An Open Response to Scott Stuckey’s “An Open Letter to Tina Whatley Chesnutt”

I will not posture a salutation here. Unlike Mr. Stuckey, I will not pretend this response is intended for anyone other than Scott’s audience and the public in general. I suspect he will be shocked to find I am responding, as a response is likely the last thing he ever expected from his purely propagandist plea to me. I have remained silent for a long time, and this silence seems to have emboldened Scott to the point that he thinks he can get away with anything. But it seems I have finally reached a turning point, too, and I will no longer tolerate his abuse in silence. I do still have the will to stand up against someone who is horribly mistreating someone else, or others. It is extremely surreal to me that the mistreated people I want to defend against Mr. Stuckey are myself and my deceased husband, Vic Chesnutt. Though I do not have Mr. Stuckey’s seemingly unlimited financial resources or his influence and charm, I do still have the ability to speak up and to at least go down swinging. I do this for myself, and for Vic.

I would like to properly address the multitude of fabrications and intentional misrepresentations Mr. Stuckey has espoused about Vic and me over the years, in his ‘open letter,’ and most recently in the press, but for the sake of brevity I will limit myself here to addressing in detail only two of the ridiculously false claims from this open letter. There is so much more to tell but my hope is to quickly convey some idea of the nature of Mr. Stuckey and the complexity of dealing with the estate of Vic Chesnutt. Toward this goal my response is made in 5 points. Point 4 is the most important one if you only have time for one. It seems to explain everything that I previously found inexplicable.

But before I begin addressing this situation with Mr. Stuckey, I want to give some attention to the misrepresentations that are generally being encouraged in the press as well as in some purported tributes to Vic. I believe the intention is to sensationalize Vic’s story for the marketing purposes of the people behind some of these efforts. Vic’s story does not need sensationalizing or embellishment; it is fantastic on its own.

Some are presenting Vic as being poor and generally in debt (as opposed to Medical Debt only), or as having a sad and tragic life, and they convey a bizarre fear that his story will never be told. What rubbish. These are all far from true. It seems to me that everyone who ever met Vic now wants to tell ‘his’ story. That is the power of Vic. Here are some facts for anyone who still cares about facts: We were not poor. Medical Debt is a national problem and was the only debt we had. We were very happy despite our outside world struggles, and generally considered ourselves the most fortunate people on earth as long as we had each other.

Vic and I considered ourselves tremendously successful. It was because of our financial success that Vic became “uninsurable.” This means that because of our income level he was no longer eligible for government assistance through Medicare (which he had before we were married) and he was being refused any coverage by all health insurance companies, at any price. We had been struggling to bear the weight of ‘total original fees’ for medical expenses for many years, you know, the fee you are presented as the “original fee” for services before your insurance company makes its deduction and payment. For example that $20,000 original fee that makes you feel okay, happy even, that you actually only have to pay $2000. In 1997 we had miraculously found a way to get insurance coverage for Vic, but we soon lost it. We did manage, however, to maintain Major Medical, which is hospitalization coverage only, though I had to give up my own health insurance coverage in the effort to pay the very steep premium for this COBRA provided coverage.

So let’s all reflect on this situation for a minute. Vic did, miraculously, still have “hospitalization only” coverage but we were being sued by a HOSPITAL for that remaining percentage of the total, after the insurance payment, even though we were making regular monthly payments toward the full payment of the bill. Only in America, literally. So if you tell Vic’s story as one of sad tragedy, make certain you point out that you, and your government and its healthcare system, are the sad and tragic part of his story. Not Vic. And remind yourself that you could be suffering the same fate tomorrow.

Before his death Vic vigorously campaigned for change to our horrible healthcare system. He told our story on national radio, in the press, and elsewhere. We wanted to help all citizens who shared our plight, people with chronic medical need who wanted to work, and/or be married, but who were uninsurable. At the time of his death, his only hope for continuing to receive medical care seemed to require that he quit working and get divorced. Again, this is on you, your government, and your healthcare system.

Nevertheless, despite the enormous burden of these medical bills and his failing health, like so many others of you who struggle with the everyday challenges of living, we did retain happiness in our lives. We laughed a lot. We laughed always. And Vic was always surrounded by family and many friends who loved and adored him. They could not, however, be expected to help us with our medical debt. If everyone started trying to pay the medical debts of the uninsurable in our previous system of healthcare, we would all have gone broke very quickly.

So yes, Vic did suffer. We suffered. But our suffering wasn't the tragedy. People suffer, always. The tragedy is you, and me and all of us allowing people to needlessly suffer because of profit margins and the fact that we won’t pay attention to the problem long enough to fix it, for everyone.

There are also many false claims in the press and elsewhere regarding our marriage. I believe these are due to Mr. Stuckey’s devious efforts, though certainly he may not be alone. Vic and I were absolutely devoted to each other at the time of his death. I believe we always were. Many years before Vic’s death, as we struggled through the effects of outside influences on our marriage, as well as the weight of his medical debt, we always assured each other that staying together and married was what we most desired, as long as the other felt the same way. I believe these declarations allowed us some amount of happiness that enabled us to endure this very troubled and difficult time. But in 2007 we stopped struggling with these issues. We got a puppy, our first, and we never wrestled with those problems again.

We considered ourselves more successful and more happy than most, and more loved than anybody. These blessings do not save you from death and taxes, or hospital bills, or the schemes of others.

Back to Mr. Stuckey:

  1. Mr. Stuckey posted his “open letter” on Facebook where everyone is encouraged to “share” it and comment on it. However, unlike the many nasty letters he has sent directly to me in email or text form, Scott did not bother to send this “open letter” to me, or “tag” me, or in any other way notify me about it. I only became aware of this letter when an old friend happened to take the time to ask me about it. He conveyed that though he found its contents difficult to believe, he did, however, assume Scott’s claims to be true. I believe this was Scott’s plan. Who would imagine someone could be lying about such a noble cause? I certainly never imagined anyone Vic and I had considered a friend being capable of, or being motivated toward, the underhanded and twisted schemes that I, our families, our close friends, and the public have now witnessed.

  2. In his letter, Mr. Stuckey writes: “I have invited you to work on the project with me, given you access to all my footage, and even invited you to edit with me. Unfortunately for reasons still unknown to me you have been unwilling to participate in the making of this film.” — Though far from being his cruelest deceit, this might be his most brazen. I can only suppose its intention was to rally others to publicly berate me. It certainly worked. An upset friend from far away called and read some of the responses she was seeing on Facebook. They were incredibly cruel, and I was quite literally sickened by them. Congratulations Scott, you have had some real success. —But the truth is that Scott invited me to work on his film and I did. Opposite of Scott’s claim in his “open letter,” that I “have been unwilling to participate in the making of this film,” in one of his private emails Scott berates me for working with him for so long, for “8 months” according to him. There are many witnesses to the time we spent working together, including Scott’s wife and sister and his two assistants, as well as my friends and family. This should be sufficient evidence of Scott’s ability to publicly proclaim something with zero concern for it having a shred of truth in it. (Though there is certainly much more evidence of his disregard for the truth, as well as his malicious intent.) Here’s the real story: Scott began soliciting my attention regarding his film immediately upon Vic’s death. Some of our mutual friends interceded to explain to him that I and the rest of Vic’s family and friends needed time to grieve. He then began a repeating cycle of apology followed immediately by another request. Some time later two people I greatly respected sent word that they wanted to encourage me to meet with Scott because they had seen some of his footage and were impressed with it. Upon receiving Scott’s next request I acquiesced. I met with him and he showed me a very rough film which included some of his own footage but was mostly comprised of footage collected from other sources. This ‘collected footage’ was largely from television appearances we did in Europe and Canada, where we had our greatest success, as well as TV appearances from the States. Some of this collected footage was actually my own footage, shot on our Super 8 camera. Scott showed me some additional footage and then he asked me to work with him on his film. All of this footage of Vic collected in one place was incredibly inspiring, like Vic himself, and it had a very uplifting effect on me when I saw it. Though I immediately suggested hiring, at my own expense, an objective (i.e. not a friend of Vic’s or ours) professional filmmaker, to either direct or simply assist in making the film, I did finally agree to simply working with Scott because he stated that, though many others were recommending the same approach to him, he really wanted to try it on his own, and if I would help him, he would, at the finish of his film, donate all of his personal footage, as well as his collected footage, to the estate of Vic Chesnutt for its use in any other films, etc., honoring Vic. I worked with him for many, many months. I will agree with the estimate in Scott’s private email to me, that we worked together approximately 8 months. —It should be noted here that the last edit which I was privy to see was still mostly other peoples’ footage, including mine. Sometime just before Scott stopped work on his film he called me and curiously somewhat invited and discouraged at the same time me to participate in a conference call between him and his lawyer. I accepted, stopped mowing my yard, and joined in the call. During this call I was made aware, by his lawyer, that Scott did not yet have any rights to use any of these numerous pieces of other people’s ‘collected footage.’ His lawyer told him that he would have to finish his film. I believe he stated that all request for permissions would have to be accompanied by a finished film. Perhaps this is why we keep hearing about screenings of his “initial rough cut.” Is the truth that he simply won’t finish his film and ask for the many permissions his film requires to be legally screened as a finished film? I don’t know, I’m just guessing. His lawyer also asked Scott if he was certain that everything he had listed on this very long list was absolutely going to be in the film. Scott answered that he didn’t know yet. His lawyer also inquired if the person who wrote this list even spoke English, as he was having great difficulty deciphering it. During that conversation, Scott’s lawyer seemed to be frustrated with Scott in general. —For me the big question is, why didn’t Scott just make a film and then make his requests for these many permissions? Why did he instead ask me to work on it with him? Especially since he later claimed that Vic told him to not let me anywhere near it? During those 8 months that I devoted myself to working on this film about Vic I shared a lot of my and Vic’s personal stories with Scott. How sickening it has been to watch Scott and one of his “producers” in interviews about their film glibly tell my stories about my and Vic’s lives as if they had been there. They get these stories so wrong. It would be comical if their intentions weren’t so abhorrent. These tales are preceded and followed by outright lies about Vic and me, and our marriage. Which is it today: divorced, separated, or the evil wife? Scott has fabricated and propagated all of these.

  3. I never stopped Scott’s film. After working together for those many months, Scott called me late one night. (This was unprecedented. Previously we only talked during more traditional work hours, i.e. we were not late night phone conversation buddies) He was in an agitated state and began by asking many pointed questions about the night of my husband’s suicide attempt. At first I just started answering, until I realized that this was completely inappropriate and that something was not right about Scott’s state. He then demanded, repeatedly, to know what a mutual friend of ours had said about his, Scott’s, screening at the University of Mississippi of a film on or for JoJo Hermann’s thesis on the works of Vic Chesnutt. (Important note: The real story here is that JoJo Hermann hired Scott to film interviews with Vic so that JoJo could use them to reference in writing his thesis. At least this is what Scott and JoJo told me and Vic when they first asked to film the interviews with Vic about his works.) I told Scott I would need to ask this person, our mutual friend, what I could share with Scott before I could tell him their opinions, but he would not stop demanding to know what they had said until I finally blurted out, “They said we should get a professional filmmaker involved.” At this point his rage seemingly escalated and he began to berate ME in an extremely hostile and malicious manner. I believe this call ended by my finally disconnecting from the call. I was left in a complete state of shock and bewilderment, and severely bruised by his horrible claims and accusations. Before this incident he had given me no indication that he was unhappy about anything regarding me or our work on his film. In fact, up until this point, he had told me what a tremendous help I was, and ALL the feedback we had received stated that his film had greatly improved during the time I was working on it. At 1:25 a.m. he sent an email with more bizarre allegations. In my response the next day I again expressed my shock and again pointed out that the opinion our friend had shared was not intended as an insult and that it seemed implausible that he could be shocked by it. He himself had told me that most of the people who knew Vic had expressed the same opinion. He had not been upset by hearing it from all these others, some of them filmmakers themselves. Why now? I believe we all considered it a compliment to this footage of Vic, and if the main concern was telling Vic’s story, why didn’t Scott also want this? He then responded with a somewhat more rational response, but still included a lot of strange claims. We had a few more exchanges before Scott stated that he wanted to stop work on the film and that he wanted me to return the computer he had loaned me for working on his film. Then, in the month that followed this, he sent many emails and text. Sometimes they were apologetic but most often they were irrational and some were very hostile and malicious and full of unimaginable claims. These were read by others and are well documented. It actually felt like Scott was trying to force me to send him a cease and desist letter, and with the encouragement of Vic’s sister, Lorinda Crane, I finally did. It had nothing to do with his film, except that he had proven himself to us to be a duplicitous person who didn’t merit the honor of representing anything regarding our beloved and most honored Vic Chesnutt. Let’s review: After many months of productive work together on his film, Scott seemingly flew into a rage and attacked me over someone else’s comment about a film of his that I had never even seen. (Yes, this was Scott’s film for JoJo Hermann’s thesis that our friend had seen, not the one on which we were working. At least this is what I was told, that these were/are two different films. Who knows?) Scott stopped work on his film, and started harassing me until he pushed me to the point, a month later, of sending him a cease and desist letter, which was signed in conjunction with Vic’s sister. (More Important Notes: Scott privately vigorously encouraged me to stop every other release regarding Vic since Vic’s death, but he now publicly denounces me for stopping these same releases. Most of these I actually didn’t stop. And the ones which I did have to address only required a “this is not appropriate” approach before apologies were immediately received. I have emails that document Scott strongly encouraging me to stop them. Also, while we were working together Scott spoke repeatedly about other films that used the denial of permissions as a marketing scheme. And later, after he had stopped his film, he actually threatened that he would make a film about me stopping the making of his movie.)

  4. Please take the time to do an Internet search for “narcissist smear campaign.” In your readings there you will discover, as I just have, exactly what I believe Mr. Stuckey’s intentions are with his “open letter,” as well as in his interviews with the press, and what I believe are possibly his even more underhanded efforts elsewhere on the internet and amongst our friends. After years of struggling to understand what Scott has been doing, why he has been fabricating stories and is endlessly pursuing the discrediting of me, as well as the rewriting of Vic’s history, I finally get it. Or I am finally accepting it. I have had a light turned on that illuminates and explains everything. Well, almost everything. I still don’t get the why. I will include one link here. There are many more informative sites on this topic, but this is the one that was originally sent to me by a friend when I turned to them just a few days ago for help in posting my original 16 page rambling jigsaw puzzled response to Mr. Stuckey’s letter. The link is:

  5. I cannot tell you why Scott has waged this campaign against me. It has completely boggled what is still left of my admittedly weakened mind. If it is because he wanted to be the first to release a film about Vic, then why did he stop his film? Is his anger at me derived from some desire to be perceived, by people who didn’t know us, as Vic’s closest friend? Does he see me as someone who is standing in his way? If this is the case, then he has a lot of other people he will need to destroy before he gets to the top of the heap of Vic’s friends. —I can tell you that he has succeeded in affecting some people’s opinions about me, and this has been very difficult to take. I have suffered some cruel remarks from people I respected and admired. Even some people who I thought knew Vic and me well enough to know better have been influenced by Scott’s many, both great and small, some slight and some preposterous, false claims. I have been surprised by others who have actually encouraged him, though I believe I can now guess their motives. Fortunately we had many people who were very close to us, and these claims were never given any consideration by them.

I thought I had always been very kind to Scott, generous even. I certainly do not feel that I did anything to him to merit any of this. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone deserving to suffer what Scott has put me through. Someone attempting to convince someone else that their now deceased loved one once said and did things that were completely out of character is beyond cruel.

I was never close to Scott. I always supported Vic in his efforts to not do more harm to himself with the overuse of alcohol or drugs, as I supported him in his efforts to stay devoted to work as a means to distract from the persistent call of death. It was always difficult for me to fully embrace anyone who encouraged him otherwise.

To Vic’s public:

Losing Vic and my sister at the same time was beyond devastating. The sun left and took the moon with it. This being preceded by a year of my fighting as hard as I could to hold them both in place. The circumstances of their deaths were possibly even more devastating than the deaths themselves: one driven to suicide by a health care industry and the government that allowed it, the other brutally taken by a rare and aggressive breast cancer whose treatments only ravaged her body and mind before allowing the cancer to take her. I held them as the life went from them. They both wanted to live. I have not recovered from my loss. My mind will never be what it was before. I struggle to find a new “normalcy.”

I am so thankful for the family and friends who continue to help me find joy in this world. And I am so grateful for those who have stood beside me during this ordeal with Mr Stuckey, telling me that he was insane or worse during my own state of confusion upon hearing many of his claims.

I do not want anyone’s pity. I only want to not be preyed upon.

I regret I have been unable to deliver to the public the tributes to Vic that some feel they deserved by now. I have hoped during this time that the enormous amount of releases we accomplished before Vic’s death would engage them until I or our heirs are capable of more.

I could not have imagined that while I was trying to regain my sanity, others were busy creating completely false histories around Vic’s life story as a way to promote themselves.

Vic’s and my families and many of our friends already know many of the details of this long-running nightmare. I now want to share this story with the public. It has been well documented and I will be posting on the website in an effort to make the public aware of what people are truly capable of doing, and to thank the many people who have stood by me throughout this ugly ordeal. You will find a lot of what is written here repeated there. I will post my original 16-page response soon.

It is quite possible that you also know someone who has suffered or is suffering the very clever abuse of someone like this. These victims need your confidence and your help. Learn what should be done to combat someone like this. It is a tremendous challenge. My heart breaks for those who have lacked the support systems that I have been blessed to have. I hope for the best for all of us.

—Tina Chesnutt