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Beth Goodman Furst: A lesson in life after death

By Peter M. Williams, Jr.

The worst night of actress Beth Goodman Furst’s life was on Friday, February 26, 2021. That was the night her brother and best friend put a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger. Harold Heyman Goodman, aged 64, was gone, leaving Beth and her family to navigate a veritable maelstrom of emotions. And on that night in February, in the face of the ultimate tragedy, she would discover her life’s true purpose.

A few words about Beth: A striking former model, Beth spent her formative years in Charleston before pursuing a successful modeling career in Los Angeles where she met and married her husband, Robert. Readers who grew up in the Lowcountry may remember a station called 98 Rock, where Beth was a DJ — this was back when radio stations had actual local DJ’s who cared about the music and the listeners — before transitioning into talk radio and moving to Los Angeles. She’s appeared in the hit show Westworld and has secured in a feature film coming out on Amazon.

Beth Goodman Furst. IMAGE PROVIDED

“I just started going on these auditions … and I’m not any spring chicken ... my first project was Westworld.” For readers who may not know, the sci-fi/western show was a runaway hit on HBO. She continues, “So yeah, I did Westworld, and I just did a semi-lead on a movie coming out this December … I don’t know if it’s my age, but it’s working!” At this point I should disclose that this was a FaceTime interview, and I can confirm that what she has is definitely working.

When I asked Beth about her memories of Charleston before it was on Condé Nast’s infernal list, she revealed that she was an early transplant to Charleston, as am I. “I moved there when I was eight,” she revealed. “I was actually born in Cleveland, Ohio. We moved here when I was eight because my dad bought the station WPAL and then he formed WWZ. So, I had a great childhood. I was very fortunate because of my dad’s owning radio stations. I got to go to all sorts of concerts. It was a really nice life. I went to private school. I went to College Prep. I had a great childhood. My brother was eight years older [than me], so it was kind of like I was an only child some of the time because he was a lot older than me. He was in college when I was in middle school. It was great. I got to really be able to do a lot of things that most kids wouldn’t be able to do because of my father with the radio stations and all that. So, it was fun, and I had a great time … we lived on Coburg Creek and so we lived on the water … my friends had boats and we’d go water skiing … I had a great time.”

Her recollections of Charleston in the halcyon days of youth are not unlike my own. I belong to a generation that was “part of this world, part of another” as Gene Wilder said of his character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My early youth was unfettered; there were no cell phones except in movies and I only knew a couple families in elementary had a dedicated line for their dial-up 52K modem. I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was already driving and if I recall, I didn’t even want it — it was just another way for my parents to keep tabs on me — the last thing any self-respecting surly teenager wants. Anyway, enough about me. Beth got into modeling at an early age even by 1980’s standards through her father’s connections in the radio business.

“My dad had the station and then his office was in a complex that was right across the hall from the Lee Lewis modeling agency. So, I was like, I don’t know, 14, 15 and my dad’s like, ‘let’s see if we can do maybe a trade account ... Not modeling because I was very fat as a child, so I never thought of it, but just my dad wanted me to get an account. So, I was like, okay, I’m going to do a trade account. I never thought of it, but … my dad wanted me to get maybe some personal development. So, we ended up doing a trade account with them … And then they took me and about maybe nine other people, well, I guess teens to New York to, you know, see some modeling agencies. And so I was actually scouted by four of them and I ended up going with the foreign agency after I graduated high school. They wouldn’t take me until I graduated from high school. So, I was just turned what, 18? Yeah, just turned 18. Then off to New York.”

I imagine the feeling arriving in New York City in 1982, five years into the punk rock movement, the height of CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and a breeding ground of creativity, from punk rock and hip hop to Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. The beginnings of the aggressive East Coast brand of street skateboarding, with Mark Gonzalez flying down handrails and a fellow Lowcountry native Shephard Fairey soaring over picnic tables while making a name for himself as an up-and-coming street artist while at Rhode Island School of Design — all of it happening around a young girl from Charleston, a self-described “butterfly” (I was very fat as a child, and I was bullied when I was seventh and eighth grade,” she recalls).

But New York was just the beginning. After a brief time in New York where they showed her the ropes of the modeling world, she was whisked to Europe before the year was over. But when the Lowcountry gets its proverbial hooks in you, that’s it. “I went to Europe, I went to Paris, I went to Milan. Oh, wow. So, I kind of did it on and off, like, maybe seven years. I kept coming home, I kept going back, kept coming home, kept going back,” she says.

The conversation quickly swiveled back to her relationship with her brother. Being the eldest child with my sister five years my junior, I was curious about what effect the eight-year age gap between she and her brother had on their relationship. When I broached the subject, her voice kept its soft quality, but became full of conviction: “My brother adored me. I was like his baby. I didn’t walk until I was a year and a half because my brother carried me everywhere. We just had a great bond even at a baby age. Then of course when we got older and adults it became even closer and closer and closer. When he passed, we were as close as anybody best friends could be.”

Harold Goodman lovingly holding his baby sister Beth in the mid 1960s. IMAGE PROVIDED

When we talk about loved ones who have died, it’s often easy to get trapped in a world of banal platitudes about how the deceased would “light up a room” or how they “would give you their shirt off their back.” I know this because I’ve said these things about the close friends that I have lost. We highlight the good qualities and amplify the memories of shared laughter as we gloss over their shortcomings and dampen the cacophony of arguments and disagreements. But Beth was steadfast; nonetheless, she acknowledged that her brother had struggled with mental illness early in life: In his 20s, he was diagnosed with a manic disorder — after graduating a year early from Middleton to attend the College of Charleston. Unsatisfied with even these momentous accomplishments, he pursued other entrepreneurial and academic pursuits with great gusto: “ … [h]e went to the College of Charleston for college, and then he moved away and got a master’s degree in finance … he was a stockbroker at the age of 23. He was actually the youngest stockbroker in South Carolina.

“So, he got a master’s in business, and then my dad and my brother opened up a furniture store called Office Furniture for Less, which was really very popular for a few years, until OfficeMax came in and kind of took us away. And then my brother ended up going to law school [at Oklahoma City Law School] at 40, which is pretty impressive,” Beth recalls. “Then he came back to Charleston and opened up his own real estate law firm and did that for a really long time. And then he closed it because, of course, 2008 hit … the mortgage implosion.”

That’s not to say that a downturn in business was a contributing factor in Harold’s suicide — to hear Beth tell it, it almost sounds his light burned to bright too fast, something you normally hear about rock stars given to the excesses with fame and fortune. But in talking with Beth, it seems Harold’s “drug of choice” may have been his many standout accomplishments. By age 40, he had more degrees than almost every person I know. He had more business experience in more industries than two or three people combined. When I asked Beth about this possible correlation, she paused before responding thoughtfully, “It could be, he would get bored easily. He would just … ‘I’m gonna go do this.’ And then he would go do that. And I do think that was a symptom of being a manic depressive. He just got bored really easily. Then when my dad died in 2014, I think that was to me the beginning of the end in a way … I think that started my brother kind of in a slide.”

For a moment there is a pause — not uncomfortable, but contemplative, before I bring the conversation back to her career, one that is now consumed by a singular purpose: Helping others who may be considering harming themselves. She’s in talks with a few studios and A-list actors and actresses to fill the roles, but for now, her laser focus — a trait she shares with her brother — is on helping others, which starts with conversation, and not only speaking about her brother’s suicide and its effect on her family, which is the focus of the film.

At first glance, Beth’s story is one that is all too common in modern society. Every day more and more families and friends grieve loved ones lost to suicide, myself included. What makes Beth’s stand out is her reaction to the tragic loss of her brother: Rather than succumbing to the what-ifs and reliving the incident ad nauseum only to arrive at the same heartbreaking conclusion that her brother — her best friend — is dead, Beth chose to confront her emotions head on.

This process of self-examination led her to a place where she capable of speaking constructively and honestly about her and her family’s experience with suicide. She has become a certified counselor for the International Suicide Prevention Hotline. She literally speaks to people who have run out of good ideas and gives them a better one: Live. Rather than dwell on these insidious moments, the quiet ones that occur in between the grind of everyday life that allow the reality of such a loss to hit like a bucket of ice-cold water, she has written, spoken and lived her new purpose. As she put it"

“No one really wants to go there about it [suicide — its causes and prevention], you know? Right. And I don’t get it. It’s an illness. It’s a disease. It’s just like alcoholism. It’s just like drug addiction. It’s a brain issue. There’s something wrong with your brain — that’s what it is. And people, it’s like, okay, so, why has everybody got to be so secretive about it? Nobody wants to talk about it. I just don’t get it because that’s not me. I tell everybody the story — and I will continue.”


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