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Dick Cavett Talks About His Depression

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LINCOLN, Neb. — Funny man and former talk show host Dick Cavett came home to talk about depression, what he called "the worst agony devised for man."

The 71-year-old Cavett struggled with depression for years, even when he was one of the most well-known figures in television.

He spoke on Thursday at NET Television Studios to a group of mental health professionals participating in a statewide summit on depression. He was also back in Nebraska to participate in the first Great American Comedy Festival, which is being held this week in Norfolk.

The cerebral comedian, who grew up in Lincoln, sprinkled jokes into his talk about depression.

"Pharmaceuticals, electroconvulsive therapy _ and old Danny Kaye movies," Cavett said when asked how he treated his depression.

"I hate Danny Kaye movies," Cavett added. "Why'd I say that?"

Cavett's first pangs of depression came during his freshman year at Yale University when, during a mild, three-week bout, he considered coming home to Nebraska even though he was enjoying his Ivy League experiences. The condition worsened. Life became lifeless, the simplest daily actions excruciating. He had trouble getting out of bed and eventually was hospitalized under an assumed name.

"The horrendous chore it is to get out of bed _ 'Leave me alone,'" Cavett said. "Like a moaning, ill dog."

He considered ending it all as he was driving one day to New York's Long Island. "I remember thinking that if I pull into an oncoming car ... I'll feel better," he said. Then he told himself, "There's something wrong in this thought."

Doing his shows became a punishing exercise. At times, he was sure he was a disaster, saying the wrong things at the wrong time and looking like a crazy man who had no business being on stage.

After doing a show with actor Laurence Olivier that Cavett was convinced did not go well, he visited actor Marlon Brando. Cavett told Brando about the show and Brando asked, "Have you ever looked at the show?"

Cavett later did.

"I looked absolutely fine," Cavett recalled. He thought to himself, "'You're not coming off as horribly as you think you are.'"

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On the Net:

Depression Information: http://www.netnebraska.org/extras/depression/

Dick Cavett Blog: http://cavett.blogs.nytimes.com/