given, a snow globe is thrown away. “Tough love doesn’t work.”
[Note: This review was written the day before Chuck Barris’ death.] © 2017 -ERN