Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Corey Montieth, Peaches Geldof, Heath Ledger, Brandon Jonathan McKee.
All were suffering from opiate addiction. All deceased.
In case you haven't heard, America is in the throes of an epidemic. Heroin addiction is no longer a plague of the downtrodden and junkie's are no longer lurking in roach infested flop houses. The pervasive, insidious and prolific prescribing of opioid pain medications have birthed an all-together more ordinary image of drug user. They lurk in the family portraits of countless middle-class families. One such user was in my own family portrait; smiling and innocent wearing a jumper our mother lovingly insisted he wear. The glass shattered and the frame broken. He was not a star of stage and screen. He was Brandon Jonathan McKee. My brother. And his face represents this new breed. Ohio State Representative Robert Cole Sprague with Ohio Governor and Presidential candidate John Kasich have drafted with passion a progressive piece of legislation entitled 'Brandon's Law'.
See, my brother died with a needle in his arm and the people he was shooting up with left him to die as they were scared of prosecution. 'Brandon's Law' gives the person or people immunity from prosecution amongst other things that may save a life in those crucial minutes.
The following is an important story, it is mine and it is far too many others.
Proof Of Life, In Dreams.
Almost every evening my middle brother Brandon is driving me to the airport for London, or somewhere. The hour-long journey from our home-town to Cleveland Hopkins International is always funny and seems to go by in seconds. He sits across from me, window down, one elbow resting on it and sun glowing behind him. He drives with an absolute command of the car and the road in front of him. We never speak of politics and our conversations are unmemorable but the banter is happy. He looks and behaves so differently to me. He never seems to age on these journeys. Bronzed, blonde and with a cheeky grin. So warm. I always am so impressed by him and how he is seems to be so ‘grown-up’, and responsible. I mean, he has three young boys and a burgeoning career and is well liked by his peers. I really must tell him.
He tends to drive me around often and was the one, many years ago, to take me to the funeral of my close school friend, Toby, who died tragically in a car accident, soon after I left high school for the ‘glamorous life’ in Europe. At the church, Brandon was the one to grab my hand when we both turned the corner to see the open casket of my beautiful friend and to hold me up when my knees buckled at that unexpected and horrific sight.
Shortly after Toby’s death, his mother and eldest sister visited me in London, just as Toby did the summer before he died. See, he was their ‘golden boy’ the glue of their family. They came not to visit me specifically, but to visit every place in the city he had been to. It was a tour of mourning. When his sister said to me “I have resolved that I will never be happy again, things will never be the same again”. I could not relate and didn’t understand her grief. I believed that she would simply ‘snap out of it’.
However, Brandon, like almost every night, is taking me to the airport. My parents are there as well, for some reason they always travel separately to us. Like always, Brandon is with me when I am at the check- in desk, witnessing me arguing about my first-class upgrade or me just paying for it eventually, “like a normal person”, as he says laughing. He finds my arrogance and sense of entitlement amusing but with pride.
My parents are present in the terminal to see me off, but it is Brandon who is last to see me go through security, he is very protective and organised and wouldn’t be happy without following through with his role of getting me from house to plane. We never say goodbye, as I know I will be seeing him tomorrow night or the next night - or he may even, annoyingly, appear in the course of my work day.
The Needle and The Damage Done.
I am on a photo-shoot for a fashion magazine, with an ex-girlfriend of George Clooney, and current paramour of Prince Andrew, the model Monika Jakisic. The location is a manor house in Somerset. Old Down Farm, a venue that I had recently taken my own GF and daughter to - good memories.
We are shooting a ‘rural couture’ themed editorial. I am with a friend in the team. Whilst watching Monika valiantly navigate a Dior ball gown surrounded by a small herd of Llamas, in wet West Country showers, we begin to discuss the recent death, by heroin overdose, of Peaches Geldof, which occurred only a few days prior.
I did not know Peaches but was a friend of her mother Paula Yates and had spent time with her father, Sir Bob Geldof. I was present at the very beginning of her relationship with INXS star Michael Hutchence and observed them stuck in a moment they could not get out of. The Greek tragedy that became their lives and deaths. I had such affection for the colourful, sexy, witty but ultimately fragile Paula and was profoundly affected by her passing, of a heroin overdose, or as Glamour magazine quoted me at the time saying, “death by a broken heart”.
When I heard of Peaches shocking death on the news I felt as if I had been punched. I felt such sadness for her family. “How could this happen!?” I said to myself. I imagined the raw emotions that her family were experiencing and the questions they were asking themselves. I wept for their loss and the waste of a life, leaving behind two small children.
It couldn’t happen again. Certainly not to this family of renown and privilege!
Why couldn’t they save her from herself?
An Imperious Grief.
A few weeks after the magazine shoot, May 10th in fact, my GF and I are on a rare Saturday night out. We are meeting my dear friend and former manager of Paris Hilton, Ami Manning, who is over from L.A. The GF and she have never met, but as I predicted they hit it off in seconds. Ami is from the south of America and is gorgeous and hysterical, one of those people that just the mere thought of them makes you smile big and giggle. We were just getting ‘stuck-in’ to the night and tequila shots and laughing, with a pure and uncontrived joy.
My phone rings, it is not a number saved in my phone, but I recognise the number is from my youngest brother Dustin in Ohio. I ignore his call, as I normally do. He always seems to ring at the most inconvenient times. And I’m sure that we are not speaking at the moment for a reason I can't recall. He must have offended me somehow. Anyway, he keeps on ringing and I have Ami screen the call to explain that I am unavailable. I then receive a text from him insisting that I ring him urgently.
I excuse myself from the table and walk outside the noisy, happy Saturday night pub, to call Dustin back. He answers the phone and I say, “What is it Dustin? I am out now! What is going on?”
Then he replies with three words, sotto voce, that make life, as I know it, fall away. “Brandon is dead”.
After the many questions to Dustin, I realise this is not a dream. That Dustin is not saying this to get me to pay more attention to my family in Ohio. I walk back into the excited revellers in the pub and to my table. I am composed and attempt my best ‘show-biz’ face. It was not very convincing I guess, as my ashen heart is revealed in the pallor of my visage. I tell them that Brandon is dead. Overdose. Needle. Bad. They know. The party is over. I have a tequila to finish though, and we are all having such a good time, how very selfish of him to interrupt. I keep apologising and try to insist we stay; I can surely deal with this tomorrow.
Ami and GF usher me out of the fun and into the fresh, violent, clear and malevolent air outside. The GF is in floods of tears. I am not, yet. She is comforting a stone. My ability to understand or process has left me. I then collapse on the street. Punching the pavement with my fists and screaming at the pernicious sky as if I have been stabbed. With my heart burst, I know now that I have been. She tries to get a taxi; I explain that no cab will take me, as they will think I am a drunk. I must get it together.
At this moment I realise that nothing will ever be the same again.
My First Night Without You.
I defiantly declare in my cab home, “I am not going back to Ohio for the funeral. How dare he! I have a week of appointments and me going back just reinforces approval for his bad choices.” I talk to myself and assimilate and rationalise this perceived vulgar attack on my overwrought psyche.
Once home I reach for the phone to find my mother. It is Mother's day in the U.S. the next day. I histrionically repeat “Mother, I love you. Mother, I love you” on and on. I ask her to remember Jacqueline and her dignified response. I am aware that this is absurd and Brandon was not JFK – my pretentions prevail as a defense to the reality.
Little did I know that the bang of the emotional explosive detonated is one of those that leaves shards of piercing metal in the aftermath. I will forever be finding the shards in my skin – my Mother bereft and sobbing was just one tiny piece imbedded that I had to treat.
I’m handed a small shot of whisky and a sleeping pill. My GF tells me to go to bed as tomorrow will surely be the worst day of my life. I do not protest. I wake and she has predicted accurately.
I demand to go to a church, any church. This is not a venue I have ever found peace in, I was always forced to ‘believe’. However, when the bare bones of survival are needed – this is where I went. I shouted and cried and berated God. I begged for a time machine.
I am so sorry Brandon, I should really tell you.
Monday morning I still haven’t decided what to do. Should I go back to Ohio and really face this or can I just send flowers and remain detached. I am due on BBC Northern Ireland with my client Calum Best. He greets me outside the location and tells me “ I got this, don’t worry”. The piece to camera is not one of substance – this is good. I smile and speak about perfume, so odd. I ask Calum what I should do- ie go home or stay here. He infers that I should go back and deal with it and grieve with my family.
Advice taken – in between shots for the BBC, my father is booking my flight for the next morning.
Glory, Glory Boy.
I never really liked you much, we don’t keep in touch. I hear your stories through the grapevine.
Brandon was an amazing man. He was a man who thrived on conflict and could not quite reconcile his true identity. Kinder than a Samaritan one minute – a vessel for Tea Party politics the next.
Very beautiful and popular in school he longed to tread his own path. He bore three incredible sensitive and articulate sons. His boys are stronger then he was. Brandon was so very fragile and hurt.
I should have recognised that before.
Brandon did whatever he could to connect with me. When he heard I was in a ‘showbiz crisis’ and had escaped to NYC from London he tracked me down via telephone. I was staying with Boy George at Rosie O’Donnell’s flat, nursing my superficial wounds. Brandon found me somehow and demanded to know where and with whom I was with or he was on the next flight to NY. I told him, “ Boy George” - he did not believe me and requested proof by way of George singing Karma Chameleon down the phone. George did so and Brandon was happy.
This boy, man, brother, son and father was so worthy. So well intended. He helped others. He genuinely cared. His need to provoke was his way to solidify a persona.
I left Ohio when I was 17. The US, besides New York, LA or Miami is like a foreign land to me. I did not grow up in a culture of prescription pain killers and anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals now advertised on American television. I was a part of a drug-culture in London and not naive to recreational stimulants – but the epidemic of opiate abuse amongst bored middle-class suburban youths was not yet present.
After a car accident Brandon was prescribed his slow-burn death sentence. And when the Dr’s cease prescribing what you need when you need it – heroin is a cheaper and stronger alternative. This was all news to me. I had no idea - I just thought he was a lush, just.
He died after a fatal dose. At least two other people were present. They left him, afraid to call emergency services as they could be incriminated for drug offences.
Above The Clouds.
Sir Bob Geldof has said recently referring to his grief “Time doesn’t heal, it just accommodates”.
Brandon had more than 400 people at his funeral services. He was so beloved. He clearly did not feel it whilst he was alive and hated himself .
Ohio State congressman Bob Sprague is a visionary man who has drafted a pioneering piece of legislation to help combat the opiate problems in my home state. One part of this Bill, the most vital, allows those who are doing drugs with another person who experiences an overdose, to be immune from prosecution. Thus enabling a life to be saved.
He has named this ‘Brandon’s Law’.
I miss my brother so very much. I pray that this law is passed, in his name; a futile life, perhaps? A futile death, a misery.
Before I was delivered to the plane ‘home’ to the funeral, my 7 year old daughter felt compelled to console me. She understood exactly what had happened, as much as I wanted to hide it from her. She advised, “Daddy, cry now, cry it all out. Then put it in a box in your brain and be brave – you can open the box when you are back.”
I listened to her.