Drug addiction and celebrity culture have had a long and tumultuous relationship. Fame comes with a strong sense of freedom, and easy access to illicit substances seems to be part of the package. The story is all too familiar—the star is catapulted into fame and the lifestyle that comes along with it, and then its fleeting nature leaves his life feeling empty when he isn’t supported by his chemical crutch. Thankfully, the ending isn’t always the same. The latest star to come clean about his addiction – Wes Bentley of “The Hunger Games” proves that emphatically. It isn’t just a hopeful promise of change that is destined to fall flat; Bentley has joined the illustrious ranks of celebrities who’ve battled their demons and made a lasting and positive effort to build a better future.
Bentley’s Early Career and Descent Into Addiction
Bentley got his big break in the critically-acclaimed movie “American Beauty,” in which he played a philosophical and poetic oddball with a video camera permanently fused to his hand—and at 21 the fame that came with it was too much to handle. He spoke to People magazine about it in 2011, telling the interviewer how the fame had become bigger than he was and transformed into fear. The fear took over his existence.
He said, “I felt I had a license to party … My morals had changed. I could feel [myself] being suffocated by this party monster.” The use of the phrase “party monster” won’t go unnoticed by film buffs, being the title of a biopic about a legendary New York promoter, known for his excessive drug use that eventually led to the murder of his roommate and drug dealer. It paints a very clear picture of where Bentley’s life was going, from a rapid rise to fame to an equally rapid spiral into drugs.
Bentley started with what are traditionally thought of as the “gateway” drugs—alcohol and marijuana. Regardless of your stance of the “gateway” drug concept, it played itself out in a tabloid-friendly fashion with Bentley, who soon graduated to ecstasy and cocaine before moving to the drug that would come to take over his life: heroin.
A Career Jeopardized
The success of “American Beauty” should have been a positive omen for Bentley’s career—and indeed his memorable role did generate interest in the young actor. Unfortunately it was already too late; by that point Bentley had begun refusing offers of scripts and ignoring his career in favor of getting high. He turned down numerous opportunities, including the chance to work with legendary directors such as Tim Burton, Ang Lee and Tony Scott. Moviefone notes the lull in his career around 2000, with only a handful of roles being listed in the 10 years that followed. He told People that “after a while, I was just doing films to fund my partying and drugs.” His life revolved around them.
This took its toll on his relationship, too. His marriage to Jennifer Quanz broke down; the couple separated for three years before getting divorced in 2009. The previous year was a particularly important one—he was arrested for possession of heroin and his best friend, Heath Ledger, died from a prescription drug overdose. This was his ultimate low point, with legal trouble, professional difficulties, a broken relationship and drugs taking the life of a close friend.
Bentley claims his motivation to make a change in his life came from meeting Jacqui Swedberg, his second wife and the mother of his second child. This may be partially true, but it seems he’s being a little modest here—the motivation to make a change ultimately always comes from within. He checked himself into a 12-step rehab facility.
He said he’s never looked back. According to his interview with People, he knows where the road to addiction leads and he never wants to go back. And his actions are in perfect congruence with his words—he’s now four years clean and sober and his career is on the rise. He built himself back up by acting in other movies such as, “There Be Dragons,” but “The Hunger Games” has etched his name in the minds of a new generation of movie-lovers.
A Happy Ending
The best thing about Bentley’s story is that it’s an important reminder that with some resolve, it’s more than possible to overcome addiction, no matter how much it eats into your existence. Bentley went from a depressing side note on a “Where Are They Now?” feature into a star in one of the biggest blockbuster movies in recent memory. He was able to do that because he took stock of his life and realized he wasn’t heading in the right direction. We can only hope that the publicity his story gains will inspire ordinary people who struggle with addiction to make similar changes in their own lives.