The woman in the photo above, depicted in a scene from the second season of HBO’s The Leftovers, may not be immediately recognizable to most readers. For five years in the 1990s, however, she was the star of a popular ABC sitcom that was watched by close to 20 million viewers a week in its first two seasons. In 1998, in the midst of its fifth season, ABC cancelled the sitcom after the star’s substance abuse led to erratic onset behavior, the departure of several cast members, and falling ratings.
Her name is Brett Butler, and her sitcom was Grace Under Fire.
Butler, who was nominated for two Golden Globe awards for her work on Grace Under Fire, developed an addiction to painkillers during her stint on the show. Under the influence of those painkillers, Butler was reportedly a menace to the rest of the cast. Her erratic behavior included flashing her bosom at a 12-year-old cast member, who quit the show abruptly. Between the fourth and fifth season of Grace Under Fire, Butler entered rehab. It didn’t work. Another cast member, Julie White, left the show before the fifth season because of conflicts with the star. Midway through production of season five, Butler entered rehab again. ABC stopped production on the series and cancelled it.
After rehab, Butler was unable to maintain her sobriety. She continued to abuse drugs heavily, as she told Entertainment Tonight in 2011:
“I did everything but crack and needles, pretty much,” she added. “I had a variety of things given to me by my doctor, and other things. I’m not doing it to be coy, but I’m not going to go through what I did. I did it ’til the wheels came off.”
Butler eventually left Los Angeles and moved to a farm in Georgia. When she ran out of money, she found herself living in a homeless shelter.
In recent years, however, Butler has managed to maintain her sobriety, and she’s been able to work again. In 2012, she had a short stint on the soap opera Young and the Restless; two years later, she appeared frequently on Charlie Sheen’s FX show, Anger Management; and she appeared in an episode of The Leftovers last year. She’s added several more projects in the last year, including a starring role in a movie, a bit part in a Robert De Niro film due out next year, and a more substantive role in Friday’s Child, an Imogen Poots film.
TVline is reporting, however, that she’s potentially landed her most high profile role yet since returning to acting. In the third season of How to Get Away with Murder, Butler will be returning to ABC for a “mystery role.” Details about the part are being kept under wraps, but in any event, it’s another successful step in Butler’s attempt to reclaim her career.
“I hope I forgive, I hope I’m forgiven,” she told ET in 2011. It appears as though the industry is well on its way to forgiveness.