Dick Van Dyke, the beloved comedian shocked the world when he announced he had been an alcoholic for 25 years. The star of The Dick Van Dyke Show explained to Dick Cavett how he fell into addiction. And how he climbed out.
Van Dyke started as a social drinker, “like everyone else.”
But before too long he was beginning to pour himself drinks long before his friends showed up. The actor said his “cop-out” was that he had strict rules about when and where he’d drink.
“I did not drink before work or during work or ever in the daytime, which was my own particular cop-out. I said I don’t know those guys have to have a drink in the morning. And I do not drink in the daytime or at work. I drink at home afterward and that proves to me that I didn’t have a drinking problem,” he said.
By projecting the image of what alcoholism looked like on other people, he could hide his problems better. But like mushrooms, problems grow fastest in the dark. People began to notice. A friend once confronted him four years before he got sober, and Dick Van Dyke got angry with him.
“It’s my life, I can live it and enjoy it the way I want to!” he snapped. “You don’t have the right. And the poor man cried.”
It would be years before Van Dyke finally saw in himself what his friend had seen all those years earlier.
Tht’s when he decided to get help after his wife, Margie Willet, also realized she had a drinking problem and they decided to get better for their four children. They both sought treatment and she ended up becoming a substance abuse counselor, Van Dyke said.
Dick Van Dyke Says There Are Few Options for Help
There are warning signs along the way that alcoholics tend to ignore. The comedic legend told Oprah Winfrey years ago that he “was very shy with strangers. I just couldn’t talk to people, and I found that if I had a drink, it would loosen me up. The barriers went down, and I became very sociable. That’s what got me started.”
But by the time he was fully dependent on alcohol, he realized there were few places where he could turn for him. The stigma made him ashamed, which only fueled his drinking, and therapists would treat him as if he was weak-willed and unable to handle his liquor. He felt hopeless.
“For centuries they’ve been putting the blame on the character of the addict, and it’s not so there is no degeneration or loose morals or character defects in an alcoholic,” Van Dyke said. “It’s a physical disease and the alcoholic has a certain metabolism and glandular setups that make them chemically adapt themselves to alcohol. And for them and it’s a stimulant and it is calories and it is food and their bodies adapt to it, and it is a true addiction that it has nothing to do with the person not being mature enough not to drink too much.”
The award-winning comedian and actor had fame and fortune, but still found himself at the bottom of a bottle with no way out. Dick Van Dyke said there was no trauma that caused him to turn to alcohol. He feels he was just genetically predisposed.
After he got sober, he said he lost his lust for alcohol all together, but he wanted to help others.
He would eventually go on to found the Dick Van Dyke Addiction Treatment Center, to help those who desperately need help.