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Through Decades Of Addiction, Hunter Biden Says His Family Never Gave Up On Him

Then Sen.-elect Joe Biden and his first wife, Neilia, cut his 30th-birthday cake at a party in Wilmington, Del., in 1972 as their sons, Beau (left) and Hunter, look on. Neilia and their daughter, Naomi, died in a car crash that year. Beau and Hunter were seriously injured but survived.
Bettmann Archive
Then Sen.-elect Joe Biden and his first wife, Neilia, cut his 30th-birthday cake at a party in Wilmington, Del., in 1972 as their sons, Beau (left) and Hunter, look on. Neilia and their daughter, Naomi, died in a car crash that year. Beau and Hunter were seriously injured but survived.

At its heart, Hunter Biden's new memoir, Beautiful Things, is a story of addiction.

Biden, the 51-year-old son of the president, writes that he first bought crack cocaine at age 18. He first fell in love with alcohol in high school and started drinking heavily after work in his 20s. "I always could drink five times more than anyone else," he writes.

He has been in and out of rehab numerous times over the last two decades and has had long periods of sobriety between relapses.

It's also a story about a family's love and loss. Biden was 2 years old when his mother and sister died in a car crash. Hunter and his brother, Beau, were seriously injured but survived.

Biden writes that his addictions entered a particularly dark phase after Beau died of brain cancer in 2015. It got to the point where in an intervention in early 2019, his father held him in a bear hug, saying, "I don't know what to do."

Hunter Biden says his wife, Melissa, got his life under control shortly after they met later that year.

In an interview with NPR's Scott Simon airing on Morning Edition, Biden credits his family's unflinching love for his survival.

There was "never a moment that they weren't trying to save me," Biden says.

He also addresses his well-paid work for the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which began in 2014 while this father, Joe Biden, was vice president. Former President Donald Trump portrayed it as a corrupt deal that involved Joe Biden. Trump's effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens led to Trump's first impeachment.

An investigation led by Senate Republicans found that Hunter Biden's position on the company's board raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest but concluded "the extent to which" his role "affected U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not clear." Biden says he did nothing unethical.

He tells NPR that it "was certainly not wise in this political environment to create that perception" of corruption "and that's why I would not do it again."

/ Gallery Books
Gallery Books

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Can you tell us some of those things that you tell yourself when you were drinking?

One of the things about being stuck in your addiction — there wasn't much that I think any alcoholic, when they're drinking, is rationally thinking. And that's the reason why it's such a hard thing to pull yourself out of.

I talk about this in the book when my dad and my mom asked me to come down. And I was staying in a motel room somewhere in Connecticut, and I walk into the house and there they are with my daughters, Naomi, Finnegan and Maisy, and my niece and nephew, Natalie and Hunter, and two counselors. You know, my immediate reaction was to run. My dad grabbed me and he held onto me and put me in a bear hug and just said, "I don't know what to do." And even with all of that love, the feeling that overcame that love was my need for another hit, which is a hard thing to live with.

But that's what recovery is about — is getting honest with yourself and understanding the power of that drug or power of the addiction.

Your father said to you when that happened, in your recollection in the book, he says, "I don't know what else to do. I'm so scared. Tell me what to do."

Yeah, I think there's so many people that love someone that's struggling with addiction. I mean, we are struggling with two pandemics right now, the coronavirus but also a pandemic of addiction, which ultimately I hope we start to talk about as a mental health issue rather than just a criminal justice issue.

You were on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while your father was involved in making U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Now, an investigation by Senate Republicans didn't find any wrongdoing or improper influence, but was it a wise thing to do?

I was on about a dozen boards before I joined the board of Burisma. I had an expertise in corporate governance. I was a lawyer for Boies Schiller Flexner, which is one of the best law firms in the world. That's how I came to the job.

But even you note your last name helped.

Oh, I think that in every instance it is important for me to make that clear and to be honest about that. But, you know, I worked hard to graduate Yale Law School. I had a business. And at the end of the day, the question was whether it was wise. Well, what I know now is that it was certainly not wise in this political environment to create that perception, and that's why I would not do it again.

May I ask how much you got paid?

I think it's reported. I was paid handsomely. I don't want to say the exact number right now because I don't want to get it wrong, but I was paid very well.

Because there are sections in the book when you describe that you would be ensconced for weeks in hotel suites, cooking and doing crack, while your dealers would clear out the minibar, order room service all on your tab. How did you afford that?

Well, I had a successful business beyond Burisma. And the fact of the matter is that addiction hits hard and fast. And if I hadn't of pulled out of my tailspin, I wouldn't have been able to continue. But it wasn't just hotel suites. I spent a lot more time in $39-a-night motel rooms up and down I-95.

Do you worry about falling back?

Constantly. I have a healthy fear of relapse. It's too much a part of my story. I'm only one choice away from being back exactly where I was. And that's the conundrum for everyone that's in recovery. It never goes away. It only hides.

Are you afraid of hurting your father?

I've never been afraid of hurting my dad in the sense that any mistakes that I've made would rupture his love for me. But I still am constantly aware of how much pain I caused. ...

This is the reason I wrote the book, truly the reason I wrote the book, is that it'll give hopefully some people hope. Give them some hope that they don't have to remain locked in that prison. And I don't just mean the people that are stuck at the bottom of the well like I was, but the people that stand at the top of that well and realize unless we go down with the lantern, he's never going to find his way out. But that's a dark and dangerous journey for them. And it was for my family. But their light was never not seeking me out. Never a moment, never a moment that they weren't trying to save me.

Samantha Balaban and Ed McNulty produced and edited the audio interview.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.
Ed McNulty

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