|January 2005 / Issue No. 6
Welcome to the Thorburn Addiction Report. Each month, you can look forward to several sections, including:
1. Top Story of the month
2. Movie or Book Review of the month
3. Dear Doug in which a recent letter to "Dear Annie" or other "help" column is rewritten, with responses given from the unique perspective that alcohol or other drug addiction best explains the misbehaviors described
4. Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month
5. Alcoholic Antic-of-the-Month, usually from Randy Cassingham's on-line newsletter, This is True
There is something for everyone!
Robert Blake, alcoholic
Top Story: Could actor Robert Blake have had Bonny Lee Bakley murdered?
The trial of Emmy-winning actor Robert Blake, star of the 1970s hit series "Baretta," began in late December. Despite the fact that Blake is a known alcoholic, many commentators are reluctant to accept the possibility that he may be guilty of hiring someone else to murder his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. While a court of law needs to make this determination, we are certainly entitled to conclude in our own minds that he may have committed this nefarious deed.
Blake's mother divorced his alcoholic father at a young age and remarried a man who, Blake claims, was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive. This apparently occurred even while, as a child star, Blake appeared in almost 90 movies. Along the way, Blake was expelled from five schools and, when he was drafted in 1950 at age seventeen, was so rebellious of authority he spent time in an army stockade. The behavior, while not unheard of in a child suffering from physical and psychological abuse, more likely suggests that Blake's alcoholism began at a very young age (probably by 14, when his movie roles seem to have dried up for several years).
Returning to Hollywood after the Korean War, he acted in movies (including a highly regarded role in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood") and did stunts for over two decades before landing the part on TV's "Baretta." All the while, he was tyrannical on the set and is reported by many to have "behaved badly." He was capricious in interviews, refusing to answer many questions, prone to angry outbursts and terminating interviews at any moment. He was foul-mouthed and extremely moody. Some producers simply refused to work with him. Based on behaviors alone, we would ascribe an 80% probability that he drank alcoholically (see the Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator). In fact, he has admitted he "drank heavily" and used other drugs. The fact that Blake has been, at times, what many consider an amazingly insightful actor, is no impediment to alcoholism.
Another observer says that while Blake has been hot-tempered and even violent, no information could be found that he ever used other people to do his dirty work, such as having his wife slain. One could conclude that Blake was a lone wolf, certainly not trusting enough to pay for and depend upon another to commit a murder. Yet, the behaviors of a practicing alcoholic - or one who is abstinent, but has not undergone ego deflation - are unpredictable. If he's an addict, he is capable of anything, including murder for hire.
Blake is reported to have undergone thirty years of therapy. His is likely a classic instance of therapists trying to explain and excuse misbehaviors because of childhood abuse. Yet, many others who have been abused have not triggered alcoholism and have grown up emotionally and behaviorally. Because therapists are trained to look in the wrong direction for explanations of poor behaviors, nothing was ever done to arrest Blake's addiction, however obvious it may have been. Therefore, therapy was doomed to fail, leaving open the possibility of far greater tragedies.
Robert Blake, if guilty, is now playing the role of his life. Reportedly, he has done a lousy job of it. When he was told his wife was dead on May 4, 2001 (after leaving Bakley alone in their car, having "forgotten" his gun at the restaurant a block away), an officer testified he cried out, put his hands to his head, but didn't shed a tear. Egomaniacs not only show no remorse, but also have none. If found guilty, the first step will be taken towards deflating his ego and, ultimately, his ability to find redemption.
Runner-ups for top story of the month: Jeremy Carter, 17, former President Jimmy Carter's grandson, charged with burglary, underage drinking and marijuana possession; his father, who previously denied that a bottle of rum found in his back pack could be his, said, "My son is innocent....He will be exonerated." Larry Eustachy, Associated Press college basketball coach of the year in 2000 and sober since April 23, 2003, reporting that when ex-wife Stacy found him drunk one night in early 2003 and told him he "might have a problem," that this was "the only time in my whole life anyone had ever said that to me. Ever." The Economist Magazine, for failing to understand the root of the problem when reporting on despots Kim Jong Il of North Korea, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Sapamurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, concluding that "the most obvious reasons why despots behave badly is because they can." Judge Floyd H. Schenk, who required that convicted young DUIs spend time at trauma centers and the county morgue, dead from complications of Alzheimer's. Actor Jerry Orbach, who played detective Lennie Briscoe on TV's "Law & Order" in what could be the greatest portrayal ever of a recovering alcoholic in a continuing role, dead at age 69 from prostate cancer (and who, in a day and age of PSA tests, should not have died from this highly treatable disease).
Under watch: Former Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland, a once-popular three-term Republican, while pleading guilty to corruption and admitting he traded influence for more than $100,000 in flights to Las Vegas, vacations and repairs to his vacation cottage, asked that the people "appreciate and understand what we have tried to do over the past 25 years in public service." Bernard Kerik, former police commissioner of New York City, previously fined for pulling two cops off the beat to research his memoirs, reported to have had connections to the mob, living above his means and, despite declaring bankruptcy and ignoring an arrest warrant for failure to pay his debts, kept two mistresses, nominated and quickly withdrawn for chief of Homeland Security due to having kept an illegal nanny. Jerome Schneider, pleading guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, detailing the complicated tax shelter scheme he promoted that he now admits was bogus (anyone who thinks he's more powerful than the U.S. government must think he's God). Dodger center fielder Milton Bradley who, after pleaded guilty earlier in the year to disorderly conduct (yelling at a police officer, using profane language), served a three-day jail sentence in December for traffic stops that went "awry." Lisa Montgomery who, after having carefully plotted the kidnapping, confessed to strangling a pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, cutting her open and removing a nearly full-term girl. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" star Vincent D'Onofrio, allegedly missing workdays and infuriating co-workers with "confrontational" behavior (too bad: while his portrayal of a combination Freud, Columbo and Sherlock Holmes is brilliant, I noticed there have been moments on-screen when he looked high as a kite).
Note to family, friends and fans of the above: we give the benefit of the doubt by assuming alcoholism (they are either idiots and fundamentally rotten, or they are alcoholic/other drug addicts). If alcoholic, there is zero chance that behaviors, in the long run, will improve without sobriety. One absolute prerequisite to sobriety is the cessation of enabling, allowing pain and crises to build. Thus far, many have done everything they can to protect the addict from the requisite pain. To give sobriety a chance, the enabling must stop.
Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator
|Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder by Ann Rule
Book Review: (A "heads-up:" this is a long review, but will be well worth your reading. My intent is to tell the story as it should be told. Students of alcoholism may wish to compare the behavioral clues with those in the on-line Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator or in the new Indicator in the appendix of How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics. I'll make up for it with far shorter reviews, probably of movies, for the next three months, since I'll be very busy during tax season.)
While true-crime writer Ann Rule has written numerous biographical accounts of murder, after reading an article by her ("Killer Connection" in the October, 2004 "Reader's Digest") I wondered if she had a clue to the role that alcoholism plays in determining the course of her subjects' lives. Not once in the article, which included brief vignettes of alcoholic serial murderer Ted Bundy and "Green River" killer Gary Ridgway among others, was alcohol or other drug addiction even mentioned. Because of a recent spate of celebrity-status murder cases (Scott Peterson, music producer Phil Spector and Blake, the first of whom I strongly suspect is alcoholic and the latter two who are confirmed alcoholics), I decided to pick up one of her books. I figured she might share a deeper understanding of addiction than found in a brief article. I selected Every Breath You Take, in which she recounts in great detail the story of the brutal murder-for-hire of Sheila Blackthorne Bellush by her ex-husband, Allen Van Houte Blackthorne.
Rule suggests by her title that many killers can be obsessed and seek revenge for no apparent reason, just as B.D. Hyman felt her actress-mother Bette Davis (whose story I recount in depth in my first book, Drunks, Drugs & Debits) had a "need to win" for its own sake. While some truly evil people can be obsessed with revenge and winning at any cost, these are few and far between. The motivation of alcoholics is to wield power over others, accounting for observable power-seeking misbehaviors. The cause of this need is the action of alcohol and other psychotropic drugs on the brain of the addict, resulting in a god-like sense of self. Recovering alcoholics admit to having numerous "resentments" and "obsessions." Doubt should be resolved in favor of the probabilities: if there are observable resentments and obsessions destructive of others, alcoholism is usually the underlying cause.
Rule chronicles the convoluted life of Blackthorne, the 1997 murder of Bellush and the 2000 trial in Texas. There are numerous genetic and behavioral clues to alcoholism in Blackthorne. They begin with his obvious alcoholic father Guy Van Houte (who likely got sober before his third of four marriages) and even more obviously alcoholic mother, Karen (who probably never found sobriety). Yet Rule, from the start, displays a lack of understanding of the role that alcoholism plays in determining behaviors by failing to identify either of them as alcoholic, which is crucial to predicting that Allen was at great risk for inheriting the disease. Instead, Rule claims that Allen was the catalyst that set Karen off on violent temper tantrums, and that her life "vacillated between her indomitable spirit and Job-like bad luck," ignoring the role that alcoholism played in her violence and "bad luck" even while recounting her heavy drinking. She reports without question Allen's attribution of "his mother's behavior to the fact that she was often suicidal." Yes, alcoholics in the "down" phase of what appears to be bipolar disorder (manic-depression) often appear depressed and suicidal. How then, with this backdrop, could we expect Rule to identify less obvious alcoholism, as in the case of Allen Blackthorne, or even to ask questions that might resolve such a crucial issue?
Being the product of such a household could have turned Allen Blackthorne into a pathological liar, manipulative charmer, sexual exhibitionist and sadist. Without alcoholism, however, such misbehaviors usually dissipate over time. Yet, as an adult, Allen was a charming suitor with a maniacal temper who often committed domestic violence among his "always-insecure" women, from whom he managed to hide his numerous prior arrests. A skilled driver, he once deliberately smashed into a motorcyclist, killing him instantly, and got his wife Sheila to lie about the incident. (Alcoholics are masters at such conniving.) All along, he betrayed family and friends and was described as affecting others in hurricane-like fashion (more accurately described as "tornado-like"). He made false accusations of infidelity while cheating on his wives and talking down to them. He viewed himself as a heroic opportunist on par with James Clavell's hero in Shogun, Englishman John Blackthorne, after whom he liked to think he patterned himself, even changing his name to Allen Blackthorne. Grandiosity is common among alcoholics.
While he was a profligate spender, Allen begrudged everything his wife Sheila spent on herself and their children. He claimed to be indigent and declared bankruptcy while hiding assets. He had showy houses and sports cars, but did everything he could to avoid paying ex-wives and children anything, shoplifted for the fun of it and, while a resident of Texas, licensed his vehicles in Oregon to save a few dollars in taxes even after becoming a mega-millionaire. While a compulsive gambler with extreme sexual compulsions, including molesting one of his daughters, he falsely accused his ex-wife Sheila, whom he had tried to drown and run over and against whom he committed serial adultery, of mentally and physically abusing their daughters. Rarely paying his numerous legal bills, he inspired his fourth (and final) wife to file a false sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer. He never seemed to sleep, especially when gambling, chain-smoking the whole time. A seeming paradox, he was a handsome, impeccably dressed millionaire who was considered eccentric and annoying, but not dangerous by neighbors. He never played by the rules, cheating even at golf. He engaged in telephonitis, keeping others on the phone for five or six hours at a time often until 3am, while maintaining at least six phone lines in retirement. He had a sense of invincibility fueled by the fact that he never experienced proper consequences for misbehaviors.
Seemingly unconnected to his horrible conduct, he would "sometimes" get into "alcohol or drugs;" at other times, he'd turn into a "pothead." Those who knew him argued over the extent of his drinking. His father Guy, who when obviously sober admitted to have drunk "a lot," felt his son never drank to excess because he would have lost control, and "he was a total control freak." Yet his uncle, Tom Oliver, "saw Allen drunk on many occasions," including once when he heard two drunks arguing at a bar while watching a basketball game, before realizing one of them was Allen. It turns out, he was arguing with a business associate. A bit later, Allen was too drunk to stand up. Rule commented that, apparently, "Allen was able to turn any excessive drinking on and off." That's called "bingeing," the style of drinking the former Soviet ruler Josef Stalin engaged in. And Stalin, who was very much in control when he needed to be, remained in power for decades.
Delighting in telling off-color jokes and tales of sexual conquests while married, we are to believe that Allen "never drank much," even while he often invited his coworkers to drinks after work. Yet, some of them wondered if he "might be high on drugs when he came to work," and another said he was "was using Demerol," an opiate. It doesn't take much alcohol in combination with other drugs to produce a euphoric "I am God" high. As part of a school program in which he employed a teenager, Allen told a teacher during a required evaluation meeting that if he were seventeen he'd be "high on Demerol" and chasing girls all day long rather than doing job training. Allen, by that time CEO of a company that sold a muscle stimulating device (RS Medical), had hired an obvious alcoholic as president, while firing his chief of finance, a man of impeccable ethics, falsely accusing him of heavy drinking. Accusing non-alcoholics of alcoholism is a common tactic, even while cavorting with other alcoholics. And, Allen was drinking heavily when he first broached the idea to one of his collaborators of having his ex-wife killed.
A clue as to why Allen may have been a periodic drunk who used other drugs can be found in the fact that he suffered liver damage from infectious hepatitis as a child, a result of his mother ignoring his needs during a period of heavy drinking. At the time, she was reported as being "with a different man every time" her half-sister saw her.
By the time the murder plot was orchestrated, it's possible that Allen Blackthorne was a dry drunk, abstinent but with a still massively inflated sense of self-importance, along with a sense of invincibility earned from long experience. The plot was, in a sense, brilliant. In its most basic form, he hired three different people with various backgrounds, but all likely addicts (the actual murderer was a cocaine addict), to carry out the murder. The killer left a trail of evidence, and the rationale concocted by Allen as to why the perpetrator would murder Sheila was so carefully constructed that most people would think a clear mind for the set-up was mandatory - but the creation of such a conspiracy is not beyond the practicing alcoholic. After the murder he told Peter Van Sant on "48 Hours" that he had nothing to do with Sheila's murder (in a similar act of journalistic enabling, Scott Peterson was given an opportunity to lie to millions of viewers). It took over two years to accumulate enough evidence to charge Allen with the murder. On the stand, he "appeared" to be on tranquilizers. One "veteran" reporter commented that, although many had expected Allen to explode on the stand while telling carefully concocted lies in his own defense, "he was so tranquilized he was right next door to a zombie." Yet, the clues to addiction - and to the pathological behaviors that were a likely consequence of that addiction - were on display for everyone to see long before, along with a certainty that tragedy, in a life of unimpeded alcoholism, would inevitably occur.
While an index and flowcharts connecting the various actors in the story would have been helpful, the book is one of the best ever at chronicling the behavior patterns of a very likely alcoholic in great detail, even though he wasn't identified as such.
||Dear Doug: A gentleman and abuser
I have been married for three years to an admired member of the community who appears to others to be the consummate gentleman. While the compliments and attention are unending in public, he is abusive to my five children and me in private. He yells at the kids over nothing, monitors my phone calls, hides tape recorders in my car, hacks into my email and harasses me constantly to come inside when talking with my (female) neighbors.
When I finally got him to go for counseling, he smoothly told the counselor exactly what he wanted to hear. After filing a protective order against him for assault and battery, my children and I moved out. I don't want to create trouble for him, but I tire of hearing people say that someone whom they think a saint has been unjustly accused. What should I say to them?
Signed, Harassed and Abused
. . . . . .
Dear Harassed and Abused,
Other columnists might suggest you say nothing because it's not anyone else's business and the truth will eventually surface. They would not even mention the possibility that alcoholism, which exists in 85% of cases of domestic violence, is the probable source of both verbal and physical abuse. While others might add that you could jeopardize yourself and your children if he learned you were publicizing his abuse, the truth of the matter is you are at risk regardless.
Allen Van Houte Blackthorne also was a respected member of the community. Like your husband, he put up a front that few penetrated. His former wife, Sheila Bellush, was trying to escape from his clutches when, in 1997, years after their divorce, she was brutally murdered for hire. As with Allen Blackthorne, alcohol and other drug addiction suggests there may be far worse behaviors than you have observed.
This suggests that the violence could escalate unpredictably. Everything possible needs to be done to "out" his secrets and impose consequences. In my opinion, you should consider taking extreme measures to protect you and your children.
Alcoholism and its symptomatic behaviors are everyone's business. All-too-often, the truth surfaces after tragedy has occurred. Alcoholics are the world's greatest salesmen and frequently make innocent people appear guilty. Talk to the police, dig into his past to see whether he can be held accountable for prior crimes and, while avoiding contact, record every conversation with him that you can.
(Source for story idea: Annie's Mailbox, December 18, 2004.)
Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month: "It's the drugs' fault"
"All of the problems I have had are because of my granddaughter's friends, her drug-using friends....It's not her fault; it's the people who sold drugs because they weren't taken off the street."
So said Jack Whittaker, who was the winner of the biggest undivided lottery in U.S. history two years ago with a $113 million lump sum, when his only granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, 17, was recently found dead of a drug overdose.
Whittaker and others said Brandi's instant access to great wealth brought her new friends and dangerous "habits." Yet, Whittaker failed to take into account his own behaviors and genes, along with the warning signs of inherited "habits."
Whittaker, arrested twice in the past year for DUI, had recently been ordered into rehab. Bragg was reported to have lived with her grandfather before getting her own apartment, suggesting the likelihood that alcoholism had already struck two successive generations of the Whittaker family (the most common reason for parental abandonment) and, therefore, greatly increasing the odds that it would hit a third. Wealth is the addict's biggest enabler and Jack Whittaker insured such enabling.
Brandi not only had her own apartment while still a teen, but also, incredibly, had several vehicles, including a Hummer and Cadillac Escalade. And, Grandpa Whittaker gave her plenty of cash. He did this despite knowing who her friends were. An 18-year-old friend of Brandi's was found dead from an overdose just a few months earlier - in Whittaker's house.
Drugs are omnipresent, the legal drug alcohol just one of them. Rather than pinning the blame for problems on "drug-using friends," we might start with Whittaker, the alcoholic grandfather. While having the disease of addiction is not her fault, the use and untimely death is certainly not the fault of "the people who sold drugs" or the law enforcers who failed to take them off the street. The fault, instead, is of those who enable. Observant cops might have apprehended young Brandi for a DUI any number of times. Unfortunately, they often fail to pay heed to the early warning signs and are limited by law from testing traffic violators for DUI unless they observe the more obvious signs of inebriation (of which the classic sign of alcoholism, unnecessarily reckless behavior, is not one). But the biggest enabler of all was the grandfather who doted on his granddaughter - to death.
Amazing Antics: Stories of Alcoholism-Driven Behaviors
Can someone be found guilty of DUI for driving a wheelchair while drunk?
The St. Petersburg Times ("Woman's DUI case questions definition of vehicle" by Duane Bourne, December 14, 2004) reported that Cynthia Christensen was barely on the road when she collided with a passing Ford minivan. Christensen, 45, who suffers from degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis and scoliosis, was charged with DUI after a blood test showed her blood alcohol level was .12 per cent. She had been drinking beer when she rolled into the front yard of her home and, in an attempt to get unstuck out of fine sand, accelerated too quickly, hopping a 4-inch lip onto the street.
The problem is, nobody can figure out whether a wheelchair fits the definition of a "vehicle." In a previous case, a wheelchair-bound drunk who rolled along in traffic had a DUI conviction overturned when he copped a plea for jaywalking.
The question as to whether Christensen is alcoholic should determine whether the law should be used in an attempt to coerce abstinence. Evidence of alcoholism, while not conclusive from this story alone, exists. She's done a lot of damage to herself at a young age, although her physical troubles could be blamed on bad genes. While a BAL of .12 per cent does not suggest alcoholism for a college fraternity member, it does for a 45-year old, even if .15 per cent would be far more definite. And, she wheeled herself into her front yard while drunk, and landed in fine sand that she likely knew was there. From this incident, we should suspect alcoholism with, perhaps, a 75% level of confidence. In other words, we'd still give 25% odds that alcoholism fails to explain this rather bizarre incident.
However, this is not her only legal problem. She's awaiting trial on charges of animal cruelty after allegedly biting the head off a python. If true, we can increase the odds to nearly 100% that alcoholism explains much of her life. And, she should be coerced into abstinence, before she does something else really stupid and hurts others, human or not, in the process.
Honorable Mention: Mistaken Identity
Story from December 5, 2004 issue of "This is True" by Randy Cassingham, with "tagline:"
"CANNONBALL RUN: Just 45 minutes after Theresa M. Wilson, 43, of Curtis, Wash., found her boyfriend with another woman, she says, she saw him driving on the road. She rammed his car three times and forced it off the road, state troopers say. "Oh my God, oh my God, that's not my boyfriend," she allegedly said after the crash -- she had mistaken a stranger's car for her boyfriend's. Wilson was arrested and charged with assault. "We've got an anger management issue," the arresting trooper said. (Olympia Olympian) ...Gee, I can't imagine why her boyfriend wanted to move on."
About 85% of incidents of domestic violence are rooted in alcoholism. In my book Get Out of the Way! I make a case, based on studies of disruptive airline passengers, that alcoholics commit at least 80% of road rage. Evidence suggesting that the real issue is something other than a propensity to commit violence for its own sake is also found in several studies showing zero difference in the treatment of women by men between those who had completed domestic violence counseling programs and others, attending no course. The trooper, then, is likely identifying a symptom rather than the underlying cause.
The fact that there is no mention of DUI suggests she may not have been tested, which is all-too-common in traffic incidents. On the other hand, she may have been given the standard sobriety test and passed, which highly tolerant early-to-middle stage addicts can readily do. A third possibility is she's an addict who was between drinking episodes. The fact that alcoholics are not high every time they commit domestic violence likely holds true for on-road misbehaviors.
("This is True" is copyright 2005 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. See http://www.thisistrue.com for free subscriptions.)
To view reader's comments on last month's Thorburn Addiction Report and Doug's responses please visit the Thorburn Weblog at PrevenTragedy.com.
Doug frequently posts alcoholism-related articles, as well as his responses, so be sure to check back often.
Doug's new book, Alcoholism Myths and Realities, is now available pre-publication to our readers only! Buy your copy now, before the general public can in June. Only $14.95 - and take a look at this endorsement by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and columnist, Scientific American:
"My father died of alcoholism. His father died of alcoholism. Three generations of alcoholism is enough. Now is the time to abandon superstition and pseudoscience, to debunk the myths surrounding alcoholism, and to apply science to solving this problem. Doug Thorburn's book is a model example of how this should be done. Read it and be prepared to change your thinking on this important topic. When enough of us understand what is really going on with alcoholism, society can make the shift from treatment to prevention and intervention."
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