By Lisa McGregor
Entertainment legend Garry McDonald, best known for his character Norman Gunston, is determined to educate the public about a mental health problem that once brought him unstuck.
The performer has suffered from anxiety since his 20s but never understood his condition until it triggered a major and very public breakdown in the 1990s.
Despite an increased awareness in the community about mental health and depression, “anxiety disorders are just never cottoned on to,” McDonald told Australian Story.
Garry McDonald made a name for himself in the early 1970s, first in the comedy sketch show Aunty Jack, then with his comic character Norman Gunston, a gormless talk show host from Wollongong who embarrassed and entertained Australians as he interviewed the world’s hottest celebrities.
Theatre director Peter Evans, who has worked with McDonald, says performing Norman is a risky business.
“The kind of livewire act that it is to do that sort of comedy, a lot of that’s improvised. It would have to be incredibly stressful to be working at that level in those situations,” he said.
The more successful Norman became, the more McDonald doubted himself.
"My mind would always be telling me I was going to make a fool of myself and people ... were looking at me and saying, 'Oh, God, that show he did last night was dreadful'."
Despite the nerves, the actor went on to star in the hit TV series Mother and Son but when he relaunched the Norman Gunston Show in 1993 he cracked under the pressure and the show was cancelled.