Martin Scorsese Gets Candid About Drug Use, 'Near Death' Experience

By Britni de la Cretaz 12/15/16

"I was kept in a hospital for 10 days and nights...and I became aware of not wanting to die and not wasting [my life].”

Award-winning director Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is the Oscar-winning director of films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Gangs of New York—and for the first time he’s opening up about the drug addiction that almost took his life.

In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese recalls being hospitalized for 10 days in 1978, weighing just 109 pounds. He says he nearly died. The film legend said that following the critical and box office disappointment of his film New York, New York, he “took chances” and ended up in a dark place.

"[I was] out of time and out of place and also in turmoil in my own life and embracing the other world, so to speak, with a kind of attraction to the dangerous side of existence. Then on Labor Day weekend, I found myself in a hospital, surprised that I was near death,” he told THR.

Scorsese says his state was the result of a combination of drug use and asthma. "They took care of me, these doctors, and I became aware of not wanting to die and not wasting [my life]."

At age 35, in that hospital bed, Scorsese had a spiritual experience of sorts. "I prayed. But if I prayed, it was just to get through those 10 days and nights. I felt [if I was saved] it was for some reason. And even if it wasn't for a reason, I had to make good use of it."

At the end of his hospital stay, Scorsese says he felt like a new man. He described it by saying, “I was blind, and now I can see.”

His spiritual awakening is one that has been described many times over the years by people who have found recovery, and similar stories appear in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Scorsese does not mention AA, instead he says he had a religious upbringing, growing up Catholic in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York. At one point, he says, as a young man he even considered becoming a seminarian, though he recounts being dismissed from the preparatory seminary for his inability to show up to Mass on time.

Scorsese has been reflecting on this time in his past while anticipating the release of his upcoming film, Silence, which he says he’s been trying to make for 30 years. The film is based on a 1966 novel by Shûsaku Endô and tells the story of Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to propagate Christianity.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.