By Kate Ward
April 11, 2011 at 05:38 PM EDT
Andrew Evans/PR Photos; Everett Collection

Perhaps it’s because I was a youth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and therefore naive to the possibility that Hollywood life was anything less than glamorous. Or perhaps it’s because, back then, we dismissed most tabloid material as if it were as credible as the Weekly World News‘ Bat Boy. But, for whatever reason, I can’t help but be shocked reading Dennis Quaid’s essay about his 1980s cocaine addiction in Newsweek.

Now don’t get me wrong: As an adult, I now know all the seedy details of the entertainment industry. And I was well aware later in life of Quaid’s struggles. But what’s always shocking is seeing an actor speak about his addiction, admitting to a life that wasn’t as glitzy as it seemed in the pages of celebrity-friendly magazines. And Quaid’s confessions, straight from his honest pen, are fascinating — and frightening. (The 12-year-old in me who watched Breaking Away on VHS still can’t fathom that dreamy cyclist Mike had any problems off-camera.)

In the Newsweek piece, Quaid talks about the prevalence of his drug of choice, cocaine, on the set of his films, even claiming that the drug was “in the budgets of movies, thinly disguised. It was petty cash, you know?” As a youth from Houston failing to adjust to his new-found fame, Quaid writes that he used drugs to cope with a feeling that he did not deserve to be the subject of headlines. “I guess I felt I didn’t deserve [fame],” he writes. “I was doing my best imitation of an asshole there for a little while, trying to pretend everything was OK. Meanwhile my life was falling apart, and I noticed it myself, but I was hoping everyone else didn’t.”

Quaid also writes about his reputation as a “bad boy” in the industry: “[It] seemed like a good thing, but basically I just had my head stuck up my ass. I’d wake up, snort a line, and swear I wasn’t going to do it again that day. But then 4 o’clock rolled around, and I’d be right back down the same road like a little squirrel on one of those treadmills.”

He stopped his drug use and headed to rehab after he had “one of those white-light experiences that night where I kind of realized I was going to be dead in five years if I didn’t change my ways,” but still admits to having trouble rebounding his career after becoming sober. (He cites 1993’s Wilder Napalm as a post-rehab failure.) “But that time in my life — those years in the ’90s recovering — actually chiseled me into a person,” he writes. “It gave me the resolve and a resilience to persevere in life. If I hadn’t gone through that period, I don’t know if I’d still be acting. In the end, it taught me humility. I really learned to appreciate what I have in this life.”

Touching words. And an essay that helps me appreciate the fact that I’ve never acted on a movie set. But it’s great to hear that an actor surrounded by drugs can recover. And look how much happier he looks now (picture, left) compared to when his cocaine use had hit its zenith, during the filming of 1986’s The Big Easy (picture, right). But, PopWatchers, tell me: Are you always similarly surprised to see your matinee idols admit to their history with drugs?

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