Catastrophe: how Rob Delaney's struggle with alcoholism inspired heartbreaking finale
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, the star and creators of Channel 4 sitcom Catastrophe, has always maintained that plenty of real-life experience is poured into the show's dark humour.
But the devastating final moments of series three's finale on Tuesday night took that to a new level, when Rob Delaney's character (also called Rob) has a car crash after driving drunk.
Delaney, who was a stand-up comedian before he worked on the show, used to be an alcoholic and only realised the extent of his problems – and the fact he needed to stop – after suffering major injuries in a car crash when he drove during an alcohol-induced blackout.
Delaney has spoken frequently about the incident, but did so in most depth on Marc Maron's WTF podcast in 2010.
He explained to Maron, also a former addict, that he had been at a party where, after exhausting the supply of beer and wine, drunk two "keg cups" full of vodka and bourbon. "That's when I remember my consciousness stopping recording. Then the next thing I remember was being in the hospital surrounded by doctors and cops," he told Maron.
Delaney was taken to hospital because, around 4am, he had woken up from his sleep but, while still in a blackout, " I got in the car and drove it, not anywhere near the party or near where I lived, but I drove it really fast into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. There was no-one else involved except me, thank goodness. I had to ask the cops if I had killed anyone. I took out three parking metres, two trees, the building and a car. I drove into the building, half-in and half-out."
Delaney doesn't remember the accident but suffered two broken arms, one of which had to have titanium pins inserted to fix the bones, and his knees were cut open to the bone. The result being that he could move neither his arms or his legs, and, because there was 2.71 per cent alcohol in his blood – three times the legal limit – was taken to jail immediately after he had been medically stabilised.
This meant that Delaney was "wheeled around in jail by the cops", as he wasn't able to push himself, and, when they didn't, he had to resort to "sliding around and occasionally my bloody hospital gown, which was covered in face blood", would rise up, revealing himself to other inmates. "That was the a-ha moment", Delaney said, "that's when I knew, this is a problem. I'd been trying to quit for years".
That vodka-bourbon "cocktail" proved to be Delaney's last ever drink. He was offered a choice: serve a jail sentence or go to rehab and give up alcohol, and he chose the latter. He's since said being sober wasn't initially easy, and he often had suicidal thoughts. "After my bones knit, after my legal troubles [caused by the crash] were mostly behind me, I could finally relax a little bit – and my mind just unravelled," he told The Independent. "Take away the booze and my mind didn't really function at a high – or even intermediate – level. It wanted to kill me."
Delaney had previously blogged about his experience: "The first thing I did each morning was vomit," he wrote. "My mind played one thought over and over, which was 'Kill yourself'."
Years later, and Delaney and Horgan discussed whether to use his experience in Catastrophe – and originally, they said, it wasn't top of the priorities list. "We never planned to use that," Delaney said in February. "In fact Sharon, years ago now, said, ‘why don’t we make [Rob] sober?’ and I thought, that will be boring. I really am in real life and we want to write a fantasy sitcom. But then we had something in our pocket for later, to make our lives worse.
“It wasn't something we'd necessarily use,” Horgan agreed. “We just liked to have it bubbling under, and then we found a great opportunity for it. The great thing about alcoholism is that it only ever gets worse.”
For viewers of Catastrophe, that's a foreboding statement.