Cameron Douglas was born into Hollywood royalty. The son of Oscar-winner Michael Douglas and the grandson of screen legend Kirk Douglas, he grew up in a cocoon of wealth and privilege. Outwardly, life may have seemed picture perfect, but Douglas began using drugs in his teens. By his 20s, he was injecting cocaine and later, heroin. His increasingly erratic behavior estranged him from his family and derailed his career as an actor and DJ. Eventually, he turned to drug dealing to feed his habits. That ultimately resulted in a seven year stint in federal prison for distributing methamphetamine, two years of which were spent in solitary confinement.
Released in 2016 and having kicked his addictions, Douglas is opening up about his struggles in “Long Way Home.” The memoir is frank, compelling, at times heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant. It recounts the devastating impact that his drug abuse had on his loved ones and also the pressure he felt as the scion of a celebrity family. It also illustrates the pernicious ability of addiction to derail the lives of people at every strata of society. Douglas sat down with Variety to talk about the message he hopes that readers will take away from his story.
Why did you write the book?
I can’t go back and change a lot of my decisions and the pain and the wreckage that some of those decisions have caused. What I did endeavor to do was to take those experiences and turn them into something useful. I also wanted to gain perspective and look back over my life and to try to know myself better. I want to be of help to any family or loved ones who, god forbid, need advice or help in that area and to anybody else. It’s obviously difficult to go over this story constantly. Once I’ve done my level best to sell the book and reach people, I hope I’ll be able to put this behind me and move forward.
Your family is globally famous. Were they concerned about you writing about them in such a candid manner?
I’m sure they were concerned, but the irony is that it was my father who was really pushing me to write this book. I had trouble understanding that, because our family has always been very private. Then I realized it’s the ultimate way for my father and my mother to express their love for me, saying, “You have a story to tell that we think can be beneficial. Even though that will inevitably shine a light on pieces of our life that we’d have rather left in the past, for the greater good and because we love you, we’re giving you our blessing.”
Have they read the book? What was their reaction?
It’s certainly not easy for somebody who is that close to the story to read a lot of these things about me. Some things they knew. There were a number of other things they learned through reading this book.
How did writing the book change your perspective on your experience?
It let me look at what points along the way I could have potentially gone off this path that inevitably led to what it did. One of the conclusions that I came to was that if I had been more open to therapy as a youth, I think that would have been really helpful. I urge any youngster that is starting to experience some of the telltale signs of serious addiction and reckless behavior, to really take advantage of that opportunity. As I told somebody that’s very close to me, it’s hard to foresee what kind of shit storm you’re in store for if you continue to go down this road. It can be avoided.
Is there a moment you identify as being a point of no return for you?
The addiction really started to wreak havoc on my life in my mid-20s. At that point, I had a burgeoning movie career and a pretty successful DJ career. Although I was partying pretty hard, I still feel like I was able to follow through on work. Then I started injecting cocaine and it literally chewed my life to pieces in a short period of time.
Then I was doing a movie in Ireland and I had just developed a heroin habit. I ran out of heroin. I got dope sick during the beginning of shooting the movie. I was fired, and I got a call from my father saying essentially you can fall in line with what I’m about to lay out for you or you can go off on your own. And I chose the latter. My loyalty was to my addiction. It was the one thing that I felt I could always count on. It was always there. When I made that decision, I was one motel payment from being out on the street.
How did you think this was going to end for you?
I came to the conclusion that I was just fundamentally broken. That I wasn’t put together properly, and I was going to live my life that way, come what may.
Did you think you were going to die of an overdose?
I was certainly not preparing for that. My No. 1 goal was to facilitate my drug habit. I didn’t think about it too much outside of that.
You write about a conversation you had with your father in which he told you that he was preparing himself emotionally because you were going to kill somebody, or you were going to get killed. What was that like to hear?
It was upsetting to hear that coming from the person that you look up to most and love dearly. But I was pretty far gone at that point. The reality is that families that are struggling with individuals that are in the throes of addiction, there reaches a point where you have to let go and take care of yourself and your other loved ones. You have to pray that they find there way. One gets to a point where there’s no reaching them.
Would you have been able to get clean if you hadn’t gone to prison?
For me, anything short of this monumental bomb going off in my life I don’t feel would have had the gravity to divert my course. It took awhile. I was certainly not on that path from the get go in prison. It wasn’t until three or four years in that I started making these mental changes and discovered that indeed I did have these traits like discipline, follow through, drive, that I thought I didn’t have. I do have them. But I needed to gain clarity and space and distance from the addict who had been inhabiting my body for so long.
What was it that finally enabled you to finally stop abusing drugs?
I reached a point where literally I felt there were two paths left open to me. One path would have been destructive, which I would not have returned from and never would have made it home from prison. The other path was to put myself in the best possible position when I was released from prison to make a life for myself. I wanted to redeem myself and ultimately to feel useful.
Growing up, did you feel burdened by being part of such a famous family?
Sure. Did I struggle with it? Sometimes. Sometimes I felt awkward or different than other people. The reality is that there are tens of millions of children that are born into extremely difficult circumstances, way more difficult than the hand I was dealt. As my father has always said, and rightly so, there are a lot of benefits from coming from a famous family and there are drawbacks. You hope the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. They certainly did. I always felt loved by my parents. I wanted for nothing. My choices were borne out of a feeling of loneliness as a kid and a general discomfort in my own skin. I was trying to soothe that and connect with a peer group. I don’t blame my childhood for my addiction or the choices that my addiction led me to make.
You had a promising role in “It Runs in the Family” opposite your father and grandfather. You write that a lot of opportunities came to you when you were younger and now you realize that you have to work for those same opportunities today. How have things changed?
I was basically handed an opportunity to have a great career as an actor at a young age. I took to it, but I didn’t value the opportunity for what it was at the time. I feel like life is nothing if not ironic. When everything was handed to me, I shunned it. Now I’m really having to dig in and work for it. The good news is that I’m cut out for it. I’ve been honing my work ethic and discipline and drive for many years knowing these are the traits that are going to take me where I need to go.
What do you like about acting?
I’ve been acting most of my life — sometimes for fun, sometimes to try to fit in, sometimes to save my life. I love telling a story. I love being able to put myself in another person’s shoes and tell a story.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Having to go back over my life step by step and dig up all this past pain that I’ve worked so hard to stuff down inside of me. I had to take a look at it and deal with it without the aid of drugs to soften the blow.
What’s been the most validating response?
People have started reading this book with one notion and upon reading it have found it to be useful and heartfelt. That’s the biggest compliment. The idea was not to write a trashy book or to make people feel bad for me. There’s no reason for anybody to feel sorry for me. The purpose was to write a book that would be helpful.
What’s your message to people who are struggling with addiction or have loved ones who are addicts?
Depending on where that individual is on their journey, if they’re completely gone and out of control, you have to let go. Let them find their way. If they’re just flirting with it, do everything you can to let them know how much you love them, how much you care for them, and how much they mean to you. And then there comes a point where people have to be responsible for their own actions. That’s what life is. It’s a series of choices and then we deal with the consequences.