Philip Seymour Hoffman and Hollywood's drug addiction: Why did nobody care about the actor's problem until it killed him?
Addiction hardly makes headlines until it's too late. Kaleem Aftab reports
Tuesday 04 February 2014
It says everything about the prevalence of drug culture in the entertainment industry that when Philip Seymour Hoffman admitted to going into rehab early last summer, it barely caused a ripple in British newspapers.
Hoffman said last May that he checked himself into a detox facility for 10 days as he desperately wanted to nip a drug problem in the bud. Hoffman stated that for a year he had been relying on prescription drugs in a bid to kick his resurfacing heroin habit, an addiction he believed he had kicked 23 years previously.
In a 2006 interview in the run-up to his receiving a best actor Academy Award for his brilliant portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote he admitted that after graduating from New York University's Tisch School, he checked himself into rehab as he would consume "anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all."
He said: "I went [to rehab]. I got sober when I was 22 years old. You get panicked... And I got panicked for my life."
But a story about yet another actor going into rehab for drug addiction has become so commonplace that it's no longer deemed a big hard news story, even for a seemingly sober, intelligent, well-respected 46-year-old Oscar winner not known for a life on the party circuit.
The drug stories that do get media inches are the ones that feature hip stars that are likely to garner a huge amount of hits on websites, and often it's not because of the drug taking.
Last week, a toxicology report revealed that when Justin Bieber was recently arrested for driving under the influence there were traces of marijuana and prescription drugs in his blood. Yet it was not the toxicology report or the drugs that made headlines, but the online petition that was started to get the Canadian citizen deported from the United States. The White House has even stated it would be responding to the online petition that now has more than 254,000 signatories.
The list of young stars being caught up in drug scandals or checking into rehab seems endless. Gossip Girl star Chace Crawford was arrested for being in possession of marijuana. Glee star Corey Monteith died after mixing heroin with alcohol. High School Musical star Zac Efron was also in rehab last year, reportedly fighting a cocaine addiction. Such is the prevalence of drugs that a celebrity needs to be hospitalised or have a run-in with the law for the story to break in the quality press.
The drug culture is prevalent in Britain too. Steve Coogan, who has had his fair share of well-documented drug problems, led the tributes to Hoffman at the London Critic Circles Awards.
These stories are just the tip of a very big iceberg. They are so commonplace that it's easy to see why newspaper editors have become immune to them. The stories of actors on drugs are nothing new, from Errol Flynn to Charlie Sheen, we have been enthralled and bemused in equal part by tales of successful entertainers living fast and falling on their faces.
Yet what is different today is not that drug taking seems to be the norm, but that the drugs being taken have evolved and are easier than ever to obtain. More importantly the moral stigma of being seen to be on drugs has been hugely diminished.
Hardly a month seems to go by without Lindsay Lohan eating up column inches for everything but her acting. Her troubled lifestyle was well highlighted even before she made a public drug confession on Oprah, claiming to take cocaine only because it allowed her to drink more. "Cocaine was a party thing. People would have it and I would do it," she said. "It went hand in hand with drinking."
Lohan's dad, Michael Lohan, claimed that her big problem is prescription pills. Drugs obtained from pharmacies have cropped up frequently in recent Hollywood drug stories, including the tragic death of Hoffman. It was a combination of prescription drugs that was the cause of the death of Brokeback Mountain star Heath Ledger.
The more lax attitude to prescription drugs can be seen in the reaction and news coverage being given to two tales vying for prizes at the Oscars. While Dallas Buyers Club about an HIV-positive man dealing medical drugs illegal in America is favourite to see its star Matthew McConaughey win the best actor prize, Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street – that details the drug culture prevalent in the finance sector – saw an American Academy member scream at the film-maker, "Shame on you" for his depiction of Jordan Belfort's hedonistic lifestyle.
Leonardo DiCaprio reveals his childhood surrounded by drugs as he defends The Wolf of Wall Street role
Christina McDowell's open letter to Scorsese lambasts the director for glorifying the life of Belfort and her father Tom Prousalis. She writes, "And yet you're glorifying it – you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you'd be sending when you decided to make this film?" The barbs effectively ended talk of Leonardo DiCaprio winning best actor award.
It's possibly the first time that a portrayal of a drug dealer is being feted over that of a drug user by the American Academy. Yet despite the detractors Scorsese's film is remarkable in how it catches the zeitgeist in that for most people there is no longer a debate over the morality of taking drugs. Drug taking has become a fact of life, and it's true for bankers and lawyers as much as for film stars.
It's now become a story when someone feels the need to come out and say they don't do drugs, as DiCaprio himself recently did. What's not changed is the fact that some people cannot exercise self-control and end up destroying their own lives.
Some have expressed surprise that Hoffman, who seemed so calm and erudite in public was a drug addict, yet this shows an ignorance of how socially acceptable drug taking is in the film industry. While it would be ridiculous to say everyone is doing it – that's far from the truth – it's become so socially accepted that it's no surprise to hear about anyone who does.
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