I was stuck for something to read last week (I need a trip to Hodges Figgis soon) and so I scoured my shelves for something to re-read. I settled on Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed by Robert Sellers. The title is fairly self-explanatory; the book is not so much a biography of each of these stars but instead focusses on their drunken exploits and adventures. It’s absolutely hilarious in parts, for example when Richard Harris forgets which hotel room he’s staying in and drunkenly gets into bed with an American couple he’s never met. The man wakes up and says to Harris “Hey, what’s the big idea”. Harris retorts, “I don’t have one, but if one occurs to you by all means wake me up”. The book also shows what happens as hellraisers get older; Richard Burton suffered terribly from ill health as he grew older and during one operation surgeons were astonished to discover that his entire spinal column was coated with crystallised alcohol.
Reading the book made me think about the hellraisers of today and how in fact most of them are women; Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss. The treatment these women get in our society versus the veneration of earlier generations of male hellraisers is markedly different. The men are glorified, hailed as “boys being boys”, their stories are told with laughter and awe. The women are vilified for being out of control bad girls and their stories are told as cautionary tales.
It’s easy to say that the boys were geniuses, able to combine acting with stardom in a way that few manage, but let’s remember that Lindsay and Amy are both considered to be huge talents as well. The one difference seems to be that Richard Burton or Richard Harris could arrive on set punctually at eight am after a night on the booze. Lindsay and Amy are both currently failing to live up to early promise. However it still doesn’t warrant the treatment they get in the press.
When the Cocaine Kate scandal broke, Kate Moss was castigated by all and sundry as she is a mother, however nobody brought up the fact that Pete Doherty, her boyfriend at the time, was a father. When recent photographs of Angelina Jolie surfaced in what Star magazine called a “heroin bender”, she was repeatedly referred to in the press as “mother of six Angelina Jolie” despite the fact that she had no kids at the time the pictures were taken. But when Robert Downey Jr. woke up in a neighbour’s bed after yet another drug binge, nobody wondered why he wasn’t at home looking after his young son.
So is it just sexism? Is it the fact that society deems all women must fulfill their biological duty and become caring nurturing mothers and that’s why we don’t want to see them as hellraisers? Or is it a sign of the times? Have we learned from the mistakes of the past and see all hellraisers these days, male or female, as addicts suffering from an illness who need rehab. What do you think?