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Journal: 2010 Was a Terrible, Terrible Year…


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There’s that quote – the one attributed to Thomas Fuller that I always tend associate with Harvey Dent in THE DARK KNIGHT... “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” When it comes the metaphor, it was 2010 that was one of my darkest times. My wife and I were new parents, struggling to find our way and learn how to manage life with a child, just as all new parents do. The emotions of parenthood were intermixed with my own improperly managed depression and anxiety, and there were “events” throughout the year that were just not good. Blow-up after blow-up, I was cracking – allowing myself to be influenced by others, working with the wrong people… for the wrong company, and not knowing what I was really doing… or what I should be. 

I’d quit my work-from-home gig for one company, following certain folks from there into another mistaken and short-lived endeavor, and by August… Friday the 13th of August, to be specific, I found myself on Washington Blvd. in Chicago, sitting in my car, just a week past Addie’s first birthday, crying at the steering wheel, while baby Addie was strapped into her carrier in the backseat. After fighting Friday traffic into the city for a last-minute audition for a Gordman’s commercial, I’d just left O’Connor casting from what was the most miserable experience of my acting era – I was lost. That night, I let my agent go, and put that side of my life to aside for another time. 

Thing is, it was my pursuit of acting that led me into one of my greatest friendships… one that was far too short, and came to a tragic end on February 1st, 2010.

Justin Mentell and I met on the set of ROLL BOUNCE back in 2004, and in the years that followed we’d share many adventures, collaborate on some things, and above all, have each other’s backs. After moving to Hollywood for a few years to work on projects like BOSTON LEGAL and PALO ALTO, Justin moved back to Illinois after the premiere of the Disney Film, G-FORCE, in which he had a supporting role. He’d begun focusing on his painting and music, and his German Shepherd, Meisner (RIP) was a constant companion. Just over six months later, everything came to an abrupt stop.

James Zahn and Justin MentellPictured Left: Myself and Justin fooling around in Toys “R” Us circa 200

The crash took place six years ago today, my phone ringing with the worst phone call I’ve ever received – Justin’s mother calling with the news. February 1st is my annual reminder about just how bad a year 2010 was… not just for me, but for my family, my friends, and for so many others around us. I try to put it in the back of my mind – not to forget, but so that I won’t have a downer of a day every year. Maybe it’s because “anniversary” posts where the first thing I saw on Facebook this morning, but on this sixth year, it’s a little bit harder than the last couple.

If you knew Justin, then you’ve probably already seen this… but if not (or if you want to see it again), here’s the video that I cut for his public memorial… set to the music of ANGELS AND AIRWAVES – a band we’d seen together in concert at his Alma Mater, Northern Illinois University, a decade ago… back in 2006.

Justin seemed to have made an impact on most everyone that he met, and I’m always asked who some of the people are that are pictured with Justin in that video. Many of the photos came from family and friends and I do not have all of the names. Some of the others in the video are: William Shatner, Betty White, Henry Gibson (RIP), Jessica Alba, Olivia Munn, Will Estes, Vanessa Lengies, Adam Willard (Angels & Airwaves/Offspring drummer), Ryan Michelle Bathe, Julie Bowen, Candice Bergen, Anthony Heald, Michael J. Fox, Tom Selleck, Kurt Fuller, Christian Kane, Mark Kidwell, Robert Kurtzman, Ben Brezinski, Jay Stephen, Patrick Read Johnson, John Francis Daley, John Johnson, Jennifer Widerstrom, Travis Barker, Ben Savage, Aaron Ashmore, and Rip (Joshua Mallett).

Six years later, it’s incredible how much life has changed around here. While she won’t remember it, my little Addie did get to meet Justin on several occasions over her first few months of life, including the first time… when she was just six days old:

Justin Mentell and Addie

 One of Justin’s paintings has been hanging in Addie’s bedroom ever since.

If they say “The night is darkest just before the dawn,” 2010 was my “night”… and the “dawn” was in 2011… the year that I got my shit together… quit smoking, and started this very website.

Top Photo: One one of Justin’s original pieces of artwork, entitled “End the Fed.”

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