From Errol Flynn to Spencer Tracy, from Johnny Cash to David Bowie, the story and its too common sad ending are the same. David was 69 and his killers were cancer and cocaine. Johnny got over his double addiction, but grog was the daily bread of talented actors like Errol and Spence and so many others whose name is Legion. Some like Peter O’Toole were almost always drunk on the set. Katherine Hepburn had to cover for her lover most of his life, and somehow managed to get him to put on a star performance and complete his last movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner “. Tracy was 68 but looked ten years older. Like Bowie he was unique. No one ever dared to try to imitate either of them.
When you earn buckets of ducats starring in a movie or producing a hit record, the price of vast quantities of Blue Label Scotch or the best Russian vodka or the purest powder is hardly a problem. To say that show-biz celebs need such substances to perform is to suggest that they all do. Some at least apparently do not. But we are never surprised to discover how hooked so many stars are, and half expect their death-notice to include mention of drug and/or alcohol abuse.
The entertainment business has no monopoly on addiction, which knows no class or social distinctions. It’s just that we would like that the people who provide us with such pleasure in both live performances and on the screen, on our computer or our earphones really were the sort of people we would like to imagine they are – and whose often premature deaths rob us of enjoying their talent much longer than their demons let us. They seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of us, when in fact they are just better known. It would be nice if we could help them by praying for them. Their only hope – the only hope for everyone with substance-dependence – is their own recognition of it, their personal determination to overcome it and adequate medical and psychological treatment. We can’t do a thing for them. God, for obvious reasons, can do even less.