Red Deer’s Dwayne Higgins had everything — Hollywood success, a six-figure income and a loving family — and he lost it all to drug and alcohol addiction.
Higgins’ ambitious climb up the career ladder as a movie prop master and his abrupt fall back down are painfully recounted in his new self-published memoir, From Reel to Real.
“It was devastating, earth shattering, the stuff I did,” said the author, who described himself as “weekend warrior”-type drug user before his work opportunities dried up for close to two years.
His life imploded around the time of the Hollywood writers and actors’ strike of 2000. Amid financial worries about the lack of work, he said his growing addiction to cocaine, heroin and alcohol led to a series of police encounters, deportation, suicide attempts and numerous attempts at rehab.
His unravelling wasn’t on the horizon when the handsome, outgoing Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School graduate first moved to Los Angeles in 1987.
After landing small acting roles in Hollywood, Higgins switched to production work and built up a solid career as prop master on music videos and commercials involving Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, film director David Lynch and other famous personalities.
He recalled reaping all the material possessions his ample income could buy. He had a common-law wife and daughter, to boot. But then came the writers’ strike and a rapidly shrinking income.
As his depression grew, his drug use and drinking also escalated. After repeat warnings, Higgins said his live-in partner Janell left him, taking their infant daughter.
As Higgins was handing all his savings over to drug dealers — he also lost his best friend. Actor Glenn Quinn, who played Becky Connor’s boyfriend on the series Roseanne, and Doyle in the Buffy the Vampire spin-off Angel, died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2002.
“It was on my couch,” Higgins recalled — and the emotional effect of this was devastating.
In short order, Higgins racked up three convictions for intoxicated driving (the last one also included a charge of child endangerment as his then two-year-old daughter was in the car). He was deported back to Canada in 2003.
He recalled “hitting bottom” among drug addicts on Vancouver’s slummy east side.
After three suicide attempts and extended hospital stays, he became a Christian, worked on several missionary projects in Africa and South Asia, and tried various 12-step programs before finally getting clean (despite one short relapse) 2 1/2 years ago.
Higgins, who lives in Vancouver, hopes his blunt, fluidly written memoir will keep others from starting on the same ruinous road. “It shares information about addiction, explains what addiction is, why we do the things we do, and how we’re wired differently.”
His book’s prologue is written by his daughter, Alyssa, now a 14-year-old living with her mother and stepfather in Malibu, Calif. She recounted how her father missed every important event in her life over the last 11 years. Until reconnecting through social media recently, they didn’t even have a relationship.
“I slowly hear and find out all the stories about my dad,” writes Alyssa, and gain some understanding of his ordeal.
Higgins sees his 350-page memoir as a cautionary tale — but ultimately, a story of salvation.
Aside from the addiction information, he believes Red Deer residents will find his career track interesting, as the book reveals a lot about Hollywood and tells of his stint in local radio along with a young sports announcer who became CBC star Ron McLean.
From Reel to Real is available from www.fromreeltoreal.com, Amazon, Indigo/Chapters, and Barnes and Noble.