Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has always been known as the quintessential bad boy, drugged-out rockstar. And his memoir, Scar Tissue, that came out in 2004, was a huge New York Times bestseller, probably because it detailed his ridiculous life and all the shocking stuff he put himself through, including being addicted to heroin and almost being killed by Mexican drug dealers.
We all seem to love a good redemption story… But the message we often don’t also get is that guys who survive their ridiculous behavior and “lived to tell the tale” are, statistically speaking, a rarity.
But the dangerous thing here is that the book seems to be sold as evidence that living a crazy life focused only on the pursuit of pleasure is somehow without consequences. The quotation on the front of the book alludes to this, making it seem really glamorous:
“A frank, unsparing, meticulous account of a life lived entirely on impulse, for pleasure, and for kicks.”
And in the intro of the book, Kiedis says:
“It took years and years of experience and introspection and insight to get to the point where I could stick a needle in my arm to remove toxins from my system as opposed to introducing them. But I don’t regret any of my youthful indiscretions. I spent most of my life looking for the quick fix and the deep kick. I shot drugs under freeway off-ramps with Mexican gangbangers and in thousand-dollar-a-day hotel suites. Now I sip vitamin-infused water…” p. 3
We all seem to love a good redemption story, where a person goes to hell and back and transforms himself. But the message we often don’t also get is that guys who survive their ridiculous behavior and “lived to tell the tale” are, statistically speaking, a rarity. Let us also not forget that Anthony Kiedis lost his best friend, original guitarist for the Chili Peppers, Hillel Slovak, to a drug overdose. Yay, what an awesome life he led back then!
In other words, the celebrities who end up surviving all their crazy lifestyle choices who are then put on a pedestal in the mainstream media are just incredibly lucky they didn’t die. In fact, there’s thousands of people just like them who never got famous and actually did die, but we never hear about them, because they were nobodies still trying to get famous and, you know, they died.
It’s easy for Anthony Kiedis to tell us all, in glorious fashion, that he doesn’t regret any of his choices from the past… but that’s because he’s still alive. Imagine what all the dudes who did die would say, from beyond the grave? Do you think they’d say they regretted their choices? Of course they would.
There’s lots of other famous dudes just like Anthony Kiedis who’ve “come out the other side” and their life stories have been molded by the media to make it seem like this was just the natural course of things. Robert Downey Jr. is a good example.
You all probably just know him as the awesome actor from all of the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes movies, but at one point in the 1990s when you were either really young or not even born, this guy was in and out of rehab and jail like it was his job.
Nowadays (or at least at the time of an in-depth interview in GQ magazine a few years ago) he needs a personal assistant with him pretty much around the clock, making his meals and scheduling his day, so that he doesn’t fall back into old, dangerous habits. That’s actually not that great of a life, if you think about it.
Why is all of this important for men, specifically, to think about? Because, for many reasons, we men tend to act out really risky behavior to either gain social status (and the attention of females) or to feel a sense of freedom and expansiveness that makes us feel like life isn’t so bad. The problem with using famous men’s lives as proof that this is somehow okay (“See! They did it! Why shouldn’t I?”) is that we’re only seeing a tiny slice of the whole picture.
So, next time you look at some rockstar or movie star’s life and think “Dude, that just seems so awesome to be admired by all those people and have all those hot chicks all over him and just doing drugs and not giving a crap about anything,” remember that on some level he simply rolled the dice on his life and won. The majority of people who make very similar choices and get themselves into horribly dangerous situations to feed a drug habit or be able to have sex with hot women, for instance, just simply die, and we never hear about them.
That’s the crux of it right there: Choosing a risky life path means you either:
1. Go so far down that road that you actually die, or
2. You come really close to dying, snap out of it, and then put yourself back on a safer, more sane path.
But we only ever hear about the guys who snapped out of it. The ones who died don’t get talked about nearly as much, yet they’re the majority of the people who chose the risky path in the first place. So we have a massive, societal reference bias toward the winners. The actual reality is that most of the time, they’re losers. Like, losers of their lives.
There’s an infinite amount of ways to experience the same feelings of freedom, admiration and awesomeness that Anthony Kiedis and Robert Downey Jr. have without risking your life. One place to start is finding a deeper life purpose and direction that makes you pumped to wake up in the morning. Another is surrounding yourself with supportive, inspiring people. There’s lots of other “natural highs” too.
To be crystal clear, I’m not here to be that adult who wags his finger at you and says “Don’t do drugs.” I’m saying “Think about the potential consequences and energy that you’ll have to expend doing those drugs, and reflect on whether it’s worth it to you, knowing that you can get very similar feelings and experiences without doing them.”