Gary Oldman is one of the most celebrated and versatile actors in Hollywood. He has been in over one hundred films – often in the lead role – and he has won dozens of acting awards. He is just sixty-three years old but he has been acting professionally for over four decades, and he likely has many years of acting ahead of him, too.
Oldman generally keeps to himself and he does not do a lot of interviews. However, he does speak to journalists from time to time and is not an overly private person, he simply doesn’t see much need for publicity and does not wish to be a celebrity. One thing that journalists have learned from his occasional interviews is the fact that he is in recovery from alcoholism and that now, in 2022, he has been sober since 1997.
Read on to learn more about the life of actor Gary Oldman and to find out how he has been so successful in his recovery.
Gary Oldman is so good at portraying the characters he plays in films that some people don’t even know that he was born and raised in England. His father was a welder and an alcoholic; he left Oldman, his mother, and his sister Maureen when Oldman was seven.
As a youth, Oldman enjoyed playing piano and showed some promise, but he decided to abandon the piano for acting after seeing the film The Raging Moon which was released in 1971. He dropped out of school a few years later to get a job, presumably to help support his family.
In the mid-1970s he started acting with the Young People’s Theater in Greenwich while working various jobs on the side. He applied for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but was denied entry. Later, he attended college at Rose Bruford College where he graduated with a BA in Acting in 1979.
After graduation, Oldman dove into pursuing acting as a career with intense energy. As a result, he found acting work quickly; he appeared in a number of plays with various companies in the years that followed. He was cast in his first film role in 1982, and his first leading film role in 1984 in The Pope’s Wedding.
A Growing Career
Oldman began winning awards for both stage and film acting almost right away. At first, he preferred stage acting and even turned down the leading role in the now-classic Sid & Nancy (1986) several times before accepting it at the urging of his agent.
After the success of Sid & Nancy, Hollywood took note of this young actor. Soon, he began to appear in American films. In the years that followed, he appeared in Prick Up Your Ears (1987), We Think the World of You (1988), Chattahoochee (1989), and State of Grace (1990), all movies for which he received great reviews.
By 1991, Oldman starred in his first blockbuster film – he played Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1992, he played the leading part in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and in 1993, he received acclaim for his role as pimp Drexl Spivy in True Romance.
By this point, everyone knew that Gary Oldman was an incredible and gifted actor. However, he was struggling in his personal life – with alcohol – and due to a drunk driving arrest in 1991, everyone knew that, too.
Alcoholism & Recovery
In 1991, Gary Oldman was driving on Los Angles’ Sunset Boulevard with pal Kiefer Sutherland. He was pulled over and was asked to take a breathalyzer test; the officer found that his blood-alcohol level was 0.17 – double the legal limit.
At the time, this story made national headlines. However, Oldman continued to drink heavily for several more years.
In interviews, he looks back on those years and realizes he was an alcoholic and had been for quite some time. However, due to his success and his ability to remember his lines without fail, he felt that he was maintaining well enough to continue. He also recognizes that, to some degree, he romanticized his drinking; many of his heroes in the literary world, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and others, struggled with addiction themselves.
The drunk driving arrest was the beginning of the end for his alcoholism. He soon saw that he needed alcohol to get through each day, and has even said that there were points where he felt he was actually sweating vodka.
In 1994, Oldman checked himself into a rehabilitation facility. Although he did not succeed with recovery right away, today he has not had a drink in twenty-four years. As for addiction, he told the LA Times, “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, to be in the grip of it. It’s hell.”
Oldman credits his recovery success to Alcoholics Anonymous. He has said positive things about the organization in interviews, most recently in several from last year about his role as alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in Mank. It’s unknown as to whether or not he still attends AA meetings, but he thinks very highly of the group and all the lives that it has saved over the past few decades.
Fortunately for Oldman, and for his fans, he broke free from addiction. Over the past two and half decades of his recovery, he has starred in dozens of films including The Fifth Element (1997), Hannibal (2001), the Harry Potter franchise (2005-2011), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Batman films (2008-2012), and many more.
He has also ventured into filmmaking, music, voice acting, and writing in that time, and it seems clear that there will be many more contributions from Gary Oldman in the years ahead.
Gary Oldman is a well-known actor for many reasons. He is extremely driven, prolific, and talented. All of these are reasons to admire this man, but now you have one more – his success in and dedication to his ongoing recovery from alcoholism. As you can see, much can be accomplished when one breaks free from addiction – Gary Oldman is living proof.
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