I’ve been really sad lately about the loss of two talented writers, neither of whom I knew personally, but both of whom struggled with addiction and died too young. Both men were brilliant and – in spite of being hooked on drugs – achieved enormous professional success. David Carr was the media columnist for The New York Times and succumbed to cancer Feb. 12 at the age of 58. Carr relapsed and recovered from his addictions several times and wrote eloquently about his weakness for crack cocaine. In The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own, Carr wrote:
Where does a junkie’s time go? Mostly in 15-minute increments, like a bug-eyed Tarzan, swinging from hit to hit. For months on end in 1988, I sat inside a house in north Minneapolis, doing coke and listening to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and finding my own pathetic resonance in the lyrics. ‘Any place is better,’ she sang. ‘Starting from zero, got nothing to lose.’ After shooting or smoking a large dose, there would be the tweaking and a vigil at the front window, pulling up the corner of the blinds to look for the squads I was always convinced were on their way. All day. All night. A frantic kind of boring. End-stage addiction is mostly about waiting for the police, or someone, to come and bury you in your shame.
It’s worth noting that being an addict never slowed down his career. When interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air by Terry Gross, Carr spoke about how he managed to reach such professional heights in spite of his demons:
I did try drinking again. It didn’t go very well. My work never suffered, per se. My work rarely did. It’s always the last thing to go. But if you took all of the functioning alcoholics and addicts out of the American economy, you’d be taking out a lot of firepower and a lot of talent.
But my favorite part of the interview is when he discussed turning his life over to a higher power as part of a 12 step program:
So am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person, or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? And so that’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten with the higher power thing, as is I’m – you know, I’m kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I mean, I’ve done a bunch of terrible things, and yet, I’m able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me.
Harris Wittels was a brilliantly funny stand up comic and TV writer, who wrote for The Sarah Silverman Show, Eastbound and Down, and Parks and Rec. He died at the age of 30 on Feb. 19, after what police say appears to be a drug related incident at his home. The night before he died, he performed a set at Meltdown (a favorite spot to see alternative comedy in a dumpy room behind a comic book store in Hollywood), and according to those in the audience, he implied that the was off drugs and spoke about how he was in a “good place.”
Here’s an article in The Atlantic about Wittels’ popularity among other comedians and comedy writers, and chronicling his many appearances on TV shows and comedy podcasts. Here’s another tribute on A.V. Club.
Comedian and actor Aziz Ansari knew Wittels from Parks and Rec and was developing a TV series with him at the time of his death. Here is a link to the Tumblr post Ansari wrote this week, about how devastated he feels about losing his friend:
His jokes were so weird, unexpected, often brilliantly dumb that they were in that ultra-exclusive club of ones that made comedy people laugh — and laugh hard. This was why Harris was such a go-to for everyone. Anyone that was ever in a writers room with him knew he was probably the funniest comedy writer out there. He was just a machine.
So there are two sets of professional colleagues reeling with loss, two bodies of work ended far too soon, and two more reminders of the insidious nature of addiction and its heavy cost.