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The ongoing stream of untimely deaths of A-list Hollywood stars, often linked to some seeming kind of drug addiction or another, has caused me to ponder why such is occurring.
When in January 2008 the world was shaken by the death of a young and talented Heath Ledger, I couldn’t grasp how someone so successful could be suffering so much – enough to accidentally overdose on prescription drugs.
Then Cory Monteith, a young Canadian star of “Glee”, was found dead at the age of 31 in his hotel room in Vancouver in July 2013. The cause of death? Mixed drug toxicity.
The most recent true-life Hollywood horror story was the drug intoxication of highly-successful and much-respected 46-year-old, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had fought drug addiction to many years before and then sadly succumbed to it once more.
Why do these awarded and well-regarded male actors at the peak of their successes struggle with substance abuse? I acknowledge that the notions of money, success, show business and media pressure might walk hand-in-hand with drug problems and seem to affect a great deal of the young and famous.
One would hope that the smartest and most sophisticated minds of our time would not destroy themselves with this appalling poison. There is something specific about these deaths that begs the question – are male actors more susceptible than men in other professions to horrible struggles with narcotics?
My sister is an actress in Saint Petersburg. She plays mostly in theatres, but has also acted in a number of soap operas. As someone immersed in the acting fraternity, I asked for her opinion as to why male actors seem to be weaker and more susceptible to various addictions. She is convinced that acting is ultimately more suitable for women because of the gender psyche.
“Women are very flexible emotionally. We can cry and laugh and get angry in a short time, while men are a lot more constant in their emotions. They are tired or pissed off, happy or sick. By nature, a man is not supposed to have so many shades of a state of mind. So when a guy goes into the acting profession he inevitably exposes himself to experimenting with his own personality, and when he succeeds he actually becomes very vulnerable”.
Could my sister be right?
Few would argue against the idea that vulnerability is an essential ingredient in great acting. If an actor wants to connect to his character and to the audience he must expose himself; he must be vulnerable
Yet, in vulnerability, isn’t there also some kind of courage?
During my first year at the university, my sister was dating a very talented young actor. His acting on the stage was so powerful and convincing that it gave me goose bumps. Later when my sister and her boyfriend went to an acting academy in St. Petersburg, it was no surprise to her that the course director favoured the talented boy. He was a genius on the stage, even if he seemed a mediocre guy in normal life. He was an alcoholic and struggled with his addiction for years. He would drink so much that some days my sister feared he would pass away.
I always wondered why such a strong and gifted actor was not strong at all when it came to addiction. He could put all of his intensity into acting, but would fail as a man – unable to stand up to his weakness and fear.
We have a saying in Russian: “When a woman is an actress, she is more than a woman. When a man is an actor he is less than a man”.
Nevertheless, the acting profession does not weaken every man. During the recent Oscars we once again witnessed acclaimed actors in their designer suits walking to the stage to accept their awards.
Sadly, some names will never again gift this world with another brilliant role. If my sister’s observations are correct, and somehow men are more vulnerable when exposing themselves via their artform, what might be the key to prevent future tragedy?
For some, sacred concepts like family, children and love will always outweigh weaknesses and fears, allowing them to steer clear of the dark drug addiction abyss – and what lies in it’s filthy depths – that beckons to them from the end of a glistening needle or that seemingly innocuous pill.
For others, the abyss will be too hard to resist and take away those who cannot deny its hunger all too soon…