Lessons On Addiction And Escaping The 'Death Grip From Satan'

In order to understand and to mourn the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon recommends reading The Night of the Gun by David Carr.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died last weekend from an apparent heroin overdose. Since then, many of his fans have been trying to make sense of it. Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon turned to the work of a journalist who investigated his own effort to escape what he calls the death grip from Satan. Bazelon recommends David Carr's "The Night of the Gun."

EMILY BAZELON: David Carr's addiction began on his 21st birthday. A dealer handed him a cigarette tin full of powder. It was a Helen-Keller-hand-under-the-water moment, Carr writes. Lordy, I can finally see.

Soon, he was a drug addict as well as a journalist. He went after public officials, but he also spent days in jail himself. He beat up his girlfriend, who was pregnant with their twin daughters. The babies ended up being the key out of David Carr's prison. He got sober, and he raised them.

BAZELON: It's an uplifting read. But the best parts of the book are when he digs through the wreckage he caused along the way. He interviews the people he got high with, betrayed and relied on, and he wrestles with what they say now. Carr remembers driving with his twins to a crack house just after they were born and leaving them in the car, nestled in their snowsuits. He went inside to get high. And when he got back and saw the breath of those tiny infants in the cold night air, he vowed to get clean. And he did.

But there's a hitch. His daughters were born in April. If they were wearing snowsuits, this moment couldn't have happened right after they were born. It's Carr's brother who makes him face the fact that he didn't go to treatment until the girls were 8 months old. And his lawyer tells him that when he showed up in her office, he looked so unwell that she struggled with whether custody was even feasible.

Carr is now a successful columnist for The New York Times. But drug problems mean that it's never easy to make it the way he did. Even while we mourn the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we can appreciate the work Carr did to rub the lens clear, to see all the danger and squalor of his addiction for what it really was.

RATH: That was Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate. The book she recommended was "The Night of the Gun," by David Carr.

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