NO one, least of all Hunter Biden, can say why he developed such an insatiable appetite for drugs and danger. You comb through his harrowing new memoir, Beautiful Things looking for clues. But it's never just one thing.
As happens in so many families, Hunter, now 51, was the overshadowed child who, without even knowing why, acted out all the family's pain and suffering. In the Bidens' case that has been legion.
In 1972, just after his father became one of the youngest candidates ever elected to the US Senate, his mother and baby sister died in a car crash that left Hunter and his brother Beau seriously injured.
When Hunter was a teenager, his father suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm.
Years later, in 2015, his beloved brother Beau, the family's rising political star and Hunter's soulmate, died a terrible death from brain cancer at age 46.
Hunter's marriage, already on the rocks, ended. And he soon began an ill-fated romantic relationship with his brother's widow, which plunged the family into yet more drama.
His three daughters and estranged wife were horrified by the publicity, and he fretted about the fallout.
"I was the sicko who was sleeping with my brother's wife," he wrote. He begged his father to put out a statement supporting the relationship, which soon fell apart.
We have come to expect some harrowing moments from addiction memoirs, but Biden recounts so many, it's hard to pick the most dramatic:
He is sailing through the air in a rented car on his way to yet another rehab after falling asleep behind the wheel near Palm Springs, but escapes the crash uninjured.
He is locked in his Washington DC apartment, bingeing on crack, having learned to cook it from a homeless woman who has moved in with him. Desperate for another hit, he combs the rug for nuggets that may or may not be parmesan cheese.
"It didn't matter," he writes. "I smoked it."
In the middle of a months-long drug and vodka binge, he sobers up just long enough for a weeklong trip to the Middle East with a delegation from the World Food Program USA. He is meeting in Amman with Jordan's King Abdullah II to persuade him to allow more Syrian refugees into Jordan. The king has taken the meeting only out of respect for Biden's father, the American vice president. And Biden is jonesing so hard for a drink he is sweating through his clothes.
He is sued for child support by an Arkansas woman whose baby was born in 2018, and claims not to remember ever meeting her, though a DNA test reveals him to be the child's father. "I was a mess," he writes,"but a mess I have taken responsibility for."
It's not easy being the screwed up, drug- and alcohol-addled son of a famous American political figure. But it has its perks.
For one thing, the only serious legal repercussion that Biden seems to have faced from years of what he describes as "non-stop depravity" was an administrative discharge from the US Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine he believes he ingested by accident. (The US Attorney's office in Delaware is investigating his tax affairs, he disclosed last year.)
And his name alone opens doors and checkbooks.
In 2014, he was invited to become a member of the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. "Burisma," he writes,"considered my last name gold."
(By contrast, when Joe Biden became vice president, Hunter's brother Beau, who was Delaware attorney general, turned down the chance to be appointed to replace him. "Beau wouldn't have it," writes Hunter. "He wanted to be viewed as his own entity and not someone riding on his prominent father's coattails.")
At the time Hunter signed on with Burisma, there was no way of knowing that Donald Trump would seize on Hunter's relationship with the company to try to tarnish Joe, who would trounce Trump in 2020.
But still. Trading on the family name to earn a reported US$50,000 a month while his father was deeply involved in rooting out corruption in Ukraine? Not a good look. His rationalisation: He didn't do anything wrong, and he's unapologetic — though he says he'd never again want to do anything that might later be used as a weapon against his dad.
In a memoir rife with mortifying personal confessions, Biden refuses to confirm his Burisma salary, admitting only that it was "a substantial monthly fee" and "a wicked sort of funny money."
While he might have been good for Burisma, Burisma was a disaster for him; the money allowed him to lock himself in his Washington DC apartment, bingeing on vodka and crack.
Until his dad, the vice president, showed up one day, and pleaded with him to return to rehab.
"Dad saved me," writes Biden.
For the moment anyway.
There would be many more binges to come, so many seedy situations, a gun in his face, hangers-on stealing his credit cards, running up his room service charges.
And finally, a deus ex machina moment in the form of a blind date in West Hollywood with a South African-born filmmaker named Melissa Cohen.
They fall instantly and deeply in love and marry soon thereafter. She becomes a sort of jailer/keeper, throwing out all his drugs, helping him through withdrawal, arranging a house call from a doctor, cutting him off from his drug suppliers.
"I knew she was saving my life," he writes.
But most important, the way she looks at him reminds him of the way his father and brother looked at him: "with love, admiration and wonderment."
If you watched President Biden's inauguration, you saw the couple and their baby, Beau, happily posing with the whole Biden family.
It's a happy ending. At least for now. — Los Angeles Times/TNS