David O. Russell

Day Eight

Margaux Hemingway was found dead in her Santa Monica studio apartment. Unclear cause, but she had epilepsy. This news made me very sad. I can remember when Margaux posed with Billy Carter at his Georgia gas station, in a sea of beer cans, in the late 1970s, wearing gold lycra pants. That’s when she was the highest-paid model ever with a $1 million contract to promote a fragrance called ‘Babe.’ I just think it’s been obvious for a long time that the life of fame and glamour and being any kind of sex symbol destroys people, unless you’re hard as nails like Cindy Crawford, Demi Moore, or Madonna, and I’m not sure it hasn’t done a (less visible) number on them, as well.

Two years ago, this July 15, Margaux somehow showed up at the downtown premiere party Fine Line Features and Paper Magazine threw for ‘Spanking the Monkey,’ my very low-budget first film. I remember seeing her, in person, for the first time in my life, shortly before she was introduced to me, and saying to my wife, “My God, that’s Margaux Hemingway, what’s she doing here?” She’d been invited by the people who create parties and clubs downtown, the people who had created my party, the people who coordinate the geometry of the press, the celebrities (on the way up, on the way down), the fashion and cosmetic companies, the beverage companies, and the movie companies. That’s the syndicate that constitutes the most visible and popular church in America today. Margaux looked a little washed out, but hopeful, ordinary, with a regular weight. She’d ballooned way up during the 1980s, understandably the favorite rebellion of certain models and actresses. But that night at a club on The Bowery, she looked like someone who might be all right, even in a studio apartment in Santa Monica, as long as the ‘Babe’ in those gold lycra pants wasn’t waiting to crush any simple life she might try to lead by deeming it pathetic and shameful. The Babe’s dictum: Be young, famous, rich, and beautiful, or be nothing.

I am embarrassed by how little I know about the mechanics of the HIV virus and the various treatments available for it. I saw a friend last night, at a small dinner party, who has been HIV positive for over 6 years. He works for a large corporation and therefore has kept this quiet. Although I’ve known about it, we hadn’t talked about it until last night. I was respecting his lead in this matter, a matter which seemed much more ominous and vague until we discussed it. I now know that T-cells are good cells, and you want a high number of those, which he thankfully has. Then there are the HIV cells, the virus. When he first was diagnosed, he had a count of 2,400. This sounds high, but it’s practically nothing, he said. A very sick person with AIDS, for instance, whom he knows in a support group, has a count of 16 million.

Earlier this year, my friend was taking a combination of two new drugs, the names of which I can’t remember, and his HIV count went down to zero. Fantastic. These drugs actually work. Then he got sick this winter. It was just the flu, but he was convinced this was the beginning of the end. His doctor kept telling him, “This is just the flu, it has absolutely nothing to do with HIV.” But I can completely understand my friend’s inability to accept this. I’m convinced I’m dying when I get sick, and I don’t even have the HIV virus. What a challenge it must be to have the virus and not think you’re dying every time you get a cold.

Anyway, his T-cells went down as a result of the flu, which is considered normal because they’re very busy fighting the flu and get depleted, he said. But now his HIV count is at 700, as opposed to zero. While this might seem to be a result of the flu, apparently it isn’t, according to his doctor. I’m not sure why. More for me to find out. Anyway, 700 still is basically nothing, nowhere near becoming serious in any shape or form, but he still doesn’t like the 700 and I can’t blame him. I’d require straight zeros to have any real peace of mind.

My friend said he realized recently he’d been coasting along and not being particularly aggressive as far as researching new treatments and so on. So he told his doctor he wanted to be aggressive and try something new called protein inhibitors. His doctor was reluctant only because the two drugs they were trying in combination had been working so well. My friend didn’t care, he wanted the new protein inhibitors, which he started last Friday, I think maybe in addition to the two drugs he’s already using, but I’m not sure. So he’ll see how this works. Protein inhibitors are inconvenient to take because you can’t eat for two hours before you take them or one hour after you take them. I have not found out yet what a protein inhibitor is, but I intend to. I am really, really sobered and impressed by the courage that my friend has to summon every day. I am also relieved to find out that these drugs are actually making some difference.