David Carr's Daughter Pens Memoir About His Life and Addiction

By Paul Gaita 05/03/19

Erin Carr's memoir details the pain and joy of life with her father, as well as her own experiences with alcohol dependency. 

David Carr
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The loss of New York Times columnist and author David Carr, who passed away in 2015, was felt keenly throughout the journalistic world, as well as by those in recovery impacted by his powerful 2008 memoir The Night of the Gun, which detailed his lengthy and destructive dependency on drugs and alcohol.

But few felt the loss of Carr like his daughter, documentarian Erin Lee Carr, whose relationship with her father was marked by both complexity—in the depths of his dependency, he put Erin and her twin sister, Megan, into foster care before seeking sobriety—and deep emotional connection.

Carr has written her own memoir, All That You Leave Behind, which details the pain and joy of her life with Carr, as well as her own experiences with alcohol dependency.

Carr—whose work as a documentary director includes 2017's Mommy Dead and Dearest and the upcoming I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter—said that writing the book was a way of retaining a connection to her father, despite the emotional turmoil it produced.

"I was with him, in a way," she told NPR. "I really wanted to educate myself in all things David Carr, not just the father which I experienced. But I found it to be so painful to, like, to get access to him in his words in these emails and yet not have him anymore."

Delving deep into her father's life in dependency, and by extension, her own life as a young girl during that period, also had its emotional perils. Carr recalled a similar experience while reading her father's memoir, which reminded her that he had left her and her sister alone in a car while buying drugs. "I sort of choked on the emotion," she said. "I thought how close I came to not being there anymore.

"It wouldn't be the last time he would put my life at risk because of drugs and alcohol. We said something in our family: that drugs explain everything, and excuse nothing. So we had to reconcile that he was still the person that left us alone."

But just as her father would be at the core of some of her darkest experiences, Carr said that he also served as a beacon for her to emerge from her own struggles with alcohol. After relapsing on the six-month anniversary of his death, Carr recalled telling herself that a life in addiction was not the life her father wanted for her. 

"I took it very seriously, because I was trying to work towards him, what he did," she said. "He was part of my decision to get sober, and I've been sober since August 23, 2015. And it is crazy what has happened since then. I could not have written this book if I was drinking. There is no way."

Carr's life and career have bloomed in remarkable ways since gaining sobriety—in addition to the book, she also completed At the Heart of Goldabout the sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, for HBO—but her success has a bittersweet patina.

"Just being able to call him and ask him a question—I mean, he was brilliant," she said. "When I no longer had that, the only voice I could really listen to at the moment was myself. And so I think that he had to leave and pass away in order for me not to rely so heavily on him.

"But… I would completely rather have him be here and me have no work. I think that is the most profound loss I will ever experience, and nothing that has happened outweighs the pain of him being gone."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.