Kennedy, perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning role as the convict Dragline in Cool Hand Luke, as well as his roles in the Airport and Naked Gun series, has released his memoir, Trust Me. The book details his challenging childhood in a single-parent household during the Great Depression, his life's twists and turns through three marriages and the deaths of two children, and becoming a parent again after adopting his granddaughter. Kennedy also looks back at his acting career, sharing snippets about Paul Newman, Dean Martin, Bo Derek, Elvis Presley and O.J. Simpson.
What's on your nightstand?
The World's Religions by Huston Smith. I like to look at things that are mysterious but not in a haunted house way. I like the openness of the man. I like the gentleness of what he says. If I can sense caring, if I can sense not trying to sell something, I will listen and read.
You write about your involvement as a youth with the Catholic Church. Are you still Roman Catholic?
You can't get over it, really. When you are born into a religion, there are no choices. If you are instructed early on in the tenets of that particular religion, by the time you are old enough to think beyond it . . . the indoctrination you got in the religion you were born into outweighs everything else.
When you think of books, do you have a personal favorite or author you enjoyed best?
John Steinbeck, Huston Smith, Confucius, but it's so awful to pick out the best of anything. I'm interested in reading or hearing something if I sense humanity there. For example, Vin Scully, he has that, he has humanity in his voice, thank God, and I could listen to him all day.
How did you plan the process of writing your memoir?
I started the book three different times. The first two times, I'd get into about four chapters, and it would begin to sound suspiciously to me of almost any memoir I read. I hated it. So I said the hell with it. I threw it away and started over one more time. The book that I wrote is here because I wanted to talk about any damn thing I wanted to talk about.
You devote several pages to O.J. Simpson (whom he worked with on Naked Gun). Why was it important for you to include him?
It was important to me because the situation with O.J. is that he is one of the great tragedies I've seen during my life on earth. With his skill, he was heroic from the beginning, and at the time, he was one of the world's great treasures. He had it all. After a time he was affected by all the adulation. O.J. was not the kind of guy you could get close to, but on the set, there were times when I could see O.J. breaking down a bit. We would talk, and I would remind him that he was an American hero that transcended race. Americans set him up as a god, and in the end O.J. himself is a tragedy.
Do you want to write more?
I'll always enjoy writing. I enjoy the maze that writing involves. I think it is a privilege to write. I enjoy stories and narratives and how someone can write and write, and then every once in a while, like Steinbeck, they write something that is like a rhapsody and really worth the price of admission.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.