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Herbie Hancock Reveals Crack-Addict Past in New Memoir

Herbie Hancock, 1960s
Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images

In an excerpt from his new memoir Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (Viking, Oct. 23), the legendary jazz keyboardist (14 years clean) recounts the night his wife and daughter held an intervention.

Ever since I'd first smoked crack cocaine, I had been trying without success to stop. I managed to keep it under control for several years, sometimes going months without smoking it. But then [my wife] Gigi would go out of town and I'd think, "I have a few days, I'll just do it one more time."

Toward the end of 1999 things were getting out of control. I was smoking a lot now, and acting in ways I'd never acted before. One day in November Gigi had an asthma attack, but instead of taking care of her or taking her to the doctor, I left the house. I couldn't handle it. Then the last straw came.

Herbie Hancock accepts the Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance in 1984.

I had been out of town and was flying into Burbank airport. As I got into the car waiting for me, I asked the driver to take me to a particular house. I wanted to get high. I smoked, as I'd done so many times before, and the hours ticked by. When I was high, I had no real concept of time and didn't really care. By around 7 a.m., the driver was tired of waiting so he decided to call [my] house. Gigi answered and he said, "Herbie asked me to drop him off somewhere, and he never came back out."

She'd been calling my cellphone, but I was so high, and so paranoid, that of course I didn't answer. I didn't want to speak to her until I could come down enough to talk normally. Finally, I picked up. Gigi told me that she'd called the police — so I'd better get out now. She hadn't, but I didn't know that.

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I called a taxi and hurried out of the building, scared but finally coming down from my high. When I got home, I heard Gigi call to me. I opened the door and saw Gigi, [daughter] Jessica and two of our dear friends sitting there. These were the people I cared about most in the world, the people I felt most embarrassed to see in the state I was in. They knew. And I felt so sorry, so terribly sorry, for having disappointed these people whom I loved and who loved me. It all just came crashing down on me in that moment, and I burst into tears.

Gigi's eyes were red from crying. "Herbie, I'm not going to watch you die," she said. "If you continue this way, you are going to have to move out." I just looked at her, my heart aching. "I made some calls, and here are the numbers for some rehab places. But I'm not going to force you. You have to do it for yourself."

"I'm so sorry," I said, to Gigi and everybody else in the room. I didn't know what else to say. This was an intervention, and I was so embarrassed, but there was another feeling creeping in, too: relief. I had been struggling with this habit, and this secret, for so long. I looked at my daughter and sobbed, wondering how I had gotten to this place but thankful that it was finally going to end.

This article first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of Billboard.


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