Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
“I’ve been in over 100 movies and three TV series,” he replied, “and I think anybody who’s heard of me probably knows what I look like. I don’t want this to be about Eric. I want this to be about Eric’s love for animals.”
There was no mention of his Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his performance in Runaway Train in 1986. Or for his earlier Golden Globe nominations for his roles inKing of the Gypsies and Star 80. Nor did we talk very much about his starring role in the ABC sitcom Less Than Perfect, other than to discuss how he believes most of his cast mates are animal lovers… like himself. Eric was more interested in talking about squirrels… and bears.
Let me digress for a moment. I first met Eric and his wife Eliza when Eric was co-hosting last year’s Genesis Awards. (The two of them are so close, Eliza was very much a part of this interview.) As she was last year, when they told me to be sure to ask them about the bear. Being the organized person that I am, however, I didn’t even get to display my great memory of that first meeting because the bear story was the first thing Eric wanted to discuss.
They were traveling through Russia when they discovered a lookout tower that had been built by Stalin, which Eric wanted to climb. But on the way to the tower they spotted a cage, about 3ft x 5ft, with a bear in it on display that weighed about 300 pounds and had no room in the cage to do anything but breathe. “This was at a little tourist place where you could go and buy postcards and see a view,” Eric explains. “The bear was just there as an attraction. They fed him M&M’s and beer, and kept him kind of half intoxicated all day. My wife and I saw this and we both had a private fit. We talked about buying the bear from the guy. We almost struck a deal but it didn’t quite work. So when we got back home, my very savvy wife got on the internet and started contacting anybody who is anybody who knows anything about bears. Through much hell-raising we got the bear moved to a bear habitat at the Moscow Zoo.”
That was a year ago, and the bear’s name is now, of course, Eric. When I asked if they keep in touch, Eric quickly replied, “the bear is terrible about writing back. Eliza keeps in touch with the woman who arranged the transfer and sent them a before and after video. The bear was only 2 years old so that was going to be a long time to be stuck in that box.”
“He had never been with other bears,” Eliza continued, “so they tested him to see how sociable he would be… and he immediately got a girlfriend. The story has become kind of popular over there. They also made a ruling that the guy couldn’t have any animals there anymore.”
“The habitat where they put the bear is actually pretty exceptional, and they even had the bear see a psychiatrist for post-traumatic shock. He was addicted to candy and wouldn’t eat real food at first. But apparently he’s thriving now.”
“They laughed out loud at us when we first said we wanted to do something about the bear,” adds Eric. “It was like, ‘yeah, right, the Americans are going to save the bear.’ We’re so proud of ourselves. We loved being in Russia and would love to go back again, especially to visit my namesake.”
Russia is a far cry from Atlanta, where Eric grew up with his two younger sisters in a home that always seemed to have Siamese cats. “And horses. My grandfather always had horses. I did have a dog for a few years when I was little, but then just really had cats until I was about 21. And then I bought my own horse, which I had until it died.”
“Years later I made a movie with Wayne Newton, who has Arabians. He invited us to his ranch after the film was over, and when he realized how much I love horses, he told me to pick one. I told him I couldn’t afford his horses, but he said he wanted to give me one. So I picked out a mare I thought was really sweet, and he said, ‘she’s yours. I’ll send her to you in a month.’”
“When I returned from our ranch visit I heard on CNN that Wayne Newton owed 8 million dollars in back taxes. I figured I’d never see that horse. But about a month later his ranch foreman called to tell me they had the horse ready for me and wanted to know where to send her. The reason why it took a month was because he bred her. So she arrived pregnant and now my wife has a horse. The mom is named Silk and the boy is named Sagan, after Carl Sagan.”
It’s no secret that Eric Roberts has had a few ups and downs in his life, including a very serious automobile accident that left him unable to walk and to do all kinds of things. “I had to re-educate my body. But I had a white cat named Mercedes, who lived to be 16, who I got on the way home from the hospital after my automobile accident,” Eric explained. “This cat and I really bonded to the point where every morning she would bring me a dead mole as a gift, in bed. I got Mercedes from the pound. She was there, they said, because she couldn’t be housebroken. I got her home, gave her a box which she used, and I never had a problem. She was half Siamese and half something else with one blue eye and one yellow eye and was pure white. We had a great relationship. I lived alone in a great big house with a cat. By the time I left that house I had five white cats. Every time there was ever a white cat that I saw that was homeless, I would take it. But before they came into the picture it was just me and Mercedes. She died of renal failure because of the food she was eating. But she had a great life!”
These days Eric and Eliza live with a house full of rescued animals - three dogs, four cats, and two horses. “All of our babies are rescues. Every one of them,” says Eric. “We consider all our animals to be our kids.”
Muddy, who goes everywhere with Eric, is a perfect example of one of their kids. “He was a junkyard puppy born in the back seat of a car with his brothers and sisters. We ended up taking him because he was so cute and really needed a home. But as he got older and started to get aggressive, we found out he was half Pit Bull. So we sent him away to camp where he got some manners, and he’s been the most perfect dog in the world.”
“We also have between eight to fifteen squirrels that eat out of our hand every day. I often tell my wife that these squirrels were all normal until they met us. And now they’re all obese. They’re really fat. They move slower and they come right up to our shoe like, ‘hi. I’m hungry.’ It’s just so nice. I hold out a nut and they take it and sit there and eat it in front of us. It’s trust. They know the sound of our cars, just like how your dog will greet you when you get home.”
“We do this nut thing in every country and state we travel to,” adds Eliza. “So if we’re on location, (you can’t bring agricultural products with you) we always ask the production to have a couple of bottles of water, not fancy water, just bottles of water to start us off in our apartment or hotel… and a bag of walnuts. They always leave a nutcracker thinking it’s for us. We don’t even eat them.”
“Every place has different colors and different types of chipmunks and squirrels. I think I convinced one guy whose apartment we sublet in Toronto to keep feeding the squirrels. There was one squirrel who had a leg missing. It breaks my heart to think of them missing their food. I even offered to ship him nuts. We had a long talk and he promised and swore that he would keep feeding them for the rest of his life.”
“My wife and I have so much fun when we travel and find anything… like stray cats and squirrels. We’re like two kids,” says Eric. “My wife is the most loving, kind, and considerate person I’ve ever met with animals.”
When I asked about their experience at last year’s Genesis Awards, Eric said, “it’s a great event to enlighten people about what’s going on out there. I would be there every year for the rest of my life if they asked me to, because I think it’s so valuable.” (Unfortunately, Eric won’t be at this year’s show because he’ll be performing in a play on the East Coast.)
“The thing that’s great about the Genesis Awards,” adds Eliza, “is that they make you think it’s a star-studded show… and in case you’re someone who doesn’t know what it’s all about, it’s really great. Suddenly you’re thrown into it and there you are. I think it can actually change people’s minds.”
Eric and Eliza also promote “Fur Is Not Fabric” whenever they can, and Eliza always wears her FF silver necklace so they can talk about it on press lines. Eric explained, “the whole week after Janet Jackson showed her breast on TV, every interview was, ‘so, did you see the half-time show?’ And I would always say, ‘yeah, you know what bothered me? Puff Daddy wearing a fox collar. What was he doing? He knows better! Who cares about a breast? He’s wearing dead animals, for Christ’s sake!’”
Eric Roberts is a far cry from that “romantic bad-ass who’s really cool that everybody thinks I am because of the movies. I’m a real bore. I go to bed early. I ride my horses three to four times a week. I sleep with my cats. I like to feed my squirrels. And I’m as attached to my wife as anybody can be to another human being.”
He’s also the guy who didn’t want this article to be about Eric. But about Eric’s love for animals. “Rescuing animals is the only way to go. The earth is a great big orphanage for most animals. And I’m all for spaying and neutering. There are already 2 billion people too many on this planet, and god knows how many animals there are that are overflowing. It’s an instinct to breed so we have to help them not do it. There are animals that are bred to be sold, but all the other animals need love too. They don’t have any papers and they don’t have any history, so people who don’t love animals for all the right reasons don’t gravitate towards them. But if you love animals for all the right reasons- and that’s just love and affection- then you’re going to go after animals who need you. That’s an animal without a home, or without papers, or without a breed.”
Those animals, some might say, that are less than perfect.
(Eric Roberts will soon be seen in Break a Leg, a film comedy he’s very exited about that’s due out later this year. In the meantime, you can see him Tuesday nights at 9:30pm on ABC’s Less Than Perfect.)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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