News Column

The Macon Telegraph Ed Grisamore column

August 21, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 21--Brad Carter has never been bashful about being in front of a camera.

The actor and musician from Macon has appeared in 30 television shows, movies and short films and more than two dozen commercials. He has played guitar and done stand-up comedy in nightclubs.

His face and voice have made him semi-famous. His brain has made him a celebrity.

In summer 2006, he began noticing tremors in the fingers of his right hand. He majored in art at Valdosta State, specializing in bronze sculpture and oil painting. He had been playing the guitar since 1988, a self-described "finger picker."

Frustrated, he went to doctors who prescribed medications that never worked. For three years, he was treated for Lyme disease. A movement disorder specialist studied his involuntary shaking and diagnosed him with a Benign Essential Tremor, a progressive neurological disease. There is no known cause. There is no known cure.

But there was a measure of hope in a surgical procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) that involves the implant of a pacemaker to send electrical impulses to the brain.

Brad had the six-hour surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on May 23, three months ago this week. He was told he would be awake during the surgery, and asked to draw on paper so doctors could determine if his hand was responding.

"Can I bring my guitar?" he asked.

He may go down in history as the first person to play the guitar while having brain surgery. He brought along Henrietta, his hand-carved guitar made from a 1930s Winchester shotgun shell box.

There was still more history to be made. UCLA officials figured he would be the 500th patient to have the DBS at the medical center. Knowing he was an actor of some renown, they asked permission to broadcast the operation live.

"I thought they would show it to a few doctors and medical students," Brad said.

But the unique surgery was streamed live on Vine and sent on Twitter feeds across cyberspace. It was watched by an estimated 30 million people, including actor William Shatner, of Star Trek fame, who sent Brad a tweet: "You are in my thoughts this morning while you are undergoing your operation."

He was interviewed by "The Today Show" and CBS News in Los Angeles. He had a second surgery in June -- without the TV cameras -- with hopes the DBS will not progress into Parkinson's disease. He will turn 40 in December.

Brad grew up in Macon and his parents, David and Cindy Carter, still live here. David is a retired Methodist minister who helped start Wesley United Methodist Church on Hartley Bridge Road.

His family lived on Walden Road, surrounded by farmland. He attended Porter and Heard Elementary and Ballard B Middle School.

He graduated from Southeast High in 1992. One of his mentors was John Jones, who taught English and drama at Southeast and is now the manager at Macon Little Theater.

Brad got his first national exposure in 1997, when he went to New York with other Valdosta State art students. Standing in a crowd outside CBS studios, he spoke up and charmed David Letterman with his wit and Southern drawl. Letterman put him on the show that night.

"I was just joking around," he said. "It made me a minor celebrity back in Valdosta."

He stayed in Valdosta after he graduated, taking a job as a DJ at a radio station and playing his guitar in clubs. He saved $1,200 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

"I didn't know a soul, and I had just turned 29, so I thought it was too late," he said. He felt awkward in acting classes, but he kept plugging away.

He has filmed commercials for companies such as Progressive Insurance (yes, with Flo), Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts, Stanley Tools and Nicorette lozenges. He did a voice-over for "Red Dead Redemption," a popular video game.

Brad has had roles in major network TV shows such as "CSI: New York," "House," "Castle," "The Mentalist," "Bones," "House" and "Criminal Minds," and cable favorites "True Blood" (HBO), "Justified" (FX) and "Dexter" (Showtime). He was cast as Rankin, the only character serial killer Dexter kills in anger.

"I do play a lot of characters who get killed," he said, laughing. "There is no money in dying. My mom wants to know when I'm going to get to play a nice guy."

This week, he was on "Longmire," a Western crime drama that is part of A&E's Monday lineup. He is excited about appearing with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in four upcoming episodes of HBO's "True Detective," premiering in January 2014.

"I think it's going to be a tipping point for me," he said. "I have some really good lines, and not just: 'Here's your water, sir.' "

His next project is recording an album of 12 songs he has written. He will call it "Fieldhand," in honor of his Walden Road days. Because of his sky-high medical bills, he is having to raise funds for the project through Kickstarter. (For more information, visit his website at bradcarter.me or kickstarter.com.)

Follow-ups to the surgery have been discouraging. Doctors said last week they are unhappy with the results. He may face another operation.

"I am accepting that my condition is just going to get worse ... and so no matter what, I will never play like I once did," he said. "Art, music, and everyday things like typing, texting, taking pictures, clipping my own nails, fixing things and petting the cat have become things I take no pleasure in. I sometimes can't even listen to music because I become so jealous of the musicians."

He has started experiencing tremors in his left hand, so he knows he must act quickly in the studio.

"It's just a matter of time until my playing guitar is a thing of the past," he said.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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