Wednesday 19 December 2018

Gabriel Byrne on his alcoholism: 'One day I woke up and I said, if I don't stop this, I am going to die'

Gabriel Byrne on The Late Late Show
Gabriel Byrne on The Late Late Show
Gabriel Byrne speaking with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show
Gabriel Byrne at The Late Late Show
Gabriel Byrne and Hannah Beth King attend The 2018 IFTA Film & Drama Awards Ceremony
Gabriel Byrne leaves the Shelbourne Hotel to attend The 2018 IFTA Film & Drama Awards
Producer Hannah Beth King actor Gabriel Byrne attend the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
Gabriel Byrne and Hannah Beth King arriving on the red carpet at the IFTA Film and Drama Awards 2018 at the Mansion House, Dublin. Photo: Michael Chester
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

Legendary Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has spoken candidly about his experience with alcoholism, shedding light on the moment he decided to quit drinking 21 years ago.

Byrne, from Dublin, is now based in New York, was back on Irish soil to receive his lifetime achievement award from the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) on Thursday night and took part in a lengthy chat with Ryan Tubridy on Friday night's Late Late Show in a specially designed paying homage to some of his most iconic roles.

He detailed his battle with alcoholism, saying that stopping drinking is his proudest personal achievement.

"I think like a lot of people, I drank to escape from myself and to escape from the pressure that I felt around me," he said. "But I knew that I could never handle it, I was absolutely allergic to it. It was not a good thing for me to do.

"With this lifetime achievement thing, it's not about the work, it's of a life and one of the biggest victories to me in my life was that personal one of stopping that and saying I'm not going to be that person anymore."

The 67-year-old said Ireland's attitudes to alcohol contributed to his addiction, saying: "We have a huge drink problem in this country and at that time, I'm not so sure now because I don't live here anymore, it was endorsed by the culture. you were a great man if you had 10 pints and woke up the next day and said, where was I last night...you jumped on the table at The Shelbourne and you were singing the Rocky Road to Dublin.

Gabriel Byrne speaking with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show
Gabriel Byrne speaking with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show

"That kind of thing became to me kind of frightening because my drinking was spiralling into a place where I couldn't remember what I did. One day I woke up and said, 'If I don't stop this, I am going to die'. If I don't get help to do this. It took me a long time to get help, to be brave enough to say I have a problem."

He credited his longtime agent Teri Hayden for her support in his recovery, arranging for him to receive treatment hours after he admitted he had a problem and said the reason he is speaking about it now to encourage anyone who might be experiencing something similar to seek help.

"My friend Teri Hayden. who has been my agent for 30 years, she's the one I went to and she said, 'At last. I'll sort this out'. I did it. it was the most difficult thing I've ever done to walk down the stairs the next morning into a room full of total strangers, I'm telling you this because I think...there's some guy or some woman sitting there...I know where your head was at that time.

"It's okay to ask for help. One of the great things that's happened in Ireland since I left is that it's not so strange or rare now to say help me, no matter what the problem is.

"We're as sick as our secrets and shame and secrecy will kill you."

In the lengthy sit-down, Byrne also shed light on disgraced former movie producer Harvey Weinstein, describing him as a "ferocious bully" and stood by Meryl Streep's comments in that most actors were unaware of how far his alleged crimes had gone.

Gabriel Byrne and Hannah Beth King attend The 2018 IFTA Film & Drama Awards Ceremony
Gabriel Byrne and Hannah Beth King attend The 2018 IFTA Film & Drama Awards Ceremony

"He was an absolutely ferocious bully, that I knew, but I knew that about other people too. What happened to those unfortunate women, and I know five of those women, who are compromised by him, happened behind closed doors so nothing could be proved," he explained.

"It was he said, she said. Because Harvey had such incredible power and we know from our own culture here that power and institutions are protected, especially when the individual is involved, the institution has to survive. Harvey, as a powerful money maker, was allowed to continue. Nobody really knew and I agree with Meryl Streep when she says this, nobody really knew about the violence of his sexual behaviour.

"Most people did not know that."

When asked by Tubridy if he was in agreement with Liam Neeson's comments on #MeToo, which he described as "a bit of a witch hunt", Byrne issued something of a call to arms for women's right activists  and hopes for a balance of power in the future. 

"I love Liam, I've known him for many may years and of course everybody is entitled to their opinions, but I would say the movement hasn't gone far enough. I think the pendulum has been so far in the opposite direction for so long where you've had centuries and centuries of women silenced, discriminated," he said.

"When they say witch hunt, I don't like that word because with hunts are about women being burned alive if they were rumoured to be in some way going against the system.

People saying it's gone too far, I think it's a way of trying to stop it and keep it contained, 'Okay, that's far enough now, we get what you're saying, now go away'. But I think what has to happen is that the women's movement needs to be resurgent."

Gabriel Byrne leaves the Shelbourne Hotel to attend The 2018 IFTA Film & Drama Awards
Gabriel Byrne leaves the Shelbourne Hotel to attend The 2018 IFTA Film & Drama Awards

"If this movement dies out simply with #metoo, then i don't think it's going to do a great deal of good in the long run. What we're talking about is human rights and we're talking about 50% of the population of the world - we're talking sisters, mothers, wives, daughters - that's who were' talking about. It's not an abstract gender thing that is a cause celeb du jour."

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