Gore Vidal, one of America's last great public intellectuals, died last night at age 86. Wielding his silver-tongued wit like a swashbuckler's dagger, Vidal cut as large a swath through our culture of the second half of the 20th century as any literary star. In his precocious and productive career, he wrote over a dozen works of fiction, including 1948's groundbreaking gay-coming-out novel The City and the Pillar, and Myra Breckenridge—a fierce satire of American values featuring our literature's first transsexual. His most enduring achievement was a series of six historical novels, Narratives of Empire, about national politics, celebrity and (his magnificent obsession) the terminal corruption of American democracy. When slammed as anti-American, he countered that it was his love and respect for the "original idea of America" that drove his disgust with reality. He also penned plays for much-reprised Broadway hits, screenplays for now-classic Hollywood films, memoirs and essays; he ran unsuccessfully for the senate, engaged in high-profile wars of words on TV with everyone from William F. Buckley to Norman Mailer, and conducted an intimate correspondence with convicted far-right terrorist Timothy McVeigh.
Born into political aristocracy—his grandfather was a senator, and he was related to Jacqueline Kennedy and Al Gore—Vidal detailed the virulent vices of high society mercilessly in his memoirs, starting with his mother's chronic alcoholism. As a self-defined enthusiast of "same-sex sex," he defied all conventions, with an early rejection of a life in the closet that was as brazen as his later refusal of the label "gay." A literary outlaw before the culture caught up to him, he was open about sex, drugs and just about everything else.
Among his (confirmable) claims were several that might prick up an addiction specialist's ears. He reported having had some 1,000 sexual encounters before the age of 25—"nothing special," he said, compared to the likes of pals John F. Kennedy and Tennessee Williams. Despite his liberated libido—and his advice to "never turn down an opportunity to have sex or go on television"—Vidal attributed his 55-year, apparently happy "marriage" to Howard Austen to its total absence of sex. "It's easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part and impossible, I have observed, when it does," he wrote. He was also a connoisseur of the cocktail hour (after hour after hour) in the time-honored tradition of literary lions.
In 1970 Vidal wrote a typically controversial column for The New York Times in which he advocated ending the US addiction scourge by legalizing not just marijuana but all drugs. He suggested selling drugs over the counter, at cost, with precise descriptions of their benefits and risks—which would, he acknowledged, require "heroic honesty." He displayed his own when he wrote, "For the record, I have tried—once—almost every drug and liked none, disproving the popular Fu Manchu theory that a single whiff of opium will enslave the mind."
Vidal's logic was that legalization would not only make drugs safer but remove the forbidden-fruit quality that renders them so tempting. But he ended the op-ed darkly, noting that such a sensible (as he saw it) anti-addiction policy would never fly in our spacious skies: "The American people are as devoted to the idea of sin and its punishment as they are to making money—and fighting drugs is nearly as big a business as pushing them. Since the combination of sin and money is irresistible (particularly to the professional politician), the situation will only grow worse."
Accepting a lifetime literary achievement award in 2009, he summed up his experience with two unexpectedly sunny words: "such fun." His legacy, by contrast, could not be more serious.
Macaulay Culkin is strenuously denying published claims that he regularly shoots up heroin and the powerful prescription painkiller oxycodone—once almost overdosing. Speaking with TMZ today, the Home Alone star's rep describes the report as "not only categorically without merit, but it is also impossibly and ridiculously fictitious." The National Enquirer reported that Culkin's habit costs him up to $6,000 a month, and that Culkin has turned his Manhattan apartment into his own private drug haven "where he gets high during hours alone or with his close circle of whacked-out pals." Sources "close to" the actor were quoted as saying that Culkin's drug use worsened in the past 18 months, particularly after he broke it off with longtime girlfriend Mila Kunis: "He's been hooked [on drugs] for a year and a half, and his drug of choice is either heroin or oxycodone...It's a real tragedy." Another "close friend" of the child star told the Enquirer: "He's addicted to heroin, oxycodone, Percocet, and Vicodin. I have witnessed his drug taking...If he doesn't get help and enter rehab now, he could be dead in six months." The claims have spread widely through the media, but are meeting with total denial from the Culkin camp.
Marijuana's influence can work in mysterious ways. After a recent trip to Jamaica, rapper and weed aficionado Snoop Dogg has changed his stage name to "Snoop Lion"—and claims that he is the reincarnation of Bob Marley. The name was bestowed upon him by rastafarian priests when he visited the country in search of "a new path." Snoop explains: "The High Priest asked me what my name was, and I said, 'Snoop Dogg.' And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.' From that moment on, it's like I had started to understand why I was there." The name change is also set to drastically affect the music Snoop puts out, especially when he adds, "I have always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated." He's apparently departing from the edgier content of his rap songs and planning instead to release a reggae album to appeal to people of all ages. "I'm a wise man in the music industry," he says. "Not that I'll never do rap again because I'm always gonna do what I love, but right now I'm Snoop Lion and I'm having fun with this reggae movement so hopefully you guys will enjoy it as well." Just don't expect Snoop to plug the future album in Norway: he was recently banned from that country for two years following a marijuana bust at Kjevik airport.
Greg Williams, a Fix reader who is in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, is seeking to create something unique. He's making a feature-length documentary about the estimated 23.5 million recovering Americans that he hopes will "sensationalize" their story: The Anonymous People. At the age of 28, Williams knows as well as anyone how sensational recovery really is. His history with drugs and alcohol began at the age of 12, he tells The Fix—"parents' liquor cabinet kind of stuff"—and he was soon smoking marijuana and getting hooked on prescription drugs. He says his turning point came on July 14, 2001, when he got in a near-fatal car accident while high on OxyContin. That made him decide to turn his life around and attend Caron for treatment. At 11 years sober, Williams wants to help in "making changes for the people that face discrimination as a result of substance abuse disorders." He's starting with this film. Protective of the recovery fellowship he belongs to, he used to tell his story as "Greg W."—until he came to believe that by doing so, he was contributing to the shame associated with addiction and recovery. Such stigma—for which Williams credits the drug war and "the 'crack baby' image"—is what he hopes to eliminate.
"The people who have the most power in society to change the stigma are the people who are stable in their recovery," he tells us. "Bottom line: those are the only people who have the power to demand change in the media, to demand policy change, to demand increased treatment. If we do not have a mobilized constituency that demands change, this issue will never look like HIV or breast cancer...That is what this film is about, the need for a community to conquer this issue." Williams is fiercely proud of his recovery and says, "I wouldn't change my past for the world. The life that I get to live today as a result of my past is absolutely incredible. I'm living the dream and chasing other dreams." The Anonymous People is set for release in spring 2013. You can find out more about the project—including how to support it—here.
TV addiction boosts the risk of type 2 diabetes among older people, a new study says—further evidence that spending many hours in front of the television is unhealthy at any age. Researchers from the University of Queensland School of Population Health are the first to study how sedentary behavior like watching TV can effect the health of those 60 years or older. “Up until now, most research about sitting and watching TV has been focused on children, while older adults have potentially the most to gain from changing their behavior," says lead author Paul Gardiner. The study found that each hour spent watching TV increases the chance of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of cardiovascular disease predictors linked to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Other factors linked to metabolic syndrome include smoking, high alcohol consumption, poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Performing light activity while sitting in front of the screen may reduce your chances of developing the disease, so researchers recommend at least getting up and moving a little if you have to get your TV fix. “Reducing sedentary behavior may be a feasible and practical way for older adults to improve their health," says Gardiner, "and may be particularly important for those whose health or physical functioning limits their participation in moderate-intensity physical activity."
Billionaire Tetra Pak heir Hans Rausing has received a suspended 10-month prison sentence for hiding the body of his wife Eva Rausing for more than two months after her death, preventing her lawful burial. The pair were both drug addicts, and an autopsy found traces of cocaine, opiates and amphetamines in Eva Rausing's blood. Hans Rausing must now receive in-patient treatment at the Capio Nightingale psychiatric hospital in London for the next two years. "If ever there was an illustration of the utterly destructive effects of drug misuse on individuals and their families, it is to be found in the facts of this case" said Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson. Mr. Rausing’s lawyer, Alexander Cameron (brother of Prime Minister David), said his client acted “when, as Shakespeare would put it, the balance of the mind was disturbed,” and was psychologically incapable of accepting his wife’s death upon discovering her body in their posh mansion on May 7—more than two months before authorities arrived at the mansion on June 9. After finding the body, “He has no recollection of the next 10 or 12 hours,” said Cameron. “He did not move the body. He described her as looking quite restful. He felt quite unable to face up to the fact that she had died. Almost like a small child, he could not face up to telling anyone else that she had died.”
“You and your wife had every material advantage imaginable, and for a time a happy family life,” McGregor-Johnson told Mr. Rausing. “Your relapse into the misuse of drugs, together with that of your wife, destroyed all that.” In determining the sentence, the judge took into account Rausing's previous good record and his numerous contributions to addiction-related charities. Eva's father, Tom Kemeny, said the couple had been sober for many years after they met in a treatment center in the US. But their sobriety ended when Eva had a glass of champagne just before the ball dropped on New Year's Eve 1999. After that, he says, their addictions spiraled out of control; by 2008, they were "effectively recluse"—speaking only to each other and locking themselves in the second floor of their mansion. Rausing's family is the 12th richest in Britain, worth more than $6.7 billion.