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Stephen Fry: The actor taking the highs with the lows

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Stephen Fry on coping with fame and fortune
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Stephen Fry is a British actor, writer and comedian
  • Began career in television writing and appearing in comedies with Hugh Laurie
  • A self-confessed technophile he has battled manic depression throughout his life

(CNN) -- Stephen Fry is a comedian, actor and writer, who has become something rare in British public life; a national treasure.

The self-effacing 53-year-old, who is renowned for his modesty as much as his wit, generally recoils at the unofficial title.

If someone had told Fry when he was a teenage tear-away -- he was jailed for credit card fraud when just 17 -- that he would achieve his current level of success and garner so much affection he would have been shocked.

"I wouldn't have believed them for a minute. I think I would have almost exploded with hope and distrust, you know," he told CNN.

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Video: Stephen Fry on manic depression
I think of depression as being the weather, the point of the weather is that it is not under our control. But it is also true that it's real.
--Stephen Fry, actor and author

"It's like a child being told that they are going to see Willy Wonka, they think, 'It's not true, I will actually die. It'd better be true.' And I don't think I would have believed it, I do have to hug myself at how lucky I've been."

After some turbulent teenage years, Fry went to Cambridge University where he met Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson; forging friendships and collaborations that he admits helped to define the rest of his life.

From his comedy writing with Laurie, Fry wrote and appeared in numerous TV comedies and shows, including the long-running comedy series "Blackadder". He's since gone on to appear in movies, host the cerebral celebrity quiz show "QI" and most recently appear in the hit U.S. series "Bones".

While dividing his time between numerous projects, from acting and directing to writing and indulging his love of technology, one constant in Fry's life has been coping with manic depression.

"I swing from a hyper state in which, quite far from feeling self-disgust and self-hatred, you are grandiose... You have feelings of grandiosity and creative power and connection to the world and absolute empathy with all living and inanimate things and everything seems possible and it's very hard to sleep and your body's buzzing," he said.

"When you're depressed, the idea of there being a tomorrow seems insupportable, nonsensical and pointless and it's very hard to shake off. You don't want to connect to other people, you just want to pull the social duvet over your head and be done with it all. It can be very bad indeed and painful."

Through work with mental health charities and making the Emmy-award winning documentary, "The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive", he has gone some way to removing the stigma surrounding the illness and creating greater public awareness.

"I think of it as being the weather, the point of the weather is that it is not under our control, we can't make it sunny when it's stormy, we can't make it rain when it is dry and hot. But it is also true that it's real.

"The classic mistake is to somehow imagine that it's your fault and that it isn't really there and that if you snap your fingers then the dark clouds will rise.

"I think we're a long way from understanding manic depression, a long way. But I think we're at least now better able to understand its effect and begin to talk about it more openly."