Al Pacino: The Career That Almost Wasn’t


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Remember the greatest success of your life. Remember a time when everything was clicking, and you were on top of the world. Remember a moment when you felt like a king or queen. Now imagine you can’t actually remember the best thing that ever happened to you.

To some degree, this is what it’s like to be Al Pacino. Pacino is a star so huge he actually turned down roles in Die Hard and Star Wars. In 2015, the Hollywood icon told The Mirror “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember much of the Seventies.” That amnesia stems from heavy substance abuse, which Pacino leaned on as a coping mechanism in the wake of his breakout success in The Godfather.

At the time he starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, Pacino had been in exactly two films, which is a little like going straight from your first high school game to MVP of the NBA finals. His understated performance didn’t initially endear him to film executives; he almost didn’t get the role, and was again almost canned from it in early shooting. Eventually, though, his focus on Michael Corleone’s intelligence as the key to understanding his internal tension paid dividends. The Godfather was a massive and unprecedented success; in addition to spawning an entire film genre, the film made it impossible for Pacino to walk down the street without being recognized.

In response, he began escaping through alcohol, which he’d been drinking since age 13. The pressure, along with its alcoholic escape, was so intense that Pacino told Britain’s Express that he found himself at one point “enjoying being out of work more than working.” After being called out by his own drama coach, Pacino entered Alcoholics Anonymous. His wasn’t an immediate turnaround; it took AA, counseling, and years of work—but he hasn’t had a drink since 1985, according to Pacino himself. True to his word on how much he hated he pressure of Hollywood, Pacino spent four years in the late 80s without making a film; he only came back after being harangued by Diane Keaton.

At this point, the actor is thoroughly enjoying his position as the aging lion of American film; it’s a status that affords him the opportunity to take on virtually any role. He uses big-budget films as paydays to finance the more esoteric projects that truly interest him. He recently took a turn as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and has two more major turns coming up: a high profile role working alongside Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and a controversial turn as disgraced coach Joe Paterno in an upcoming Barry Levinson film.

It’s reasonable to wonder: would we have seen this iconic career if Pacino had never stopped drinking?