Austin Butler is one of Hollywood’s biggest new breakout stars. The former Disney Channel star had a major breakthrough playing Elvis Presley in the hit film Elvis, winning many awards and receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
But the 31-year-old star recently opened up about a very painful experience that almost caused him to quit acting altogether: the loss of his mother, Lori, who died of cancer when he was just 23.
Earlier this year Butler participated in the Hollywood Reporter’s annual Actor Roundtable talk, alongside fellow Oscar nominees like Brendan Fraser, Colin Farrell and Ke Huy Quan.
During the discussion, Butler said that despite being a “shy kid” he was drawn to acting at a young age, and said his mother was instrumental in his early career.
“I owe her for everything because she quit her job and drove me to auditions and took me to acting classes,” he said.
“Never experienced pain like that”
Butler fell in love with the craft of acting and found work in Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows, and starred on The Carrie Diaries. But in 2014, just as his career was taking off, he suffered a devastating loss: his mother died from cancer.
“I’d never experienced pain like that before,” Butler revealed. He also said the experience made him question his acting career.
“Suddenly I was around doctors and people that were hurting a lot in hospitals, and I thought, ‘Is acting a noble profession? Should I be doing this or should I give myself in some way that can help people who are dealing with cancer or something like that?’”
Butler said that soon after his mom passed away, he went to New Zealand to shoot a TV show, but the grief-stricken actor would “go home and cry every night.”
“I was dealing with grief, but it was also this feeling that I wasn’t aligned with something that felt truly fulfilling,” he said, saying that he was 24 or 25 at the time.
Return to acting and ‘Elvis’
After that experience, Butler took some time off from acting but fell further into depression. But despite his doubts about his acting career, it was acting that ultimately got him back on his feet: his agent encouraged him to audition for a Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh opposite Denzel Washington, and despite his doubts he landed the role.
“That’s the moment that changed my career,” Butler said.
It also led him to playing Elvis: director Baz Luhrmann told Entertainment Weekly that it was Denzel Washington who called him up to recommend Butler for the role, praising his work ethic.
Mom would be ‘very proud’
Years after his mother’s death, it’s clear that Butler has moved on from his deep grief and the doubts about his acting career, but he still holds his mom close to his heart.
He told the New York Times last year that he has a tattoo honoring her: a “27” on his left wrist, his mom’s favorite number.
“She was my best friend,” he told the Times. “She called 27 her God number. Whenever she saw it, she felt that God was looking out for her.”
As Elvis became a blockbuster hit and Butler achieved widespread acclaim for his performance, he said he thinks his mom would be “very proud.”
“She sacrificed so much,” he told Today host Willie Geist. “She quit her job to drive me to auditions and drive me to acting classes. She’d wait outside and drive all the way back down to Orange County… I think I’m sort of getting to live this life for both of us, in that way. She was my best friend and I think she’d be happy.”
“She was also just the most kind person,” he added. “She lit up every room and she was so vibrant. She was just nice to everyone. There’s so many things that — I just want to make her proud. I want her to live through me and the lessons that she taught me and the way that she was.”
It’s clear that Austin Butler loved his mom a lot and it must have been devastating to lose her at a young age, but we’re glad he decided to keep acting and has had such incredible success!
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