When it comes to show biz, Drew Carey doesn't look like your typical winner. He's a schlumpy guy from Cleveland with thick-rimmed glasses and a dorky crew cut. But with two popular TV shows under his belt, Carey's not only a winner, but a reminder to average Joes everywhere that it's possible to hit it big just by being yourself.
Last summer, Carey got the news that he'd landed the gig of a lifetime. After 35 years and over 6,500 episodes, Bob Barker announced that he'd be retiring from his plum position as host of TV's longest-running game show, "The Price is Right." Desperate to replace a TV icon, "Price is Right" producers batted around a number of celebrity names, including Rosie O'Donnell and Mario Lopez, before finally tapping Carey to "come on down!" and host.
"You couldn't find a single comedian working in Hollywood who didn't dream of doing 'The Price is Right,'" People magazine editor Jess Cagle said. The show's producers cited Carey's "empathy skills" as a reason why they picked him for the coveted position, and it's clear from talking to Carey that they made a good choice.
"I have nothing but love for everybody that comes up on the stage," Carey explained. "And it makes me sad for them when they lose, happier for them when they win."
Carey may have learned that empathy from his tough childhood. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Cleveland, Carey was a nerdy kid in high school -- a self-described "loser" who played in the marching band. Plagued with feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness, Carey never felt that he deserved happiness as a teenager.
By the time he got to college, Carey had been battling depression for years. As an 18-year-old freshman, he attempted suicide.
"Back then I was so full of a lot of self-hate," Carey remembered. "Man, I just didn't like myself."
He recalled going to fraternity parties and getting angry at all the people around him that were able to enjoy themselves and have fun.
"I wasn't as good as they were," Carey remembered thinking. "I wasn't as worthy as they are. And all that stuff makes you just hate yourself and judge yourself. And it's all negative, negative, negative."
Carey dropped out of college after his suicide attempt. After working a few dead-end jobs, he decided to take on a job he couldn't quit: Carey joined the Marine Corps Reserves. He credits his experience in the Marines with a personal transformation; the Marines gave Carey the confidence to feel he could accomplish anything.
"If there was a fight, I would win it. If there was a problem, I could solve it," Carey said. "I could do it because I was a Marine, and Marines can do anything."
Despite feeling like one of "the baddest asses on the planet," after his experience in the Marines, Carey still suffered from depression throughout most of his younger years. But in 1985, when Carey was having trouble making ends meet, a disc jockey friend of his offered to pay Carey to come up with jokes for his radio show. Enticed by the $10-a-joke paycheck, Carey took out a joke-writing book from his local library and his career in comedy began.
The Turning Point
It wasn't long before Carey became a regular in the Cleveland stand-up comedy circuit, and soon after that came his career "turning point": a shot on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. After his performance, Carson gave Carey a rare seal of approval when he invited Carey over to his couch in the studio and called him "funny as hell."
Pretty soon, the dorky guy from Cleveland had a hit TV show, with many more to come. But although he's now an iconic comedian and an established TV star, Carey still doesn't like to think of himself as a "winner." Carey has overcome his depression with inspiration from self-help authors, and he believes that calling yourself a winner when things are going well implies that you're a loser when things aren't going so well.
"It's all about love and kindness," Carey said. "Not about comparing yourself to anyone else."
Things are going well for Carey these days. He recently announced that he's engaged for the first time, and he's hosting not one, but two game shows: "The Price is Right" and "Power of 10."
Carey said his newest gig as game show host "fits me like an old shoe," maybe because his hosting duties require something that comes natural to him: just being himself.
As People magazine editor Jess Cagle observed, "Most entertainers try to be something that they're not in order to appeal to the masses."
Not so with Carey.
"Drew Carey shows us that you can be yourself," Cagle said. "You recognize what's great about yourself, and you can become a winner, too."