TV: Celebrity Hits: Did the Quaids Go Crazy Or Just Watch 30 Rock?

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

Watching TV shows months or years after they air can mean missing out on the culture’s zeitgeist, but it can also provide a chance to see otherwise overlooked pop culture connections. Like, for example, the one I just noticed between the wild events in the life of Randy and Evi Quaid and the TV show 30 Rock.

In case you haven’t been following the story, Randy Quaid was once a respected actor. He has been nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy, and he won a Golden Globe (although I’m still not quite convinced that means anything these days.) He’s most famous for playing Cousin Eddy in some National Lampoon movies, though those under 30 may know him better as that crazy drunk pilot in Independence Day.

For reasons no one claims to understand, Quaid and his wife Evi have literally gone crazy. After living the high life and subsequently falling on hard times, Quaid walked away from a starring role in a Broadway play — a role Vanity Fair said would have been a comeback and a “coup” for the actor — two weeks before it was to begin in 2008, was banned for life from the stage actors’ union, and was arrested several times. He and his wife are currently charged with all sorts of things, from burglary to fraud to squatting.

Stars implode all the time, but what makes the Quaids’ story so interesting is that earlier this year the couple fled to Canada and began saying a group called the “Hollywood Star Whackers” was after them. Supposedly the group is trying to kill them, but it’s also behind a vast conspiracy that has engineered most of the couple’s financial and legal troubles. The Quaids also say the Hollywood Star Whackers are responsible for the deaths of David Carradine, Heath Ledger and others.

The Quaids and the alleged conspiracy out to kill them have attracted a fair amount of media attention. And, for people on the lam, the duo has been remarkably easy to find. They’ve been profiled and talked about, and the January issue of Vanity Fair includes a lengthy piece for which writer Nancy Jo Sales hung out with the couple in Vancouver for a while. (The Vanity Fair piece mentions that the Quaids even pitched a reality show based on their recent escapades escaping the law and would-be assassins.)

Theories about the Quaids’ collapse range from drugs to mental illness, and the Vanity Fair piece seems to faintly endorse the popular theory that Evi is somehow at fault. But while any or all of those explanations may fit, there is a much simpler one: 30 Rock.

More specifically, during the show’s first season episode “Cleveland,” star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) finds out that Bill Cosby hates him and, subsequently, that an evil group of African-Americans called the “Black Crusaders” is trying to destroy him. As a result, he has to give up his life in New York to go on the run.

Though similar premises have been used before (and though things eventually work out for Tracy Jordan), the similarities between the 30 Rock episode and the Quaids’ story are worth a double take. Both plots hinge on the existence of a ridiculously named cabal of evildoers; both involve struggling stars hiding out in remote locations; and, in both cases, the people surrounding the targeted stars don’t really believe in the evil group.

Obviously there are also a lot of differences between the Quaids’ story and the 30 Rock episode. But a lot of the things that differ — the motivations of the evildoers, the place chosen for the hideout, etc. — wouldn’t have worked for the Quaids, even if they had wanted them too.

There are also other reasons to suspect a Quaid-30 Rock connection. For example, “Cleveland” originally aired on April 19, 2007. That was about a year after Randy filed a $10 million lawsuit against the producers of Brokeback Mountain — he said he was misled to believe that it was an indie film when it wasn’t, but perhaps he was already in financial trouble — and about a year before his more serious legal problems and arrests began in earnest.

In other words, if the Quaids were looking for a script to guide their escape from trouble, they could very well have been looking around the time the episode aired. (The 30 Rock season one DVDs came out in September 2007, which might even have been better timing and which means the Quaids could have seen “Cleveland” at any subsequent time.)

One of the most surprising things about this situation is that any potential connection between the Quaids and 30 Rock hasn’t really been talked about in the media. Aside from a few user comments on entertainment blogs and Internet magazines, my Google searches couldn’t even find anywhere that mentioned the Quaids’ name and 30 Rock on the same page. Perhaps some blogger out there has made this point before, but it appears no one in the mainstream media has spent any time on this connection, either seriously or in jest.

And in the end, I have no idea what is going on with the Quaids other than that their strange behavior bears an uncanny resemblance to an episode of a popular TV show. Did the couple watch 30 Rock and rip off the story? Is this particular plot so elemental that the similarities unfolded independently? Were the Quaids influenced by some earlier film/text/media, perhaps one that also influenced the 30 Rock writers? Or could the Quaids genuinely be crazy — or even telling the truth?

Perhaps only time, lawsuits, and police investigations will tell. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep my eye on Tina Fey and company for clues about where the Quaids might be headed next.

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