Hollywood, homelessness and '17 Miracles' shaped LDS actor's faith

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Like the majority of aspiring actors, Wade struggled to get his career going. He threw himself into the work and was able to land several local and national commercials, along with various short and feature films.

But there were a lot of days when he was tempted to give up. For those willing to compromise their values, there were chances to jump-start a career, but Wade was determined to keep his promises and declined such offers.

One defining moment came when a close friend told Wade that if he ever wanted to make it in Hollywood, he had to be willing to sacrifice everything.

“He was saying, ‘I will make your career, but you need to deny who you really are,’” Wade said. “I wanted to do it, because I knew I would eventually clean myself up and it could be a learning experience, but every time I would go to make the choice, I couldn’t. Something would not allow me to do it.”

After seven years in Los Angeles, Wade’s manager believed the actor was on the verge of a big break, but Wade felt it was time to pursue something else.

Dark days in Philadelphia

Leaving Hollywood was difficult, but Wade was about to get rich in Philadelphia.

He left acting to design and sell athletic uniforms to high school and college coaches. The company guaranteed he would make $100,000 within the first two years.

But as Wade was getting started, the recession hit and business suffered. For about nine months he was forced to live out of his car because he couldn’t afford rent. He occasionally pitched a tent in the woods, but Pennsylvania park rangers wrote him trespassing tickets, so he found himself parking at Walmart for the night.

“I can’t tell you how depressing that is, to wake up, you’re penniless and you’re living out of your car, and you’re in a Walmart parking lot,” Wade said. “That’s when I hit rock bottom and started to deny everything about me.”

Wade doesn't share all the details, but in his state of despair, he distanced himself from family, friends and the church. He also realized how much he missed the creativity that comes with acting.

More than a year into the sales job, Wade figured out that for him to even make $30,000 a year, he would be required to put another five years into the company.

“That was depressing because I walked away from that job owing the company $40,000,” Wade said. “It didn’t take long to make a decision. I knew I could pay that debt off with one season of fire. I made a call to my former boss, got my old job back and moved within two weeks.”

Fire and films

Wade had spent previous summers employed as a wildland firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management. Somehow he felt at home with a chain saw, hardhat and smoke-filled clothes, surrounded by flames in the blistering August sun.

“It helped me clear my head. It restored my manliness and confidence,” Wade said. “It helped me piece things back together after those dark days.”

Feeling more like himself again, Wade was ready to perform. He signed with Talent Management Group and within months he was reading for “John Tanner.” That role led to "17 Miracles," a film he is especially proud of, and, most recently, “Airborne Creed.”

"'17 Miracles' is a legacy, something to leave behind for generations because in essence, that's my testimony," Wade said. “I’m grateful for T.C.; he has completely altered my career.”

In the lobby following the premier of “Airborne Creed,” Merrill said he grabbed Wade’s shaggy face and gave him a congratulatory kiss on the cheek. The longtime director whispered in Wade’s ear, “Seeing that performance vindicated my instincts about you.”

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