Exodus from Addiction: Stories for the journey
March 5, 2011 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for strong examples of people who were functional, positive contributors to society as drunks, who were able to accomplish even more after they stopped drinking.

Stories of financial success do not necessarily apply, though they wouldn't be disqualified merely on that basis. However, I'm only interested in accomplishments that resulted from great personal dedication and passion.

  • Bonus points for those who exhibited great personal integrity as well.

  • Big bonus multiplier for those whose work dealt with intractable social problems.

I'm interested primarily from the alcoholism angle, but those who went on to greater personal achievements after overcoming other substance addictions are of interest as well.
posted by perspicio to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Chris Mullin, NBA player, had the best years of his career after quitting drinking.

Brett Favre, NFL player, was treated for alcoholism and addiction to Vicodin, then returned to MVP form and led his team to a Super Bowl win.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:36 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Late night host Craig Ferguson has spoken and written a lot about fighting his alcoholism. He has a good opening monologue on it he did for his show in 2010.
posted by FJT at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Karl Hyde, lead singer of Underworld.
posted by mkb at 12:46 PM on March 5, 2011

Ann Richards, former governor of Texas
posted by AlliKat75 at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bonnie Raitt.
posted by gregglind at 1:10 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eric Clapton...kinda.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:17 PM on March 5, 2011

Not really limited to just people - but here is a pretty good, funny article about impressive things that shaped the world while drunk:
posted by lpcxa0 at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not a single individual, but I've read academic articles which argued that the Enlightenment really took hold when the intellectuals of Europe stopped drinking beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and started hanging out at coffee houses instead. Can't find a reference right now, perhaps someone else will dig one up?
posted by embrangled at 2:04 PM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Roger Ebert.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

The book Witness to the Fire: Creativity and the Veil of Addiction discusses this question in detail. The author's favorite example of someone who overcame these problems to go on to do his best work was Dostoevsky.
posted by ovvl at 2:29 PM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Thanks for all the answers so far. Some of the individuals mentioned above are definitely examples of what I'm after. (Others may or may not be. I'll have to do my homework to find out for sure.) However, it seems I was a bit too specific in my original request. What I'm looking for is not just examples of people, but also, and more pointedly, their stories - which may or may not be in their own words.

The stories should chronologically include:
(1) Some measurable/enumerable accomplishment(s) during a period of functional alcoholism or other substance abuse. This could well be something as simple as holding down a steady job in, for example, manufacturing or social work, each of which is generally considered to be a positive contribution to society.

(2) Quitting alcohol (or that other substance).

(3) Accomplishing qualitatively greater things afterward, as opposed to simply adding to their total pile of the same sorts of accomplishments, through exercise of their own passion and dedication.
I realize there's no small level of subjectivity to the 3rd criterion, which is why I'm looking for strong examples. But in any event, hopefully the answers would conform to that basic structure (explicitly or by linking). So, for example, in the case of artists or performers I'd be looking for something that at least suggests that they produced their best work after they became sober. If you say George Carlin, I want something fairly solid to support the idea that he accomplished better things after he got sober than before (aside from overcoming addiction itself, of course).

(In the tongue-in-cheek example of GWB, I'd need some oomph to support the claim that his post-drunk accomplishments were substantively attributable to his own passion, as opposed to the hand-me-downs of power. Also that he was a net positive contributor.)

Also note: Neither the individual nor their accomplishments need to be celebrity-tier, provided they are documented and verifiable. More importantly, as noted originally, people of notable integrity and accomplishments of social significance are favored.
posted by perspicio at 2:41 PM on March 5, 2011

Raymond Carver
posted by timsteil at 3:01 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stevie Ray Vaughan. In Step is an amazing album.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:43 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might want to check out the story of Tony Adams. He had great success as a soccer player while still an alcoholic, but even greater success after kicking the addiction. Also he founded the Sporting Chance Clinic, a charity to help sportspeople with addictions, and published a very honest autobiography called Addiction.
posted by philipy at 4:10 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stephen King
posted by mazienh at 4:56 PM on March 5, 2011

Recent Academy-Award-Winner Trent Reznor. His music has, in my opinion, improved greatly since he got sober. See Wiki.
posted by kpmcguire at 5:02 PM on March 5, 2011

Steve Dahl. Joe Walsh.
posted by gjc at 5:10 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

sorry for the borked link, I meant, Raymond Carver
posted by timsteil at 5:24 PM on March 5, 2011

Counter argument: John A Macdonald.

Theoren Fluery, an NHL players.
posted by porpoise at 8:24 PM on March 5, 2011

Thanks, Tim - Raymond Carver's is exactly the kind of story I was looking for. In fact, when I asked the question it was already shuffling around in the shadowy recesses of my mind, beyond my ability to make out more than the basic outline. Thanks for shining a light.

I'm also looking forward to checking out Witness to the Fire.

The "coffee supplanted alcohol" theory of the Enlightenment sounds really interesting too, especially if a substantive case (even if only circumstantial) can be made for a causal connection.

Most of the athletes named fit the basic description of what I'm looking for, and I enjoyed reading up on them, but Carver and the other authors come closer to what I'm after in terms of the social significance of their work. The musicians might perhaps qualify a bit more in this regard, but I'd like more than end-user opinion (including my own) in gauging whether the work produced while sober is qualitatively superior to the prior work.

Thanks to all for your responses. Additional suggestions & thoughts would be more than welcome. Obscure people's stories count too, if documented. Especially if their accomplishments left a lasting and positive imprint on society.
posted by perspicio at 2:41 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

John Coltrane's best work was after he quit heroin in 1957, most notably 1964's 'A Love Supreme' which is pretty much acknowledged as one of the greatest recording's in the history of jazz. He also plays on Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue', recorded in 1959, rejoining the band the previous year after being kicked out a few years before that because of his addiction.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:37 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did a little reading on Coltrane. Came up with this:
During the latter part of 1957 Coltrane worked with Thelonious Monk at New York's Five Spot, a legendary gig. He rejoined Miles in January 1958 after kicking heroin and experiencing a spiritual epiphany that would lead him to practice obsessively and concentrate wholly on the development of his music for the rest of his life.
Great teaser. Digging in a little more, I found a lot of corroboration. Then I came up with this:
In the liner notes of A Love Supreme (released in 1965) Coltrane states "[d]uring the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music." In his 1965 album Meditations, Coltrane wrote about uplifting people, "...To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life."
That's the stuff! Thanks, Phlegmco(tm).
posted by perspicio at 11:17 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(forgot to link 2nd block quote -- it's from here.)
posted by perspicio at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2011

John Frankenheimer was the great movie director behind The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. Alcoholism destroyed his career - he went from Burt Lancaster pictures to horror shows about mutant bears - so then he quit filmmaking, moved to France, and became a chef so that his alcoholism could be better hidden. He eventually faced his demons, cleaned himself up, and proceeded to end his career on a series of very high notes indeed, including Ronin and Path to War.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:22 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Happy to help perspicio, and I can't recommend 'A Love Supreme' strongly enough, just amazing.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 3:27 PM on March 6, 2011

Tom Waits is almost a perfect example. He was by many accounts (incl his own) a heavy drinker up until he got married in 1980. His wife helped/encouraged him to take it down to normal levels (mostly sober when working, moderate drinking otherwise) until he quit entirely in 1993 or so. His 1983 album 'Swordfishtrombones' was when he started veering away from his conventional approach to the much more eccentric stuff he's best known for today. 1992 was when he won a Grammy for 'Bone Machine' and his proper albums since then have not been chopped liver either. It's not a simple case that slowing down or stopping the booze lead directly to the artistic output since his wife also was turning him onto Captain Beefheart and nudging him into new musical directions. But slowing/quitting certainly didn't hurt and probably freed up some energy. In one interview I skimmed over he said something to the effect that when he stopped leading a wild life away from the stage and studio, he felt he had to compensate by pouring more crazysauce onto the music he made.
posted by K.P. at 4:46 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jeff Tweedy.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2011

Caroline Knapp, who was a Boston Globe columnist and full-blown alcoholic for much of her life. her book, Drinking: A Love Story, is worth reading.
posted by prior at 3:49 PM on June 5, 2011

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