Jamie Lee Curtis proudly has 20 years of sobriety from drugs and alcohol under her belt — and talks about her journey getting there.
In an interview with Variety, the Halloween actress, 60, talked how she became addicted to painkillers after a plastic surgery procedure and used drugs alongside her movie star dad, Tony Curtis. She also revealed how her addiction was exposed — and her efforts to stay sober as she works around the globe.
Curtis — whose vices included cocaine, alcohol and the opioid Vicodin — said a “routine plastic surgery” procedure to fix her “puffy eyes,” after a cameraman embarrassed her on the set about them, led to her addiction. The doctor “gave me Vicodin as a painkiller for something that wasn’t really painful,” she recalled.
She found herself popping five Vicodin at once and washing it down with booze, but she said her addiction was “wildly controlled” in that she never took pills at work.
“I never took drugs before 5 p.m. I never, ever took painkillers at 10 in the morning,” Curtis said. “It was that sort of late afternoon and early evening — I like to refer to it as the warm-bath feeling of an opiate. It’s like the way you naturally feel when your body is cool, and you step into a warm bath, and you sink into it. That’s the feeling for me, what an opiate gave me, and I chased that feeling for a long time.”
Curtis said that nobody — including her husband, actor Christopher Guest — initially knew she was taking the painkillers, but her secret started to unravel. She was first exposed — 10 years into her addiction — in 1998 when a friend saw her casually swallow a handful of pills with wine while cooking dinner.
“I heard this voice [from the doorway of the kitchen]: ‘You know, Jamie, I see you. I see you with your little pills, and you think you’re so fabulous and so great, but the truth is you’re dead. You’re a dead woman,’” Curtis recalled the person saying. “The jig was up. Now I knew someone knew. I had been nursing a secret Vicodin addiction for a very long time — over 10 years.”
But it didn’t get her to stop right away. Soon after, her sister, Kelly Curtis, was staying at her home and Curtis started stealing her sibling’s unused Vicodin, which she had been prescribed for an injury but never took.
“When she was moving out, I knew she was going to find the empty bottle,” Curtis recalled. “So I wrote her a letter and I said, ‘I’ve done a terrible thing, and I’ve stolen your pills from you, and I’m sorry.’ When I came home that night, I was terrified that she was going to be so angry at me, but she just looked at me and put her arms out and hugged me and said, ‘You are an addict and I love you, but I am not going to watch you die.’ That’s it. She didn’t wag her finger at me. She didn’t tell me anything else.”
Two months after that, Curtis happened upon an article in Esquire magazine titled “Vicodin, My Vicodin” about writer Tom Chiarella’s painkiller addiction. For the first time, Curtis realised she wasn’t alone and she sought help, going to her first recovery meeting. She has been sober since.
Addiction runs in Curtis’s family — her famous father also struggled.
“I knew my dad had an issue because I had an issue and he and I shared drugs,” said Curtis, whose mom was Janet Leigh.
“There was a period of time where I was the only child that was talking to him. I had six siblings. I have five. My brother, Nicholas, died of a heroin overdose when he was 21 years old. But I shared drugs with my dad. I did cocaine and freebased once with my dad. But that was the only time I did that, and I did that with him. He did end up getting sober for a short period of time and was very active in recovery for about three years. It didn’t last that long. But he found recovery for a minute,” before dying in 2010 at age 85.
Curtis said she was initially worried that talking about her addiction in group meetings would leak out to the tabloids, but it never did. The mom of two went public with the news herself, once she was two years sober, in an interview with Redbook.
Meetings have been at the centre of her life for the past two decades. Wherever in the world her career takes her, she makes sure she finds one — and if she can’t, she holds her own.
“I am a very careful sober person,” Curtis said. “When I work, if there are no recovery meetings available, I make them. I put a sign up by the catering truck saying, ‘Recovery meeting in my trailer.’ When I was in Charleston making Halloween, I was in a coffee shop near where I was living, and I met somebody in recovery, who told me, ‘Oh, those two ladies out on the patio are sober too. There’s a women’s meeting near here.’
“I went out and introduced myself to the ladies, and a day later I was at a women’s gathering 100 yards from where I was living... When I was making The Tailor of Panama with Pierce Brosnan and John Boorman, I was swimming in the Gatun Dam, but on my day off, I found a recovery meeting that only spoke Spanish, didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t understand a word anybody said, but I went and sat down and met people, shook hands and talked.”