Brett Butler was the star of one of the most successful comedies of the mid-1990s, Grace Under Fire, but since the show ended in 1998, the actor says it’s been struggle after struggle for her. In a new revealing interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Butler says she left Hollywood for a quieter life in Georgia, but returned to L.A. when money ran out. Now, at 63, she’s at risk of being evicted. Read on to find out how Butler wound up in such a difficult position and what happened to her fortune.
In June, Butler’s friend Lon Strickler posted a GoFundMe titled, “Please Help My Friend Brett Butler.” Strickler wrote in the description of the fundraiser that he took the initiative to start the GoFundMe because Butler “is a very private person and I know she won’t ask for help.” But, he said, she desperately needs it. “This past year has put her in a critical situation and desperation has set in,” he wrote. “I’m not exaggerating using those words. It is urgent. Brett has exhausted all of her resources and the stress of looming eviction is straining her mentally and physically.”
Butler told The Hollywood Reporter in an in-depth article published on Aug. 19 that Strickler “talked [her] into” using the crowdfunding site in her time of need. “‘I am so screwed right now,'” Butler recalled telling Strickler. “‘I’ve been ashamed. Almost ashamed to death.'”
As TV and movie sets shut down, “the specter of homelessness was looking to be more and more inevitable,” THR writer Seth Abramovitch explained. Since the article was published, Strickler’s raised more than $34,000 for Butler as of Aug. 21 from 355 donations, well past the fundraiser’s $20,000 goal.
According to the THR article, Butler grew up with a father who was abusive and misused alcohol. She overcame alcohol use disorder herself and an abusive marriage by the time she was discovered doing stand-up in New York in the mid-1980s. In 1987, she got the coveted seal of approval from Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, which led to more TV appearances and eventually, her own sitcom, Grace Under Fire.
On the ABC comedy, Butler played a fictionalized version of herself, a woman in recovery who’d gotten divorced and was raising her kids alone. (That part was for TV; Butler doesn’t have children in real life.) During her time on the show, Butler was prescribed Vicodin for sciatica and eventually misused the painkillers as well as cocaine, she told Dr. Drew Pinsky in 2012.
Abramovitch says Butler admits she was “really difficult” on set as a result, causing chaos behind the scenes. She went to rehab between the show’s fourth and fifth seasons, and when more substance use led Butler to miss multiple tapings, ABC decided to cancel Grace Under Fire before it even finished filming its fifth season. “I was out of my mind. Drugs will do that to you,” she told THR. “The show should have been pulled sooner than it was.”
Butler said she can only remember 80 of the 112 episodes of Grace Under Fire she filmed and she “can’t bring herself to watch any of them,” according to Abramovitch.
Butler had made $250,000 per episode on Grace Under Fire, leading to a $25 million fortune. When the show ended in 1998, Butler told THR she got sober and has “not touched drugs or alcohol since,” Abramovitch wrote. (She told Rosie O’Donnell the same in an interview in 2011.)
Post-Grace Under Fire, Butler found a farm online in Georgia and she decided to quit the bright lights of Hollywood for a quiet life in the South, where she grew up. Unfortunately, she couldn’t keep up with her mortgage payments and the property was foreclosed on.
Butler told THR she struggled to take care of the money she amassed from her hit series. “I was a little bit too trusting with some people that worked for me, and I had a lot of things stolen,” she said. Butler also decided to “loan and give a lot of money away. I really just felt so guilty for having it—I almost couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.”
Without a place to call home or much money to her name, Butler decided to try her luck in Hollywood again, but she couldn’t find work, save for a role on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. Then, another celebrity who’s dealt with addiction came to her rescue: Charlie Sheen.
Grace Under Fire was created by Chuck Lorre, who was also the creative force behind the Sheen vehicles Two and a Half Men and Anger Management. Butler told THR that she and Sheen became acquaintances during her Grace Under Fire days, but Lorre and Butler butted heads on Grace Under Fire, leading him to leave the series after just one season.
In 2012, with her situation dire, Sheen lobbied to get her a gig on Anger Management, which led to a two-year stint on the series. “I was still punishing myself for everything that I’d done. I was excelling in self-loathing and when he asked me … I went, ‘I belong,'” Butler told Pinksy in 2012.
“If it wasn’t for Charlie, there’s no way I would have been on that show,” she told THR. “It literally saved me.”
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Butler has since appeared on some popular series of the past decade, like ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, HBO’s The Leftovers, AMC’s The Walking Dead, and most recently, Apple TV+’s The Morning Show (pictured here). She told THR that she earns about $5,000 for a day’s work; even nearly 40 episodes of Anger Management only covered her rent and care for her beloved mare back in Georgia, she said.
On top of the financial pressures, in 2019, a bout of depression hit Butler hard. She found herself dealing with suicidal ideations and agoraphobia, which coincided with COVID and its accompanying lockdowns. Now that she’s coming out of that, and with the financial help of her fans via the GoFundMe, Butler is planning a comeback: returning to stand-up.
“The blanket of the pandemic was something I hid behind,” Butler told THR. “I let it cover my own insecurities or failings. But it’s time to come out of it.”