'Basic Instinct' Screenwriter Has Throat Cancer, Wants Hollywood To Cut Cigarettes From Films
August 9, 2002 at 8:32 PM EST - Updated June 30 at 12:30 AM
By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, a lifelong smoker, said Friday that he has throat cancer and apologized for glamorizing cigarettes in his movies.
The man whose credits include "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls" accused the rest of the film industry, too, of promoting smoking, and urged it to quit.
"My hands are bloody; so are Hollywood's," he wrote in an emotional op-ed piece in The New York Times.
Eszterhas, 57, said he was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago. Much of his larynx is gone, he wrote, and he has difficulty speaking and being understood.
"Smoking was an integral part of many of my screenplays because I was a militant smoker. It was part of a bad boy image I'd cultivated for a long time -- smoking, drinking, partying, rock 'n' roll," he said. "Smoking, I once believed, was every person's right. ... I don't think smoking is every person's right anymore. I think smoking should be as illegal as heroin."
He is being treated at the Cleveland Clinic but was not staying there, a hospital spokesman said Friday. Eszterhas (pictured, above) was spending the day with family and was unavailable for comment. His agent referred calls to the clinic.
The screenwriter grew up in Cleveland and worked as a reporter at The Plain Dealer. His semi-autobiographical "Telling Lies in America," which starred Kevin Bacon, was shot in Cleveland in 1996.
Eszterhas said he has trouble forgiving himself for the rampant cigarette use in his films.
"I have been an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings. I am admitting this only because I have made a deal with God. Spare me, I said, and I will try to stop others from committing the same crimes I did."
In 1992's "Basic Instinct," Eszterhas wrote, smoking was part of the sexual subtext.
"Sharon Stone's character smokes; Michael Douglas' is trying to quit. She seduces him with literal and figurative smoke that she blows in his face," he said. "In the movie's most famous and controversial scene, she even has a cigarette in her hand."
The writer of such other guilty-pleasure movies as "Flashdance" and "Sliver" said he now believes there are "1,000 better and more original ways to reveal a character's personality" than with cigarettes.
Eszterhas said he has stopped smoking and drinking since his cancer was diagnosed, and he now walks five miles a day and attends church.
"I'm no longer such a bad boy," he wrote. "... I want to do everything I can to undo the damage I have done with my own big-screen words and images."
He concluded: "I don't wish my fate upon anyone in Hollywood, but I beg that Hollywood stop imposing it upon millions of others."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)