Tuesday celebrates Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston’s 67th birthday.
Before he was the power hungry, lung cancer diagnosed chemistry teacher turned meth cooking druglord, he was the kooky, always in his underwear father on Malcolm in the Middle. But even before that, he was a kid who lost touch with his father after a failed acting career.
When Cranston was just 11, his father, Joe, experienced the harsh ups and downs of being an actor. After being successful for many years, Joe hit a wall in the movie business and couldn’t bounce back how he wanted to.
This led him to having an affair and ultimately abandoning his family for nearly ten years, during Bryan’s teenage years.
Joe’s departure saw a downward spiral within the family that remained. Bryan’s mother, Peggy, turned to alcoholism to cope with the pain of her husband’s abandonment, and after some time, Bryan and his brother moved in with their grandparents and lived there for a year.
In 2016, Bryan opened up about his childhood in an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times.
“[Joe] chose not to be with us or see us or be a father,” he said. “My mother chose to become an alcoholic and drown her sorrows and sadness and resentment. She was like a ghost of herself. And no one ever explained why he left.”
Unlike many scenarios where a parent abandons the family, Bryan’s parents actually had a very close relationship with both each other and their children.
“There’s still a lot of pain I’m dealing with. It’s worse than if they died in a car crash, because they were still there physically, somewhere,” he continued. “My mom and dad up through 10 years old were really wonderful, that’s what was so awful about it. My mother was engaging and my dad was my coach; we did things together and he brought home a donkey for us to play with. Then it all disappeared.”
The sudden crumbling of his family really took its toll on Bryan as a kid. In a 2014 interview on The Howard Stern Show, he talked more about how the abrupt abandonment made him feel and react.
“I had a relationship – a good relationship – with him as a boy,” he said. “And then something happened, and off he went.”
Stern then asked Cranston if he ever confronted his mother about the whereabouts of Joe. He replied, “I think it just caved me in. I just became introverted about the whole thing, and very insecure about it, because as a kid, that’s probably the worst age for the rug to be pulled out from under you,” noting how at that point in his life – or anyone’s life – he was looking forward to the future and thought what he had at that time was what would stay forever. But that wasn’t the case.
During those years without his father, Bryan ran into someone who he’d see again about a year later on all the headlines for the murder of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent. That was Charles Manson.
In a 2016 interview with Hudson Union Society, he talked about the time he and his cousin rented horses from Span Ranch, the infamous location where Manson and his cult members lived devised their infamous murder plan.
“I didn’t actually meet Charles Manson, but I was as close as I am to you,” he said to the interviewer sitting right next to him. “We were renting the horses and this young guy – bearded guy –came in screaming, ‘Charlie’s on the hill!’ And about a dozen people galloped away.”
Once on the horses, they ran into the group of people who galloped away and saw Manson riding in the middle of the pack.
“On the horse was this little bearded guy with big, dark eyes and wild hair,” he described. “It was crazy. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.”
Eventually though, Bryan reconnected with his father.
After about ten years, when Bryan was 22, Joe came back into his life, just a few years before Bryan’s acting career would take off with his debut role in the soap Loving in 1983.
Seeing Bryan’s career become more and more successful, and even helping his father score a small role in his 1988 film, The Big Turnaround, a common reaction from Joe could have been resentment or jealousy. But it was just the opposite in this case.
On The Howard Stern Show, Cranston said Joe was “extremely proud” of his career.
“It’s really helped our relationship grow and change and sustain,” he added.
In their final years, Bryan’s mother, Peggy, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2004. In 2014, Joe passed away from natural causes at the age of 90. The reconnection of their family didn’t only bring Bryan happiness and closure, but also his father.
Upon Joe’s death, Bryan found a note in his home that read, “The highlight of my life was when my children forgave me.”
Nowadays, Bryan is a father himself, sharing his only daughter, Taylor, with his wife of 34 years, Robin Dearden. A very happy birthday to the Emmy Award-winning actor and father.