Revisiting Buzz Aldrin's Journey To Sobriety For Moon Landing's 50th Anniversary

By David Konow 07/23/19

The American hero has been sober for nearly 41 years.

Buzz Aldrin
ID 22375860 © Randy Miramontez |

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 made its incredible journey to the moon, and it was an indelible moment in history. 

Going into space is an incredible experience that few people will ever get to experience. Yet as Buzz Aldrin learned the hard way, coming back down to earth wasn’t easy.

In his 2009 memoir Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin recalled feeling exhausted when he came back to earth, and he had a hard time figuring out what to do with the rest of his life.

“I wanted to resume my duties, but there were no duties to resume,” he recalled. “There was no goal, no sense of calling, no project worth pouring myself into.”

Family Matters

Aldrin hit the bottle, spent days in bed, and had an affair. When he finally landed a new job at Edwards Air Force Base, he felt anxiety and dread creeping up on him. Once he checked into a hospital, he got in touch with the deeper roots of his problem, which included family issues he never dealt with. Aldrin pushed himself to try and please his father, and there was also mental illness in the family. (His mother and grandfather both died by suicide.)

Aldrin was still drinking, and he left his job at Edwards after he crashed several planes. Then Aldrin went public about his struggles to the Los Angeles Times in 1972.

These days, celebrities opening up about mental health issues is commonplace, but it was bold for Aldrin to confess this to the public at the time. He also confronted his struggles in his 1973 memoir, aptly titled Return to Earth.

One Huge Step For Aldrin

Still, Aldrin’s drinking continued, and he finally entered AA in August 1975, but he didn’t full embrace sobriety until October 1978. Aldrin got into an angry, drunken argument with a girlfriend, and was arrested after he smashed in her apartment door. It was Aldrin’s bottom, and he committed to sobriety after that.

Aldrin has been sober ever since, and he told The Fix, “There wasn’t a clear path in front of me with NASA… I had not cultivated a path that would help me accomplish what I really wanted to do with my life after NASA. I began to experience the inherited burden from my grandmother perhaps, from my mother and from my father. These negative tendencies involving both alcohol and mental challenges began to control my life more and more.”

Aldrin added, “You have to deal with obtaining sobriety first before dealing with other situations that are disturbing you.” Despite the fact that Aldrin had a turbulent life, in hindsight, he realized, “I have gained so much by facing adversity. I had a shrink who said, ‘Buzz, you are so lucky that you had to change, to grow. You are a better person now.’”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.