Years before he was getting paid millions to shout “motherfucker” at strangers on the silver screen, Samuel L. Jackson was a teenager with a drug addiction.
A former Black Panther, one of the workingest actors in Hollywood and a child of the segregated South, the 70-year-old oozes tough guy cool—but in this month’s Hollywood Reporter cover story, the vaunted Pulp Fiction star got real and raw about his past and what it finally took to overcome it.
“The whole time I was using, sure, I had a good reputation,” he said. “I showed up on time, I did my lines. I was great. But there was something that was keeping me from getting to that next place.”
Talking about his years of addiction—before and in the early years of his career—is not something he’s shied away from before. But his latest interview offers difficult details about what rock bottom looks like for a man worth millions.
Jackson initially got into drugs in the 1960s when a professor introduced him to acid. From there, he went on to heroin and cocaine and finally, when the crack epidemic hit, he turned to rock. Soon, that became his drug of choice, and throughout the early days of his acting career he managed to balance the two, clandestinely smoking crack outside Broadway theaters.
But it all came to a head one day when his wife and daughter found him lying facedown on the kitchen floor, a mess of drug paraphernalia splayed out around him. They demanded he go to rehab—and finally he did.
“I’d been getting high since, shit, 15, 16 years old, and I was tired as fuck,” he told the magazine.
His first sober role was playing a person with crack addiction, a part Spike Lee offered him while he was still in treatment.
“All the people in rehab were trying to talk me out of it,” he said. “‘You’re going to be messing around with crack pipes. All your triggers will be there. Blah, blah, blah.’ I was like, ‘You know what? If for no other reason than I never want to see you motherfuckers again, I will never pick up another drug.’ ‘Cause I hated their asses.”
That role—playing Gator in Jungle Fever—nabbed him a best supporting actor award at Cannes and catapulted him toward stardom. That same year, he met Quentin Tarantino, who would later write his bloody cult classic with Jackson in mind.
It was that counterculture hit that won him an Oscar nomination and still brings him a constant new crop of fans.
“It’s the kind of movie that every year, I gain 3, 4 million new fans because kids get old enough to see it for the first time,” he said. “They think it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever fuckin’ seen in their lives.”