The Tragic Side of the Hell Raisers

So the post I did on Oliver Reed was a fun one. He was lucky enough to live till age 61. His friend, fellow Hell raiser with whom he partied hard, Keith Moon only lived to 32. Heck if you drink that much and make it to 72 as Richard Harris did consider yourself lucky. Not as lucky as Peter O’Toole who made it to 81 (though I think he quit drinking in the late 70s? after it nearly killed him; Richard Harris too, after a doctor’s warning, took over a decade off from drinking before returning to beer).

With that we get to the great Richard Burton. Out of all of them, I think he was the most compelling (and handsome). Below we see him describe to Dick Cavett his own experience of the dark side of addiction. I also think it sheds light on a much misunderstand dynamic. People tend to think if you are an alcoholic or drug addict, you’ll simply cease to be able to function and dedicate yourself only to your vice, perhaps end up on the streets or not working, living at home off of something or someone. And certainly that describes a certain kind of addiction.

But there’s a whole world out there of “functional addiction.” Alcohol and/or other drugs become more like cigarettes; you can function — very often brilliantly — and unfortunately, rely on the drug to function. Note how Burton discusses the first time he had been on stage WITHOUT a drink.

richard burton talking about alcohol addiction

Burton lived to 58.

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6 thoughts on “The Tragic Side of the Hell Raisers

  1. The embed wasn’t working for me, so I switched it out.

    you can function — very often brilliantly — and unfortunately, rely on the drug to function.

    I haven’t watched it, but a friend of mine went to see the Amy Winehouse doc. He said there’s a story in the film where she’s in the UK, sober at the time, learning via cross-Atlantic TV of her Grammy win.

    Her longtime friend asks her if she’s happy, and Winehouse replies how *boring* it all is, without the drink/drugs.

    My friend said it was the first time the anhedonia hurdle of addiction recovery really hit home for him – he was aware of an addict’s physical craving for a drug, but not the mental difficulty in taking sober pleasure or experiencing excitement that results from addiction (and/or, the depression that led to the addiction in the first place).

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  2. There was a show on Chicago Public radio called Magnificent Obsession that used to air early in the morning on Saturday. Each episode was a tale, told in the first person, of someone’s harrowing addiction to alcohol. Unbeknownst to me, the host, Jim Nayder, was a functioning alcoholic.

    Alas, he drank himself into a very early grave at age 59. Here is the beautiful obituary posted on WBEZ’s website: http://www.wbez.org/sections/health/remembering-annoying-music-show-and-magnificent-obsession-host-jim-nayder-110595

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  3. I happened to have just finished watching Birdman just shortly before this post went up (or before I saw it). So it was particularly resonant for me out of coincidence.

    I’ve spent a day trying to think of something intelligent to say linking this meditation on alcohol and the thespian life and the one in that figures in that film. And… nope. Not much there. Other than,

    “Yeah, man. Booze. Wow.”

    I actually kind of thought at the end of the day Birdman was a big pile of fraudulent crap on its own terms (it tries to be a lot more than just a portrait of a troubled actor and fails). But I’d still recommend people dial it up if you can get it for free or a couple bucks, because it’s pretty stark on the interplay of the artist’s life, drink, and madness.

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