Patricia Heaton Articles >> 2004
January 2004
'It's Not About Me'

By Dan Ewald | Christian Reader Magazine

How Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton keeps the faith.

Sure, she likes the limelight. But these days, Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton is more concerned about keeping it real, helping needy children, and teaching her own kids about God.

Patricia Heaton may soon lose her job. For eight seasons, she has starred on CBS's hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, and it looks like the show is nearing its end. Not that we're crying for the double Emmy-winning actress, who has reportedly been pulling down over $6 million a year. But how often do you hear a Hollywood star say things like this?

"I struggle to keep it simple. Obedience, sacrifice, and modesty are not real popular buzzwords out here. An issue I'm dealing with lately is, 'Do I have too much money, and am I being a good steward of it?' In fact, I was talking to a friend about tithing!just giving your 10 percent as opposed to giving until it actually starts costing you something, which is what I think tithing is all about." 

An actress who is so candid about her life is rare. Her famous confession that she has had cosmetic surgery (primarily a tummy tuck after four C-sections) stirred up chatter a couple years back. Then she got into hot water with at least one fellow actress during an appearance on a late-night talk show when she half-jokingly insinuated that certain celebrities were getting plastic surgery and then lying about it. She later apologized for the remarks, but she refuses to get swept up in the image-obsessed culture of her profession. "Plastic surgery is like a big elephant sitting in the Hollywood living room," she told Ladies' Home Journal last year. "Everyone does it, and apparently no one is supposed to talk about it. I understand privacy, but when women come up to me who've also had four kids and cesareans and say, 'My body's shot, but you look so great,' I'm not going to lie to them." Indeed, part of her secret for keeping a balanced attitude about life is laughing at herself and being refreshingly upfront about the showbiz world in which she lives.

From rebellion to peace

Her honesty can probably be blamed on her Midwestern roots. Her dad was a traveling sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer while her mom quit a thriving career to raise the family. "It was all very traditional," she says of her Catholic upbringing. At least it seemed to be that until her mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when Patricia was only 12.

She's left with only sketchy memories. She remembers her mom taking her shopping each Easter for a new outfit. She remembers the day the UPS truck came to the house to deliver the little tea set that Mom had ordered for her off the back of a cereal box. She remembers the kindness of a woman who understood the fact that her daughter was a performance-oriented kid.

The loss of her mother hit hard. "I've always been an independent person, but that independence was in the setting of security," Patricia explains. "Suddenly my sense of security shattered. It started me on this cycle of grieving and falling into depression, feeling a void for my mother." Those emotions erupted in her 20s, when she went through rebellion against God and the values of her youth.

While living in New York, doing theater and odd jobs, she found herself partying late on Saturday night, then getting up for church on Sunday morning. "The religious acts were just that," she confesses, "an act out of a sense of duty to God." 

She eventually moved to Hollywood, where she landed bit parts in movies like Beethoven and TV shows such as thirtysomething. She had eight times as many rejections as job offers, but she earned enough to scrape by.

During this period, Patricia also reconnected with God. (Today, she belongs to an evangelical Presbyterian church near her home.) While on a church-sponsored weekend trip to Mexico, Patricia says she experienced an epiphany. Headed across the border in two vans, the group arrived at an orphanage outside of Tijuana. Within a short time, they were laying sod and fixing a sewage pipe. At night, they slept on cots. They played ball and held a church service with the orphaned, poverty-stricken children of Mexico.

Back at home in West Hollywood, Patricia says she felt something she hadn't felt in her past years of struggle!peace. The weekend trip had changed something inside her. "I felt totally released from the need to make it as an actress. I had experienced complete fulfillment in something that had nothing to do with me being in the spotlight," she recalls in her book, Motherhood & Hollywood: How to Get a Job Like Mine. "In fact, it was the exact opposite. It was about being involved in something that wasn't about me."

It's a lesson she reminisces about even now: "I have to keep reminding myself: If you give your life to God, he doesn't promise you happiness and that everything will go well. But he does promise you peace. You can have peace and joy, even in bad circumstances."

Taking a stand

Patricia Heaton is married to English actor and producer David Hunt and they have four sons!Sam, John, Joe, and Dan!ages 4 to 9. Most of the charity work that the 45-year-old actress is involved in focuses on children. "Having four boys of my own who are quite healthy is such a blessing and something I don't take for granted," she says. "Some of my own friends have children with autism and learning disabilities. It's hard enough to work and raise a family when your kids are all healthy and relatively normal, but when you add on some kind of disability or disease, it can just be such a burden. So I try to direct my energies and my finances toward those things that help relieve that burden for people or find cures or programs for kids with special needs."

She is brazen in her decision to be pro-life in an unabashedly pro-choice town. Patricia is the honorary chairperson of Feminists for Life, a non-religious group that attempts to bring feminism back to its original meaning, which, she says, was about making the world a place where women and children can feel safe and protected and become whom they are to the fullest extent. Since most of her peers connect pro-lifers to a brand of Christian extremism, Patricia appreciates Feminists for Life's method." In my community in Hollywood, FFL is a way to approach the question of feminism and pro-life thinking in a way that people can hear it and don't have a preconceived idea." 

With the fame that Everybody Loves Raymond has brought, people notice when Patricia Heaton says or does something unusual. Last year, the actress was at the American Music Awards, waiting to go onstage and introduce a retrospective segment. The show was hosted by the Osbourne family!still riding the initial wave of popularity from their MTV reality show!and true to form, nearly every other word out of the hosts' mouths was being bleeped. The foul broadcast started to "embarrass" Patricia and she was increasingly uncomfortable with her participation in the show. "It wasn't like I made a decision to take a stand. At the time when I was there, I just felt mortified and horrified and did not want to get up on stage and be associated with it."

So she left. She just got up and went home. 

"I have to tell you, I got a thousand e-mails and letters about it," she says. "So clearly people in America are very frustrated about what's coming through their television sets, and they feel like nobody in Hollywood cares. They feel alone and helpless about how to protect their kids from stuff." 

Patricia remembers that her mother used to cut offending pictures out of Time magazine and never allowed her children to watch grownup soap operas like Peyton Place. In the same vein, she and Dave don't allow their kids to watch much TV. "I don't even feel you can trust most commercials. Everything is out of control. You can't have them watch the news because they'll do stories about someone's sexual misbehavior. You can't have anything on." Besides, she says, the boys are busy with homework, their GameCube, piano lessons, and tae kwan do. "More than anything I want my children to have a personal, daily relationship with the Lord. We read Bible stories, and I try to introduce Jesus into the conversation as much as possible to make it a part of their thinking!a God-and-Christ consciousness."

Saying 'Goodbye'

Patricia draws a bit on her life experience for her starring role in cable network TNT's remake of Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl, which premieres in January. Patricia plays Paula, a woman who ends up sharing an apartment with her daughter and an actor named Elliot, who is played by Jeff Daniels. "I had many years of struggle in New York, trying to figure out what was right and being in bad relationships. It sort of appealed to me on that level because, to some extent, I experienced what she experienced without having had a child." The actress also jumped at the chance to work with Neil Simon!who did some rewriting of his initial script!and director Richard Benjamin.

Patricia had another epiphany of sorts while out of the country, this time in Vancouver where the TV movie was shot. One Sunday she attended a small Presbyterian church down the street from her hotel. Most of the congregants were elderly. The choir was made up of about six people who couldn't sing. They stopped the service to have a sermon aimed at the children, three of whom were misbehaving. Recalls Patricia, "I sat in that pew and my mind was going, 'This is ridiculous. These people! Why don't they do this or that? Do they think this is accomplishing anything?'"

Then she stopped herself. Her condemnatory attitude suddenly became obvious. "I thought to myself, 'It's amazing how much you can sin just sitting quietly in a pew in church.' My thoughts were so judgmental and unloving. I just thought, 'You know, we really are hopeless. I mean, there's nothing in us that's righteous at any given moment.' Even if you have some kind of pure motive on one hand, just give yourself five seconds, you know?" 

The actress chuckles, sounding a bit like her Raymond character Debra Barone. The laugh may be the same, but the spiritual awareness is vastly different from her TV alter ego. "I can only believe that salvation is a process!from our perspective," Patricia adds thoughtfully. "I mean, from God's view it's been done. It was finished on the cross. From our view, it's a process. You know, you have a great day one day and the next day you're really struggling. To me, the Christian life is a journey, and thank God that he is merciful to us. I mean, his mercy is the only thing we really have."