The following article includes mentions of drug use.
Since his star-making turn in the 1999 film American Beauty, Yellowstone star Wes Bentley has been a Hollywood face one might recognize but wonder, “Hey, why isn’t that guy a bigger star?” With his intensely furrowed dark eyebrows framing piercing blue eyes and a strong jawline, Bentley’s physical attributes alone scream Hollywood heartthrob. In 2002, Bentley received top billing next to co-star and deceased best friend Heath Ledger in the period war-hero drama Four Feathers. He was also a (perhaps, unfortunately) major player in the widely panned 2007 Nicholas Cage-helmed Ghost Rider.
With critics hailing his breakout role in American Beauty, including The Guardian‘s Akin Ojumu who wrote, “Bentley is so eerily good, he holds his own with Oscar-tipped Kevin Spacey,” and these subsequent roles in tentpole films, it is a shock to see his filmography drop precipitously in renown in the mid-to-late 2000s (Has anyone actually heard of Weirdsville, for instance?).
The shocking truth, as Bentley revealed in a 2013 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, is that his skimp resume during this period was due to a drug addiction that even led him to turn down meetings with myriad A-list directors ranging from Christopher Nolan to Ang Lee. Read on for more about Bentley’s harrowing struggle with substance abuse and how he pulled himself out to become an in-demand actor again.
Wes Bentley's drug use arose out of the pressures of early fame
Wes Bentley’s addiction to heroin happened “in a matter of days,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2013. According to his THR interview, Bentley attributed this to his early fame following his American Beauty breakout and the pressures that emerged as a result. “I had created this big monster in my head,” Bentley told HuffPostLive in 2014 of his distorted perspective of the film industry early on. “I thought there were a bunch of people who just wanted to feed off of me,” Bentley said.
Admitting to The New York Times in 2010 that he expected his fame to be “incremental,” the instant success he instead achieved drove him to cope through drugs and alcohol. “It was just all so foreign to me,” Bentley told HuffPostLive. “Being from where I’m from and just starting to act, I didn’t know what it was, and that was enough to terrify me at the time.” According to NYT, for most of the 2000s, Bentley partook in cocaine-fueled benders and time in drug dens, as well as cruising the streets of Los Angeles for heroin. Meanwhile, Bentley recalled, he had amassed “stacks of scripts, great scripts with great offers attached” during this time, scripts he never read. The odd job he did take was so he could either pay bills or buy more drugs. Sadly, neglect of his career was only the beginning of the fallout from Bentley’s addiction.
Wes Bentley's addiction led to his first marriage ending and arrest
Wes Bentley’s first marriage to actor Jennifer Quanz, which began in 2001 after meeting her at a group house, per The New York Times, was among the major repercussions of his former drug use. In a harrowing backstory, Bentley told NYT the marriage began disintegrating when he would hide his substance abuse from Quanz by staying elsewhere for “hours or days” at a time while he used. By 2006, he had moved out and by 2009, as TMZ reported, Bentley filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.”
According to NYT, Bentley’s drug use landed him in legal trouble in 2008 when he was arrested and pleaded guilty to heroin possession — in addition to trying to use a counterfeit $100 bill. Despite the court relegating him to mandatory community service, counseling, and 12-step programs, Bentley relapsed. In July 2009, after the actor returned from vacation to Los Angeles, he finally reconciled that he had reached his personal rock bottom. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to die in this hotel room with this bottle of Scotch,'” he recalled to NYT about reaching this epiphany. “It was after that I told a friend for the first time: ‘I’m a drug addict, and an alcoholic, and I need help.” According to the actor, it was either that “or I’m going to die.” Thankfully, Bentley’s journey toward successful recovery began soon after.
Wes Bentley learned that drugs and creativity do not go hand in hand
Wes Bentley was lucky to meet a co-star in 2009 essentially responsible for his recovery and ongoing sobriety, as he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2013. While shooting Roland Joffe’s There Be Dragons in Argentina, this unnamed actor shared the secrets of his own recovery, moving Bentley with his “enthusiasm for life.” After enduring a detox period in Los Angeles, Bentley began rehabbing back in Buenos Aires with his newfound friend.
Married since 2010 to TV producer Jacqui Swedberg, Bentley — since beginning recovery — had snagged a key role in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 space thriller Interstellar. This marks a triumphant turn of events from when he declined a meeting with Nolan out of insecurity, per THR. Additionally, he has had starring roles in hit shows like FX’s American Horror Story as well as Paramount Network’s Yellowstone opposite Kevin Costner.
Per the New York Post, the actor hopes to impart the message with young artists that doing drugs and being creative are not inherently intertwined. “It’s something I fell into. I already had a wild, creative mind and I thought I could accelerate that with drugs… Then I learned many of the artists I admire did not do drugs,” Bentley said. “The biggest problem is the shame. It keeps you down. But you can turn it around.” With Bentley’s Hollywood trajectory headed upward again, it would seem he surely has.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
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