Barry Lillis Shares His Story of Alcoholism and Redemption | News
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Someone many of us know in Western New York is baring his soul in the hope of helping others.
For parts of three decades, Barry Lillis was the weatherman here at Channel 2.
For those who saw Barry on the air, he almost always brought a smile to our faces with his fun, infectious personality.
But off the air, Barry was living another life - for years Barry was an alcoholic.
His drinking cost him marriages, jobs, his health, and nearly his life.
17 years ago, Barry became a minister, and now every month he shares his story with patients with addictions at the detox unit at ECMC.
"My name is Father Barry and I'm an alcoholic all right! Not to long ago I turned 75 years old and I said to myself I had a story that goes back a lot of years that was pretty much kept secret and the reason was it was very embarrassing, very humiliating," Barry said to patients at the hospital.
Barry's drinking began when he was 17 years old and joined the Army during the Korean War. He was stationed in Germany.
"I got into the beer and I really liked it. I liked not only the taste, I liked what it did for me. It made me heroic, it made me a tough guy. It gave me what they call beer muscles and bottle courage."
"Now, I'm a short guy, but it made me six foot four. It made me Jimmy Cagney, you see what I'm saying, I could go in and be the roughest, toughest guy in town. and I liked that because without it I was just not much. So I liked it. I couldn't wait to get off the base, or in the enlisted men's club to drink. Anytime, every time."
Barry's drinking became such a problem that he was constantly being disciplined and demoted.
He was transferred back to the states, and that's when his drinking problem became even worse.
"I go over into the city one day on pass and I wake up and I'm dirty and I'm a day late (after blacking out) so I figure what I should do is go back tomorrow - I was one day late, I might as well be two, it's going to be the same punishment.
"Might as well be ten, twenty, six months, I am gone. Gone AWOL for six months, I am a fugitive. People are looking for me. I am homeless, I am on Skid Row in the Bowery in New York City where all the sad, broken people of the world live. I was drunken bum, a Skid Row bum -dirty, smelly, stained clothes, maybe urine in the front of my pants."
Scott Brown: "At any point do you stop and say look where I am, look what's happened to me?"
Barry Lillis: "No. You have no desire to think in those terms, your only desire is where am I going to get a drink?"
Barry says the Army eventually tracked him down and he spent three months doing hard labor in a military prison.
"They gave me a yellow piece of paper and it said bad conduct discharge.
Barry came back home and after a few years decided he wanted to pursue one of his dreams: to get into broadcasting.
He got his first job at WGGO radio in Salamanca.
Barry Lillis: "I was thrilled, I thought I was major league and I stopped drinking for eight years, but the difference was I was not sober, I was abstaining. Big difference- sobriety is a way of life, an attitude, abstaining is just stop drinking, it's only a component of sobriety.
"I'm abstaining, eight years in the radio and TV business and I say I think I'll go have a drink and I did."
And that began a period of 15 lost years in Barry's life- lost jobs, lost marriages and a time where he nearly lost his life.
Barry came to Channel 2 in the mid 1970s and it was Barry who helped us survive the Blizzard of '77, and it was Barry who brought a smile to our faces- at one point he was one of the most popular and well known people in Western New York.
But Barry not only brought his public personality back home to Buffalo, but he brought with him something else- his constant companion of drinking.
Barry Lillis: "I was a very sad guy, very sad guy."
Scott Brown: "Despite what people saw on TV?"
Barry Lillis: "That was an act. The weather guy- the happy, dappy weather guy, that was an act. That was an act to get the money to drink. I just drank and drank and drank and drank." Sometimes you had too much to drink and you had to watch that you weren't slurring your words too much on the air."
From Buffalo, Barry got a job in Pittsburgh, a bigger market, more money and more drinking.
One night while out bar hopping, Barry blacked out in the middle of a road.
Barry Lillis: "I was on the ground on the road and I said to the EMT or police 'hey I better get off the road I could get hit by a car', and he said you have been, you've been hit by a truck."
Barry's leg was shattered and so too was his career in Pittsburgh.
Barry then came back to Buffalo and Channel 2, but his constant companion- drinking came right along with him.
Scott Brown: "What about your wife and kids, would they say anything to you?"
Barry Lillis: "No they didn't want to say that because you huff and puff and you walk out and get noisy and get in their face- no, no don't tell me that!"
Scott Brown: "Were you a bad dad?"
Barry Lillis: "I wasn't there, I wasn't there when they'd give me all sorts of signals that 'dad we need you to be here for us' and I was like what do you want from me?"
Scott Brown: "When you were drinking and everything was going bad, were you ever suicidal?"
Barry Lillis: "Yes, yeah, I cut my hand, I have cuts on my hand -here I got an X where I tried to bleed out, so yeah, I wanted to die. I prayed to God would you not let me wake up tomorrow morning.
"Everybody else doesn't want any part of me now. Broadcasting doesn't want it, my family doesn't want it, the banks don't want any part of me anymore. I've alienated everybody, but the booze still loves me."
It was then that something happened that would change Barry's life forever, and for better.
To see Barry's entire story, click on the video attached to this story.
If you or somebody you know needs help dealing with substance abuse problems, the following organizations can help:
Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse
- 1625 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo. (716) 831-2298
ECMC Division of Chemical Dependency
- Downtown: 1280 Main St. Buffalo. (716)883-4517
- Northern Erie Clinical Services: 2282 Elmwood Ave. Kenmore. (716) 874-5536
Mid Erie Counseling and Treatment Services
- 1526 Walden Ave. Cheektowaga. (716)895-6700
Kids Escaping Drugs
B.I.L.Y. (Because I Love You) Meetings
- Amherst: Montgomery Park Senior Living Complex.
6363 Transit Rd. East Amherst. (716) 688-2568.
- Lancaster: Faith United Methodist Church. 5505 Broadway. (716) 685-4328
- Tonawanda: (716) 879-6631
- Buffalo: (716) 695-7586 and (716) 990-2452