VIDEO: Sunnyboys: You Need a Friend 1982
Jeremy Oxley and Mary Griffiths have lived a love story, right here in the Redlands that helped revive a legendary ’80s Australian band.
Jeremy fronted the cult ’80s Australian power pop band Sunnyboys, and his story of recovery from schizophrenia is the subject of a new documentary, The Sunnyboy, by director Kaye Harrison.
More than two years in the making, The Sunnyboy follows 51-year-old Jeremy as he emerges from a 30-year battle with the disorder.
The story, however, is also a love story, as it was Redland woman Mary who nurtured him back to health and helped rescue the Australian music legend from his broken life.
The documentary shows the healing power of unconditional love and delivers the overriding message that people with schizophrenia need one-on-one support to help stabilise their lives.
Mary’s first husband and Redland QATB deputy superintendent John Griffiths died of a brain tumour in 2003.
John had given more than 30 years to the ambulance service, and he and Mary had twin boys – Lachlan and Kieran.
Mary recalled that in about 2008, her then 10-year-old sons hinted that maybe she was lonely and needed a boyfriend.
“I said, oh yeah, who do you reckon I should go out with? ” she said.
“And they said, ‘him’.
“They picked Jeremy off the Sunnyboys film clip.
“It started out as a bit of fun.
“We always watched the Sunnyboys film clips.
“If you have a look at some of those old clips, you could see he had really beautiful eyes; a really gentle face.”
Mary said with her sons having chosen Jeremy, they then looked him up on the internet.
“We found all the articles saying that Jeremy had schizophrenia and that sort of thing and I started reading more and more on the web about his life,” she said.
“I didn’t know what had happened to him.
“I got a bit of a shock.
“How did that happen?
“He was really bright and fun and had this great image as a young Australian.
“All these people had written that he was down and out and had broken teeth, had put on all this weight, had lost everything and was living on the streets.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s terrible’.”
Mary was determined to find out more about him, and, as Jeremy said: “She set out on her Joan of Arc way.”
She tracked Jeremy to Pottsville in northern New South Wales.
Mary said some of the people who knew where Jeremy was living and hung around him were not beneficial to his health.
Mary found a couple who had also heard of Jeremy’s plight and were already in contact with him. Not surprisingly, Mary was asked her intentions.
“I said I didn’t really have any intentions,” she said.
“I found out that he wasn’t well and wanted to know how people were supporting him.”
They agreed to put Jeremy and Mary in contact.
“One day, I decided I would go down there and just turn up and see for myself how he was and see what we could do,” she said, adding that she, Jeremy and the boys got along really well.
“I’m a nurse and I could see that Jeremy wasn’t well,” she said.
“He was in a flat on his own.
“It wasn’t a good situation - he wasn’t going to get any better.” That was in 2008.
Mary said after visiting him more often and speaking by phone regularly, one day she said: “Come and see where we live.
“So he came up and never went back,” she said.
“With the kids involved, there were rules and I said those people can’t ever know where you are.
“No alcohol, no drugs, get medicated and see what happens.
“From then, we started the ball rolling on getting him back in shape.
“The boys and I were very supportive of him and it just worked.
“So after six months on the medication and weaning him off the alcohol and in a really good environment, he began to get better.”
Over the following years, Mary looked after Jeremy as he tried different types of medication.
As she monitored his health and life, Jeremy gradually improved.
Fast forward to 2012, and talk of the Sunnyboys getting back together for some gigs had become a possibility, which Jeremy said “felt right at the time”.
“I had to prove to Mary that I was someone and not just a bum,” he said.
The band played some gigs last summer, supporting Elvis Costello, and has been playing dates around the screening of The Sunnyboy since June this year.
Mary and Jeremy married in 2011 and this amazing partnership has sprouted even more growth, with Jeremy having released an EP of new songs in June, one of which was written by Mary.
She also painted the cover artwork.
The documentary, which screens this Saturday at Palace Cinema in the Valley, is making a contribution to a better understanding of schizophrenia.
“It’s a story of hope,” Mary said.
“There’s such a stigma around the illness and people are afraid of them (schizophrenics), or else they just write them off.
“Families don’t know what to do.
“They have bad experiences and they withdraw and think they want to get on with their lives, so they distance themselves.
“We wanted to show that with love and support and medication you can get that person back on track, and it is very worthwhile.”
For Jeremy and Mary, it has proven to be more than worthwhile.
“I was lucky enough to meet someone like Mary,” Jeremy said. “She inspired me.
“So I was able to pick up the guitar again and play some gigs.”
l The Sunnyboy, directed by Kaye Harrison, screens on Saturday, September 14, at 4pm at the Palace Centro, 39 James St, Fortitude Valley. Contact 3852 4488 or visit www.palacecinemas.com.au.