Cameron Douglas (London Sunday Times Magazine, December, 2019)
I pretend not be shocked when I see the Uber driver taking me to Cameron Douglas’s house is wearing a surgical mask. She drove me up the canyon to a quiet street, to a typical canyon house – white stone, small front yard with a large dog. I knew I had arrived at the right place because the tattooed torso of Cameron Douglas seemed to be rising from the roof. It looked like something you might see from Dynamo the magician, he seemed to levitate. He was actually catching some pale winter sun on his terrace.
He has the face of his grandfather and the intense eyes. In his white wife beater, I even think he has the torso of Spartacus – more elegant than muscley. He puts on a red plaid shirt for our interview. He makes me a good cup of coffee. The living room is covered in baby paraphernalia. We sit in what could be loosely described as a den – grey comfy armchairs, books, hardwood floors, the large dog, a Mastador, lies by the fireplace.
Douglas is warm and friendly and fidgets unconsciously. I wonder if this is nervousness, but the Douglas’s – Cameron, Michael and Kirk aren’t really nervous people. He’s easy company and easy on the eye. Before long we are laughing. He didn’t see me in the Uber and thought that was me in the surgical mask. He was trying to work out if I was a very kind person with a cold that I didn’t want him to catch or I was trying to protect myself from Douglas dust.
He’s just written a memoir, Long Way Home. It’s quite the page turner. It has a great rhythm, pace, graphically drawn characters as he describes relationships that fall apart, the misguided tough love of his father, his drug dependency and drug dealing, misplaced Hollywood glamour, and his eight years in various prisons. Prison soon lost its gangster rap allure. He got into brutal fights, witnessed rape and savagery and for the first few years had the edge taken off with smuggled in Oxycontin and Zanex. When this was discovered it led to many months in solitary which in turn led him to rethink his whole being. To survive prison you had to be strong, if you got into fights you had to win them. You needed respect. His grandfather Kirk, on hearing that he had won fights said, ‘That’s my boy.’
I tell him he inherited his grandfather’s writing skills – Kirk Douglas has written many books but Rag n Bone Man, his first memoir is compulsive, a macho Jackie Collins.
“That’s a great compliment,” he says. He’s always been close to granddad Kirk. “I have breakfast with him every week. I take my daughter over there every weekend to spend time with him and his wife Anne. Grandfather, grandson and great granddaughter all have birthdays in the same week in December. Kirk will be 103 (on December 9), Cameron will be 41 (December 13) and Lua Izzy will be 2 (December 17).
Was it cathartic for him to write this book? Did you have a burning to tell your story?
“That didn’t come in till later. Initially, oddly enough it was my father’s idea. He was quite pushy about it. I had a hard time understanding that because my family had always been very private and I tried to follow suit, but once I started putting pen to paper, I tried to understand where my father was coming from. I came to a couple of conclusions. One, he wanted to give me the opportunity to look back over my life and have a better understanding of where things went wrong…”
Things went really wrong.
A Douglas firstborn to one of Hollywood’s First families, acting royalty and he managed to mess it up royally. He didn’t take himself seriously, he didn’t take his work as an actor or DJ seriously, just used the latter to hang out in nightclubs and score drugs. His father had lots of money and Cameron had a sense of entitlement and then his father would cut him off if he was behaving disappointingly, which is ultimately, he reasons, why he became a drug dealer. His father refused to pay for his apartment and he was on the streets – well, a hotel. With no college education but a sense of privilege, he was not going to pump gas.
He had experimented with drinks and drugs from the age of 13 and by 17 he was taking crystal meth and then graduated to liquid cocaine. And finally, heroin, shooting up 5 or 6 times a day.
He doesn’t pull the pity card though. “I can’t go back and change the past. Obviously, I would do some things differently, but what I can do is take those experiences and turn them into something useful. I think it was a selfless act of love on the part of my mother and father and the rest of my family for giving me their blessing to write this book.”
Certainly, his parents come off as troubled human beings. At one point he says he was always in awe of his father but never close to him. His father’s liberal use of tough love, cutting him off and cutting him out, seemed to propel him into danger and loneliness. His father hired heavies to try and kidnap him to take him to rehab. Yet now he is learning to play golf so he can bond with him further. His father hired lawyers that were out of their depths and he ended up getting an extra 3 years added to his sentence. His father seemed lost on just how to deal with him. There was always closeness followed by estrangement .Sometimes extremely harsh, sometimes loving He writes “My dynamic with dad is seething frustration on his part and wounded sensitivity on mine…. “ His father invited him to New York for Thanksgiving and he git high and was several hours late – Douglas Sr had his doorman say they had left already but h was upstairs with the children too furious to see his oldest son
“That’s where it got complex for him because on the one hand if you are kind, it makes you feel you are helping feed the addiction… it’s a no win situation.”
And he didn’t win. “Well, not in the short term but maybe in the long term.”
Not counting his stretches in juvenile hall, the highlight of which was a brief affair with a woman called Liz a few years his senior. He was in prison for close to 8 years – 7 years and 9 months. He is still friends with many of the people he bonded with while he was there.
“I have really close friends that I speak to. Not often, but often enough to touch base. I am loyal and the bonds that you form when you are in a situation like that – in prison – are very strong. You go through a lot together, you get to know individuals really well and you see them in all types of circumstances because you see them every day and I feel grateful for that.”
The big dog comes over, nuzzles him and lies back down again.
“A lot of guys, when they go to prison they get forgotten. Their families forget about them. I was blessed that my family never gave up on me and in the end that played a huge part in helping me make the evolution I made.”
He now lives clean – drug and alcohol free. His partner Viviane is a yoga teacher. They met in their wild days – she was a Brazilian model and party animal, she is now a yogi. She reached out to him in prison. By the time they started seeing each other they had both changed their lives around.
It seems strange that he became closer to his family when he was in prison and locked away from them than when he was living a drug addled, drug dealing life in New York and LA, with unsuitable friends that he remained loyal to. His uncle, Eric Douglas, to whom he was always being compared, was a lost soul who felt he could never live up to the achievements of his father Kirk and brother Michael. He tried acting and stand up comedy. I saw one of his shows at the Edinburgh Festival. All the jokes that worked were about Kirk and Michael and there were only half a dozen of us in the audience.
Turning into Uncle Eric was another hideous spectre that loomed. Michael Douglas though, seemed to go through many evaluations of his own life. When his son was in prison he somehow found it easier to form a loving relationship. In 2010 other inmates read the tabloids and told Cameron that they felt sorry about his dad’s stage 4 throat cancer. It was very difficult for Cameron to see his father, this larger than life man, shrunken from cancer treatment, but nonetheless on a crusade to help his son.
“He was very supportive. He actually played a major part in shifting a particular law in prison. I lost my family visits for many years. I hadn’t seen my family for 2 years and I had 2 more years to go but my father received an award for playing Liberace and during his acceptance speech he said that the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) won’t allow me to see my son and it’s been almost 2 years. About a month after that I got called to my counsellors office and he suggested I make a formal request to the warden to get a visit with your mother and father. I did and it was granted. And about a month after that one of the wardens told me, ‘I want you to know that we’re implementing the new rule that says if an inmate is having his visits revoked for an extensive period and we feel like it’s undue, then we are going to give it back early. You are the first one. You are the role model.”
“My dad did that. I’m sure it’s benefitted a lot of families.”
I’m not sure if I see a tear in his eye or if it’s an extra sparkle. In his book he says that after going through the all the shenanigans – he was set up, fooled and caught as a drug dealer, first condemned to a shorter sentence then a longer one for not ratting on his drug dealing friends, he lost life as he knew it, and then his father had cancer. He couldn’t cry.
“I’m a very emotional person. Doesn’t take a lot to make me cry so that was alarming. A friend of mine in prison said ‘There’s no shame in crying,’ but I just couldn’t. just something inside of me. going back to acting has been very helpful with that. As I got closer to my release date, I started thinking what I wanted to do with my life. Acting is something that’s in my blood and I’d been doing it most of my life, even though not professionally. After I was released but still in a halfway house, I threw myself into a theatre company. Doing the work in those classes brought the emotion to the surface and it was very therapeutic.”
Was it like the acting classes they have in The Kominsky Method? (Award winning Netflix show that features his father Michael Douglas as a failed actor turned tutor who loves a good emotional workout with his pupils).
“Yes, it was similar to that. In fact, my acting teacher taught my father many years ago. I found it so helpful on a therapeutic level, getting in touch with these emotions that I’d stuffed down deep inside of me. I had some time in juvenile hall but it’s a different ball game when you are in prison.”
Looking back it was easy to see ever since, as a teenager, when he was sent to a strict boarding school while his parents were divorcing, he was always on one of those unstoppable moving walkways.
“In juvenile hall I was well on my way to prison but I didn’t realize it.”
Why didn’t he stop acting out, shooting up?
“Probably I was scared.”
The catharsis would all be so neat if prison set him free and recreated a good relationship with his father but when he came out of prison and was in the halfway house his father rejected him again. What was going on there?
“My father had gotten to a point in our relationship where he thought I wasn’t going to make it, so he started detaching. My father is a very pragmatic man but he didn’t come to this point lightly. For the majority of my life I had been carrying on so coming home from a long stint in a high security prison, I think he was a little circumspect about what results he was going to get and that’s understandable. Catherine actually played a real role in motivating my father, at least initially, to open back up to me and then it has just been showing not telling. Since I have come home I have been working my ass off (he is back acting and starts in an independent film in a couple of weeks) I have a fire and desire inside me that is enormous. I have got a lot to make up for.”
And people to make up to?
“To myself. If it turns out this whole prison experience and all the nonsense leading up to it was all for nothing I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I have to know in my heart that it was for a purpose. I am on a quest of proving to myself that one day I look back and be truly grateful for having gone through it all.”
You feel for him in the book. The less self pitying he is the more you root for him. The turning point in the book is when he is making a movie in Ireland about mushrooms and had smuggled in enough drugs to last for a couple of weeks. The guy who was looking after his pet rabbit was supposed to send him more.
“I never saw that cute little bunny rabbit again or that friend either.”
Back to the story. He has this idea he can find drugs in Germany. He is suffering horrendous detoxing symptoms and misses his flight back He gets sacked from the movie and has to make the desperate trans-Atlantic flight back vomiting, shaking and all the other cold turkey symptoms. You feel the desperation of all that.
“It was an extremely low point of my life, so low that I turned to what got me into prison. I had the opportunity to pivot and change course but I didn’t. I had already gone through most of the detoxing but I wasn’t willing to let go of my addiction.”
That is when he came back to Los Angeles and his father had decided not to pay the lease on his rental. He gave conditions that he had to separate from the woman he was with. He didn’t like conditions.
“Again, it was a time where I had an opportunity to make some changes but I didn’t.”
In the book you really feel for Erin, she looks after him, she is more than an assistant less than a girlfriend at the start anyway. They almost get married so she can visit him in jail. What happened to her?
He flinches slightly, “She is doing well, she lives on the East Coast.”
Is she in a relationship?
“I don’t know. We were in touch because she inherited my dogs, one passed away while I was in prison, the other a few days ago so we spoke about that.”
Junior was a black labrador and they were devoted to one another. He had his sperm frozen. He was interested in breeding him, even creating a new breed because he was so loving and so smart. He wanted him to mate with a Boerboel to create the first Boerbador
“One thing I prided myself on, I was always able to take good care and raise good dogs. My father still has one of Junior’s children, Maxi, who is 15.”
When he was in prison and Erin was sole parent to Junior, Junior got cancer. He blames Erin for not taking him to the vet before he was riddled with tumors. He was able to talk to him on the phone as he was dying. It was then that his relationship with Erin didn’t continue in the same way.
Junior died and he wasn’t there for him, his grandmother died and they were close, he was unable to be there or even attend the funeral. He was able to phone her but she could no longer talk – he listened to her breathe.
He takes a breath, “Right now I am really focusing on a couple of screenplays that I am writing and the indie film called The Runner. I play a jaded detective who will get the job done by any means necessary. I am looking forward to digging in, getting in front of the camera and hoping it leads to more. I am a work horse. My life is very simple by design these days. It revolves around my family and building a career for myself; nice and simple. Life is good.”
Is he planning on more children?
“I am not opposed to it.”
I wonder how his relationship with Viviane is different. There are many relationships or flings with women in his book, all of them, in different ways, were mother figures to him.
“That’s true, in different ways. Viviane is a great mother and she does take great care of me. She is a yogi and she really believes in that life and practices it. It’s positive and powerful, I love being immersed in that philosophy, that energy. She is a great influence on me.”
Does he do yoga?
“She is a yoga instructor so I take advantage of that. She gives me private lessons.”
Like Sting and Trudie?
“Possibly,” he chuckles.
Do they go tantric?
“I would say I am at the basic stages of yoga. I had started my evolution in prison. I had been on a rock hard routine, I think routines are helpful. I don’t work out as much as I did in prison. It eats a lot of your time and it takes your focus off where you are, it was integral to my life there. Now I am not so worried about being as strong as possible, it’s just about being in good shape and having a clear mind.”
I notice something that looks like feathers inked on his chest, is it a phoenix?
“It’s a butterfly.”
The tattoos are mostly from prison. He also has one of his grandfather’s and father’s faces. Two that he didn’t get in prison on his wrists are in the process of being removed.
“They don’t have any meaning for me anymore. When I see butterflies I think of freedom.”
Another thing that represents freedom to him is going out with his granddad for breakfast.
“He still walks and is sharp and has a great sense of humour. They still travel up to Santa Barbara one weekend a month.”
They really do look alike.
“That’s nice of you to say. I hear that more these days that I look more like him than my father.”
Is that a beautiful thing or a cross to bear?
“It’s a cross I am grateful to bear.”
His grandfather has been married to Anne for 65 years. She doesn’t like to give her age. She told me she always lied about it but certain records have her age as 100. She is certainly strong, she stayed with him while he had various affairs saying as long as he was honest and she was the number one he could do what he wanted.
“I don’t know much about those particulars, but whatever they decided between them seems to work. They love each other very much.”
He changes the subject.
“I want to get involved in prison reform in this country as somebody who has had first hand experience, it is meant to punish and crush you and years of that kind of treatment doesn’t turn out a great individual. The government owes it to the American people to turn out men and women who are reformed.”
On the one hand, he couldn’t wait to get out of prison and on the other he knew it would be very hard.
“As my release date started to get closer guys would say, ‘It will be a difficult adjustment. You have been here a while and the time you have done has been a little more extreme.’ And I would say, ‘You guys are crazy, this is where I don’t belong. I am going to slide back into life like I never missed a day.’ But in reality it was a very difficult adjustment.”
He came out to find there were many new brands of breakfast cereal and everyone had smart phones.
“I will never forget the first time I stepped onto a subway after coming home from prison. Everyone on the platform was staring at something, it seemed like I was in the Twilight Zone. I do have one now and I love the amazing new cereals which I eat at night. I spent 29 years of my life trying to figure out who I was, where I fit in, how I like to express myself and then 8 years trying to figure out who I was in that environment, how I could express myself and making some changes. I came out and tried to find out who I was again, where I fit in and how I wanted to express myself.”
He was released from prison in August 2016. He had a female lawyer with benefits, Meg Salib, wrote a memoir which his hasn’t read, about their sexual relationship. He writes that the forbidden seemed to turn her on, she even liked to have phone sex when she knew all the calls were being recorded. He doesn’t seem to pursue women; they pursue him Maybe it’s in his genes.
Towards the end of his sentence Viviane Thibes visited him in prison and their relationship seemed to move fast when he got out. Before long she was pregnant. Was that because he felt an urgency to make an imprint on the planet?
“Maybe subconsciously. Initially when coming home I wanted to do everything right away because I had lost so much time. We were together fully while I was in prison, she was there waiting for me with my mother, my brothers and sisters and we have been together ever since. I think it was difficult for her. I am trying to please everyone and yet the person who was closest to you often gets what everybody else doesn’t get. To be perfectly honest it was a difficult time but we are both survivors and now, life is really starting to come together.”
He says he is finally starting to become friends with his father, and have the kind of relationship he always wanted. Has his father finished his pragmatic detachment?
“I think so, it just took some time which is understandable. We enjoy each others company.”
And on cue, Michael texts him. They are going to grab a bite to eat.
“I am not particularly religious but I like that saying, ‘Let go, let God.’ It means you make your best effort and let it go and see where it lands. I don’t have to walk on eggshells with him anymore, I have nothing to hide. I have made some serious mistakes but I have paid for them. Now it’s just about proving to myself what kind of life I can put together.”
He and his mother, Diandra, enjoyed a complicated relationship. For a while growing up he thought of himself as the man of the house, for that reason he had to love her and protect and he also hated her for that.
“It was an interesting dynamic. I love my mother a lot and I felt very protective of her. There are things that she has done that I don’t necessarily agree with.”
His mother was certainly beautiful – he writes that she cultivated drama with men
Diandra Luker (Douglas) had twin boys through a surrogate with hedge fund manager Zach Hampton Bacon III, Hawk and Hudson and she later adopted a girl, Imara. All of them visited their brother prison even though often the prisons were over 600 miles away, they made the prison pilgrimage. In her younger life I am not sure she comes over so well. Always chasing a man, and with a taste for exotic pets like a Savannah cat and a monkey and quite often making uninformed decisions with terrible consequences. How did his mother feel about the book?
“Everybody took their ego out of the equation with the understanding that perhaps it could have a greater effect than if I worried about how they looked here and there. I don’t think I paint anybody except myself in a bad light.”
One person that comes off very well is Catherine Zeta-Jones.
“Catherine and I have always gotten along fantastically. We get along as friends but she has been very inclusive with me, with her children and was a major motivating factor in getting my father to open up to me.”
Does he think she helped with the thought love, making it more about love and less about tough?
“Maybe. I see Carys and Dylan fairly often. Dylan is at Brown and he was just in a performance and was fantastic. They both wrote to me and came to see me in prison and my mother brought her kids to visit me as well. (Diandra had twin boys with the help of a surrogate and later adopted a daughter.)”
These days he doesn’t mind being compared to Uncle Eric.
“I would like to think I am like him, he had amazing qualities, a huge heart, and was talented as a comedian. But he was tormented, always beating up on himself. A lot of comedians have that dark sensibility. He is at peace now and he had a struggle with the family and that was probably what I experienced with the family.”
So many demons to live up to and not live up to. Could he be as famous and talented as his father and grandfather and could he be as less troubled as Eric?
“I’ve never really seen it that way.”
Famous parents are a bit like communism. It seems like a great idea but it can never work.
“That’s not true. Carys and Dylan are amazing kids, my father and Catherine have done an amazing job.”
Do you think his father had some kind of epiphany and made a conscious effort to do things differently? Or the chemistry with Catherine was different?
“A bit of everything. Wisdom comes with age and experience. As he got a little older his life was different so he was able to do things differently. And what is most important that he and I have a good time together now. We like to watch sports together on TV most of the time, but we do go to games. He loves golf, I don’t, but I am starting to learn in an effort to find things to do with my father. It’s nice to find a sport you can play through your whole life and he gives me a lot of guidance with acting. The whole process; auditions, introductions, everything. He is very supportive which is the best part.”
He exchanges a knowing look with the Mastador, they know about loyalty, they know about support.