Sterling Hayden (March 26, 1916 - May 23, 1986)

Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. RipperSterling Hayden the 6' 5" actor who starred in The Asphalt Jungle and played General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, switched from alcohol to marijuana and spoke about it late in his life.

As an OSS agent in WWII, Hayden received a Silver Star and a commendation from Marshal Tito. An early member of the Communist party, Hayden named names to the HUAC committee, a move he deeply regretted later. In 1963, he released his autobiography, Wanderer, which was praised as “beautiful” and “superb.”

In 1972, however, the actor – a longtime heavy drinker – suffered what he termed a “complete breakdown.” It wasn’t until the start of the next decade that Hayden conquered his battle with the bottle, but he frankly reported that he had replaced his drinking with marijuana and hashish.

“The main thing right now is to bring the booze under control,” Hayden told a Toronto Sun reporter in 1980. “Grass is all I do now. Grass and hash. Grass came into me and said take it easy. That’s why I love it so much.” Eight months after that interview, Hayden was arrested at the Toronto International Airport after more than an ounce of hashish was found in his luggage by customs officials. The drug possession charges were later dismissed.

Hayden spent half of each year with his wife and children in Connecticut, and the other half living alone on a Dutch canal barge in France, called the Who Knows. In 1982, Hayden was the subject of an acclaimed documentary, Pharos of Chaos, which showed his life aboard the Who Knows. The film on the actor’s life was his last appearance on screen. On May 1986, Hayden died following a lengthy battle with cancer.


Hayden remarried several times (even the same woman a few times) and fathered families, but escape from himself -- escape into women, into the sea, into writing -- seems to have remained a priority. Then, in the 1960s, he discovered marijuana and began escaping into himself. He described it as a means of survival, of maintaining his inner peace, when landlocked. His co-workers have said that he would load his meerschauum pipe with it anywhere and everywhere, smoking it freely without regard to its illegality, and apparently had no problems with the law about it. He spoke about pot as if it were the great illumination of his life, and he was writing a book about the role it had come to play in his life at the time his final illness was diagnosed. Unfortunately, that second volume of autobiography never surfaced.

When Sterling Hayden appeared on TOMORROW...for the third and last time, he was clearly ill, a more diminished Biblical figure. He was dressed like a hippie, in a form-fitting T-shirt (possibly tie-dyed) and a headband, and he made horrendous deep-breathing noises as he fought to dredge oxygen from his lungs between drags of his chain-smoked cigarettes. He talked about the marijuana manifesto he was trying to write, and about the difficulty of writing.


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