Mike Farrell realizes how lucky he is to be able to use his celebrity status to speak about social causes he cares about.
“I sympathize with a great many people today who have so much on their plate, so many issues being thrust at them, by the electronic media particularly,” Farrell said, calling from his California office Thursday.
“Economically, these are difficult times,” the 69-year-old actor and activist said. “People are worrying about having a roof over their heads and paying for their children’s schooling.
“They don’t have the time to take to analyze a situation, so they sort of respond to it emotionally, off the top of their head, based on the way that things have always been,” said Farrell, best known from the TV shows “M*A*S*H” and “Providence.”
“It seems to me that times like these requires leadership, whether it’s from politics or religion or the community. Leaders who are looked up to in society,” Farrell said. “So then people can begin to discuss things rationally, on a more informed basis.”
Farrell speaks across the country about issues that are important to him. He will visit Tucson on Friday as the keynote speaker for the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty’s banquet, “Writing Down Death.”
Farrell details decades spent pursuing social causes as well as acting in his memoir, “Just Call Me Mike,” which was published last year.
Growing up in the Catholic faith, Farrell opposed capital punishment based on the church’s teachings. As a young man, Farrell learned more about the American criminal justice commission as he participated in groups that went into prisons.
“It helped me broaden my understanding and also confirmed my notions of capital punishment,” Farrell said.
Farrell has been speaking out against the death penalty since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it was far from chic to publicly oppose such a cause. He agrees that the tide has turned, with many states overturning capital murder statutes.
“I think it will be eliminated legally at some point,” Farrell said.
The growing number of innocent people who were sentenced to death and later exonerated – 126 since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center – has helped change many people’s stance on the death penalty, he noted.
Most states, including Arizona, have temporarily halted executions while the U.S. Supreme Court decides a pivotal case on whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.
Farrell said his efforts to reach people on topics close to his heart can overwhelm him, but he’s inspired by many of the people he’s met, from exonerated former death-row inmates to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
“It makes me feel like a child in terms of understanding human nature,” Farrell said. “It makes me deeply aware of the kind of debt I owe to anybody I’ve touched in that world who do what they do to see this doesn’t happen again.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Writing Down Death,” a book event and banquet presented by the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty featuring actor/activist Mike Farrell as keynote speaker and local authors Leslie Marmon Silko, Nancy Mairs, Rudy Gerber, John Johnson and Katherine Norgard
When: From 6-8 p.m. Friday, reception at 5:30 p.m.
Where: First Christian Church, 740 E. Speedway Blvd.
How much: $50 per person, $360 for table of eight by reservation; $30 per ticket is tax-deductible
Information: Call 602-400-4025 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
ON THE WEB
Mike Farrell’s Web site:
HIGHLIGHTS OF MIKE FARRELL’S ACTING CAREER
• “The Graduate” (bit part)
• “Days of Our Lives”
• “The Interns” (with Broderick Crawford)
• “The Man and the City” (with Anthony Quinn)
• “M*A*S*H” (as BJ Hunnicutt)
• “Sex and the Single Parent” (with Terri Garr)
• “Prime Suspect”
• “Memorial Day” (co-starring his wife, Shelley Fabares)
• “Choices of the Heart”
• “Private Sessions” (with Maureen Stapleton and Kelly McGillis)
• “A Deadly Silence”
• “The Price of the Bride”
• “Silent Movie” (with Ed Asner and Patricia Wettig)
• “Sins of the Mind” (with Jill Clayburgh)
• “On a Collision Course With Earth” (documentary)
• “Providence” (TV series as veterinarian Jim Hansen)
• “The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron” (as Kenneth Lay)