Gonged but not forgotten

Times Staff Writer

It's amazing what a major movie deal can do for a has-been. Now that "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," the 20-year-old memoir of former "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris, has been transformed into a film featuring Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore, everyone wants a piece of him. At the reading for his recently re-released book on Tuesday at Book Soup, there was barely enough room to breathe, let alone stand. At least for a night, the book and Barris' real story seemed more compelling to the local crowd than the Hollywood version.

Soft-spoken and conservatively dressed in a black sweater, the 73-year-old Barris has significantly toned down his act since the '70s, when he hosted the amateur television talent show in wide lapels and a bow tie. These days he seems almost grandfatherly, though his charisma and quick wit were still very much in evidence during a 10-minute monologue that chronicled his life's ups and downs -- the success of "The Gong Show" and its subsequent cancellation, his new wife and his battle with lung cancer. A 20-minute question-and-answer session followed.

When questioned about his singing career, he said he'd recently sung at Carnegie Hall. When asked why "The Gong Show" was successful, he attributed it to the lack of celebrities. As for what kind of training he received as a CIA hit man, he wobbled, saying, "All I'll tell you is this: It's plausible. I'll leave the rest to you."

Miramax, the studio which released the movie, is the current publisher. St. Martin Press was the publisher when the book was first released in 1984.

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