Ships, wealth, general confidence, All were his; He counted them at break of day, And when the sun set! where were they.
- Byron, English Poet (1788-1824)
So as the latest issue of the National Enquirer comes out with the headline that Macaulay Culkin is a Heroin addict with a $6,000 a month habit, a couple thoughts jump out on seeing the headline and the photo.
First, it is the National Enquirer, so you have to take the headline with the grain of salt coming from a tabloid that regularly used to publish stories about Elvis sightings and alien abductions.
That being said, when you consider the number of legit stories the Enquirer has broken over the last couple decades (scooping the old media on many of the unsavory details of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, breaking the story of John Edward’s love child when the rest of the media was still gushing over the golden boy as a legitimate candidate for president, publishing photos of O.J. Simpson in Bruno Magli shoes after he’d testified in his murder trial that he’d never owned a pair of Bruno Magli shoes – to name just a few) and when you consider the fact that the rest of the media has descended from jornalism into becoming news fabricating propaganda machines, with many more bogus stories and scandals on their own houses than the Enquirer of late (the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Jayson Blair fired for inventing dozens of stories out of thin air, Dan Rather and CBS caught trying to influence an election with memogate, where a proportionally-spaced Microsoft Word document was passed off for weeks on their “news” programs as a typewritten memo from the 1970s, Newsweek with the blood on their hands of over 30 people who died in the riots that ensued over their publishing of a bogus story on U.S. soldiers desecrating the Quran and more recently, a string of totally unfounded accusations of the Tea Party being to blame in the failed Times Square bombing, the Giffords shooting and the Aurora movie massacre – all of which were proven false) looking at their recent histories, I’d say the National Enquirer has risen and the rest of the media has sunk to a level where they’re now pretty much on par with each other.
So I would no longer dismiss this story outright simply because it’s from the Enquirer. Going by the photo, my first guess was either this guy’s on drugs or if not, he may need to find his way into a treatment center for an eating disorder.
My second thought – you can’t even call the headline “shocking” considering how many child stars emerge from childhood into lives filled with drugs, booze, chaotic relationships and trouble with the law. For every child star like Ron Howard or Shirley Temple who managed to avoid the pitfalls and scandals and go on to do even greater things with their lives as adults, for every one of those stories there seem to be a dozen Todd Bridges, Gary Colemans and Dana Platos (three child star train wrecks from one TV sitcom alone.) Drew Barrymore didn’t even make it out of childhood before her life began spiraling out of control, with sleaze balls helping the young star of the blockbuster movie E.T. into nightclubs at the age of ten, giving the young girl booze and drugs and Lord knows what else.
I don’t think any of us can cast judgment on any of these kids turned train wrecks as adults. Is there even one in one-hundred thousand of us who have lived a life with even a glimmer of what it must be like to have that much money and adulation at so young an age? When the adorableness of childhood has left them and, as often is the case, Hollywood has tossed them out like yesterday’s news, one can only imagine how destructive the cocktail must be when you combine that adulation lost with having having more money than most young people would know what to do with.
More often than not, it seems not so much a question of if the child star will avoid some level of devastation and disaster as they get older, but how long it may take for them to pull themselves out of it or if they ever will. In the case of Drew Barrymore, she pulled herself together, big time. Todd Bridges has gotten sober and last I saw he was in featured in a commercial as a counselor for a rehab facility. Lindsay Lohan, another former child star, is a case where we still have yet to see how that one’s going to come out, although I can tell you that I’m rooting for her.
As far as Macaulay goes, that heroin, if he’s on it, that is one wicked and soul-sucking drug. I have a friend who’s been a junkie now for the last six of his twenty-three years. I didn’t know him before he shot that junk up for the first time, but I can picture him before the drug took hold: guitar player, songwriter, a somewhat soft-spoken guy, I can picture him as a very sweet and sensitive kid before he got on the smack. The guy I know now is nothing like the seventeen-year-old I imagine back then.
You want to program a human being to become the most manipulative person imaginable? Imagine a person in the grip of a drug where every day, they have to wake up with their very first thought being, I’ve either got to get my hustle on and figure out a way to score or I am going to be painfully, wretchedly, violently ill.
Every day my friend seems to find a way to score and yet even as he feeds that monkey the two or three times a day that it requires, even with the temporary calm that comes once the monkey is fed, he still is restless and angry. That drug has made him into a person who goes through life looking for every reason imaginable to be angry at the world and all the people around him. There’s no reasoning with him or trying to explain that whatever wrongs he feels the world has dealt him, to have been given a life in the upper-middle-class of late 20th century America is a much better lot in life than ninety-nine percent of the people who have been born. Trying to give him that perspective is pointless. Heroin has forced him into a life where he spends his days compiling a list of grievances against the world, a never-ending list that he uses to justify his addiction.
If there’s one saving grace that comes with having struggled in my own life, it’s the humility it’s given me and the empathy I’ve developed for others who struggle themselves, and empathy is a far more powerful and benevolent emotion than sympathy, because sympathy often comes mixed with an inescapable degree of condescention.
Even after I had to tell my junkie friend to leave the house and don’t come back and he got off one lucky punch which broke my nose, forcing me to take him to the ground and put him into submission with a headlock, I empathized with him and after he left, I prayed for him and I still pray for him now.
If Macaulay Culkin is in a bad place and suffering with a heroin addiction of his own, may we all avoid the temptation to cast judgment and smirk at the news of another child star gone off the deep end. May we all find a place in our hearts to pray for him to overcome his addiction as well.