In the depths of his crack addiction, Hunter Biden would comb carpet looking for anything that looked like crumbs of coke. "I probably smoked more parmesan cheese than anyone you know.' Photo: PARI DUKOVIC_TRUNK
Hunter Biden’s Cri de Coeur
In his memoir Beautiful Things, U.S. President Joe Biden’s son lays bare the root of his trauma and the depths of his addiction / BY Kim Honey / April 8th, 2021
The title for Hunter Biden’s book Beautiful Things comes from the mantra he and his older brother Beau relied on to remind themselves to look on the bright side, despite lives defined by tragedy.
“It was the last thing he said to me,” says Hunter, 51, tearing up as he describes his dying brother’s last words in an interview promoting the book with CBS Sunday Morning on April 4. “Beautiful things.”
Although billed as a memoir, Beautiful Things is really a chronicle of grief and addiction that begins in 1972 when Beau, 3, and Hunter, 2, survive a car crash that kills their mother Neilia and 13-month-old sister Naomi. In the book, Hunter says he clearly remembers the baby asleep in a bassinet in the passenger seat and his mother turning her head to the right before they were crushed in a collision with a truck.
“I don’t remember anything else about her profile: the look in her eye, the expression of her mouth. Her head simply swings,” he writes. The next thing he remembers is Beau, tucked in a hospital bed beside him, “mouthing three words to me, over and over: ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’ That’s our origin story.”
Eighteen days later, on Jan. 5, 1973, their father was sworn in as senator for Delaware in the hospital where Beau was recuperating from broken bones and Hunter was being treated for a severe head injury. “If in six months or so there’s a conflict between my being a good father and my being a good senator, which I hope will not occur, we can always get another senator, but they can’t get another father,” Joe said at the time.
Beau, described as “Joe Biden 2.0” by the U.S. President, died in 2015 at 46 from glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. A lawyer, former Delaware National Guard who served in Iraq and former Attorney General of Delaware, his father was “pretty sure [Beau] could run for President one day,” Joe wrote in his 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.
Hunter, always the impulsive, risk-taking one, was accepted into a creative writing program, but decided on law school after he and his new wife, Kathleen Buhle, had a child was on the way. The Yale grad became a banking lawyer, and, at 26, he was making nearly as much money as his senator father, a 2019 New Yorker piece notes. Hunter, drinking heavily then, became a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., where Beau went with him to his first AA meeting. Hunter started a consulting firm in 2008, but he broke seven years of sobriety in November 2010. A few months after he joined a Navy Reserve unit in 2013, a urinalysis showed cocaine in his system and he was discharged in February 2014.
Hunter’s ill-fated decision to take a position on the board of Bursima Holdings, a Ukrainian natural-gas company, came in May 2014 as his father was overseeing U.S. policy in Ukraine.
Beau believes his childhood trauma is the root of his pain, something he began to address in the July 2019 interview with the New Yorker, which he hoped would help him get “out ahead” of news of the more sordid details of his past and improve his father’s chances of being elected president.
By then, he was an avowed crack addict who binged on quarts of vodka, and once went 13 days without sleeping. His 20-year marriage to Kathleen had ended in divorce, he’d had a short-lived and much-maligned relationship with Beau’s widow Hallie, he had been sued for child support by an Arkansas woman he says he never slept with (which he settled out of court last year) and he’d become a prime target in Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election in 2020.
“Look, everybody faces pain,” he told the magazine. “Everybody has trauma. There’s addiction in every family. I was in that darkness. I was in that tunnel – it’s a never-ending tunnel. You don’t get rid of it. You figure out how to deal with it.”
In Beautiful Things, he acknowledges it isn’t an excuse for poor judgment and bad decisions.
“I want to make it clear: I don’t see that tragic moment as necessarily resulting in behaviours that lent themselves to addiction. That would be a cop-out.”
It’s not that the family didn’t talk about his sister and mother and keep their memories alive, but they didn’t discuss the accident, which happened on Dec. 18, 1972 as his mother was taking the kids out to buy a Christmas tree in their station wagon. “Beau and I never really grieved the loss of our mother or our baby sister,” Hunter writes. In an interview with CBS This Morning on April 5, he clarified that the boys talked about his mom and sister all the time with Joe, “but the actual accident, no,” he said. “The darkness that I know my dad suffered afterwards was not something that we necessarily talked about until much later.”
Hunter believes losing his mother at such a young age planted a seed of loneliness he described as a “hole” that he tried to fill with drugs and alcohol. “That kind of insecurity is almost universal among those with real addiction issues — a feeling of being alone in a crowd,” writes the man who has been to rehab too many times to count and even tried to quit crack with a treatment concocted from the glands of a Sonoran desert toad. “I’ve always felt alone in a crowd.”
This is the heart of the book, which almost everyone can relate to, whether they are coping with unspeakable tragedy, struggling to stay sober or dogged by social anxiety.
Hunter owes his sobriety to his brother, Beau, and dad, Joe, who never gave up on him even when he gave up on himself. Beau was always there, from that first AA meeting to the calls that would come each time Hunter fell off the wagon.
The book’s epilogue is a letter to Beau, which, in part, crows about his dad’s 2020 victory over Trump. “He did it, Beau!” Hunter writes. “He beat back a vile man with a vile mission, and he did it without lowering himself to the unprecedented depths reached by his opposition.”
When Joe was Barack Obama’s Vice-President, Hunter says his father would ditch his Secret Service security detail and go to Hunter’s Washington, D.C., apartment to check on him. In the middle of one bender, Joe said he needed help. “I looked into my dad’s eyes and saw an expression of despair, an expression of fear,” Hunter writes.
In 2019, when Joe was running for president, the family staged an intervention disguised as a dinner invitation. As Hunter tells CBS, “mom [Jill Biden] said she missed me” and that “Dad really, really needs you honey.’”
When Hunter walked in, he saw his parents, his three daughters, his niece and nephew and two counsellors from a previous stint in rehab and bolted. Joe chased him up the driveway and enveloped him in a bear hug. “[He] just cried and said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do,’” Hunter says.
He gave the only answer that would get him his next fix, so he said he was going to California to get help. Before he left, Hunter had agreed to the New Yorker interview, which ended up being a turning point. “It’s part of the thing that saved me, though. I started to tell my story.”
Even after that, in the first presidential debate in October 2020 where Trump brought up Hunter’s discharge from the Navy, Biden defended Hunter. “My son, like a lot of people at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”
As the laptop saga continues and the Department of Justice conducts an investigation into his taxes related to business primarily with China, Hunter Biden remains on the straight and narrow.
In interviews, he says he doesn’t think he made a mistake joining the Burisma board, which ended up being at the heart of Trump’s impeachment trial. “I think I made a mistake in terms of underestimating the way in which it would be used against me,” he tells CBS. “Not one investigative body, not one journalist has ever come to the conclusion that I did anything wrong or my father did anything wrong.”
The laptop purportedly containing an email outlining a possible business deal with China continues to make the news, but Hunter says he has no idea if it is his and doesn’t remember dropping one off for repair at the Delaware shop. “There could be a laptop out there that was stolen from me, it could be I was hacked, it could be that it was Russian intelligence,” he says.
Love conquers all
In what he calls a “miracle,” in May 2019, Hunter met South African filmmaker Melissa Cohen, 32, on a blind date in Los Angeles. When he confessed that he was a crack addict at their first dinner, she said, “Not anymore. You’re finished with that.”
Sober ever since, they married seven days later and now have a one-year-old son named Beau. When Hunter called his father after the wedding ceremony, he told CBS that Joe said, “Honey, I knew that when you found love again that I’d get you back.”
The President continues to call Hunter every night, usually before bed, to tell him he loves him. “Not only does he talk to me every night, he calls every one of my daughters. He talks to each one of them every day, and he talks to me and I know he talks to my sister-in-law,” Hunter says. “But, by the way, he’s always done that.”
“I’ll tell you why,” he says, tears welling in his eyes. “Because he … knows what it’s like not to be able to pick up the phone and talk to your son.”
When correspondent Tracy Smith adds, “and he almost lost you,” Hunter cries even harder. “I’m a Biden, we cry too much,” he says dabbing the tears from his eyes. “I guess one of the reasons I’m crying is because, you know, beautiful things. We’re here.”