TJ Bowen is a writer and actor who lives in Los Angeles. He wrote and acted in A Thousand Junkies, which comes out through the Orchard in January 2018. While researching and preparing for this project TJ went through 7 rehabs, 14 sober livings, over a thousand AA meetings, and was arrested 3 times.
The following is one of two Talkhouse pieces published today about the late actor Blake Heron, whose final film, A Thousand Junkies, will be released early next year. You can read Tommy Swerdlow’s piece here.
I got a text from Tommy that just read: “Blake.” I knew instantly he was dead.
Tommy and I had both spent the last year taking tearful phone calls, visiting rehabs, coming up with strategies and talking to each other about how there was nothing to be done and how impossible that fact is to accept.
Blake was a heroin addict. And he was on a run. And once a heroin addict is on a run, there ain’t shit you can do except hope that he stays alive. It’s like when those hurricanes hit Florida and Puerto Rico. You leave town, the storm comes, creates massive devastation, and then leaves. You return and pick up the pieces. See if anything’s left. Car? House? Job? Well, this time there wasn’t. Even Blake was gone.
Tommy and I knew this because we were heroin addicts too. I say “were,” but maybe we still are and just don’t use anymore. I’m not sure?
I do know the three of us “didn’t use” together. A lot. We were ex-heroin addicts who shared stories, laughs and tears. We leaned on each other and we loved each other.
We made a movie called A Thousand Junkies. Tommy, me and Blake. It was our story, our experience, our original take on an unoriginal subject.
We’d tell the truth. Our truth.
It was a movie full of questions with no answers. And now Blake’s dead. Why? How? Just more questions. No answers.
No one loved the movie more than Blake. In a life full of things to be ashamed of, this was something he was deeply proud of. In New York City for the premiere, he beamed. There was a light around him. Around all three of us. And I remember thinking, “Even if everyone hates the movie, we told our story and we told the truth and no one can take that away from us.”
But then the storm came.
I’d tell him things like, “You have so much to live for” and, “Your whole life’s ahead of you.” My last words to him were, “I love you.” But I knew none of those things mattered. The thing that all ex-junkies live in fear of happened to him. That big empty hole deep down somewhere returned. And when it does, it must be filled. His returned and he was off trying to fill it.
I’m glad the movie will always exist. He’s the best thing in it. He’s beautiful and angry and sad and funny and wild. It’s a fitting tribute to him and his talent and I hope people remember him in it.
I’ll remember him like this …
In 2009, I was coming to the end of a two-month stay in rehab when I got a call from Blake. He had six months of sobriety and begged me to come into this sober living home he was staying at. It was a great place, with cool people, and everyone stays sober. I had been to 14 of them and didn’t hold out much hope for this one, but Blake would be my roommate and it would be nice to have a friend next to me as I tried, for the fifteenth time, to stay sober. I had a hard time at first. I wanted to use every second of every minute of every day. But Blake was always with me. We went from AA meeting to coffee shop to AA meeting. And we talked and talked and talked. Those talks saved my life. Not because of what was said. It was just the action of talking and not using. You need a friend for that and Blake was that friend. Neither one of us had a job or a dollar or a girlfriend or a life. All we had was time and a desire to be part of the world.
About a month into my stay, Blake got us a job one day helping some guy move. We would rent a big U-Haul, spend all day going back and forth from Hollywood to West L.A., and when it was all over we’d get a hundred bucks each. Cash.
It was early afternoon, we had just unloaded a truck full of furniture and we were headed for another one. We had one cigarette left between us and no money.
Should we smoke it? Should we save it? Think he’d pay us before we finish the job? We decided to smoke it and ask the guy for a little cash upfront for another pack on our next return.
We lit it and turned on the radio in the U-Haul. “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen came on. Blake turned it up and we passed the cigarette back and forth. Then something happened. For the first time, maybe in my life, I didn’t feel like using. I couldn’t feel that big empty hole anymore. It was filled with hope.
I loved that stupid fucking song. I loved that cigarette. I loved that kid I was sharing it with. I know Blake was feeling it too. We kept smiling at each other. We both knew this was a moment that guys like us never seemed to find. And right now, barreling down the 405 in a rented truck, we had it. It was extraordinary.
We were part of the world.
We were sweaty.
We were tired.
We were working.
We were sober.
We were happy.
We were alive.