If you’re of a certain age, like mine, you probably remember an actor named Dean Jones, who starred in—pardon the pun—goofy Disney films such as “That Darn Cat” and “The Love Bug.” For a long time, Jones lived the truth of the Lord’s question—gaining the whole world, at least the world of Hollywood—and losing his soul.
But Jones, who died earlier this month at age 84, eventually gained his soul again. It’s a story worthy of a Hollywood script.
Dean Carroll Jones was born on January 25, 1931, in Decatur, Alabama. He grew up in a Christian home but rejected his family’s faith. After working as a DJ and singer and serving in the Navy during the Korean War, Jones was drawn to Tinseltown. As Jones told Christianity Today in a 2009 interview, “My first scene in a movie was with James Cagney, for goodness sakes. There I was, just out of the U.S. Navy without an acting lesson to my name. In walks Cagney and says ‘Walk to your mark and remember your lines.’ That’s all I’ve been doing for fifty years.”
Later, when Walt Disney came calling, country-boy Jones hit the big time. “It was a fast track life,” Jones said in another interview. “I was making $50,000 a week. I had the Ferrari and beautiful women and all the rest of what I thought would satisfy my life. And it was empty. Really empty.”
As CT reported, “For years [Jones] had deceived himself into believing that the Hollywood lifestyle would satisfy him, but it had only left him depressed and suicidal. He addictively sought the comforting roar of audience approval, but such pursuits had only shattered his first marriage (which ended in divorce) and alienated him from his children. He began to see life as a pointless exercise in futility, to be managed by … alcohol and a parade of affairs.”
Jones wrote in his autobiography, “Under Running Laughter,” that he heard a voice in his spirit say that his lifestyle “will never satisfy you.” And Jones started to wonder, “Could I continue to deceive myself into believing that whatever vacuum existed within me would be filled in the future by more and bigger portions of what I’d consumed in the past?” God was at work.
But it was a nearly fatal drunken-driving incident that really got his attention. CT reports that Jones cried out to God: “I’ve done everything in this world I thought would make me happy and it doesn’t work. I have everything and I have nothing. I have no choice but to believe. [God, i]f you don’t exist, then I’m a dead man.” Supernatural peace flooded his soul, and Jones began to reform his life.
One thing he did not do, however, was give up acting, which he saw as a key means of drawing people closer to the divine.
Jones said, “Film and television have been partially responsible for the disconnect between our nation and our God. So dynamic but righteous entertainment can help reverse this trend.”
Jones’s life and career show us that losing the world doesn’t mean we have to lose all contact with it! Acting can be a holy calling.
Now, I need to tell you that Dean Jones has a special place in our hearts here at BreakPoint. Just a few years after accepting Christ, Jones accepted an offer to play Chuck Colson in the film version of Chuck’s bestseller, “Born Again.” Some folks were surprised that Jones agreed to play a former Watergate conspirator. But as Jones told the Washington Post, “If God can forgive me and Chuck, he can forgive anyone.”
I can almost hear Chuck saying, “Amen to that!”
Dean Jones, rest in peace.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.