Thursday, July 12, 2007

American actor makes his peace

The Los Angeles Times reports: Michael Richards finds inner solace in Cambodia - 'I'm taking time off to feel myself out,' says the actor, who came under fire for a racist outburst last year in a story by Charles McDermid.

Actor Michael Richards, whose career nosedived after he shouted racial slurs at hecklers in a West Hollywood comedy club, has been seeking some spiritual healing here with his fiancée. Richards, best known for his portrayal of the eccentric Cosmo Kramer on the popular television series "Seinfeld," said he has quit stand-up comedy. "That night, when I was insulted and disrupted, I lost my heart; I lost my sense of humor. I've retired from that. I'm taking time off to feel myself out, get to know myself and appreciate other people," Richards said in an interview here.
Richards, 57, and actress Beth Skipp traveled to remote temples before visiting Angkor Wat on a tour sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Nithyananda Foundation. The sect adheres to the teachings of 29-year-old Hindu monk Nithyananda — an avowed "enlightened Master and modern mystic" who's referred to by his followers as "Swami G." Nithyananda members here say Richards began attending foundation events in March, about three months after launching into a racist tirade from the stage of the Laugh Factory. He later apologized for the outburst. In the interview here, Richards said he was just a tourist and not a full-fledged devotee of the Nithyananda group. "I don't wear club jackets or belong to organizations of this nature. I do my own personal work. We came to see this amazing country," said Richards, who left Cambodia for neighboring Thailand on July 7. "I listened in, but often my fiancée and I went on our own, to feel the temples in our own way. They're magnificent structures. It's great to just be in them and watch time go by. We'll probably be back."
The tour, officially a fundraiser for an Internet university, featured daily spiritual seminars by Nithyananda at the hotel, followed by visits to the nearby Angkor Archaeological Park, where the leader discussed depictions of Hindu cosmology. Swami G is described in the group's literature as "on a mission to re-establish the science of inner bliss on planet Earth." Richards, born in Culver City, spoke candidly about the Nov. 17 racist rant, which ended up on the Internet after an audience member recorded video on a cellphone. He said his Cambodia trip was not any kind of "karmic rehab." "No, I've been doing other personal work since [the incident]," he said. "I'm trying to learn to enjoy myself."
Richards and Skipp, who appeared in the 2006 L.A. production of "Me, My Guitar & Don Henley," checked into a $380 per-night deluxe spa suite at Siem Reap's Hotel De La Paix on June 29. They joined the Nithyananda tour after several days of sightseeing independently at ancient sites including Preah Vihear, a famously difficult-to-reach mountaintop temple overlooking the Thai border. "We went way out into the country. Preah Vihear was unbelievable. And the way we got there: We went up this crazy road in a funky pickup and when we got to the top there's this magnificent temple," Richards said. "We did it all old-school." Richards said the couple planned to proceed to Chaing Mai, Thailand, and eventually the ancient city of Luang Prabang. "At first, I was a little bit struck by the poverty, but when I leaned in I could see how open-hearted the Cambodian people are, and I was touched by it," Richards said. "I'd always wanted to take a trip to the Far East. It's a place I'd never been. I knew of Angkor Wat and I'd seen pictures, so we decided, 'Let's go for this.' It's amazing: You can walk around and it's all hands-on in the temples, it's not roped off. Seeing spirituality in stone is inspiring."

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