The Heiress and Me

I knew Eva Rausing in rehab in the ‘80s. Her death shakes my faith in my own recovery.

Eva Rausing.
Eva Rausing.

Photo by Nick Harvey/WireImage.

I met Eva Rausing, the Tetra Pak heiress who was found dead this month in her London mansion, during rehab at Gracie Square Hospital in the spring of 1986. When I met her, she was Eva Kemeny, and she walked in, and I was like, “Shit, that girl is a wreck.” She was really cute, skinny, blond, charmingly odd, and very bright. We immediately clicked in our sickness. We had many things in common and hung out a lot the week that our hospital stays coincided. We had both lived in London when we were kids and went to the American School in London, though a few years apart I think. (I’m not James Frey, and unfortunately, a lot of this shit is pretty fuzzy.) We were both Jewish, spoiled, damaged, got tossed out of college, got lost in heroin. I do remember I fell for her, as much as a human could fall for anything in the state I was in—she was the royally fucked up hippie chick of my dreams, like Edie Sedgwick. I also remember knowing we would use together, which we did as soon as we were discharged.

This was my second stay at Gracie Square Hospital, a psych hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. (Thelonious Monk used to convalesce there.) I stayed clean for four months after the first stay and then relapsed, and the subsequent 18 months had seen the typical downward addiction spiral for me. I was clearly unwell. But Eva was something else. We were close in age, and we had probably been using heroin for the same amount of time, but she had the countenance of someone who was coming off a 20-year run—and she was 22. She was insatiable, in a way, and worn out, and I really liked her and would have done anything for her. I was in Gracie Square for two weeks this time and started using immediately when I left—I went straight to a new spot in Queens I learned about in rehab, and I was off. Eva left a week later and we were off together on a five-day dope binge. She was the first woman I ever saw shoot up in their neck. (She did it in my car near the World’s Fair Globe in Flushing.) We decamped to my parents’ house and shot drugs around the clock. The first night she told me, “Please don’t ask me to have sex with you, because I will.” So I didn’t, though I really wanted to. I probably couldn’t have anyway, because of the all the drugs.

We were both sick and on the run, and she ran off first. Neither of us fared very well the rest of 1986. She was in California bouncing between rehab and some dope scene. I was doing the same in NYC and hitting new lows. I was back in another rehab pretty quickly, and then a series of psych hospitals, before I ended up in a long-term treatment facility in Upstate New York. (I stayed for six days.) Amazingly, I hadn’t blown it yet professionally, and I was still able to get work—I negotiated a gig to road-manage the Lionel Hampton Big Band’s summer European tour from the pay phone of a locked psych ward in Harris, N.Y., while wearing hospital slippers and a robe. The tour didn’t go very well—I almost OD-ed shooting coke backstage at one venue and got into a terrible spat with Lionel’s manager, who was a dick. And then when I got back to the United States I got busted, which wasn’t good. And I got hepatitis. Again, not good. I was gone, really.

Eva and I kept in touch, as best two junkies can. After my tour with Hampton finished, I stayed in London to see if the dope scene warranted sticking around for a while, and I met up with her father. She thought we would like each other, so she connected us. I was clean, for me—no heroin, just the hum of pills, hash, and alcohol. I was having trouble finding dope in London, so I was dope-clean only because I couldn’t find it. Her dad, Tom, was very nice and was mystified and destroyed by his daughter’s addiction. Eva was off the radar, I think, with some gangs in L.A. I sensed he needed to believe I was clean, so I said I was, and we went out to dinner and had a nice time together. I went to an Al Anon meeting with him. He seemed resigned to losing her back then; now that I’m older than her father was then, and have a kid of my own, I can’t fathom what he was going through. Eva was right, though. I liked him. And he really loved her.

That was the last I heard of her. I bottomed out one more time, but by the spring of 1987, I was clean, finally. And I got a whole life I could never have imagined. And as it turned out—as I learned when I read her obituaries—so did Eva. She was one of the most low-down, steal-your-granny’s-wedding-ring, puddle-water-shooting dope fiends I ever knew, and she pulled herself out of it and became a fucking philanthropist heiress. And went back to college, and had kids and a whole real life, and used her fortune and experience to help addicts. I can’t believe she lived a minute past 1986, let alone became Eva Rausing. But I can believe she lost it all. I almost did.

I stayed clean for 10 years—stark raving sober for a decade. And then I started smoking pot during a time of duress (with someone else I met at the same rehab where I met Eva, someone who had also been clean for 10 years—that’s a magic number). Within four years I had battled a Percocet habit, a little foray into coke-roofie cocktails, but never any heroin or any opiates. Well, I smoked a little opium, but it didn’t turn into anything. I was successful, and keeping it under control, and it worked for a while. But then I completely blew it again—went on a bender that culminated in a two-week meth jag in the middle of a tour I created and was running. Sixteen years later, the same fucking thing. And I almost lost everything, that time. Really lost it.

Eva was doing the same thing, from what I’ve read. She stayed clean for 10 or 12 years, and then she and her husband started using again, and it just spiraled. The shame of that must have been too much to bear, especially from the heights she pitched off. The difference between us, other than the money and all that other shit—which really means dick when it comes to addiction—is that my wife doesn’t use drugs and never will. My choice was clear, and Eva’s wasn’t. They went down together, as I’m sure my wife and I might have done if she also used. Though we didn’t have kids at the time of my crash, I’d like to think I would have kept it together better if we had, but who knows. I do know that if someone desperately wants to stay clean, she could be a billionaire living in a shooting gallery and she won’t use. And if she wants to use, you can hire a SWAT team to stop her, and it won’t do any good.  

So I got lucky, and Eva didn’t. I’m sure her parents and her people were just floored when she turned it around, just as mine were when I defied the junkie odds and accomplished something. And I’m sure they thought the drugs were all behind her, but they never really are. Eva’s story reminds me of that movie from the ’60s, Charly, with Cliff Robertson. He’s retarded, and some experimental treatment gives him highly functioning cognitive ability and IQ, but it’s temporary, and he eventually goes back to the way he was. I remember seeing it as a kid and thinking it was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. And that’s what happened to Eva (and kind of to me, also, though I got a third chance). She got this reprieve, and a life beyond imagination, but it was fleeting because a junkie is a junkie, and that’s that. At least that’s how I feel right now. That junkies come to no good end, and despite a lifetime of keeping it at bay, and all my best efforts and accomplishments, the beast is slouching behind me. And that, with the right confluence of fucked-up events, I could end up just like Eva one day, if my liver doesn’t get me first. And though my wife tells me I’m crazy, and that it’s different, and we’re different, it doesn’t feel that way. And that’s the tragedy.