|Not only is CSI one of my favorite shows but now it's creator is one of my favorite Americans. I was in Holly wood on a job recently and I saw a copy of the "Daily News" on a friends coffee table. The edition was dated September 10, 2002 and this article was on the front page, above the fold.
The day I became an American
by Anthony Zuiker creator of CSI: Crime Scene Investigator
On September 10th 2001, a part of me died. At 32 years old, I found myself on top of the world. I had a beautiful wife, a newborn son, and a money in the bank. I had it all, yet I was miserable. I let Hollywood get the best of me.
Like any fast business, I got "caught up." Agents and executives were my new friends. Money and fame, my new sense of confidence. Wife and kid, second priority. At the time, it didn’t' matter. I was a Hollywood success. What I didn't realize was I was a complete and total failure.
After a head-pounding Monday, I slunk back in my hotel room. A place I call home five days a week. On the night of September 10th, I sat in bed flipping through the cable television.
"American Beauty" had just started. Indeed, I've seen it 10 times before. This time around would forever change my life. For some reason, I watched it with different eyes. When the credits rolled, I sat alone in my dark hotel room and broke down. Alan ball's script had put a mirror to my face.
"What have I become?" And I realize then and there, I lost myself. And for the first time in a long time, I cut myself down to the bone. I was no longer the good kid raised by a great mother. I was an ungrateful success with a hit television show. After five years in the business, Hollywood caught up with me. I found myself alone and ashamed. I hit bottom. Then, the next morning
I got a call.
It was my wife, Jennifer. "Babe, turn on the television set." I did. Tower One was on fire. While on the phone with her, I saw the second plane hit. Silence. Pure as ether. My wife was terrified.. Fearing Las Vegas would be next. There were no words to calm her. I was numb. Minutes later, William Petersen phoned. "Nobody's working today. Everyone needs to be with their families."
But I couldn't get to mine. All planes were grounded. So I leaned on my "other" family. The only family I knew of. Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue, the other executive producers. Despite what happened. Despite who I had become. Despite feeling utter helplessness. We did the only thing we could. We kept writing.
I went back to my hotel room and plugged in my laptop. News on full volume. The only thing I can remember is my legs shaking. Uncontrollably. I was scared to death.
Money, fame and a hit show suddenly meant nothing. I was insignificant. After all, New York City was working the most gruesome crice scene in U.S. history I found myself not the creator and executive producer of "CSI." I was like every man in the country. A worried husband and a frightened father separated from his family during a time of strife.
The next day, "CSI" resumed shooting. Myself, the other executives, cast and crew assembled on Stage 7 of Santa Clarity Studios. I was appointed to speak. Did I deserve to? Before 9-11 probably not. But for some reason, everyone looked to me. And I had something to say. First, I called for three minutes of silence. Then, I opened my heart.
"Our prayers go out to New York and their families. Here, we do a TV show. There, is real life. I love each and every one of you. thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for changing my life. We're all in this together. Let's make a great show today. America needs us more now than ever."
It was probably the first honest thing I had said in five years.
As the months went on, I started assessing what kind of American I was before 9-11. Sure, I'd put out a flag here and there. Taken off my hat during the national anthem. Cheered for USA in the Olympic Games. Outside of that, I never gave America much thought. Was I un-American? No, I was a lousy American. Spoiled and unapreciative. I lost perspective. And in a way, we all did.
Despite the horror, 9-11 brought out the best in America. The one burning image in my mind was hearing people saying "Good morning" in the elevator. A big deal for Los Angelenos. Flags were everywhere. Courtesy was reborn. News was interesting again.
Hell, I found myself saying, "I'm going to go home and watch the war." CNN showing footage of Afghan women shredding their shrouds. Afghan men cutting their beards. Music heard in the streets of Kabul. No matter how much I fought it, I wasn't angry anymore. I was confused. Indeed, I was incensed at the death of innocent Americans. Yet, I saw the birth of freedom firsthand. If only for a moment. And it was beautiful.
One full year later, I've taken the time to reflect on my life. I will never look at things through the same eyes. I will never look at a building the same. I now take time out to watch an airplane cross our free skies. I tell my wife, Jennifer, I love her every single day. I hold my son, Dawson, every single day. I am grateful for my job every single day.
To everyone at "CSI," I say, "I am proud of us." To everyone in New York, I say, "You are our heroes." To those who lost their lives on 9-11, I say, "Thank you for making us better Americans." Because of you, I am proud to call this country my own. I am proud of what I stand for. I am proud of who I am. I am Anthony E. Zuiker. A husband. A father. A writer.
And for the first time an American.