In his most famous role, as the cannibalistic Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins says he once ate a man’s liver “with some fava beans, and a nice Chianti.”
In real life, Hopkins was not having any alcohol. He gave it up in 1975, when he was 38 and realised that drinking was destroying him. A reformed Hopkins went on to win the 1992 Best Actor Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. On Sunday, he took home his second statuette for The Father. At 83, Hopkins is the oldest winner of an acting category Oscar.
“There is a compulsive side to my nature. It develops into self-destructiveness, an addictive personality as they call it,” Hopkins once said. “When I was much younger, it seemed an attractive way of life. Looking back, I’m glad I survived because it [drinking] finally rips you to pieces.”
For Hopkins, the warning was on the spinning walls of a hotel in Arizona, sometime around 1975. When he woke up, he had no recollection of how he had gotten there. Hopkins then signed up with Alcoholics Anonymous, even though, due to being in denial, “The last place alcoholics imagine themselves to be in is Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Hopkins had tried kicking the habit before. But six weeks was the longest he went without a drop. At AA, however, he was successful. One reason was that he felt at ease because he saw there were many like him dealing with the same demon.
“When I asked for help and I realised I wasn’t alone, that there were thousands of people like me, all my fears began to dissolve,” he said in an interview.
A tip from a fellow AA member and survivor named Clancy Imislund helped the young actor stay the course. It was to teach and help the poor.
“The thing with alcoholism is that it makes you very self-obsessed, it’s all ‘me, me, me,’” Imislund once told The Daily Express. “Put 10 guys in a room and, by next week, maybe six will be gone. But I could tell Tony really wanted to stick with it. So I told him if he really wanted to help himself, the only way to do it was to help others,”
Hopkins joined The Midnight Mission, an initiative to help the homeless, where Imislund was the boss. He started giving out free acting lessons and Christmas gifts.
Of his new path, Hopkins said, “And suddenly the relief came and my life has been amazing. I have my off days and sometimes little bits of doubt and all that. All in all, I say hang in there. Today is the tomorrow you were so worried about yesterday. Young people, don’t give up. Just keep in there. Keep fighting. Be bold. Mighty forces will come to your aid. That’s sustained me through my life.”
Hopkins has asserted that he does not mean to be “evangelical” about abstinence. He has been frank that up to a point he enjoyed that life, and the ups and downs that resulted from drinking taught him a lot.
“Of course, I'm sorry for the hurt I caused people... but being an alcoholic was a powerful experience,” he once said. “There were some days when I'd drink a bottle of tequila and I didn't care if I died. I loved tequila.”
“I never get bored since I became sober. Earlier nothing satisfied me,” he said.
Last December, on the 45th anniversary of his sobriety, Hopkins posted a video message. "I'm not preachy but I got a message, a little thought that said, 'Do you want to live or die?' and I said 'I want to live.'"
His life advice to people is basic - keep going. But there is a poignant story behind that.
“I carry a photo of myself on my phone, [from] when I was a little boy. When I was a little confused kid as we all were. And I look at him and say ‘We did ok, kid’.” Keep going. Never give up. We get questions in our head, and little voices that put us down. So get over that.”