Alec Baldwin, once reckoned to be the movie idol for our generation, encountered some pitfalls on the road to superstardom, but has remained an important media and cultural figures despite his setbacks, certainly more so than the other members of his family. He may even be the most mentally healthy member of that talented, but troubled, clan.

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 28, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

How Did Alec Become the Sanest Baldwin?

All right, he can go off the deep end. His worst moment, of course, was leaving that creepy message calling his daughter a pig. Even after he recovered from that self-inflicted trauma , he resolved to retire from show business in order to devote himself to his 2008 book, A Promise to Ourselves, and to rectify the trampled on rights of divorced fathers. It seems sometimes the oldest Baldwin sibling has a strong self-destructive impulse.

Fortunately, he - or others - turned his head around and he continued his perpetual Emmy-winning character on the critically acclaimed and commercially successful NBC hit, 30 Rock. As Jack Donaghy, Baldwin manages to be not only one of the funniest people to ever appear on television, but a middle-aged (Baldwin is now 51) sex symbol to boot.

Still, we can wonder, could Alec have been an even bigger star? He went from premier Hollywood leading man to character actor in record time, dropping out of the Jack Ryan role after starring in the 1990 box office hit, The Hunt for Red October, to be replaced in subsequent Tom Clancy films by Harrison Ford.

Of course, he has had any number of notable film roles, but Baldwin rather quickly lost the aura he created in his early movies - Beetle Juice, Married to the Mob, and - my personal favorite - Miami Heat. At the time, it seemed logical that the job of recreating Marlon Brando's Stanley Kowalski role in A Streetcar Named Desire should go to to Baldwin.

But his "descent" - more like a leveling off from superstardom - is like nothing compared to the rest of his family. Remember when the Baldwins appeared in 1994 en masse with Alec's then-wife, Kim Basinger, on Saturday Night Live with their hilarious version of Family Feud? The assumption of every viewer was that this was the golden clan of Hollywood - kind of like the Kennedy's were to politics.

But things changed rapidly for the Baldwins from the mid-1990s on. Remember when brother Daniel was best known as a tough street cop in the sterling TV series, Homicide: Life on the Street, which he left in 1995? He also had important film roles, including one in Born on the Fourth of July. Now his identity is as the repeat drug offender-addiction patient who admits to 12 trips to rehab.

Remember when brother Stephen was an actor noted for his role in the 1995 flick, The Usual Suspects, rather than as a paunchy perpetual contestant on TV reality series? These included his damaging performance on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, where - in stunning contrast to winner Piers Morgan - he didn't seem to have a friend he could get to pony up money for a charitable fund raiser?

A vocal conservative who has clashed with liberal Alec publicly and who Sarah Palin only half-jokingly referred to as her favorite Baldwin brother, Stephen describes how he turned to God following his drug abuse and the events of 9/11 in his 2006 book, The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith (like Alec's book, not a runaway best seller).

And, finally, there is Billy Baldwin - himself married to a descendant of a troubled entertainment family, Chynna Phillips. Remember when he had promising roles in Flatliners and Backdraft, and was chosen as the male lead to Cindy Crawford in her heralded 1995 film debut, Fair Game? Billy's career has not flourished since that movie bombed. Wife Chynna has also not been able to recreate her early musical stardom with Wilson-Phillips, whose 1990 debut album was the all-time best-selling female group recording. Chynna has since joined brother-in-law Stephen as a self-proclaimed recovering Christian.

The Baldwin's - rather than being known as the superstar clan they were at the time of their joint Saturday Night Live appearance - are now thought of as the entertainment world's most emotionally complicated, not to say dysfunctional, family (okay, perhaps second to the Phillipses). And in this mix, as the only family member who is still a star, let alone regularly working and not in recovery, Alec now deserves some kind of recognition for his buoyancy and strength.

How did he do it? Actually, Alec has written about the source of his emotional ballast - his demanding father - who died the month of Alec's 25th birthday. Alec seems to have been the closest child, as the oldest, to the Baldwin family's patriarch and mentor - a man Baldwin noted for being engaged in political and social issues and as a stern taskmaster. A formidable combination, of which Alec has perhaps been the main beneficiary, along with developing a few quirks of his own.