August 24, 2004
The Life of the Celebrity-slash-Addict
Interesting NYT piece about Jerry Stahl's new book I, Fatty (the best title for a book I've heard since Cintra Wilson's) a fictionalized memoir of Fatty Arbuckle. Arbuckle was a very popular and successful silent film star--the first actor to get a million-dollar contract--who was at the center of a major Hollywood scandal when he was accused of raping and murdering a starlet during an orgy at a San Francisco hotel. Although Fatty was acquitted at three separate trials, he was forever tarnished by the case, and his image was destroyed through a deluge of defamatory articles in the Hearst tabloids.
And: Fatty was a heroin addict. You may recall that Jerry Stahl, TV writer for ALF, Moonlighting, and Twin Peaks, also wrote his own memoir called Permanent Midnight (made into a movie starring Ben Stiller) about his $6,000/week heroin addiction. In discussing his own drug problems in the article, Stahl makes a lot of vague metaphors about addicts creating themselves as alienated beings via their addictions, but, as usual, the anecdotes are more interesting. He says he still buys a car with a consideration of what it would be like to live in it.
His book is doing well, and Johnny Depp's film company has optioned it. So let's think about who could play Fatty Arbuckle, if the film ever gets produced. Johnny Depp says he wouldn't play the title role, but suggests that Philip Seymour Hoffman could do it. How about Dave Attell? Or maybe Kiefer in a fat suit? He did a great job almost shooting up during 24's season this past year.
Stahl says about modern celebrity scandals, "self-destruction is a wing of show business... It has almost become a station of the celebrity cross to have that rehab moment, when you do something, you're caught, then you come clean and everybody loves you again and you're back in." It's the Bill Clinton model of the glorious return after shame. Robert Downey, Jr. aspires to follow this path, but somewhere around The Singing Detective I started doubting. And, of course, there is an ocean of celebrities who have blown it and never quite regained their previous stature (OJ, Christian Slater, Nick Nolte, Bobby Brown, Courtney Love) all of whom could likely relate to the plight of Fatty.