Eric Rutherford has worn many hats in his well-lived life.
He started out as a young actor and commercial model, before thriving as a Hollywood events manager, collaborating with brands including the Gap, Gucci and the iconic Oprah Winfrey.
Then as he approached 50, Eric experienced an unexpected renaissance in his career, once again stepping in front of the camera as a model and digital content creator, currently with 231,000 followers and counting on Instagram as @mr.rutherford.
As someone in the modeling game for as long as I’ve been, I became aware of Eric about three years ago. His ascent in the business was swift and certain, and I was curious to get to know the man behind the beautifully-curated social media content, and beneath the enviable locks of salt and peppered hair.
He didn’t disappoint. In fact, in our candid conversation, I discovered he does indeed exemplify the very things we at Mr Feelgood deem essential.
Defying age prejudice, Eric has used his platform to promote, support and shine his inimitable light on subjects that matter, and has become a bona fide activist and a positive role model for all ages, creeds and genders.
He’s also launched the podcast ‘The Push with Eric Rutherford’ to share positive, uplifting conversations with his talented circle of friends who have overcome great adversity, and built successful careers whilst opening doors for others and playing it forward. As of now, he is preparing to launch a new podcast in 2021, whilst also putting final touches to writing his first play in 20 years.
We discussed the responsibility he feels in his position as an influencer, how that role has evolved in recent years amid the health crisis and societal changes, and why he feels a duty to share his own personal struggles in an effort to be of service to others.
This awareness has made him a leading face and voice among an exciting group who are redefining what it means to be a conscientious influencer, using his digital stage to be an outspoken advocate for positive change.
As an influencer, you are somebody who people follow because they want to feel inspired. So how do you feel about that? Because obviously there’s got to be a lot of pressure there.
So this idea of being an influencer… when I was growing up it was someone who did inspirational things, whether it was a doctor or it was someone who had incredible talent, Muhammad Ali or someone like that. Fast forward to where we are today, and that label or that definition of influencer has changed. And that’s all right.
The idea of influence, it became a marketing tool, a branding tool, and there are many people out there with that label who are influential — they are incredible writers, scientists, athletes, performers or people in the fashion industry.
But for me, over the last two years particularly, I began to reflect on it. I believe as someone who has gone through things and survived trauma, I have a responsibility to be there for others. And the last few years, it’s like you get bundled together with this idea of what it is to be an influencer, and paid to post this or attend that.
I’m so grateful for brands and people and charities or nonprofits that would want to have me be a part of that, to help bring a light to whatever it is that might be. But how do you continue to evolve in that role? I was reminded over the New Year’s weekend about the silver linings of the last year. And I know it’s very easy to discard or want to dismiss last year. But in any scenario of strife or despair or darkness, you can find something positive or a silver lining that can come out of it.
For me, how I approach it, I’m living my life. I take a great picture, yes. Thanks, mom and dad. I wear clothes well. I love wearing clothes. To me, they’re an expression of the individual. I also love art, music, photography, architecture. There’s so much more to me that I want to share. So I slowly began to do more video to talk about other things.
Then, during the pandemic, there was just so much fear and anxiety, and people losing lives and losing jobs. But there were still some people posting pictures of themselves in a bikini.
Someone said to me, “Read the room.” That just always lodged itself in my head, because it’s, “Think beyond your life.” I’m grateful. I have incredible privilege. I have a roof over my head. Right now, I can pay my rent. There’s food on my table. I have opportunities like this. Some people don’t. So when you’re getting ready to post something, think beyond what you’re doing, how that’s going to register. So over the course of the last year, I have evolved, hopefully, knock on wood, more as a person, both in my personal life, but also in my professional life, and making those choices to stand up, to be vocal, to participate and not just be on the sidelines or to remain stagnant.
And for me, one of the few things that did happen is stepping into being more outspoken for others, using this platform to raise up other people’s stories and to support them. That was a natural evolution of where I had begun a few years ago, and because of this pandemic, I was kind of pushed forward. And listen, it was uncomfortable, and I am quite sure I’ve lost work because of it. Yet I’m also very sure and clear that this is the path, the direction that I want to be going.
It sounds to me like you’ve gleaned your definition of who you are, and made it about focusing on the people and places you want to associate yourself with, and that’s great, right? Those people who don’t want to work with you, so be it — that’s up to them.
Yeah. It’s fantastic. And part of that is the power of saying no and of defining more of your intent and your participation, in your life and in your career. That power can narrow the brands that you want to work with. What I believe though, too, is the more that you say no, the greater the freedom you have to be your true self. I remember being paid to make an appearance at an event with a brand, a very respectable brand, a brand that I like and use. I walked in with a friend of mine who’s Black, and we’re having a great time. I remember him stopping, and I was looking at his face and I couldn’t register what was happening. He’s like, “F***.” Basically he was gazing around the room and there was no other Black person in the room. And I have to say, a light went off for me, a greater level of awareness and understanding happened. I felt for my friend, and momentarily I was embarrassed, kind of ashamed that I hadn’t picked up on it before. He was just encouraging, saying, “Listen, if you’re going to continue doing this career and working with different brands, just be more informed, have more informed decisions on who you’re participating with. And if it looks like it’s not inclusive, that it isn’t a diverse guest list, then ask questions, don’t be silent.”
That’s something that happened obviously last summer with the murder of George Floyd. And Larry Kramer, activist, playwright, author of ‘Silence Equals Death’, he died within 24 hours of George Floyd. I just remember scrolling through social media and watching that video and George Floyd crying out, “I can’t breathe.” So am I going to remain silent and not say something, not show my support, not stand out front, not stand up for the wrong and the injustice of what’s happened? That was a huge turning point for me, both personally and professionally.
I’ve been clean and sober for 31 years, and one of the pillars of AA is being of service. That has always been part of the drum that I beat, and it’s why I am very open about my sobriety and the struggles that I’ve gone through. Listen, we all go through struggles, but so often we feel alone. And so I firmly believe part of me being of service is to be visible, is to be vocal. I remember even last year, I was on a panel talking during World Pride, and I was the oldest person on the panel. I was easily twice everyone’s age. There’s a new fervor to be outspoken, to be out and proud, to be an activist within your life and in your community. I love to hear that. And what I was also saying to the younger members of the panel, is how wonderful it is that you’re finding this at a young age instead of being so angry. Instead of being angry, why don’t we use that anger and make it about being impassioned and passionate about this, and help those within this community, but also outside of this community who might need some support.
Part of the brilliance of being a dad and a father to our three kids is that they’re so informed, they’re smart kids and so they can educate us when we have the energy and the bandwidth to take it in. I think that’s really important. I think it’s vital. I mean, I’m a middle-aged white man, straight, living in 2020 and i want to learn. Hopefully, we want to live in a world, and I want my kids to live in a world, that’s kind, that’s inclusive and that listens.
One of the things that I love about you is you’re so open and willing to learn. Not every person is. Not every man is. Whether it’s based on some old stereotype of what it is to be a strong man or to be masculine, however that gets labeled upon us. As soon as we come out, we don’t see that. We respond to another human being. We respond to the energy. We just want to play, we want to engage, we want to interact. We begin to learn these other things.
You’ve had incredible success because you, for many, embodied what it was to be — and I know you’re going to completely combust — iconically male. You were what defined what men and women looked to. The thing that I love is that you are as comfortable being strong as you are being vulnerable. To me, that is such a beautiful offering that you can give to men and women because we look for examples of either people we want to be like, or aspire to be like, and what we don’t want to be like.
What is it to be a man or to be masculine or strong? What it was when you and I were growing up, to what it was 20 years ago, to what it is today — it’s changed, it’s evolved. To me now, so much of it’s about being the individual. Someone is not any more masculine or feminine than someone else. They are defining it for themselves.
I so wholeheartedly believe, and part of the reason I wanted to talk with you here in this format. was because I do believe you’re one of those people that is a bridge almost, to men and women, who have an idea of what you can evolve to be. And that it’s not wrong, it’s not weak. I want to hear other people’s stories. I want to have an understanding of other people’s lives because I do believe we all rise together. It’s not strong and it’s not weak to be a man. A strong man who is vulnerable shows emotion, and can be caring and empathetic. I so believe that. We are middle-aged white men in America right now. For some, a group of people who believe that they are forgotten or that they’re being dismissed, or they’re not valued anymore. To me, that’s not the case.
I love your passion. I love your clarity. Thank you for what you said. But it’s really interesting because with Mr Feelgood, I’m constantly trying to figure out an answer for something that’s possibly unfigureoutable, because it’s ever changing. Maybe the truth behind it is letting go of having a definitive answer.
But this whole thing with vulnerability, with male vulnerability, it’s such a gray area, isn’t it? You make it sound like it’s easy for me. I don’t mean that in a bad way, you just do. I’m like, yeah, I am, aren’t I? I’m quite vulnerable. But there are so many patterns in my life, coming from a working class Northern background. I think growing up in a household of three older women, that had a massive influence on me. And being married to a very strong woman, and just generally loving the company of women.
I think I have always been a leader and I’ve always gotten myself out of the boxes others saw me in. I was working at age 12, I was bringing in money. I was always self-reliant. I was always resourceful. I was successful early on. I was desperate not to have the life that people said I should have. I didn’t want to be labeled. I wanted to get out and do something more with my life, and I’ve done that. It’s a never ending work in progress. In all its warts and all glory, being vulnerable is about being truthful, right? As a younger man, I thought I’d have it sussed by the time I’m 45. I’m 55 now. I don’t have it sussed at all. The only thing I have is sussed is that all I can do is my best. And the only constant is that everything changes.
Our toolbox gets better and bigger, or more clear of what we need, as we have more experience. Are you fantastic at it every day? No. Am I fantastic every day? No. How I look at it is there’s a strength in being open. There’s a strength in, “I can give you support and not feel like I’m losing something or you’re taking something from me.”
I make it a point to step outside of myself because I think so often, given what we do and what we’ve done for so many years, we’re the product, we’re the brand. So it’s very easy to become self-centered. There’s a need to do that, to keep moving the business forward. There’s also a need to to think beyond that, to be able to be a good listener, whether it’s sitting in a meeting with a new client or a new partner or a new collaborator or a new friend.
That’s why I wanted to start my podcast [The Push with Eric Rutherford]. You scroll through and you look at people’s pictures on a beach, or laughing at a dinner or just beautiful content at home. Well, there’s a whole story behind every picture and a journey that has led to that moment.
Very often, as we compare someone else’s successes and rate our own, we miss where we are in our lives. We miss the steps we’ve taken, or the successes we’ve had. I’m a big proponent of every day, I start with a gratitude list and I start every day with a to-do list. With that to-do list, it helps me to focus and I believe in small wins. It can be a tiny step forward, but it’s still a step forward.
This new year I was so conscious of setting intentions, and being gentle with yourself as opposed to, “Come on, do this.” If we’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that you can’t make a plan. And if you do, you have to have flexibility around it. Set the goal, but given everything that’s going on, there’s even less that you can expect or control.
I think life can be very difficult. It can be very challenging. But I think if we are honest about it and we are honest about our trials, our tribulations, our challenges, then that really helps. And I think it’s vital to encourage that in our children. I bulldozed through life as a kid. I’m like, “No one’s stopping me.” From my father dying at 11, I decided, “No, I’m not having that life, I’m having my life.” And I really did well. It gave me so much impetus in every aspect of my life, I think, with a degree of grace and kindness. But because I was a Yorkshireman, it was usual to hear, “Well, don’t ever change when you’re doing well.” But of course, you always change, because you’ve got to evolve. Because life’s about learning.
I’m naturally curious. And listen, I would not have this career or this chapter if it wasn’t for social media. To me, it allows me to still discover and be engaged with people that are half my age or younger. Still, someone said, “Well, how do you remain relevant?” Well, I remain relevant by being curious, by engaging, but not by losing myself. But also, I certainly remember what it was like to be a young man, and discovering. It was the 80s, and I was an actor, and at that time it’s like, “Do not be open about your sexuality, do not be open that you’re gay, or queer, you have to hide all that or you will not work.” For someone who has always had some sense of living an authentic life, I remember I would go into castings and I would have to sit in my car and find the strength to tap into my confidence, because I would be petrified that I’d walk in and they’d scream, “F**.”
That’s why I encourage anybody who has a voice, to use that voice to help others, to be a bridge. Because even a few years ago, I remember having a conversation with my father, and there was still a part him who was uncomfortable, as he said, with my homosexuality. A small part. I have had a wonderful, loving, supportive relationship with both my parents for years now, but he’d go and play golf with his buddies, and they’d crack f** jokes.
That’s f****** horrible.
But it exists.
Did he have the conversation with you about this?
He did, and we talked. He felt horrible.
That’s amazing, though, that he’s building a bridge to his son.
And again, that’s why I love what you’re doing with your platform, being out there. Because to me, the more men that we can look to who are comfortable in their strength and their vulnerability, I think it creates more change. It allows people who maybe need a little support or a little nudge to evolve themselves.
How does self-forgiveness work into your philosophy? That’s something that I worked with in the late 80s and early 90s, when I needed to get a grip on what was going on in my life, because I felt like I’d lost myself, even though I was successful. So I read Louise Hay’s book ‘You Can Heal Your Life’. That was my first self-help book, and I started working with it and in a week it started to shift things for me. I was new to that genre, but it really did help. But self-forgiveness, the idea you should always be looking into a mirror and saying, “I love you.” That was really difficult at first and for a while but fueled by a desire to feel better, to shift, I persisted and something clicked – and then I understood on a deeper level and didn’t self judge.
I think forgiveness is two distinctly different actions, right? To me, self-forgiveness stemmed from a very early age. I came out young. I had some stuff happen to me when I was young.
I was molested when I was 13 by a man that I was doing a show with. I was doing local theater and that happened a couple of times, and I never told anyone until I got sober when I was 21. That happened at 13, and I look back on it. I’ve done work on it. I’ve written. I’ve certainly done therapy on it and for years, basically my childhood was shattered and I was adrift and searching, feeling deserving of what had happened, and I had such intense self-loathing and self-hatred.
And then I came out two years later, at 15. We talk about stepping into your truth and your authentic self, and that it should be an empowering and powerful moment. But for me, it felt like that’s what it should have been and it wasn’t. My parents wanted to kick me out at 15 because they were afraid. I shattered their American dream, what the perfect family was supposed to look like. I felt unsafe in every area of my life, whether it was at my own home or at school or wherever I was, because of this. And so for me, it built up years of hating myself and feeling unworthy, and that I was this horrible person that I didn’t deserve any goodness or success or love.
Because somebody had molested you?
It was that, and it was also feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere.
You were coming to terms with your sexuality?
All of it. I was an incredibly sensitive child and my mom used that in a derogatory way. So it was all these things. And at the same time, I was captain of my football team, I had success, I was modeling, so I was leading this double life almost. So for me, once I got sober at 21, the healing really began. And that sense of self-forgiveness began to build and a foundation was grown. Because part of AA, one of the pillars, is a spiritual program. And so you begin to heal, to uncover, to discover where the hurt is coming from.
Listen, I believe everyone should have a therapist, and it’s taken years to get to this point. At one point I was going to really intense therapy two or three times a week. Before, I would see someone for a little bit, and then not. But I think I was 25, so about four or five years sober, when I realized I still carried it with me, this weight that I was unable to begin to chip away at. For me, that wasn’t a way to live. I had gotten clean and sober to have a better life, to live a fuller life, and yet there was still a part of me that I wasn’t able to access, so the therapy helped.
You begin to do the work, which I encourage anybody to do. Even though it might feel like you’re losing control, losing your sense of self or the labels that you’ve carried with and identified as. Many of the behaviors or patterns I had in my life, I thought enabled me to survive. But at a certain point, those same patterns and behaviors can actually have the opposite effect. They can keep you small. They can stunt your growth. You keep repeating things because those patterns were created when you used to feel a certain way about yourself. The work that you begin to do, it’s very unsettling. It can also get very maudlin. I could get very self-centered, narcissistic. You get so wrapped up in what you’re going through that you’re not really engaged or living fully. But I worked through that process, and to this day I still see a therapist.
I just had my first session with one last week, after I did a year of it 15 years ago and it just didn’t do anything for me. But I did do this course called the Hoffman Process, which was grueling but incredible. I think everyone in the world should do that. But just recently I’ve reached out to somebody, another therapist, because it’s time.
I’m such a proponent of therapy. Listen, you have to find a therapist that fits what you want in your life. One that’s great at listening, but they’re also great in a dialogue. For me, I want someone who’s participating, and who I can build a trust with to continue to do the work. Because I can still catch myself reacting the same way as that 13-year-old little boy who was powerless, and at one point felt that they allowed those things to happen.
It’s been fascinating too, when I do talk about therapy with people, how many people, men and women, look at therapy as, “Oh, that’s just for crazy people.” That’s part of the reason why I’m so open about it. One of the things over the last year and this pandemic, you have to take a moment, take a breath for yourself. To me, meditation is also a form of nurturing, a form of rejuvenation. As much as we look to put good fuel in our body, we should also think about the things that we put in our mind, and the things that we put in our heart. It all works together.
Everyone knows when you’re flying, the first thing that they say to you is, “Put your mask on first and then put on your child’s.” Because then you’re able to take care of them. So to me, you have to be able to take care of yourself, so that you then are able to take care of your children, your partner, your spouse, your co-workers.
Were you able to forgive yourself and were you able to forgive the man who molested you? I know that’s a bit of a big one but…
That’s a good question. It’s a big question. Yes. I am able to forgive myself more than I was then. There still is a part of me, and I try to be as kind and as loving as I can, that pops up and says, “Why did you let that happen?” So that’s what I’m saying, it’s a constant. Now, do I feel stronger than I did then that young boy? Yes. And talk about forgiving that man that…
The perpetrator. Yes. Big picture, yes I have forgiven him. Where I still struggle is the ‘why?’ What happened in his life that shaped him to do that? And I know I wasn’t the only one. So for me, that process of forgiveness is an ongoing thing. I talked about a toolkit, building our toolkit. And one of the tools that I’ve used is that I am able to look back and know that the person that I am today, I could protect that boy that I was. That has a lot of healing, that helps a lot. And also in being of service, I look to help others who have experienced it and who are struggling. Because I survived.