Heaven and hell? Fire and brimstone?
He’d get six inches from your face: “Repent all ye sinners or you’re going to hell!”
How close to death have you been personally?
Before I met my partner Helen, I went through some serious times of depression. I’d been through a marriage breakdown and divorce – everyone goes through an ugly time after divorce – and I was haunted by ghosts of the past; kids at school bullying me. I lived on the sixth floor of an apartment block in Sydney, and after a bottle of wine or a few beers, I’d think, “You know what? It’d be so easy to hop over this railing.”
What stopped you?
It wasn’t only the religious teachings I’d had but other spiritual teachings over my life. I thought, “Well, if I do that, I might have to come back and do it all again.” Death itself didn’t scare me. It was the unknown of what was on the other side.
Who was the last person close to you whom you lost?
Oh god, that was very sad. Nearly five years ago, a dear friend of ours passed away from breast cancer. It devastated us all. I said goodbye to her for the last time in her hospital room. I made it out of the room, collapsed in the hallway and just howled, Helen and I hugging each other. We couldn’t understand someone so beautiful – leaving behind three young kids – being taken so soon, and in such a devastating way.
You’ve just had a bit of a battle with your body. What happened?
With dwarfism, it’s common to have spinal issues; the spinal canal is often quite narrow, or there’s stenosis in there. Say in yourself, you’ve got your spinal canal, and there’s your spinal cord inside. All around the cord, you’ve got that buffer: a 20-cent piece to a five-cent piece. With dwarfism, it’s more like the relationship of, say, a 20-cent piece to a 10-cent piece.
Much less buffer. And that manifests as pain?
Or spasms, which I’d liken to a short, sharp shock, like getting hit by a cattle prod. Or it can manifest as weakness, numbness; a lack of support in your body.
You had surgery earlier this year to address that?
I did. Part of my spine had started to squeeze and, had it been left to go that way, chances are I would have been paralysed. It ramped up very quickly. The day I went into surgery, I could barely walk. Then I woke up in recovery able to feel my legs and wiggle my toes. Amazing.
As a shorter-statured man, do you feel your needs are accommodated in the world?
There are times I definitely don’t, of course. But I’ve come to sort of accept I’m living in a big person’s world. There are things you’ve just got to make allowances for.
What’s your favourite part of your body?
Gosh. I suppose like many men, it’s the bit only Helen ever gets to see!
You’ve got one of the most recognisable voices in Australia. Does that pay well?
If you work consistently, you can make a nice living out of it. You could look at what we do and go, “God, you guys are paid well.” But we don’t work a 40-hour week and you get people who are scratching around for work.
Any regrets on how you have spent your money?
When I was in that bad space, I developed a really bad gambling habit. I look back on it with a sense of regret and guilt. It kind of snuck up on me and before I knew it, I was in the clutches of destructive behaviours.
How bad did it get?
I probably put the equivalent of a mortgage into a pokie machine over three to four years. I dread to think how much; it was 15 or so years ago. It would have been easily $300,000 to $400,000-plus. The slap across the face for me was talking to my agent one day about other stuff. Then he said: “The other thing, Lofty? Stop gambling.” It was like I’d walked out onto stage naked.
You’d been exposed. Was that the circuit breaker?
One of them. I’d tried things like Gamblers Anonymous. The other real circuit breaker came when I was at a pub one day, waiting to meet a mate who’d been delayed, and I thought, “I’m just going to walk to the pokies.” Before I knew it, I’d blown $300. Then my mate turned up with somebody else. I said, “Guys, I’d love to buy a round of beer, but I’ve just blown all my cash.” This new acquaintance said, “I used to do that.” I looked at him quizzically and said, “What do you mean, ‘used to’?” He said he’d done a gambling treatment program at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. I asked the barman for a coaster and pen, wrote down the details and made the phone call the next day.
Would you recommend it?
It’s what worked for me.
It’s your final day on earth. You’re down to your last $100. What do you spend it on?
Well, $100 wouldn’t buy Helen and myself the kind of meal you’d like to go out on. Then again, I suppose if you’re not around to pick up the tab, it doesn’t really matter. But you’d have to go a glass of champagne, sit and watch the sunset, look back on your life and think, “Wow, it hasn’t been too bad.”
Lifeline 131 114
Writer, author of The Family Law and Gaysia.