In the latest cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, Samuel L. Jackson opened up about his past drug use. He spoke candidly about his addiction to crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s.
Jackson started doing drugs in the 60s when a professor introduced him to acid. From there, he progressed to heroin and cocaine, and finally, when the crack epidemic hit, he turned to rock. Soon, crack became the actor’s go-to choice, and throughout the early days of his acting career, he juggled both, clandestinely smoking crack outside Broadway theaters.
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“The whole time I was using, sure, I had a good reputation,” he explained to the news outlet. “I showed up on time; I did my lines. It was great. But there was something that was keeping me from getting to that next place.”
Around the early 90s, Jackson was to act as an understudy in the play “The Piano Lessons,” originally depicted by Dutton Charles.
“I had to sit there every night on the steps behind the theater and listen to Charles Dutton do that part,” Jackson told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’d sit there, and smoke crack while I listened to the play. It made me f—ing crazy. Because I’d be listening to him doing the lines and going, ‘That’s not right!'”
His Journey To Rehab
Jackson explained to People Magazine that he eventually went into treatment after his wife LaTanya and their then-8-year-old daughter Zoe found him unconscious in their kitchen, in the process of cooking cocaine.
“I’d been getting high since, s—, 15, 16 years old, and I was tired as f—,” Jackson told the outlet about going to rehab.
LaTanya also admitted that she knew her husband had a problem but didn’t understand its gravity until that morning. When Jackson came to, she threatened to leave him if he didn’t go to rehab.
Jackson spent four weeks in rehab, and he hated every minute of it. Later, he began to see the gravity of his addiction and realized that this could permanently mar his life. It was at that point he knew he needed to change.
The young actor also had to face the realities about his life once he was sober and off drugs. Ultimately, he admitted to Vanity Fair, “I figured that if I tried this other way for, you know, 28 years, and it hadn’t worked, why not give this a try and see what happens?”
Jackson’s Breakout Role After He Left Rehab
After completing his rehab stay, Jackson’s first movie role portrayed a drug abuser, Gator, in “Jungle Fever.” While he was counseled against accepting the provoking role, he was adamant about seeing it through. He also viewed the movie as the end to his “active addiction.”
“Jungle Fever was the first thing I ever did without a substance in my body. All those motherf***ers at rehab were like, ‘You don’t need to do this movie because you’re going to have triggers.’ I was like, ‘Well, s**t, if for no other reasons, first of all, where the f**k are you going to get $40,000 in the next six weeks?”
“…And second of all, I will never pick up another drug, because I don’t want to see any one of you motherf***ers ever again.’ I hated them. But that was their job. And I made it through that. So significantly, when Gator gets killed at the end of that movie, I always look at it as the death of my active addiction,” he explained to America’s Esquire magazine.
The “Pulp Fiction” star also opined that the film marked a turning point for his acting style. “It’s one of those things where my wife always criticized my acting as being bloodless. She said, ‘You’re smart. You know the right facial expression. You know the vocal inflection. You know everything to do except how to feel it.’ She was right because I used to act and watch the audience for their response to what I did.”
What Is ‘Jungle Fever’ About?
The movie is a 1991 American Drama that was written and produced by Spike Lee. It delved into the beginning and end of an extramarital interracial relationship with New York City as the centerpiece.
This movie is Lee’s fifth feature film, and its ensemble of actors included stars like Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, Halle Berry, Tim Robbins, Brad Dourif, Queen Latifah, Michael Imperioli, and Anthony Quinn.
The movie accrued several positive reviews with a special commendation for Jackson’s performance. It was made with about $14 million and grossed $43.9 million at the box office.
Jackson Earned An Award For His Role As Gator
Since he was familiar with the concept of addiction, Jackson succeeded in bringing Gator’s turmoil to life and making him relatable.
He was also able to pull at the audience’s heartstrings and make them feel his anguish. In short, Gator was the “best work he had ever done.”
Jackson describes his character’s life “like the petals were closed and, all of a sudden, the sun hit the flower and opened it up.” Although Wesley Snipes played the lead role, Jackson truly shined through it.
As recognition for his stellar performance, he received the Best Supporting Actor award at Cannes in 1991.