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John Goodman On Addiction And Alcoholism
John Goodman is no stranger to cinema screens. Goodman portrayed Dan Conner on the hit TV sitcom, Roseanne, provided the affable voice of Sully in Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. franchise, and has made numerous film appearances like Walter Sobchak from the Coen Brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski. His filmography is impressive, but one of his most cherished triumphs is his sobriety.
A stranger in a strange land. When John Goodman was 23 years old, he took a loan from his older brother ($1,000) and moved from St. Louis, Missouri to New York to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. He rented a small apartment with his girlfriend near Manhattan’s theatre district. Goodman had no agent or industry contacts, so he’d wake up, walk around the strange city, and look for auditions.
Money was very tight. John Goodman would go days without a decent meal, but he kept at it for two years – staying afloat with various bar work – when a commercial agency got ahold of him and suddenly a steady flow of income was coming his way.
In the 1980s, he became a household name once he was featured in the primetime sitcom Roseanne that ran for the better part of a decade. Since then, money has not been an issue; finding work has not been an issue. But the rise to fame was not without its drawbacks.
John Goodman frequently became the subject of tabloid headlines, and could no longer walk the streets of New York without people recognizing him. It was a completely different world for him and it’s in large part what started his alcoholism which he would struggle with for the next 30 years.
Sober Since 2007
Roseanne’s ratings continued to climb while John Goodman and his family were living in California. The frequent paparazzi and environment were debilitating and Goodman didn’t want his newborn daughter to grow up in that atmosphere, “I’d had it with showbusiness, publicity, tabloid stuff – I’d just had it,” said Goodman. “I kind of wanted to get her, my daughter, away from that” (The Guardian).
As a result, John Goodman moved his family from California to Louisiana, nearer to his wife’s parents and away from the publicity. Goodman recalls thinking it seemed like a good idea at the time, but
“there’s many times I could have gone under. Not overdosed, but… well… misadventure.”
John Goodman has been sober since 2007, after 30 years of battling the disease. It hasn’t always been easy though as Goodman recalled many nights where he’d dream of knocking back glasses of whiskey and he’d tell himself:
“I’ll go: ‘Hey, I shouldn’t be doing that.’ And then I’ll go: ‘Waaah, that’s OK! You do it all the time! You sneak it all the time!’ And then I’ll wake up and go: ‘No, I don’t.’ They were worrisome at first. Now they’re just funny.”
As the interview continues, Goodman talks about how he sought instant gratification, not simply at the bottom of a glass, but in his work. He suffered a lack of confidence and was constantly worried about memorizing his lines.
“…And I was punishing myself more than anything else and even using my energy wrong and it’s just a matter of being relaxed with it, and knowing [the lines] are going to come, have patience. It’s my personality disorder that I want everything right now. I gotta have it now, now! Mr Now! I mean, you can’t do that [on stage]. It’s a process.”
Much like sobriety, it’s a process and he takes it one day at a time. He doesn’t dwell on the regrets, doubts, and sorrows any longer. In fact, he actively pulls himself away from those thoughts knowing they can lead down a dangerous path. With interviewer, Elizabeth Day, he catches himself:
“Why am I talking about this? This cannot happen again… [it’s] a chemical thing, a brain thing, [a] general dissatisfaction with everything. I don’t want to do anything, nothing seems right. I have to be doing something else, but I don’t want to do anything else.”
When John Goodman finds himself caught in a depression, he busies himself with other activities.
"I want to keep going to places where there is positive reinforcement, so I don't get to the place where there are triggers. Because I don't think anything on God's green Earth could stop me if I really wanted to drink." (Men’s Journal)
John Goodman is able to avoid most of those triggers at home with his wife and family, so when he’s out filming or performing theatre far from home, he gets anxious.
Goodman, as the tabloids are wont to point out, used to be obese – at one point, he approached 400 pounds. Now however, as a recovering alcoholic, he passes time on the elliptical or boxing and at six feet tall, he looks to be about 250 pounds; far from the unhealthy man he once was.
In fact, he says this is why he enjoys the theatre, because it’s physically active and requires him to stay in shape. The weight gain had caused the joints to wear down beyond repair, now that he’s had two knee replacements and has quit drinking, it’s clear his health is a priority.
“Alcohol is alcohol. I’m an alcoholic. I would drink no matter what. That’s just part of being an alcoholic – you find any excuse. But as for the stress, I’ve lived a stressful life. I’ve made it more stressful by drinking and using drugs, and the business I have chosen is always a nail-biter… there was a constant threat of unemployment. For some reason, I just denied what I was doing to myself. It’s a miracle anyone would hire me at all, looking at me. I looked like a walking heart attack.” (Men’s Health)
Perhaps the most inspiring quality to John Goodman is he doesn’t shy away from his alcoholism. He accepts that it is a part of him, but it’s a part he’s willing to give up.
“Giving up a lot of yourself isn’t really that hard when you realize that you get more than you give up.”
John Goodman continues to have prestigious and mercurial acting career while living a sober life in New Orleans with his wife and dogs.
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