Dennis Quaid's Favorite Mistake: Cocaine Addiction

Dennis Quaid, star of the film "Soul Surfer." Dan MacMedan / Contour-Getty Images

My greatest mistake was being addicted to cocaine. I started after I left college and came to Los Angeles in 1974. It was very casual at first. That’s what people were doing when they were at parties. Cocaine was even in the budgets of movies, thinly disguised. It was petty cash, you know? It was supplied, basically, on movie sets because everyone was doing it. People would make deals. Instead of having a cocktail, you’d have a line. So it was insidious, the way it snuck up on everybody. Coming from where I came from—lower-middle-class life, from Houston into Hollywood—and all of a sudden this success starts happening to you, I just didn’t know how to handle that. Doing blow just contributed to me not being able to handle the fame, which, at the time, I guess I felt I didn’t deserve. I was doing my best imitation of an asshole there for a little while, trying to pretend everything was OK. Meanwhile my life was falling apart, and I noticed it myself, but I was hoping everyone else didn’t.

By the time I was doing The Big Easy, in the late 1980s, I was a mess. I was getting an hour of sleep a night. I had a reputation for being a “bad boy,” which seemed like a good thing, but basically I just had my head stuck up my ass. I’d wake up, snort a line, and swear I wasn’t going to do it again that day. But then 4 o’clock rolled around, and I’d be right back down the same road like a little squirrel on one of those treadmills. The lack of sleep made it so my focus wasn’t really there, which affected my acting. Addiction just keeps you from living; you’re basically hiding from life. I had a band then, called the Eclectics. One night we played a show at the China Club in L.A., and the band broke up, just like in the movie The Commitments, because it all got too crazy. I had one of those white-light experiences that night where I kind of realized I was going to be dead in five years if I didn’t change my ways. The next day I was in rehab.

It was one of those times when you think, “Well, if I do the right thing and clean up my life, it’ll get better.” No, it got worse! In 1990 I did Wilder Napalm, which came out and went down the tubes. But that time in my life—those years in the ’90s recovering—actually chiseled me into a person. It gave me the resolve and a resilience to persevere in life. If I hadn’t gone through that period, I don’t know if I’d still be acting. In the end, it taught me humility. I really learned to appreciate what I have in this life.

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