Yahoo! News
August 9, 2002

'Basic Instinct' screenwriter was treated for throat cancer, wants Hollywood to cut cigarettes from films

By Joe Milicia
Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, a lifelong smoker, said he has been treated for throat cancer and apologized for glamorizing cigarettes in his movies.

Eszterhas, 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 published Friday 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."

Eszterhas, who grew up in Cleveland, is being treated at the Cleveland Clinic, where he had surgery, hospital spokeswoman Angela Calman said.

"At this time there is no evidence of cancer remaining," she said Friday.

She said Eszterhas was spending the day with family and was unavailable for comment. His agent referred calls to the clinic.

In the newspaper piece, 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 on Sunday.

"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."

Larry Deutchman, an executive with Entertainment Industries Council, a group founded by film and TV companies to monitor social issues, applauded Eszterhas' remarks but said he didn't think Hollywood in general was guilty of glamorizing smoking.

"If he looks at his work and wishes he had done otherwise, I respect that and think it's terrific," Deutchman said. "But to blame the industry as if there's a conspiracy to promote tobacco use, I think might be a little unfair."

The organization tries to discourage any positive portrayal of smoking, drug use and other dangerous habits but defends the rights of filmmakers to make their own choices.