Rich, drunk and high as a teen, he flunked out of Oakton. Now, he's a Hollywood agent who helps others.
Drinking to excess, using drugs and living high on the hog as a trust-fund kid, James Crane bailed out of Oakton College in Des Plaines before he was even old enough to buy his first legal drink.
"My world just kept crumbling," Crane says, aware that many people started the new year in a similar place.
Now 25 and sober for four years, Crane has his dream job as a Hollywood talent agent. He also hosts a podcast called "Everyday with James Crane," which aims to help people coping with mental health issues and substance abuse.
"We talk about mental illness, mental toughness and overcoming obstacles," says Crane, whose guests have included actors, athletes and friends.
Crane credits his own failures for helping him find his way in a world where people often fall short of the accomplishments they see on social media. "They post their successes and the happiness and the smiles, but everyone is scared to talk about the failures," he told listeners as he launched his podcast this past October. He says he sees failure as a way to learn and hopes the way he overcame his failures can inspire others.
Crane grew up in Winnetka, born into wealth. His family had several houses, a boat and a plane. His father, who worked in finance, died unexpectedly when Crane was 15.
"I was just one of the kids who liked to party a lot," remembers Crane, who said he skipped school whenever he could and never applied himself. He graduated from New Trier High School in 2012 without a plan for his future. That summer, he was accepted into Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. College was just another playground for Crane.
"I was just partying, and not going to classes," Crane says. "I was told I'd be nothing. I flunked out."
Coming back to the suburbs that winter, Crane enrolled at Oakton College in Des Plaines for the spring.
"I just knew I needed to be in school, but I faded out of there pretty quickly, too," Crane says. He used his trust fund to finance his new life on Chicago's Gold Coast.
"That's when stuff really started to go downhill, being 19, on my own and in a big city," he says. In addition to smoking marijuana and drinking to excess, Crane abused Xanax, a commonly prescribed psychiatric medication.
"I would go to bad neighborhoods to get Xanax," he says.
His mother, Margaret Crane, knew her son needed help and got him a spot at Promises, a luxury drug rehab and detox center in Malibu, California. "I was hesitant, but my mom was like, 'You have no other choice,'" Crane says.
After a 30-day program, Crane found work as an intern for Conan O'Brien's TV show. But he quickly fell back into old habits. Since a second stint at Promises, Crane says, he has remained sober for four years.
"The second I left drugs and alcohol, all this amazing stuff happened," Crane says. He enrolled in the Los Angeles Film School and discovered his calling. "I was really good at connecting people," he says.
Crane's hard work paid off. Crane says he loves his job as a talent agent at Sovereign Talent Group, where his clients include Jess Gabor, an actress best known for playing Kelly Keefe on Showtime's "Shameless." As he builds his own success story, his podcast urges people to help others get the help they need.
"Everyone is a human being. Everyone has their own struggles in life and everyone has their own stories," Crane says. "So be kind always because you never know what's going to happen. You never know if that kindness is going to help that person that day. People feel better when they help somebody."