Sobriety = Greatness Unlocked!
“People treated for cancer might go into remission but there’s a chance it will come back. I feel the same about alcoholism.” — Samuel L. Jackson
“I have had it with these motherf — — snakes on this motherf — — plane.”
There are very few lines that are more recognizable than the above one in terms of who said it and in what movie.
The obvious references to snakes on a plane make it instantly recognizable from a movie perspective, but there are probably few actors who have uniquely taken one cursing to an artform the way Samuel L. Jackson has.
The Hollywood legend has been acting for over 48 years and is known as the highest-grossest actor of all time at 7.096 billion dollars for his role in mega cult hits such as The Avengers, Pulp Fiction, Star Wars, and, yes, even Snakes on a Plane.
Most people are not aware, however, that before Samuel L. Jackson was wowing us with his ability to use four-letter words in a way that even our teenage-age self would pause and think, “damn,” he was a struggling actor with a serious drug and drinking problem.
Looking at his life and ability to overcome his addiction, I think there are a few inspiring things that we can learn and apply to our journeys to alcohol consciousness.
Just because your life isn’t in shambles doesn’t mean you DON’T have a problem
For Samuel L. Jackson, his addiction wasn’t clearly apparent to him.
He knew that he enjoyed drinking and doing drugs and felt that he had somewhat earned the right to do it because he felt he was a very good actor who was just not yet realizing the success he deserved.
He said he would take drugs and often think “poor me” in an attempt to forget how much money he was not making and self-medicate to feel better about his situation.
Part of his reason for feeling so was because he actually was a very good actor and quite exceptional considering that he would get high often before and after shows.
He commented on his time back acting while consistently high on drugs,
“I had a very good theatre reputation. Granted, I was a f*cking drug addict and I was out of my mind a lot of the time, but I had a good reputation. Showed up on time, knew my lines, hit my marks. I just wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was very satisfied artistically.”
It was this satisfaction that kept Jackson from feeling that he had any real issues with alcohol or drugs and even enjoyed it with many of his fellow co-stars.
His life wasn’t great, but he wasn’t stealing from anyone and was still relatively successful at his acting career.
However, it took his family finding him passed out one night after coming home from a bachelor party and making the decision to cook cocaine which prompted them to beg him to go to rehab.
Up until that time, he had been somewhat successful hiding the full nature of his addiction from his family, so he has often remarked of this incident, “I guess I wanted to get caught.”
You CAN quit on your first try
For some, it does take numerous stints in rehab to get it right, but Jackson was one of the lucky ones who was able to do it on his first try.
The shock of laying on the kitchen floor with his wife, Latanya, and his daughter, Zoe, eight years old at the time, standing over him was enough to make him really decide to go all-in on rehab.
For Jackson, he said it was knowing that his wife and daughter had never given up on him that was much of the catalyst for his sobriety and why he was able to get clean.
He also credits the direct correlation to his increased success in acting as a motivating factor that helped him realize that sobriety was the better way to go.
Up until that point, he had a number of parts in a few well-known movies such as Goodfellas and Coming to America. So he was getting work, but he had not yet had anything that would yield a break-out role for him.
Two weeks after getting out of rehab in 1991, he was called by his old friend Spike Lee, and everything changed.
“For me, I have a direct correlation between getting sober and success because when I was in rehab, Spike Lee called (for 1991’s Jungle Fever). So as soon as that happened — when Jungle Fever happened — I started going to lunch in Hollywood.”
This immediate success gave him the focus he needed to stay sober and has been part of his driving force ever since.
As good as you are now, you can be so much better WITHOUT it.
While Jackson was a prolific and widely artistically-accepted actor prior to him getting clean, it wasn’t until he became sober that he truly was able to morph into the great actor we see today.
He said, “…my success directly correlates to me getting straight and me getting in touch with who I am and understanding what my talents were and how to tap into them in a positive way and not that negative way that I used to.”
Not only did it change the way that he would approach how to get to know his own characters better and deeper, but he also developed a deeper understanding and ability of how to incorporate much more of his intelligence into a film by connecting with all aspects of it, from the script itself to his fellow acting mates.
His wife, Latanya, who was also an actress, would often remark that he was so intelligent that she couldn’t understand why he didn’t bring more of that to his characters. He admitted that he had no idea what she was talking about at the time, but immediately began to understand what she meant when he started acting sober.
He began to focus more on just not his own character but also on his castmates and their characters, as well as his connection with them, to make his character’s role more believable and real, and that has made all the difference.
And while he admits that he still has the occasional dream about drinking and doing drugs that scares him enough to know that it will always be there, he takes the same approach each day, “I didn’t drink yesterday and I’m not planning on it today.”
A great simple strategy that has allowed him to stay sober for over 30 years and counting and continue to give us great movies and lines that we will never forget.
Lucky for us, as there should be many more great ones to come.
Snakes on a Plane 2 anyone?