Stories of Recovery: Jon Hamm

Posted by Jackson Bentley on Oct 9, 2018 8:00:00 AM
Jackson Bentley
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“Good, bad, indifferent: It’s ephemeral. So sit in it for a minute and experience it. If it sucks, it too will be gone in a minute.”


AMC’s show Mad Men was perhaps most infamous for introducing us to the iconic character of Don Draper, a womanizing, high-functioning alcoholic, and powerful executive who nevertheless endeared himself to audiences around the nation thanks to the charm and sophistication of actor Jon Hamm.


Mad Men is a show that was emblematic of a time when people tended to marginalize mental health, civil rights, and problems like substance abuse. Through the lens of Don Draper, audiences got a chance to experience what it was like to come to terms with societal problems that had been dismissed for decades as they rose to the surface, such as civil rights, sexism, and alcoholism.


Hamm, now several years removed from playing Don Draper, has discussed his own issues with alcoholism, as well as mental health and the pressures of Hollywood. Through his story, we get a glimpse of the different forms that high-functioning alcoholism can take, and how professional treatment can help.

 Jon Hamm at a Mad Men premiere

Peabody AwardsMad Men (8287038511)CC BY 2.0

Hamm was born March 10th, 1971 in St. Louis, Missouri. He made his first acting debut as Winnie the Pooh in a first-grade play and would later go on to win an acting scholarship at the University of Missouri. At a young age, Hamm’s parents split up, and when Hamm was only ten years old, his mother Deborah passed away from colon cancer at 36. Hamm moved in with his father and recalls struggling to cope with the reality of his mother’s death.


“We’re talking about 1980 in St. Louis. Not exactly a hotbed of mental health. I was given a book called ‘What to Do When a Parent Dies’, and I was like, all right, I’ll read this book. I guess I’m fixed.”


Her dying wish was to see Jon attend John Burroughs School, a ritzy private school in St. Louis. Here, Hamm would hone his acting skills, earn good grades, and play as a linebacker on the football team. As a young man, Hamm was noted for his smarts and charisma.


After high school, Jon attended the University of Texas where he joined the Sigma Nu fraternity. When his father passed away while in school, Jon returned home and moved in with his sister, working as a waiter and dishwasher. During this period of time, Hamm describes himself as depressed and struggling to understand his place in the world. Luckily, one of his half-sisters would convince him to seek professional help in the form of a therapist.


“After I’d lost my dad, I had this horrible paralyzing inertia – and no one in my family was capable of dealing with it. So what do you do? Go and see a professional. I preach it from the mountaintops. I know it’s a luxury and it’s not something everyone can afford. But if you can, do it. It’s like a mental gym.”


A close up of Jon HammAfter a stint in a local performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamm was convinced by a friend to pursue a career in acting. At the age of 25, Hamm said goodbye to his hometown in Missouri and left for Hollywood.


In Hollywood, Hamm struggled for years to make ends meet, landing small parts here and there but never gaining the kind of success that would make life comfortable. One of his more infamous stints was as a set dresser for a soft-core pornographic film set, a job he described as soul-crushing and boring.


It was until the age of 30, worn out from countless auditions and dropped by his agency for being too old, that Hamm would land on the set of Mad Men, a new show being produced on AMC. Showrunner Matthew Weiner was looking to give the leading role to someone without a big name or public persona and believed that Hamm had the strength to carry the series as its unknown star.  Romina Espinosa at http://www.rominaespinosa.comJonHamm08CC BY-SA 3.0


“I just thought he was the guy, the one who had the intelligence and the sensitivity. Plus, he seemed wounded...Now there’s a man who wasn’t raised by his parents.”


Hamm’s role as Don Draper would catapult him to Hollywood stardom and turn the once-fledgling actor accused of being “too old” into one of the most sought-after household names in the business.


Hamm became inextricably connected with his character Don Draper, a charming alcoholic and advertising executive with a troubled past, loved and hated for his intellect, empathy, and womanizing, but whom ultimately finds redemption.

For 8 years, Hamm and the writing staff at AMC enchanted viewers by offering a portrait of a man experiencing societal change while struggling to remain his best as a high-functioning alcoholic and high-powered executive in the 1960’s. The show won multiple Emmys and landed Hamm a “Best Actor” award in the final season.


After the series ended, Hamm split with his longtime partner of 18 years, the actor and director Jennifer Westfeldt, months after checking into rehab in March of 2015. Instead of holding a publicized press conference, Hamm discreetly entered a 30-day treatment program at the nationally recognized Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut.


Hamm was not keen on disclosing the reasons behind his entering rehab but told the press that it was for alcoholism. Hamm does not describe himself as an alcoholic but explains that Hollywood life and the high-pressure spotlight had become difficult to cope with. Rehab was a chance for him to step back and get his life in order once again.


“Recalibrate. Re-evaluate. Just sort of re-establish where you are. You’re coming off of this Tilt-a-Whirl that’s going 9,000 miles an hour, and so many things have come unfixed. If you think about navigation, you’re trying to stare at a fixed point. When you navigate to something that’s whirling, it’s difficult.”

 Jon Hamm at a premiere event

Luck the LadyJon Hamm 2010CC BY-SA 2.0

In the years following his period in rehab, Hamm has been explosive across multiple genres and formats, appearing in comedies, dramas, and other roles that play against his typecasting and include spots in Black Mirror, Baby Driver, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and even Spongebob Squarepants. He’s shown not only a dedication to the craft of acting but a dedication to a life of moderation and self-care.


In several press interviews, Hamm has been adamant about keeping his private life private. However, fans have been able to learn a lot about high-functioning alcoholism from Hamm’s portrayal of Don Draper, as well as his own personal life and advocacy for professional treatment. Even if there still remains a stigma against addicts, shows like Mad Men help us recognize the importance of seeking help and speaking openly about addiction.


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.



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Topics: Stories of Recovery

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