Stranger men have become stars than Billy Bob Thornton, but not many. His obsessive-compulsive disorder encompasses a bizarre list of phobias: of clowns, of old furniture, of Benjamin Disraeli’s hair.
Brutally dyslexic, he won an Oscar for his screenplay for Sling Blade, but writing a memoir, he says, would be beyond him. So, in an intriguing act of creative symbiosis, his friend Kinky Friedman, the Jewish country- singer and novelist, has taped him talking to friends late at night and turned these rambles into a book.
The Billy Bob Tapes (Virgin, £18.99) has many of the flaws of ordinary ghosted showbiz memoirs. But Thornton has wonderful stories to tell, particularly about his childhood in Arkansas — don’t even mention the word ‘redneck’ — and the years of apparently doomed striving before his career took off.
As you’d expect from his screen performances, he is laconic, foul-mouthed, often hilariously funny, but palpably, painfully vulnerable, whose coping mechanisms may seem weird but clearly work for him, just about.
And he tells it all in dry, musical prose that loses surprisingly little for having been spoken rather than written. In the end you forgive his occasional slackness and self-indulgence, because, at heart, he seems like a good egg. It’s extraordinary how rare you can say that about a showbiz autobiographer, when really it’s almost the only thing that counts.