I used to think Russell Brand was basically just a goofy Brit with bizarre hair, and then I saw him on a late night talk show. Talk shows often reveal a lot about a celebrity's actual personality and talent, and it was immediately apparent to me that Brand is not only pants-wettingly hilarious—he's absolutely brilliant. Behind Brand's scruffy appearance and over-the-top movie characters is a highly intelligent guy who has a masterful way with words. When you consider his own struggles with addiction, it's perhaps not surprising that Brand's tribute to Amy Winehouse is the smartest, most empathetic contribution I've seen from any Hollywood source.
Brand took to his own website yesterday in order to post a tribute to his friend's death. In a post titled "For Amy," Brand shared some words anyone who's been affected by addiction will find familiar:
When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone.
Brand has been sober for eight years, but he's always been open about his past struggles with substance abuse. The things he has to say here are all too meaningful to me—I was once the one who created that worry in the people who loved me. My husband's phone once rang with the information that I had been arrested; I am sure, in my worst moments, that he sometimes wondered if the call would be even worse.
Another part of Brand's post stopped me dead:
All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his “speedboat” there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be.
Yes. Just ... yes, exactly. When you're caught in the undertow of addiction, it is an all-consuming drown. Nothing really matters but the next drink, the next fix.
I love Russell Brand for talking about this, for adding a deeper element to the "saw that coming!" attitude about Winehouse's death, and for taking things a step further by highlighting how the media defined Winehouse for her addiction. Correctly pointing out public fascination tends to revolve around tragedy more than talent, Brand says Winehouse's downfall was far more documented than her musical gifts.
How might her life have been different if that was not the case? If instead of millions of articles snarking about her appearance and her troubles, she'd been treated as someone with a sickness instead of an amusing criminal?
There's no way to know, of course. As Brand writes,
Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease.
Never mind all the useless celebrity Twitter sound bites, if you read one star's opinion on Amy Winehouse's death, make it Russell Brand's.
Image via Doctor Hyde/Flickr