The irresponsible Stephen Fry
Published in: Daily Mail
The actor and comic Stephen Fry is considered by some to be a national treasure who adds greatly to the gaiety of the nation.
It’s a role to which he self-consciously plays up as raconteur, wit and genial host for any TV occasion. But why, then, does he feel compelled so egregiously to abuse this privileged position?
At the weekend, a preview was published of a self-regarding interview to be transmitted on TV in June in which Fry talks about the fact that he was addicted to cocaine for a period of 15 years.
Did he express any concern or remorse about this addiction, any insight into the harm it may have done to his health or career — or indeed, to anyone else in his life? No, there was not one syllable of regret. Instead, he said lightly, cocaine had been such a calming influence it had helped him do the crossword.
If this is what Fry thinks passes for wit, then the drugs he has taken have clearly affected more of his brain than might be thought.
It’s the sort of remark certain people think makes them sound clever and sophisticated: a kind of tease that sneers behind its hand at conventional wisdom, such as that cocaine makes users hyperactive and illegal drugs rot the brain.
How can this be so, the remark implies, when Stephen Fry — who we all know has a planet-sized intelligence — says that cocaine actually enhances his brain-power and calms him down!
The suggestion that cocaine is no more dangerous than Ovaltine is itself dangerously deluded and staggeringly irresponsible.
Cocaine is a Class A drug because it has serious consequences. Quite apart from potential harm to the organs of the body, its effects include irritability, aggression, paranoia, panic attacks, depression, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
It is addictive and prompts violent mood swings caused by crushing lows between the highs — which are never high enough. Regular use can prevent the brain from ever feeling ‘normal’ without it.
Yet, by such remarks, Fry has reduced cocaine addiction to nothing more than a bit of a giggle.
Clearly Fry is a troubled character, suffering — as he incessantly tells us — from chronic mental health problems. And it is hard not to feel instinctively sympathetic to him as a result.
You do have to wonder, however, how many of these difficulties are the result of his addiction to mind-bending substances which so badly damage the brain.
And, regardless of his problems, nothing excuses the way he trivialises and talks up illegal drug use. For he reveals that he knows full well how this will be seen — because he has done it before.
In the interview, he refers with the same lofty air of amusement to the fact that some years ago he similarly talked up the apparent joys of the drug Ecstasy, sparking outrage from the families of dead users.
And so, he adds insouciantly, he knows that to extol the pleasures of illegal drugs is to be asked to be ‘spanked publicly’ by the newspapers.
He doesn’t seem to care at all that as a role model for the young in particular, his remarks are likely to encourage them to try drugs such as cocaine or Ecstasy, and thus enslave more young people.
But then, our media is awash with showbiz types who are open about their drug use without losing any of their glamour or acceptability — quite the reverse, in fact.
Yet here’s a curiosity, indeed. For contrast how illegal drug use is treated compared with cigarette smoking.
To popular enthusiasm, cigarettes have been branded as socially unacceptable in a concerted effort to stamp out smoking.
With lighting up banned in enclosed public places, cigarettes may now even be kept out of sight altogether in shops, where they will have to be sold under the counter in the latest attempt to turn smoking into a totally shameful activity.
In a similar vein, when the model Kate Moss strutted down the catwalk at the Louis Vuitton fashion show in Paris last week with a lit cigarette dangling languidly from her hand, the reaction was almost universal horror.
People rightly castigated her for encouraging impressionable young girls to emulate this icon of cool by taking up smoking. In one catwalk foray, they cried, Moss threatened to undermine all their efforts to persuade the young not to smoke.
Too right. But when Stephen Fry treats a 15-year cocaine addiction as a bit of a giggle, no one bats an eyelid. Indeed, to some people it seems that cigarettes are more noxious than illegal drugs.
One article in the weekend Press suggested that if anyone was going to be a drug addict, there were ‘more fun things out there to be hooked on’ than nicotine — which was described as not providing any of the ‘fun stuff’ other drugs can give you.
The warped priorities here are simply staggering. For unlike smoking — which mainly just kills the user — cocaine and other illegal drugs have a dramatic and harmful impact upon other people and society in general.
This is because, crucially, they affect how users behave. And such effects most certainly are not restricted only to crime or violence. They can also turn people into fruitcakes.
What, for example, do fashion designer John Galliano, actor Charlie Sheen and film director Oliver Stone all have in common?
Yes, you guessed it. All are present or former drug addicts — and all have expressed ugly and utterly loopy prejudices and conspiracy theories.
Galliano was disgraced recently when he suddenly blurted out in a drunken rant that he ‘loved Hitler’ and went on to verbally abuse Jews.
Charlie Sheen, with a record of violence fuelled by alcohol and drugs, said he wanted to kill his ‘Jew pig’ manager — and also accused President Bush, rather than Al Qaeda, of causing the destruction of the World Trade Centre on 9/11.
And Oliver Stone, who was addicted to cocaine, complained in 2010 that there was too much Jewish influence in the media and foreign policy, and claimed this was why so much emphasis had been placed on the Holocaust — remarks for which he later apologised.
The reason the Jews figure so heavily in these rantings is that they have always dominated the paranoid imaginations of conspiracy theorists. Cocaine and other illegal drugs are known to cause paranoia — and these ‘luvvies’ are or were drug users.
Yet no one ever puts these things together. Instead, such drug use is ignored, minimised or indulged. Indeed, the fashion industry has been said to view Galliano’s drug abuse as ‘an adorable foible, like wearing a monocle or writing with a fountain pen’.
Nor are these ‘luvvies’ alone in thus sanitising one of the greatest dangers to our society. In Britain, many establishment figures have for years tried to persuade us that what is dangerous about illegal drugs is not the mind-blowing effects of the drugs, but the fact that they are illegal.
Britain is now increasingly characterised by monstrous narcissism and self-indulgence, not to mention a horrifying degree of indifference, cruelty and even sadism.
The ability to empathise with others appears to have been dulled. Responsibility has been eroded. People can no longer think logically or process factual information.
There are, of course, many reasons for such a decline. But since these also happen to be the characteristic effects of illegal drugs such as cocaine, with which Britain is awash, might it not be that there is a connection — the most important consequence of which will most certainly not be to produce the crossword champion of the world?