Top 10 Most Surprising Celebrity Reveals of Addiction

By Paul Fuhr 05/12/17

Whenever I see celebrities openly admit their troubles with addiction, it’s as compellingly human as it is raw and endearing. These are the 10 who resonate with me most.

Jon Hamm at the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at the Wallis Annenberg Center.
Their revelations give recovery a familiar face.

The words “treatment” and “celebrity” aren’t mutually exclusive—they go together almost as easily as newspapers and rainy Sunday mornings. When Ben Affleck announced (via Facebook, of all places) that he’d completed a second rehab stint for alcohol addiction, I was as surprised as I was thrilled. (Lantern-jawed Affleck is Batman, for God’s sake.) The faces of recovery are all around us—in our coffeeshops, post office lines, grocery stores—but we’ll generally never know it. That’s what makes celebrities’ struggles with addiction so powerful: their revelations give recovery a familiar face. Whenever I see celebrities openly admit their troubles with addiction, it’s as compellingly human as it is raw and endearing. Especially in America, celebrity is akin to royalty. We assume the faces from our movie theaters, concert stages, and Netflix queues are infallible and flawless when that really couldn’t be further from the truth.

Very often, for me, the real impact of celebrities seeking treatment doesn’t come in someone bravely surfacing a story about newfound sobriety. Success isn’t typically trumpeted with a press release. No, it’s when someone casually mentions it in passing in an autobiography or an interview. Those are the moments that really connect with me. In my first few months of sobriety, I desperately sought any reflection in the media of who I was. And as a connoisseur of pop culture and sci-fi TV, my examples were few and far between. Still, many of these stories seem to sneak in sideways. For most celebrities, there’s not a long, public lead-up to treatment, like Britney Spears’ heavily covered meltdown a decade ago. That’s why these ten stories resonate so much with me: they’re affecting in all the same ways they’re unexpected. 

Tobey Maguire

Cinema’s first Peter Parker is also one of the first celebrities whom I hadn’t regularly seen on the front page of tabloids. Maguire brought an everyday accessibility to his Spiderman. In a Playboy interview, Maguire revealed that AA “totally changed [his] life.” The program worked because of its “no-frills spirituality” with “no hokey traditions,” he said. “I come in, I ask for help. I’m willing. The person doesn’t tell me what to do, they tell me what they did. You could be brainless and do it,” Maguire told the magazine. “You do what they ask you to do and (stuff) happens. Your life gets better. Your life changes.” This revelation, almost an afterthought in the interview, was one of the first moments to convince me sobriety wasn’t as impossible as a comic-book plot.

Matthew Perry

I wasn’t a Friends fan, but that’s not a knock against the show or the people who watched it. It just says a lot more about my blind dedication to The X-Files and Alias at the time. That said, I remember seeing Matthew Perry breeze through The West Wing as Republican attorney Joe Quincy. And that’s how Perry always appeared on my pop culture radar: he was just suddenly there. I’d remember passing a TV screen and noticing his weight fluctuate year to year on Friends, never really thinking anything of it. Turns out, Perry was battling substance abuse problems in the form of Vicodin and alcohol. In fact, Perry has since admitted that he doesn’t remember shooting three years of the beloved NBC series. In AA, newcomers are often asked if they want the recovery others had. As an outspoken advocate of recovery, I wanted what Perry seemed to have: sobriety, with wit and a bracing sense of humor about it all.

Tiger Woods

I very distinctly remember seeing the first one-sentence “breaking news” report on CNN: Tiger Woods involved in serious car crash. Like most owners of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game, I immediately thought, “Oh no,” and went back to playing Torrey Pines in my living room. Little did I know the drama that would unfold in the coming weeks regarding the golfer’s sex addiction. That said, what resonated more with me was how he handled the headwind of the revelations. In its aftermath, he did something very simple: he apologized. No matter what you think of Woods, he took to a podium and revealed that he’d been attending 12-step meetings. Back then, I just so happened to be drinking a pint of vodka a day, and it made me consider that AA was more than just about alcoholism. It was about owning up to the past, living life correctly, and setting things right wherever possible.

Daniel Radcliffe

Like most people, I’d grown up watching the Harry Potter kids growing up in widescreen. That’s what made Radcliffe’s sudden admission that he’d been battling alcoholism so unsettling to me. I felt like one of my kids had been keeping a secret I should’ve been wiser about. In a Telegraph feature on Radcliffe, he recounted his days doing battle with the bottle. “I change when I’m drunk. I’m one of those people who changes,” Radcliffe admitted. “There is something in any person who drinks in a way that’s clearly not good for them, something that is attracted to that chaos.” (A Vanity Fair feature even tries to figure out where Radcliffe was noticeably dead behind the eyes.)

Owen Wilson

“Suicide attempt” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Wedding Crashers star, but I remember how the news of his suicide attempt hit me back in the day. Slashing his wrists and taking an overdose of pills was a particularly dark turn for the comedian—and a story that’s been relatively swept under the carpet and mostly forgotten. Similarly, Wilson’s recovery has been quiet and behind the scenes, but it’s enough for me to know that he’s nonetheless recovered and moving on with life.

Billy Joel

I’ve long known that Billy Joel had problems. I mean, the “Piano Man” once drank furniture polish to try killing himself at a low point. Since then, he’s drunkenly rammed his car into trees and even had Elton John admonish him for his onstage antics. He’s gone on and off the rails for years. But there was a time when he’d found sobriety and talked about how simple it was to not drink. And then 9/11 happened. His beloved NYC sent him into a deep, alcoholic depression, while none of his appearances at 9/11 benefit concerts revealed what was really going on. When he revealed later that he wasn’t sober, I was shocked and saddened to hear that his New York state of mind had rattled him to the core.

Stephen King

Everything Stephen King writes is eminently readable, though it might be the features and interviews about the author that are even more compelling. He casually dropped that he didn’t remember writing Cujo at all. My mind went blank—I just couldn’t wrap my brain around how that was even possible. King, now sober several decades, routinely taps into such darkness with his novels that it’s remarkable how I’d never considered that it comes from having tapped a darkness within himself many years earlier.

Michael J. Fox

There are no greater ties to my childhood (or making me feel old) than Back to the Future, Teen Wolf and Family Ties. When Fox revealed he had Parkinson’s back in 1991, I was startled. I was even more startled, however, by how he handled the diagnosis: alcohol. That’s because Marty McFly and I think the exact same way. That would’ve been my reaction at the time, too. In some ways, I was genuinely relieved to hear that Fox had handled it the same way I handled all of my problems. Fox’s recovery from alcoholic behavior, however, resonated even more with me than his remarkable resiliency through the adversity of his diagnosis.

Leonard Nimoy

I can’t fully express what it was like to discover that Science Officer Spock had a life outside the bridge of the Enterprise—not to mention one that wasn’t all that happy. For years following the success of Star Trek, Nimoy was a closet alcoholic for whom drinking “took over his whole personality.” Following Nimoy’s death in 2015, his alcoholism was slowly revealed by several sources—most notably his friend and co-star, William Shatner. Regardless, for a man whose most beloved character routinely faced peril, villainy, no-win scenarios (and even death!), Nimoy managed to escape alcoholism largely unscathed after giving up booze in 1987.

David Duchovny/Jon Hamm

It’s difficult to divorce actors from their characters—especially when they’re galvanized in pop culture like David Duchovny’s Hank Moody (Californication) or Jon Hamm’s Don Draper (Mad Men). Duchovny’s boozy, sex-addicted writer and Hamm’s zozzled alpha-male ad exec simply seemed like examples of fine acting. Turns out, both actors eventually sought respite from the very vices both of their characters were known for. Duchovny checked into rehab for sex addiction in 2008, while Hamm sought treatment for alcoholism in 2015. Now, it’s hard not to watch either show without wondering where the acting ends and the suffering begins.

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.