Up from wandering the French Quarter in New Orleans, up from maverick disc jockey pranks on an underground radio station, and way up from a long bout with the bottle comes John Larroquette, a funny man who has parlayed $10 acting lessons and his role on "Night Court" into an Emmy and blissful respect.
Larroquette traveled a roundabout trail to success before his role as the obnoxious assistant district attorney brought him the distinction this fall of best supporting actor in a comedy series.
Glimpses of Larroquette's life, as described by Larroquette himself, sound like a series of skits from "Night Court" -- even the not-so-funny parts.
It goes back to when he was a boy, growing up in the French Quarter of New Orleans amid conventioneers and vactioneers out on the town. "I thoght every kid grew up in that kind of environment. It wasn't until later that I realized the sight of a man walking around with a toilet seat around his neck was not an everyday sight in other cities."
Later, as a disc jockey for a small station in New Orleans, Larroquette occasionally served his fans large chunks of silence. "What hurt was that a lot of my audience didn't know I was missing. One time I was there alone at night, put on a record and ran across the street for some food. The door slammed behind me and I was locked out for the night.
"Another time I wanted badly to go to a Jimi Hendrix concert. I shut down the station, transmitter and everything. The scary thing is that my listeners were so zonked out, they probably kept on listening."
In addition to enjoying pranks, Larroquette also liked to drink. He drank a lot, especially from 1977 until 1982. "I used to carry a bottle of cognac with me into the bars. I'd order a drink and while waiting for the bartender to mix it, I'd slip into the men's room and take a belt out of the bottle. It was a quart and a half of cognac a day along with whatever else I was served.
"If I hadn't stopped, I wouldn't be around today. I would be playing handball with John Belushi right now. There's something worth mentioning here. There is a way out. You finally reach a point where you have a choice -- the next drink or life.
"When I stopped, I looked awful. My face looked like I was smuggling potatoes under my skin. My nose, which I split open after busting a plate glass window with my face during the filming of 'Stripes,' was so swollen I looked like I was ready to do 'The Karl Malden Story.' "
Larroquette tells of the time he had a discussion with his son about where God lived. The boy said, "I don't know where he lives, but I know he doesn't live in a prison called cognac." Neither does Larroquette, anymore. He, his English wife, Elizabeth, and their son, now 8, and daughter, 15, live in a new home in Malibu, although they were separated for seven months when the 6-foot-4 actor was in his self-destruct mode.
Now, he says, he enjoys life and working on "Night Court," which has brought him "security and freedom." He has a telescope and "totally enjoys looking at the heavens. I'm not an expert but I'm trying to learn as much as I can about astronomy. Every night when I go to bed I thank God for 'Night Court' and 'Bill Cosby,' " -- the shows that, along with "Cheers" and "Hill Street Blues," makes NBC's Thursday night package the No. 1 money-maker in the industry.
"My family is happy and to top if off, I recently found a signed limited edition of a Henry Miller book." Larroquette now finds himself free to work on future projects -- "I want to do Samuel Beckett plays" -- and is a serious student of great writers. Even when he was working as a disc jockey, he says, it was not unusual for him to mix some poetry readings and the likes of T.S. Eliotinto his patter.
Larroquette's acting career began with $10-a-week acting lessons "at the All- Night Bar and Grill on Sunset Boulevard. I stayed with it until it burned down 10 months later. It's now an Oriental massage parlor, I'm told." Even though he was drinking heavily at the time, "those nights proved to me I had a future. I was as good as anyone else there, so I decided to pursue the career."
That was more than 10 years ago when he landed a role as a nice, polite intern (Dr. Paul Herman) on "Doctors Hospital," starring George Peppard. The series lasted two seasons. He spent two more seasons as Lieut. Robert Anderson, an intellectual chess player on "Baa Baa Black Sheep." Then came some movies: "Summer Rentals," "Choose Me," "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," "Cat People," "Altered States" and "Stripes."
The next break was "Night Court," now in its fourth season. The show will run at least another season after this one since it has been sold in syndication, and Warner Brothers has assured the buyers of five years' worth of episodes.
Larroquette, who says he likes and respects the people he works with, also takes delight in the booing he gets from the audience when the cast is introduced before the live taping sessions. "I love it. It translates into dollar signs." He explains the role best with a quote attributed to the late Spencer Tracy: "Virtue is not very photogenic. A little bit of villainy goes a long way."
The character of Dan Fielding is a cross between John Cleese's Basil Fawlty ("Fawlty Towers") and Don Knotts' Barney Fife ("The Andy Griffith Show"), says Larroquette. He also labels the role as the "J.R. Ewing of sitcoms" as well as "la creme de la scum."
Call it what you want, the role has brought him an Emmy for best supporting actor in a comedy series. When he learned last summer that he had been nominated, Larroquette said, "I feel like the sperm that made it."
He was happy, but he still didn't like his chances against the competition. He noted that last year on "Night Court" Dan Fielding lost a political race to an opponent who had died. "I think the same will happen to me in real life. One of the other four nominees was the late Nicholas Colasanto, the bartender on 'Cheers,' " Larroquette said. "He deserves to win." The other three nominees were George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, both of "Cheers," and Michael J. Fox of "Family Ties."
But he did win, and now with the Emmy sitting on his mantel he adds, "Obviously, I was wrong. All five nominess deserved it. I'll be honest. I'm glad I got it."
In his acceptance speech he said he felt like "the little boy who didn't like who he was, so he always pretended to be someone else. He kept doing this until he found a place where they give you cash for doing this."
Since winning, Larroquette says his life is less private -- "a few more people want to talk to me now than a month ago" -- which translates in a new-found respect. He also has a new shorter haircut: "It's easier to manage. My hair is like a Brillo pad in heat."
This season Larroquette will make his debut as a director in one of the "Night Court" episodes. "I'm looking foward to it a great deal. For years I've screamed at directors, and now someone will be yelling 'What the hell are you talking about?' at me. Seriously, it's a fine opportunity and nice to know that Warner Brothers has faith in me."
As for the future, he isn't adamant that it be television, stage or movies. "The medium doesn't matter. I'd like to be doing quality acting in a quality role and making as many people as possible happy."