'Every morning I wake up, I have to forgive myself' - Dublin actor Darren Healy on fatal assault
Darren Healy's passion is stage acting because, he says, on stage "you don't get second chances" - which is poignant, because Healy's life is all about depending on second chances.
The Dublin actor, who plays madman 'The Goose' in Virgin Media's new drama Darklands, has a back story that shows how life can turn on a dime.
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On a night out in June 2005, Healy was in Eamonn Doran's pub in Temple Bar when he was involved in a violent incident that ultimately left a man, Philip Bryan, dead, and Healy facing a maximum of five years in prison after admitting assault causing harm.
In his first interview since having his original three-year jail sentence set aside and replaced with a two-year suspended sentence, the actor tells the Sunday Independent: "Every morning when I wake up, Philip comes into my head and I just take a few seconds out. And every morning I have to forgive myself, just to be able to get on with my day."
When asked about the night, Healy's thoughts first turn to Philip Bryan's family.
"I'm just worried about his parents reading this and... he had a child… just for his parents and his kid," he says, stressing the need to be sensitive.
On the night in question, Healy was with a group of friends when the pair came into contact. After some words were exchanged, Healy says: "I just hit him and he tripped over a chair and hit his head." By the time the police came, Healy had left the premises.
Apart from brief contact with a friend the next day, he says he spent the next 11 days, with his phone dead, in the company of a woman whom he had met later that night. By the time he switched it back on again the messages were flooding in. He presented himself at Pearse Street Garda Station and made a full statement.
Before turning himself in, he says he took a call from a close friend, telling him to concoct a false version of events. "He told me some bizarre story to tell gardai but I didn't want to do that. I pride myself on honesty, so I just went in and told them everything word for word, and they charged me."
Afterwards, he said he called the hospital where the victim was being cared for and was put through to a room. A woman's voice answered and told him:
"There is no Philip here." But Healy was unsure whether Bryan's relatives "did not want to hear from me". He told the voice: "'Look, if he is there, tell him I am Darren and I am really sorry and I'm praying for him.' And that was it. It went on until three-and-a-half years later and that's when he died."
After the incident in the pub, Bryan was taken to hospital for treatment but discharged himself and returned home. After being found unconscious, he was rushed back to hospital the following day and treated for a blood clot on his brain. He died in 2008. In 2007, Healy pleaded guilty to assault, but in 2009 he had his initial sentence set aside and replaced with a to a two-year suspended sentence on appeal.
But in between that, Healy says there was a long road to his own redemption. His drinking worsened, and within months of the assault, he was homeless on Baggot Street when a familiar face passed by. It was an old friend who, he says, "looked a million dollars".
"He said, 'Darren?' I said, 'yeah?' and he just looked at me and said, 'do you want help?' and I said, 'yeah'." At this point, Healy starts to cry. "He said, 'I can't help you', but then he just said the name of a treatment centre and walked off. And that's how I found it. I went in and I did it and I stayed sober for three years."
Before the incident, Healy's star was on the rise. He had appeared in several cult classics, including The General, Disco Pigs and Layer Cake when fate took a turn.
While waiting for the case to come to court, he continued to work but the sentence hung over his head.
He says he was filming on Brittas Bay, when he got a call to say Philip Bryan had passed away. "I just dropped the phone and relapsed," he said. "I rang a friend of mine and I said, 'Drop me down a lump of hash'. I hadn't used in years." On the day the handcuffs were put on his wrists, Healy recalls: "It knocked the life out of me when I heard three years. It was terrifying.
"The officer was putting the handcuffs on me and my solicitor stood up and said, 'Judge, we need this guy out to appeal this'." His legal team contested the sentence and Healy walked away with a suspended sentence, but a free man. Looking back, he says: "I didn't spend any time inside but I spent the next 10 years in hell."
After a long battle with drugs, "addiction for me has nothing to do with the drugs. It was the reason why I drank that I needed to address," he says. He is now staying sober, one day at a time.
Growing up, his life reflected the characters he played on screen, saying: "I was trying to be a tough guy all my life," but once he had to face his demons in treatment: "I sat there and bawled my eyes out."
He is at pains to say he has taken responsibility for his actions and would like to reach out to the victim's family one day. And although his experience is rare, he explains that there are many people facing things in their life that they carry with them like a black mark. If his time in recovery has taught him anything, "you have to forgive yourself".
"They need to ask themselves, 'Did you set out to hurt someone? Did you do it on purpose? Was it a plan? Were you vindictive? Did you mean it? And if circumstances have gotten you involved in something that you didn't really want to get into, but life and fear and childishness and misunderstandings have led you down a road that you don't want to be going down then - get out and forgive yourself for what's happened."
'Darklands' airs tomorrow at 9pm on Virgin Media One