There is nothing wrong with getting your buzz on now and again. But it’s not hard to let alcohol use turn into alcohol abuse, especially if you’re drinking to numb the pain or alleviate pressure. Alcoholism can happen to anyone, including stars and celebrities. They are only human, after all. And with it comes the shame of hitting rock bottom. But the stakes are raised for famous actors, as their struggle is often laid bare for the judgmental public, as well as potential employers and collaborators. That’s why a deep dive into the bottle can spell the end of the road for an performer's career.
The actors on this list either had promising careers or were already successful when trouble arose. But because of their addiction, they nearly lost everything they had worked so hard to achieve. Fortunately, each of them received a wake-up call just in the nick of time. With the support of friends and family, and/or receiving some kind of treatment, they were (mostly) able to pull through. And remember, you don’t have to be a celebrity to overcome a drinking problem. There is help out there for everyone.
Here are 16 Actors Whose Drinking Almost Ruined Their Careers.
16 Jon Hamm
Jon Hamm claims to have little in common with his signature character, the secretive lothario Don Draper. But one thing they do share is a love for the hard stuff. Hamm credits therapy for his remarkable recovery from a serious drinking problem. He owns his actions, but cites embodying Draper as a catalyst. He told Variety, “…it’s not fun to live in this guy’s headspace year after year.” He also had his own wellspring of darkness from which to tap, including his parents’ divorce and their subsequent deaths. He told GQ that career fears incited him to scapegoat his liver.
As Draper bottomed out, Hamm followed suit. Fortunately, the actor was able to nip it in the bud, and entered rehab shortly before the premiere of Mad Men's final season. Ever since, Hamm has taken strides to avoid bleak roles, instead popping up in comedies like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer, and the popcorn action flick, Baby Driver.
15 Drew Barrymore
One of the most precocious child actors of all time, Drew Barrymore’s alcoholism almost curtailed her career just as it began. After audiences fell in love with her in E.T., 7-year-old Drew was suddenly invited to hang with the grownups. With that privilege came exposure to all kinds of things she was far too young to handle, including cigarettes, booze, marijuana, and cocaine. Her parents were, at best, enablers. Her father was also an alcoholic, and her mother took her to Studio 54 when she was only 9. After one suicide attempt, 2 stints in rehab, and emancipation from her parents, Barrymore got clean with the help of musician David Crosby.
She spent her first sober years exploring her dark side in a series of “bad girl” roles, but flipped her image and captured our hearts once again as a sweet waitress in The Wedding Singer. With that, she reclaimed mega-stardom, founded a successful production company, and became a mom. Recently, she's starred in the Netflix suburban zombie satire, Santa Clarita Diet.
14 David Hasselhoff
In the '80s and early '90s, The Hoff was an international sensation, gaining fame for performing alongside beach babes and a talking car. He had been partying to celebrate his stardom, but when Baywatch ended in 2001, his reasons for tying one on changed. Said Hasselhoff, “I went from box-office gold to box-office poison… [It] wasn’t about having fun any more. It was about taking me away from being sad.” His struggle with the sauce lasted over a decade and included a handful of trips to the ER. An especially low point came in 2007, when he became a viral tragedy. His daughter, then 16, shot and released a video of him two-sheets to the wind, lying on the floor with his shirt open and gorging on a hamburger.
His humiliation saved his career. He went back to rehab and, in 2015, launched a comeback with the semi-autobiographical stage musical, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. Today, he’s back to being The Hoff full time in films like Guardians of the Galaxy and the Baywatch reboot.
13 Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin got a handle on his substance abuse early, citing Feb 23rd, 1985 as the first day of his life through a lucid lens. At 27, he was a regular on the popular TV series Knot’s Landing, but he was also surrendering to a troubling pattern of addiction that included driving around with plastic cups full of wine, and ending benders with marathon sessions of Galaga at a local arcade. “There was really, really a lot of pain in there,” he later told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Baldwin credits the arcade’s operator, Julian, for prompting his path to recovery. When the man found Baldwin waiting outside the arcade for it to open, he told the actor, “I’m glad I’m not you.”
After completing rehab, Baldwin’s career soared. He became a hirsute '90s heartthrob, and later, the charmingly deluded Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, which resulted in 2 Emmys, 3 Golden Globes, and 7 SAG awards.
Unfortunately, this means he was stone cold sober when he left a berating voicemail for his daughter in 2007. Yikes!
12 Daniel Radcliffe
As unbelievable as it sounds, the Boy Who Lived also, for a time, lived with alcoholism. While Daniel Radcliffe maintains that he never drank at work, there were many days when, after having tied on ten too many Butterbeers the night before, he was still tanked as the cameras rolled.
Says Radcliffe, “I can point to many scenes [in the Harry Potter films] where I’m just gone… I have a very addictive personality.” For eliciting his alcoholism, Radcliffe credits overnight success at a young age, and a neurological condition that made daily tasks difficult. “There were a few years there when I was just so enamored with the idea of living some sort of famous person’s lifestyle that really isn’t suited to me.”
Instead of becoming another child actor cautionary tale, he quit drinking a month after shooting the final Harry Potter film. Though he’s fallen off the wagon since, he feels hopeful that he’s now in control of his addiction for good.
11 Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck was once one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading men, but he was also living with a secret that destroyed his marriage and threatened his career. Despite having witnessed his father’s alcoholism growing up, it took Affleck a while to get a handle on it. He first acknowledged his grapple with the disease in 1997 after winning an Oscar for his work on the screenplay for Good Will Hunting. By 2001, it had gotten so bad that Charlie Sheen drove him to rehab. While starting a family with Jennifer Garner reined him in, it was merely a Band-Aid. They divorced in 2015 amid rumors of binge drinking and infidelity.
For a while, Affleck was traveling with sober companions to keep him on track. In January 2017, he stepped down as director of The Batman, recognizing that he was not equipped to be on both sides of the camera. He explained, “It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require”. The following March, he went back to rehab and reportedly continues to struggle with sobriety. He will next appear as Batman in November’s Justice League.
10 Zac Efron
Zac Efron became an overnight star thanks to the 2006 Disney Channel smash, High School Musical. The constant pressure to keep up momentum caused Efron to turn to alcohol to cope. "There was something lacking,” he explained. “Some sort of hole that I couldn't really fill up." He seemed destined for the middling indie film track. Surprisingly, his low point wasn’t when Nicole Kidman peed on him in The Paperboy. In 2014, Efron, was scared straight by an incident with a homeless man in downtown L.A. during which the actor took a hard punch to the moneymaker. Efron calls the incident, "the most terrifying moment in my life." And this comes from a man who overdosed on heroin before his first trip to rehab in 2013. He made his comeback with Neighbors and has been a box office draw ever since.
Nowadays, Efron uses exercise to relieve stress and keep his mind off of drinking. Judging by how ripped he’s become, it must be on his mind a lot.
9 Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan kicked off her career in the Disney child star factory, but did not handle the transition to adulthood very well. At one point, she was more famous for her alcohol consumption than her acting. From 2007 to 2013, her drunken drama dominated headlines. She racked up community service hours, served time, broke probation, went to court, bailed on court, and hopped in and out of rehab so much that she could have usurped the Betty Ford namesake. And it wasn’t just booze that addled her. She told Oprah that drinking “was a gateway to other things for me… I tried cocaine with alcohol.” Aptly, her addiction caused problems for her during the production of Liz & Dick, in which she played famous boozehound, Elizabeth Taylor.
These days, Lohan finally seems sorted. In July 2017, she celebrated her 31st birthday in Greece, where the worst vice at her party was the yacht-shaped birthday cake. She currently stars in the British comedy series, Sick Note, and plays a werewolf detective in the upcoming film, The Shadow Within. If that doesn’t spell recovery, we don’t what does.
8 Dax Shepard
Dax Shepard was in the throes of substance abuse while he was trying to get his career off the ground. “Mostly my love was Jack Daniels and cocaine," Shepard confessed. “Of course, come Monday I would be tallying up all the different situations, and each one was progressively more dangerous. I got lucky in that I didn't go to jail." Shepard was molested at age 7, but didn’t connect it to his substance abuse until his mom called with an eye-opening statistic: survivors of molestation have only a 20% chance of not being an addict. “…In my mind I just like to have a fucking great time,” he said. “But… I was going to be an addict, period.”
After he got sober, the job offers began to roll in. He met and married Kristen Bell, and became a father. This paved the way for numerous supporting roles on the big screen, a principal role on the hit ensemble drama, Parenthood, and a handful of directorial efforts.
7 Mel Gibson
For years, Mel Gibson was one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men. He spun box office gold with the Lethal Weapon series and Braveheart (which he also directed). Nevertheless, he began hitting the bottle hard. In 2006, after consuming enough tequila to kill a horse, he got a DUI and unleashed an anti-Semitic diatribe on the arresting officer. His downward spiral continued when he left his wife of 29 years (and mother to *seven* children) for Oksana Grigorieva, a young model. A few months after Grigorieva gave birth to their daughter, Gibson pled guilty to battery. Grigorieva also released a recording of Gibson spewing threats and racial epithets.
It was a bridge too far for Hollywood. Gibson entered a 10-year drought, ending in 2016, when he directed Hacksaw Ridge. The WWII epic earned $158 million at the box office and 6 Oscar noms. He doesn’t discuss his recovery much, but has admitted to working the steps and colleagues like Jodie Foster, Robert Downey Jr., and Andrew Garfield have expressed support. Gibson is currently working on a sequel to Passion of the Christ.
6 Will Arnett
Will Arnett has more in common with a depressed anthropomorphic cartoon horse than you might think. As his career got off to a rocky start, he turned to alcohol. Before landing the iconic role of Gob Bluth on Arrested Development, Arnett was hurting for work. He spent all his spare cash on booze and even contemplated suicide. During his longest unemployment stretch, he went on a 5-month bender, until a friend stepped in and urged him to get help.
In 2000, Arnett attended his first AA meeting. Shortly thereafter, he met Amy Poehler. Suddenly, everything clicked into place. He started a family with Poehler, and became a household name. But in 2012, he hit a snag. As his marriage fell apart, he dove headfirst into Flaked, his semi-autobiographical series about a dejected alcoholic actor. To get into character, he began drinking again and felt the despair creeping back in.
Today, he’s back on the wagon and his creative juices are flowing. He nailed Lego Batman, and completed season 2 of Flaked. Bojack Horseman season 4 is nigh and season 5 of Arrested Development is also on deck.
5 Ewan McGregor
When Ewan McGregor looks back on his early success in the 1996 indie smash, Trainspotting, he recalls the duality of being a “maniac on booze”. He would party the Brit Pop elite under the table. He views it as, “a high point of my life. But… also a time of massive debauchery”. McGregor flipped from a happy drunk to one who was depressed and filled with shame. He would regularly show up on sets drunk and would sneak drinks between scenes. It was hurting his performance and he knew it. “When you work drunk, you find one way to play a scene and that’s it.”
He cites his wake-up call as the moment he made a fool of himself in front of Iggy Pop, one of his idols. He considers it one of the most embarrassing moments of his life. In 2000, at age 29, he quit drinking cold turkey and has no regrets. He’s remained extremely busy, and has proven a versatile performer in the likes of Beginners and Season 3 of Fargo.
4 Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper is 100% certain that if he hadn’t gotten his drinking under control, it would have ended his career and ruined his life. “I wouldn’t have been able to have access to myself or other people…I never would have been able to have the relationships that I do. I never would have been able to take care of my father…when he was sick. So many things.” Things went south for Cooper while working on Alias. As his drinking increased, his screen time diminished. He was so sure he would get canned that he preemptively asked creator J.J. Abrams to write him off the show.
Thankfully, he took the time to get his life back on track. 3 years later, Cooper landed the starring role in The Hangover, and became a bonafide A-lister. He went on to star in critical darlings like American Hustle, and Silver Linings Playbook, as well as 2 more Hangovers and provided the voice of the tough-talking Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy. It became easier to maintain his sobriety once he realized that he could be himself and still be successful.
3 Brad Pitt
In a revealing May 2017 interview, an 18 months sober Brad Pitt spoke at length about his long-term relationship with substance abuse. “I can't remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn't boozing or had a spliff, or something.” He claims to have stopped “everything except boozing” when he started a family with Angelina Jolie. But eventually, the drink took its toll, and things came to a head during a 2016 flight on the family’s private jet. Pitt allegedly became verbally abusive to his wife, and their teenage son, Maddox, stepped in. Reports vary, but the actor may or may not have hit his son. The FBI got involved, though they’ve since dropped the case. Pitt was reportedly still ranting and raving when the plane landed. He faults emotional suppression for his alcohol abuse, saying there were “things [he] wasn’t dealing with”.
His work has significantly tapered off, but Pitt plans to get back on the horse after taking some time to deal with all those things.
2 Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf showed a massive amount of potential as a child actor for Disney. He came from poverty, living in a hotel with his father while shooting Even Stevens. His dad littered the room with drugs and gave Shia his first joint when he was “probably 11 or 12.” Despite roles in multiple blockbusters including the unspeakable Indiana Jones movie and the Transformers series, Shia sank into the bottle and a deep depression. “Part of it was posturing,” he said. “I never liked to drink, but I knew you had to.”
In July 2017, while shooting The Peanut Butter Falcon in Georgia, he was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. Despite having been in and out of rehab and being arrested 9 times for alcohol-related incidents, Shia’s lawyer maintains that his client isn’t an alcoholic. LaBeouf promised a Georgia court that he won’t have another drink during production, and will seek help immediately after filming.
1 Robert Downey Jr.
Before he was a Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist, RDJ was best known for being a train wreck of biblical proportions. His talent was so great that he managed to achieve success during his peak period of abuse. Despite being one of Hollywood’s most charismatic and lauded stars, he couldn’t get through the day without a drink in his hand. When he started chasing the hooch with cocaine, he crashed through the bottom and continued to sink. One night, after he left a party, his neighbors found him asleep in their child's bedroom and called the cops. In 2001, he was fired from Ally McBeal after police picked him up drunk and wandering barefoot in Culver City.
Robert has his wife, Susan, to thank for his salvation. In 2003, she gave him an ultimatum. Though he’d completed rehab, his career didn’t pick up again until Mel Gibson personally underwrote Downey’s liability insurance so he could star in The Singing Detective. This led to a full-fledged comeback, including show-stopping performances in Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder, and, of course, Iron Man.
What other actors were able to overcome their addiction to alcohol? Let us know in the comments.
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