Through The Storm: The Day Daryl “Chill” Mitchelle’s Life Faded to Black
Most people experience life-altering change over time—a lot of time.
That was hardly the case for rapper turned TV actor Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, who saw his life change dramatically in a matter of seconds.
One minute it seemed he had it all—a rising profile and impressive screen credits including two successful TV series—“The John Laroquette Show” and “Veronica’s Closet”; a plum role in Disney’s then yet-to-be-released “Country Bears”; a loving wife (Carol) and growing family of three (now four) children. In the next minute, it all hung in the balance as a November 2001 motorcycle accident in which he nearly lost his life—left him a paraplegic, paralyzed from the waist down.
The tragic incident occurred in South Carolina where the actor had been visiting family.
“My nephew had asked me to try his bike out,” Mitchell recalls. “I had been riding bikes since I was ten, but I just hit a bad spot in the road. My mistake was riding a bike at night on a road that I was not familiar with and I was by myself. What happened was I hit a curve and some loose gravel. The back tire spun out of control and I went flying. The bike landed on top of me.”
He woke up three days later in the hospital paralyzed. His life, in the words of a classic Hollywood script, had faded to black. But Mitchell was determined not to let it stay that way.
“I definitely went through a difficult process in the beginning, but I just let the reality of it hit me naturally. I was thinking okay what’s next,” Mitchell continues. “I am paralyzed but what do we have to do now because I have to get back to work and take care of my family. I never gave myself a second to feel sorry.”
Admittedly, though, Mitchell’s outlook had been drastically altered.
“Your priorities change. Family becomes everything and then too people become exposed and you have to deal with them and how they’ve changed for a minute. But I wouldn’t allow any of that make me doubt myself. It wasn’t like Hollywood stopped. They took notice and they were calling but the world keeps spinning.”
What Mitchell had going for him was his incredible resolve, his comic wit and his endearing personality. It was just what the producers of the NBC hit series, “Ed” were looking for. They cast the Bronx-born actor on the spot for the role of Eli Cartwright Goggins III, supervising manager of Ed’s Stuckeyville bowling alley.
He credits his resolve to his very religious mother, who raised he and his five siblings in church.
“When I was going through my whole ordeal, she would just say to me ‘all of this is temporary, God’s got a plan’. And there’s no question about it, my faith in God and my beliefs definitely got me through.”
Admittedly, the two year stint on “Ed” was a huge factor as well.
“If this hadn’t have come along at the time that it did, there’s no telling where I would be. This show proved to me that I could still do what I love to do.”
Today, Mitchell plays wheelchair bound investigative computer specialist Patton Plame on the CBS hit series, “NCIS: New Orleans” with Scott Bakula.
By all accounts, Mitchell does not fit the classic stereotype of paraplegics and is hardly a victim off screen or on.
“Just because you see, or a person might have a difference doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart or can’t use their mind or they are not useful,” said Mitchell, who also uses the roles he takes on to dispel certain myths about paraplegics and to show yet another dimension.
“People associate the wheelchair with being a liability instead of an asset. So when you come in and let everybody know I am just as human as the next person–I drink, I have sex–then the wheelchair starts disappearing.
Ironically, a recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that just five percent of television characters with a disability are played by an actor with a disability.
“After I had my accident I realized there were so many levels of disability,” said the 51-year old actor who’s also lectured on diversity in the workplace and hiring people with disabilities.
Mitchell began his show business career as a member of the rap group, Groove B. Chill. It was while shooting a video for their debut CD that the group met the Hudlin Brothers who cast them in “House Party”.
After “House Party”, Mitchell appeared in “Boomerang”, “House Party 2”, “A Thin Line Between Love And Hate” and more recently “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Galaxy Quest”. Mitchell has enjoyed his greatest success, however, on the small screen, working first as a regular on the short-lived NBC series “Here and Now” (1992-93), starring Malcolm-Jamal Warner before landing the regular role of lunch counter operator Dexter Walker on “The John Larroquette Show” (NBC, 1993-97) and going on to work in “Ed” and then in 2009 to be star alongside Michael Strahan in the short-lived TV series, “Brothers”.
These days, with a co-starring role on the top franchise in prime time TV, Mitchell feels as if the work has paid off.
Thinking back to the day his life was forever changed, Mitchell recalls telling his nephew, “just because this happened to me that doesn’t mean you have to be scared and stop riding. Anything can happen and it doesn’t have to be from a bike.”
“I see a lot of people taking things for granted and I am sure I was one of them. A lot of people procrastinate and put off for tomorrow what they could do today, but like Martin Lawrence said, “Life,—you’ve gotta ride it till the wheels fall off.” And that’s just how I feel. You never know what tomorrow holds.”
“I definitely went through a difficult process in the beginning. I was thinking okay what’s next. I am paralyzed but what do we have to do now because I have to get back to work and take care of my family. I never gave myself a second to feel sorry.”