Apple TV+’s ‘The Crowded Room’ follows the story of Danny Sullivan, who is arrested following his involvement in a shooting incident at a public place. In a series of interviews with a psychiatrist, Danny opens up about his life, tracing the events that led to the shooting. His story sheds light on several things that had happened before while also creating a jarring picture of his mental health.
Played by Tom Holland, Danny is a complicated person who has been through a lot, which has resulted in a fractured state of his mind. The realistic portrayal of the character might make you wonder if it shares similarities with a real-life criminal case. Is Danny’s story inspired by this real-life event? Let’s find out. SPOILERS AHEAD
Is Danny Sullivan Based on Billy Milligan?
Danny Sullivan in ‘The Crowded Room’ is inspired by Billy Milligan, who became the first person in the history of the U.S. to be acquitted of a crime on the basis of dissociative identity disorder. Billy was born in 1955 in Florida but moved to Ohio after his father died by suicide. His mother married a WWII army veteran Chalmer Milligan, who Billy later accused of sexual and physical abuse.
Billy’s rough childhood led him to develop different personalities to survive. He was convicted of rape and robbery before the 1977 rapes near Ohio State University. He was accused of kidnapping, raping, and robbing three women, one of whom identified him from his mugshot. Following his arrest, the officers and his defense lawyers noted that there was something strange about Billy, and it was like “talking to different people at different times.”
After a few psychiatrists analyzed him, it was confirmed that Billy had dissociative identity disorder. The crimes were committed by his two personalities, Ragen, a Yugoslavian man, and Adalana, a 19-year-old girl. The core personality, Billy, was unaware of their actions, which is why Billy was confused about why he was arrested. The defense built a case with this revelation, and Billy pleaded not guilty based on insanity. The jury found him innocent and sent him to a psychiatric facility for treatment.
Billy was released from the hospital in 1988 and received further treatment until 1991. He also agreed to pay all costs for his hospital stays, but the state recovered only a part of it. His next clash with the law came in the 1990s when he was accused of threatening a judge in San Diego County. He declared bankruptcy, following which his name never again came out in association with any other crime. He lived a quiet life and moved back to Ohio five years before he died of cancer in December 2014 at 59.
In 1981, Daniel Keyes, following a series of interviews with Billy and his close friends and family, wrote a non-fiction book called ‘The Minds of Billy Milligan,’ detailing his life and experiences. It served as the inspiration for the Apple TV+ series and was referred to by Tom Holland, who plays the role of Danny. His research led him to watch the documentary about Billy and talk to specialists in psychiatry. However, the actor stated that the show takes a fictional approach, and despite the similarities between them, Danny and Billy are separate people.
Holland was drawn to play Danny because he found it to be a complex and misunderstood character, and the research allowed him to play Danny in “an authentic and sensitive way.” While he had braced for the role, Holland had a “tough time” playing it. He confessed that working on the show broke him, and he decided to take some time off from acting. Still, there was a lot for him to take away from Danny, the most important of which was the focus on his mental health. “Learning about mental health and the power of it, and speaking to psychiatrists about Danny and Billy’s struggles, has been something that has been so informative to my own life,” Holland said.
He hopes that the audience also recognizes Danny’s struggles and that watching the show will help them understand and “have more respect and more sympathy for people who are going through mental health issues. “I hope that people will feel educated about the powers of mental health, the struggles, [and] our incredible abilities to survive,” he said. Considering all this, we can say that Billy Milligan inspires Danny Sullivan, but the show’s creators have given Danny a journey of his own to make him a more distinct character.