'Sopranos' actor Joe Pantoliano talks battling mental illness: 'I always thought it was my fault'

Fans best recognize Joe Pantoliano for his involvement in “Risky Business” and “The Sopranos,” but few know about his private battles with dyslexia, addiction, and clinical depression.

“I felt numb from external remedies, whether it was women, alcohol, drugs, shopping, or eating,” the 65-year-old told Closer Weekly. “At a physical, I said, ‘I feel like I’m underwater all the time.’ I didn’t mention that I was sucking down 13 Vicodin a day. He [the doctor] thought that I should talk to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with clinical depression.”

It was an awakening moment for Pantoliano.

“I felt like I hit the lottery, because it was a disease,” he said. “I always thought it was my fault. I became an actor because I found a lot of peace in becoming other people.”

It also helped that Pantoliano’s wife and their four children were supportive as he sought help.

“I was so self-centered that fatherhood and marriage all took a second seat in my career,” he admitted. “Facing my shortcomings enabled me to apologize to my family and get a second chance, but most of them said that they were lucky because they had Nancy. My wife gets all the credit. She is awesome and we are loving life.”

Life is better for Pantoliano these days. He founded the non-profit organization No Kidding, Me Too!, which aims to encourage people to seek treatment for their own illnesses. In 2009, he directed a documentary of the same name.

“I bask in the glory of knowing that I’m not alone,” he said. “There are a lot of great minds who are helping me understand my brain, and found that having bipolar distress is positive if you’re a performer."

He also has a new motto for fans.

“In the old days, my crazy days, it was, ‘F—k you, me first!’” he said. “Now, I think if I had one today, it would be, ‘Live in the moment, and don’t look back.’”