A fair number of famous, super-gifted 20th Century musicians have managed (or did manage) to age into their 40s and 50s and even beyond — Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, James Brown, Sting, etc. But to go by many Hollywood biopics the majority of them died young from drugs and alcohol abuse. Or certainly before their time. Or suddenly and tragically. Amy Winehouse, Hank Williams, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Contrane, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Edith Piaf, Bix Beiderbecke. Same damn story every time — they grew up hard, found fame with their great gift, burned brightly for a relatively brief time and then keeled over. Where would the American musical biopic be without booze and drugs? Without a pot to piss in, that’s where.
Sony Pictures Classics has picked up a new Hank Williams movie with Tom Hiddleston as the country-and-western star who died at age 29. What can this movie possibly say about this syndrome that we haven’t seen dozens of times before?
From my Sundance 2015 review of God Rest Nina Simone: “Simone suffered from manic-depression (not diagnosed until the mid ’80s) and was chronically twitchy and unsettled and, like many gifted artists, no day at the beach. I found Simone herself a bit of a hurdle. Her lack of respect and reverence for her extraordinary singing gifts as well as a general indifference to the basics of maintaining a healthy career is perplexing and even alienating. Maybe it’s me but it’s hard to warm up to, much less feel a kinship with, haughty aloofness, a hair-trigger temperament and self-destructive behavior.”