"From my own life, I still cannot believe that my life is what it is because I should have died in Wales, drunk or something like that."
Noted for playing the fearsome Dr. Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, the cryptic Robert Ford from the Westworld series, and King Lear on the BBC’s latest adaptation, Sir Anthony Hopkins has been an electric performer enchanting audiences for over 50 years. However, not many people know about Anthony’s personal struggles with alcoholism and addiction. Now at the age of 80, Hopkins has been sober for over 40 years.
Hopkins was born December 31st, 1937, in Port Talbot, Wales. His father, Dick, was a tough and practical man that raised Anthony in a stalwart and stoic household. Hopkins says that as his father grew older, he became more explosive and prone to drinking. Turns of depression and rage made him unpredictable and drove his family away from him. Towards the end of his father’s life, Hopkins says, the two rarely spoke and harbored resentment towards one another.
In school Hopkins got poor grades and was often bullied. He describes himself at this age as an eternal outsider, a child who never played with the other kids and didn’t have any friends. In an interview with Live magazine, Hopkins recalls being slapped upside the head by teachers and made fun of by other students. In one incident a teacher twisted his ear until it broke and made fun of his inability to understand arithmetic. When his father found out about this, he threatened to beat the teacher within an inch of his life and later taught Anthony to stick up for himself, lift weights, and to never walk away from a fight.
“But the anger, you begin to channel it. I’m very happy I’m an alcoholic – it’s a great gift, because wherever I go, the abyss follows me. It’s a volcanic anger you have, and it’s fuel. Rocket fuel. But of course it can rip you to pieces and kill you.”
Anthony took up working in a factory for the Steel Company of Wales, where he struggled to complete menial tasks and was made to feel like the village idiot. He joined the army and faced even more derision from management for his inability to type on a keyboard and remember important details. Hopkins says that he knew he was clever, but struggled with fear of failure and dealing with other people. Eventually, Hopkins would land on stage in small theatre companies.
His initial stage career began with the National Theatre in London, and comprised many small, non-speaking roles and background characters. His frustrations grew so great (something he attributes to his Welsh temperament) that he eventually asked the casting director “Who do you have to sleep with to get a part around here?” Hopkin’s brazenness earned him several bigger roles, but it still never felt like he was a part of the theater crowd.
“When I was at the National all those years ago, I knew I had something in me, but I didn’t have the discipline. I had a Welsh temperament and didn’t have that ‘fitting in’ mechanism. Derek Jacobi, who is wonderful, had it, but I didn’t. I would fight, I would rebel. I thought, well, I don’t belong here. And for almost 50 years afterwards, I felt that edge of, I don’t belong anywhere, I’m a loner.”
Hopkins looks back on the 60’s as a dark time characterized by constant traveling and constant drinking. His stage career was going well but the endless shows and lack of money made things difficult.
"Because that's what you do in theatre, you drink. But I was very difficult to work with, as well, because I was usually hungover."
Hopkins craved more and found solace in drinking himself into oblivion every night. He describes showing up to movie sets after drinking and not sleeping, either hungover or drunk while on camera.
“I remember grey miserable nights. I was in a coma for most of it, so I missed the whole decade, including the Beatles, completely. I would drink about eight pints a night - I remember being in Liverpool on those drizzly evenings in the pub, getting the last drop in.”
Hopkins was well received but began to recognize that he was becoming a person that he disliked.
“I was a horrible human being when I was young, I didn't like myself. When you're young and famous, you're kind of nasty. You're arrogant, you want this, you want that and there's a sense of expectation and entitlement. I was a general pain to everyone.”
Although Hopkins continued to ply his trade on the stage and in several films, he never found the kind of satisfaction he was looking for. As he continued to drink and perform, he gradually became worn down and depressed. In 1973, fed up with the world of theatre and his drinking, he walked out of a performance of Macbeth mid-run and decided to move to LA. Hopkins decided to become a “beach bum” in Malibu and famous film actor, only one of which goals he accomplished. In 1975, Hopkins reached the point where he was tired of drinking and decided it was time to quit.
“What made me stop drinking was not remembering where I'd been the night before. One day I just thought, ‘I've had enough of this’. It was simple. I didn't want to go on feeling bad. I don't miss drinking, not at all. I don't want to ever go back there. Now I just love English tea and digestive biscuits or Hobnobs.”
Since then, Hopkins has won multiple awards for his work on the screen, become an avid painter, and continues to promote sobriety. Nowadays, Hopkins says that his alcoholism and anger issues are under control. He has learned to channel what he describes as his “volcanic anger” into fuel, whether for work, art, or exercise. By transforming his anger into drive, Hopkins has made the most of his disease and become one of the finest living actors in the world with unforgettable roles under his belt.
Although Hopkins did not require the assistance of a certified drug and alcohol rehab center, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of trained therapists, medication-assisted treatment, and ongoing support found in rehab. Trained counselors and certified medical staff will help you to get sober and learn how to stay that way. Visit Landmark Recovery to learn about more tools and resources for overcoming addiction.
“So, gradually, over the years, I have learned not to be a people-pleaser. I don’t have a temper any more. I get impatient, but I try not to judge. I try to live and let live. I don’t get into arguments, I don’t offer opinions, and I think if you do that, then the anger finally begins to transform into drive. I don't need to prove myself any more. It's different now because I don't give a damn what anyone thinks.”
At Landmark Recovery, we do our best to create an environment of openness, honesty, and trust. Our patients find that their time spent in treatment allows them to heal and sets the framework for the continued work of recovery throughout the rest of their lives. Get in contact today to learn more about drug and alcohol rehab services near you.